how do I stop looking bored during meetings, should I say I’m leaving because of my horrible coworker, and more

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

1. How do I stop looking bored during meetings?

My work involves a lot of collaboration with other companies and meeting with stakeholders. My company is small, and overall the work environment is good and I’ve been told I’m doing a great job. The one problem I’ve been having? Looking bored during meetings.
My boss first pointed it out in the fall after we had a morning zoom meeting with a partner where I remember feeling very sleepy but still doing my darnedest to pay attention. I apologized and promised I would work on correcting it. She hasn’t brought it up since, but she also isn’t very confrontational so I wouldn’t be surprised if she noticed it multiple times after but just neglected to tell me.

My coworker, whose role heavily overlaps with mine, has been much more vocal about this. We recently had an in-person afternoon meeting with a potential partner, and she messaged me on Slack the next day saying that my boredom “was very evident” during the meeting. For context, this was my fourth meeting of the day with little break in between, in addition to having slept poorly the night before, so by the time we had this meeting I was exhausted (not an excuse, just an explanation). I once again apologized and she offered to help me in whatever way she could. This is the second or third time that she has brought this up in the last six months, and she has also mentioned that I’m “not very emotive” as a person in general.

I’m very frustrated because this keeps coming up and I’m not sure how best to fix it. I’ve tried squinching my eyebrows during zoom meetings which I think has helped, but I’m still having trouble with in-person meetings, especially when I’m feeling tired. Are there tips or tricks I could use that don’t involve doodling in a notebook? In a small in-person meeting, that doesn’t seem like a good option.

Think about visual feedback that signals you’re paying attention: nodding, smiling when appropriate, even a thoughtful frown at the right time. In person, it can also help to take notes — not so much that you look like you’re doing something unrelated, but enough to signal “I’m here, I find this interesting, and I’m jotting some reminders for later.” And obviously, there’s no better way of demonstrating that you’re actively engaged than … actively engaging in the conversation. Ask questions, compliment someone’s idea, voice agreement, expand on a point, ask for clarification, propose next steps, etc.

By the way, if you’d only gotten this feedback from your coworker, I’d wonder if she was just being overly critical (especially in bringing it up multiple times). But because you’ve also heard it from your boss, it’s likely to be a real issue. So: are you actually bored in the meetings and zoning out, or does your face just not accurately reflect your engagement level? If it’s the latter, the above tips should help … but if it’s the former, it’s worth considering how to solve it at a more fundamental level. For starters, do you actually need to be in all these meetings? But if you do, are you clear on what role you’re supposed to be playing there and what you’re supposed to get out of attending/what you’re supposed to be contributing? It might be an interesting experiment to lean into those things more and see if it helps you stay more engaged.

2. Should I say I’m leaving because of my horrible coworker?

I am looking for a new job after almost eight years in my current role. Interviews are going well and I’m in the late stages for a couple, so I’m starting to think about what to say when I announce my resignation.

The main reason I’m leaving is because of one individual at my current company (Beth). Beth is the same level as me and runs a separate team. However, her team is more central to the business and therefore is across more projects.

There have been many issues with Beth over the years, stemming from a lack of communication to a clique approach to business where she will push her friends for opportunities. Major issues have been raised by me and others, but little has changed. Minor issues, like directing answers to my questions back to somebody else and not looking at me, have not been raised, because how do you even say anything about such a thing? Her actions have led to me feeling isolated and demoralized at work.

Should I raise this when I leave? When/if I’m asked about why I’m leaving, should I very bluntly say, “I’m leaving because of Beth”? I’d obviously go into detail about the specific actions, but I worry that it will come across like I just have an axe to grind.

Honestly, I’m gutted to have to leave, and my intentions would be to let them know that this is how far things have gotten, and they are likely to see more people leave (I know a few others who have similar issues) — that maybe if they know that it was bad enough for me to leave, they might take the issue seriously, and that it’s the morally right thing to do. But I also don’t want to nuke what is a very good reputation at the company. I don’t want to be remembered as the person who left angry at somebody.

If you’re leaving because of Beth, you could potentially do some good by being honest about that. Somewhat counterintuitively, though, you’re more likely to make an impact with that feedback if you don’t show how angry you are. Ideally you’d say something like this in a borderline-detached tone: “I found the issues with Beth like XYZ too hard to handle after a while. I loved working here and I’m sad to be leaving, but things like XYZ didn’t feel tenable anymore.” The tone you want is “I’m letting you know about a business problem you might want to attend to, but do with this info what you will.”

If you sound emotional, people are more likely to dismiss it as an interpersonal issue or as you taking things too personally. When your tone shows you’re not taking it particularly personally, just not willing to put it up with it anymore, this kind of feedback can be harder to ignore.

Of course, it still might not matter. It sounds like the issues with Beth have been raised before, to no avail, but sometimes concrete “we lost Person A over this” data can get through where other attempts fail.

Read an update to this letter

3. Revenge porn using the company name

I was searching our company name on social media platforms to see if our Pride display this weekend generated any buzz. My job is unrelated to PR or comms, I just happen to have a role in our Pride BRG. I stumbled across revenge porn against a coworker! The posts are on mutliple social media platforms, only a few days old, using the coworker’s full name, hashtagging her college, high school, hometown, and of course our mutual employer.

Do I have an obligation to tell her? Do I have an obligation to alert anyone else at the company? Do you have any advice for how to have this conversation, and with whom? For context, I am a mid-thirties queer woman and not in a management role.

Thankfully the posts only have one “like” each. I reported them to the platforms for violating terms of service. But now what?! This is such a horrifying and senstive situation to have stumbled into. The posts have black bars over the lewd bits, but then provide a link to “see more.” Some even pretend to be written from her point of view, saying lewd things, but others insult her and all of them tag our employer. I’m sure it’s revenge porn, but do I trust a faceless company rep to see that or is there a risk they will think she’s willingingly tagging them in sex work?

I think she is fairly new to the workforce. This is her second job and she seems to be in her early twenties. I spoke to her twice on the phone a few months ago, but we don’t even live in the same state. This company is a massive global behemoth. The only way to contact HR is by placing a ticket into an automated system. I’m at a loss for how to handle this without making this even worse.

Please do tell her. She might not be aware of it, and your alert could be key in helping her combat it. Frame it as, “If you are already aware of this, please ignore me and we never need to speak of it again. But I wanted to make sure you know since there are things you can do to get it taken down. I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”

Please do not alert your employer. Your coworker should be the one to decide how to manage it (and while your employer may come across it on their own like you did, you don’t need to hasten that or guarantee that they do).

4. Is it good or bad when a job’s schedule is “to be redefined”?

I’m considering a job where I’m pretty certain I’m one of very few (if not the only) candidate. During the first phone interview, I got to ask lots of questions and it quickly became obvious that the position has been vacant for quite some time (I’m in a field where qualified professionals are in very short supply).

I was taken aback when I asked about part-time or full-time and work hours, and got a vague answer about “starting with a clean slate” and “redefining those requirements.” I’m wondering if this is good (like, I’d get to propose a schedule that works for me) or a red flag (they don’t know what they want), and I’m not sure how to find out. Conversely, they were pretty clear about job duties and provided lots of details about the team I’d be joining and the people I would serve.

Ask them directly in the next interview! “You mentioned that you weren’t sure whether the position would be full- or part-time and that you’re redefining some things about the role. Can you tell me more about what’s behind that and what you’re currently envisioning?”

So far, I wouldn’t say it’s a good or bad sign, but that could change quickly depending on what you hear. I’d also want to get a sense of why the job has been vacant for so long. Is it just because it’s hard to hire in your field right now, or have they been “redefining” for a while? If the latter, is that because of a lack of commitment internally to the work, disagreements about the job’s priorities or metrics, lack of a clear vision for the role, or something else? Those are the sorts of things that would worry me unless they’re clearly settled before you started.

5. Anonymous job postings

I was browsing for jobs in my field and found a job listing for something that I’m interested in on the company’s website. A few days later, the posting had been removed from there and was instead listed on a third party recruiting site where the company name was withheld. My spidey senses are tingling and it feels like a red flag that a job listing would be made to have an anonymous recruiter. Am I wrong in this gut feeling? Could there be legitimate reasons for a company wanting to remain anonymous when recruiting at that stage?

It’s actually really normal for recruiters to do. They don’t want you to go around them and apply directly with the company because if you do that they don’t get paid for their work. (And in some cases, the company doesn’t want applicants doing that either because they’ve hired the recruiter to handle that part of the hiring work for them.)

{ 306 comments… read them below }

  1. Heffalump*

    #2: I had a similar situation. The way I put it to my manager was, “Beth is costing you in turnover and in morale.” He was empathetic but responded with the “Beth has union protection” argument. Alison has written about why that argument is bogus, but that’s another discussion.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Ah, yes, the empathetic but effectively useless conflict-avoidant manager. One of the most frustrating flavors of boss I’ve ever encountered.

    2. Thank God (or something) I no longer work there*

      I fired union employees! And I worked in government, so they had both union and civil service protections. Just a few times but you can do it. I realized when I got into management one of my irritants as a line employee was “We can’t because” so I figured out how. It takes time and thorough documentation, if they are off probation more so, but it is possible.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        My dad was in one of the most powerful unions in the US. If you can document correctly, you can fire a bad employee.

        The “we can’t because of the union” argument is really a “we can’t because it’s hard & we’re lazy” argument.

        1. Lydia*

          Exactly. One of my friends is union steward. He has said many times that the reason so many people don’t end up losing their jobs is because management isn’t documenting what they need to document. “Well, I did talk to him about it” isn’t the same as “I did talk to him about it and followed up with an email, and then we had another conversation and I made notes and sent them to him in an email.”

        2. Usagi*

          I think it also comes from a place of wanting to sow ignorance about unions. If “We can’t fire bad employees” is a common misconception, then people aren’t going to think unions are reasonable or desirable.

      2. Indubitably Delicious*

        This is one of the most common misconceptions about public employment in general, and union jobs in particular. Yes, there are protections in place, but ultimately none of them protect you if you aren’t doing your job (and there’s not a good reason). It’s essentially a right to due process, not a right to a forever job.

        And I say this as a rank and file worker who has (deservedly) been the subject of disciplinary action before (and turned it around): a lot of the problem is supervisors who accept the received wisdom of “we can’t fire anyone”.

      3. Clisby*

        Before he retired, my brother was in management over a manufacturing department that had mostly union employees. Once, at a family gathering, somebody asked him whether he was frustrated at having to work with union members when he couldn’t fire them. (I don’t know where people get this idea.) My brother said something like, “That’s mostly on management. The main reason we’ve had trouble firing union members is because their (nonunion) supervisors aren’t doing the work of documenting why they need to be fired. That’s not the union’s fault.”

      4. anon today*

        What drives me nuts about our workplace is that HR basically won’t fire union-represented employees, so the managers try to jump through all the various required hoops and then still nothing happens. Which is a problem with HR, not the unions!

    3. Need More Sunshine*

      I work in HR and it’s honestly really helpful to get this feedback in an exit interview (yes, even if it’s been brought to me before). A lot of the time, I don’t have the authority to push for the “problem child” to be let go or even given any discipline with teeth – if leadership doesn’t see the problem (or thinks it’s not bad enough), I can’t force them to do anything. But you bet I can compile as much negative feedback about that person as possible and keep pushing for something to be done, and once good employees start leaving specifically because of the problem child, it helps make it harder to ignore.

      1. A Pinch of Salt*

        I just left a job with the same issue. Literally my mom texted and asked if #2 was me. I desperately needed to hear everything Allison and the commentariat are saying because I agonized over the decision. but I left a job I loved and was good at because it was just….exhausting to play games with one co-worker.

        I ultinately told HR in my exit interview. I figured there were 2 outcomes. 1) they fix it, yay! or 2) they don’t do anything and I know I never want to go back there, and not to recommend others.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Seconding this. I know people are skeptical about exit interviews, but a lot of the time it’s exactly the straw we need to break a camel’s back – especially if you’re someone the company is sad to lose.

      3. Heffalump*

        Good to know. HR will get an earful about one of my coworkers when I leave. After several years of reading Alison about what HR can and can’t do, it’s gratifying to hear that at least some HR people have the right attitude.

      4. Letter Writer #2*

        Hello. Letter writer here. Thank you for sharing; it’s really useful to hear a perspective from HR.

      5. Lisa Simpson*

        I complained with receipts in an exit interview and the offender was transferred to a location where he was more closely supervised, and then fired. He’d been with them a really long time, but once he got a boss who knew how to document his misdeeds, he was toast.

    4. LabSnep*

      “That’s just how Beth is” in response to my Beth, who was a horrific bulky and directly responsible for staff turnover.

      I responded that such a response was not really appropriate. During the Pandemic, our Beth was also not adhering to protocols and that was part of the bullying and I left for greener pastures.

      I heard that Beth is now gone and staff actually stay now. :O

      Quèl surprise.

      1. Artemesia*

        The only response to ‘that is just the way she is’ is ‘well I don’t put up with being bullied — that is just the way I am.’

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Like when my old landlord said that no one had complained about a certain problem before (no lighting in the stairwell), I said, well, now someone has.

      2. Em*

        I have responded to “that’s just how Beth is” with “Yes, I know. That’s the exact problem I’m describing. Beth is like that and no one will do anything about it.”

        I can’t say it was a terribly productive response, but it was satisfying in the moment.

      3. Heffalump*

        If Beth were stealing her coworkers’ personal property, you wouldn’t say, “Well, she’s dishonest, and you have to suck it up.”

    5. NotBeth*

      Yup – #2 isn’t quitting because of Beth. They’re quitting because leadership isn’t addressing Beth’s behaviors. That would be my feedback in the exit – “x,y, z have been difficult issues and when I’ve asked for support, management has dismissed my concerns.” I can’t make it sound less emotional like Alison recommends, but something like that.

    6. Longtime Reader*

      LW #1, here are some tips for looking more engaged in meetings, from someone else who has a resting “ugh” face! Allison’s advice is good so I won’t repeat it, just add a few more things that work for me.

      Interested body language to try: Make sure you’re sitting up straight, and avoid the dreaded computer slouch. Lean forward a little bit when something is particularly related to you or important, then lean back again, maybe tip your head slightly to the side or nod when it’s over. (Don’t lean forward and back too much or you might just look antsy, keep this to once or twice a meeting.) Lay your hands on top of each other or fold them together on the table in front of you. Widen your eyes in response to something said. In person, angle your body slightly towards the speaker.

      Bored body language to avoid: Don’t let your eyes dart around or visibly settle lower as if you’re reading your phone offscreen. Avoid slumping, resting your chin on your hand, and in a virtual meeting, make sure the top of you arms aren’t moving around a lot, or it will look like you’re playing with things offscreen or texting.

      Props: For virtual meetings, consider getting a pair of blue light glasses if you don’t already wear them, and see if you can angle them to show a reflection of the screen. (If anyone asks about them, just say you were getting headaches from too much screen time and are trying them out as a solution.) See if you get a better response when your eyes are harder to see/judge for looking sleepy. If people see a consistent reflection in your glasses, they will be less likely to assume you’re not paying attention and checking your phone or email. You can also push them up your nose a little bit or straighten them every so often; doing this occasionally helps make you look thoughtful. Bring a mug or thermal cup of your choice of caffeinated beverage to help keep you alert, but even if it’s just full of water, picking it up and taking a drink will help keep you in the moment. If you have to yawn, you might also be able to pick up your cup and pretend to take a drink to hide it.

      1. kikishua*

        These are all very good tips, some of which I already use – and others I am going to deploy as soon as Monday rolls around!

  2. Artemesia*

    #1. This is probably not it. BUT years ago I kept having trouble staying awake during meetings and I certainly looked bored or barely holding it together. In my case it turned out I had practically no thyroid. A simple pill and I was no longer on the verge of dozing off during boring meetings.

    It is really hard to look alert when your whole body is not. So if it isn’t physical having lots of techniques to appear engaged is going to be necessary.

    1. Observer*

      This is probably not it. BUT years ago I kept having trouble staying awake during meetings and I certainly looked bored or barely holding it together. In my case it turned out I had practically no thyroid

      There could be a lot of physical / health things going on here. But the two first things that came to mind were thyroid and sleep issues.

      But also, if you find yourself having trouble on long days, make sure you’re getting a chance to eat and drink. Being really hungry can do a number on your ability to stay awake and / or look and be focused on meetings.

      1. bamcheeks*

        People also vary a lot in how sensitive they are to things like blood sugar, and LW, if you don’t have any underlying issues that make tracking food a bad idea, it can be worth keeping half an eye on whether things like a heavily carby lunch sends you to sleep an hour later, or whether a snack perks you up. I started having something sugary mid-afternoon because I cycle home, and there’s a particular hill that I just *cannot* get up if I haven’t eaten since lunchtime, and it definitely helps with the 2.30pm snoozes.

      2. Anon (and on and on)*

        Second this. A family friend was having trouble staying awake at the office for a few years and her biggest concern was hurting her professional reputation. She was eventually diagnosed with sleep apnea. Solved all her issues at work, and vastly improved her general health as well!

        1. lilsheba*

          Ditto here. I was having problems nodding off at meetings and at my desk and I got diagnosed with sleep apnea. Although now I am glad that meetings are over Teams with no cameras so I don’t have to worry about how my face looks, which feels like a lot of work lol.

        2. morethantired*

          This! I was having so much trouble getting out of bed in the morning, feeling incredibly sleepy during the day and had horrible brain fog. When I had a heart-to-heart with my boss about it, he recommended I get checked for sleep apnea. Turned out, I actually have narcolepsy and it’s just so misunderstood that’s it’s not uncommon to not get diagnosed until you’re in your 30s.

      3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        oh yes. I really need to eat every few hours. also my vitamin D levels are not good?

      4. Miette*

        I’ve been in your shoes often. One thing that doesn’t actually work for my alertness is caffeine–it’s stimulating for my brain for other things, just not combatting tiredness. What does work is complex carbs–so a salad for lunch with proteins involved went further towards helping me stay perky lol.

        Another thing I do when stuck on Zoom/Teams calls where I’m not expected to really pay much attention is to keep a browser window with this blog open in front of the zoom window. This way my attention is focused on a spot just below the camera on my laptop, and it looks like I’m fully engaged when I am not lol

        1. Young worker*

          Tbh it’s very easy to tell when someone is distracted reading versus listening. Your eyes move side to side when reading

          1. Random Dice*

            Yeah I was watching someone do this just yesterday. His eyes were moving so much more than the slide being presented necessitated, which let me know that he was not listening to a single word we were saying.

      5. Ama*

        Yup I’m now an hour behind my employer’s main office after a move which pushes a lot of meetings into my normal lunch time and I’ve found it’s worth it to make sure I either have a mid-morning snack or an early lunch or I have a hard time keeping focused on what people are staying.

      6. Random Dice*

        For me it was undiagnosed ADHD, which was a complete shock to me because I’m so organized. (Ahem coping strategy)

        Now I take medication and have learned that I need to fidget my hands in order to pay attention with my brain – Thinking Putty, ONO Roller, Yogi fidget, magnet balls, and such are all over my desk for video calls.

        1. Random Dice*

          To be clear though, the real problem here is the coworker harassing LW about her face not performing emotions the (neurotypical) way the coworker demands.

          It’s deeply not ok.

          She’s bullying LW and it’s messed up.

          1. JSPA*

            Feedback on one’s non-verbal communication is just as reasonable as feedback on one’s verbal communication.

            “bullying” or “body comments” refer to what one’s body IS, or similar uncontrolable issues.

            This is like telling someone that they are belittling themselves reflexively, or dragging toilet paper on their shoe–most people want to know when they’re doing something that makes them look out-of-it, clueless, disengaged, or broadly unprofessional.

    2. JSPA*

      Circadian defect, in my case. Also something that can be diagnosed and managed medically (or in some cases, nutritionally). When it’s midnight in your brain, it’s hard to be engaged, let alone look engaged.

      A friend had something similar with blood sugar / undiagnosed diabetes.

      The number of conditions that mess with your sleep cycle, with your alertness or with your sleep quality are legion. Best not to wait until it happens while you are driving, to find out that it’s serious.

      All of which is to say, if the normal- level- of effort fixes don’t do the trick, it makes sense to get some level of medical workup.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Heck, it’s possible to just not get as much sleep as you thought. I didn’t realize how little I was sleeping until I started wearing a wristband that tracks sleep/activity. Turns out I was averaging less than 5 hours per night, not the 6-7 hours I thought I’d been getting.

        No underlying medical issue. Just staying up too late being busy or distracted!

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I mean, in both meetings OP was feeling very sleepy! It’s interesting that OP is fairly certain they look the same way in meetings the rest of the time; so is the sleepiness a general theme of how they are living their life? If it’s an uncommon occurrence, then why is OP worried? If it is, that’s not okay. It’s easy to get used to feeling sleepy all the time (I had a similar issue, was bombing at work, and still didn’t consider going to a doctor because sleepy brains are not helpful) but you shouldn’t be living your life feeling sleep deprived.

      1. Rainstorm*

        Second this. It’s so easy to think that being tired-all-the-time is normal when you’re going through it, but it could be a resolvable health issue.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Seconding how easy it is to get used to be sleepy all the time. For me it’s chronic conditions that cause a lot of fatigue, but it really is more noticeable to other people than you might think it is. Now that virtual meetings are a thing I’ve spent a lot of time practicing my meeting faces when I can see my own camera, and those muscles have carried over to in-person meetings pretty well.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          A lot people turn of self-video, but I always keep it on for this reason. The instant feedback helps me stay mindful of what my face is doing in meetings and what messages I’m giving off.

      3. Lenora Rose*

        From OP: “For context, this was my fourth meeting of the day with little break in between, in addition to having slept poorly the night before, so by the time we had this meeting I was exhausted”

        At my fourth meeting in a row even if I HAVEN’T slept poorly the night before, I would expect to look exhausted and appear disengaged. Four meetings in a day had better either be short, be really exciting and varied, or have a couple of significant breaks, or the issue, I think, really isn’t nearly a much with the OP as with the business. The ideal, of course, is all of the above.

        Personally, I think OP should see if they can push back on ensuring meetings are scheduled with break/decompression time in the first place (Ie, for a half hour, book 45 minutes, or also book your lunch in if possible.)

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Absolutely agree, as I have a nuerodivergence which would make that many back to back meetings almost impossible for me. However, what about the incident where it was OP’s first meeting of the day? Also from the letter: “a morning zoom meeting with a partner where I remember feeling very sleepy, but still doing my darnedest to pay attention.” I am surprised that instead of OP mentioning that this was a rare anomaly, and that they usually feel well rested for work so as not needing to try their “darnedest to pay attention” (also something I sympathize with), they instead say: “I wouldn’t be surprised if she noticed it multiple times after.” It’s not clear whether “it” refers to a struggle with sleepiness, with attentiveness, with too many pointless meetings, with a very unemotive face, or to all of the above; but on both occasions remarked upon, the OP knows they were sleepy.

          1. JenLP*

            I had 6 meetings back to back today and an impromptu feedback meeting that was over an hour. The idea that four is a lot makes me wonder if I should look for other work.

            Then I think about my resume and interviewing, etc and my ADHD makes me go nah, too much work ;)

            Regarding the OP, I get very annoyed when people expect everyone to look like they are paying attention as opposed to actually paying attention. Cause if I’m focusing on looking like I’m paying attention, I’m not listening. But I am an active participant in my meetings, even if I’m fidgety as all get out. Thank goodness my team and boss understand (the real reason I’m staying :))

            1. alienor*

              The idea that four is a lot makes me wonder if I should look for other work.

              At my last job, four meetings in an entire week was a lot. At my current one…well, I’m typing this while thinking about what I can have for dinner before my seventh meeting of the day starts at 7:30 pm. (A meeting during which I am sure I will look exhausted and bored on camera.) It’s no way to live and I’m hoping to change jobs again soon.

            2. Joron Twiner*

              I think back to back meetings are common if you’re managing projects or people. If you’re an individual contributor… that’s a lot!!

              1. Lenora Rose*

                Especially as the individual contributor is more often the passive listener to the majority of such meetings, and has to be an active listener or speaker usually for a small section of each.

                I almost like the meetings where I’m taking minutes just because then I’m DOING something.

    4. amoeba*

      While medical reasons are certainly worth checking out, I would also add that a lot of otherwise healthy and fit people would probably feel tired after a 4 h meeting marathon, especially if it’s all virtual with camera on!

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Exactly! I get exhausted after one meeting with cameras. I wonder if OP could drink extra water and do a quick physical activity, like push-ups or stretch in between meetings (or do things more discreetly during meetings like stretch their calves or flex their muscles).

    5. Thank God (or something) I no longer work there*

      Turns out I’m an insulin dependent diabetic, though since my body still produces some insulin I’m technically type 2. Much easier to stay awake now. Note taking did help and occasionally paid off when there were questions later.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      I have always struggled staying awake in meetings. Thankfully, now that I’m entirely virtual, I can do other work during meetings – it’s not ideal, but at least I’m not snoozing.

      In in-person meetings, I take notes. Pretty much capture everything. Which is good for being sure I understand what I’m being told to do, but also keeps me from falling asleep.

    7. Totally Minnie*

      I had a similar experience when my doctor found out my iron and vitamin D levels were extremely low. She put me on prescription level supplements and I was feeling more alert fairly quickly.

      If you’re tired all the time, no matter how much you sleep, it’s totally worth talking to a doctor about it.

      1. Not that other person you didn't like*

        And for me it was vitamin B anemia. A series of shots and I felt so much better! The key here is that the OP should get a full work up to rule out physical causes.

    8. Lauren*

      Totally likely something medical. Until OP can be checked out – thyroid, iron, ocular migraines do this too without any pain, low vitamin D, sleep patterns – holding something is a trick I used for appearing interested. I had coffee, it forced my body position to not cross my arms (apparently that reads combative to sexist bosses). I also ‘took notes’ e.g. chatted on IM with someone who reminded me of the game. Nod consistently even if not looking, randomly look up at speaker go ‘uh mm’ like interesting point! and go back to typing and nodding. I was deemed TEAM PLAYER ever since I started that game. So grab some coffee or tea, enter with your laptop and notebook. Type, scribble, nod, mmm, and the all important – “wait i didn’t catch that, can you repeat that again?” – nod, type, scribble, repeat.

      1. Seahorse*

        “Can you repeat / clarify?” is also great if you actually did zone out and want to catch up on the topic again ;)

    9. Young worker*

      I’m very sugar sensitive (not diabetic) as another person mentioned, if it’s not triggering for you to keep a food diary, I recommend it. A well timed 12g of sugar a couple hours post lunch can totally erase my full body fatigue. Maybe you can experiment if something similar works for you.

      Alternatively, if I’m super bored I fidget a little to not totally look spaced out. I twiddle a pen in my hand just out of camera view, clean my glasses, relax my frown and rub my jaw, anything to not just zombie out

      1. JustaTech*

        I’m fascinated by all the little motions my coworkers and I do to keep focused in meetings. My boss doodles, another lead twirls her hair, the two senior bosses fiddle with their fountain pens (occasionally leading to an ink explosion that wakes everyone right up!), folks take extensive notes (me and my ADHD), clean their watches, clean their glasses, fiddle with the tag on their tea bag.

        None of it is obtrusive (except the exploding pens), but after many, many years of meetings with these folks I’ve gotten to know all the little things we do to stay awake/focused.

    10. My Useless 2 Cents*

      A few years ago, I was dealing with some insomnia issues and having a really hard time staying awake at work. Thankfully I don’t have a lot of meetings or I could have easily fallen asleep in the middle of them.

      A related note, I’m not very facially expressive and non-verbal ques don’t come naturally or easily for me (catching or sending). I’ve trained myself to ask stupid questions during meetings just to show I’m paying attention and interested. Doesn’t always work but I did seem improvement over time. (Ex. Stupid question: asking to clarify something even when I understood the first time.)

    11. Wobbler*

      It’s not uncommon for bright analytical people who can anticipate the result of the conversation to be bored. There’s an author Frances Frei who talks about this as an “empathy wobble” in her book Unleashed. She’s a researcher from Harvard Business School studying leadership, which is what her book is about, but it’s worth reading even if you aren’t in a leadership role. Anyway, what she suggests is thinking about your role in the meeting as being about helping everyone else to get what they need in the meeting instead of just getting what you need. It might be worth a try.

  3. LinZella*

    OP 1 – That sounds like a tough situation. If you haven’t, consider talking to your doctor and/or doing a sleep study. It changed my life – especially at work!

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yep. OP did note they were poorly rested so I assume that’s a huge factor. Even if you aren’t ready to do a real sleep study yet, there’s plenty of great tips online (no need to share them all here) about improving sleep hygiene and getting better sleep. Or perhaps OP is transitioning from a stage where she didn’t need a lot of sleep, and now needs firmer bedtimes/more hours overall than they used to. I now it can be super difficult with caregiving responsibilities etc, but I have learned to accept that I just need more sleep than others – I need eight hours every single night and occasionally more like 8.5 or 9. Others don’t. I also go to bed earlier now than I used to in my 20s and 30s, because my cycle has shifted.

  4. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    LW2: Honestly I wouldn’t mention Beth as the reason. You say yourself that “Major issues have been raised by me and others, but little has changed.” If it has been brought up before what is your leaving going to change? Lastly if the office is really a clique, you need to weigh if your exit interview isn’t going be told to Beth. Go get that new job and do awesome things. Forget about Beth.

    1. John Smith*

      I almost fully agree with this. A former colleague retired early, citing our manager as the reason and providing examples of his behaviour, but also stating she didnt believe anything would change and she didnt know why she bothered providing the feedback. Several other people have complained about him but management have their fingers in their ears, and they knew of his problems long before my colleague left.

      I’d provide the feedback in a neutral way as a form of therapy, and make it the last time Beth ever enters your thoughts.

      1. Serenity by Jan*

        Your colleague who was retiring had nothing to lose so it’s a good thing they spoke up since others are hesitant. I left a job because of a toxic manager but I kept my mouth shut to avoid retribution. 11 years later I still feel that was the right move and most of the group followed me out the door in the following year or two because of the toxic manager. She had her protector but she did eventually leave (for what appears to be a lesser role, but don’t know for sure if it is a step down). My industry is pretty well connected – I haven’t had to cross paths with her since, but it could happen.

        If I were retiring when I left that job I would have been vocal about the toxic manager even though nothing would have been done. There’s a lousy manager at my level where I work now. Good people have quit because of him and at least one person did say something when they left. Senior Management has been well-aware for years and they also stick their heads in the sand for whatever reason. His headcount has been reduced at least, but a few people are still stuck miserably working for him.

    2. cabbagepants*

      My preferred language is “I have found that this organization does not take feedback seriously.” It puts bag organizations into a corner; by denying the validity of this complaint they actually reinforce it. You’re basically negging them for good.

      1. ferrina*

        At my last exit interview, I said “I’ve stated my concerns in various venues and meetings. I’m sure you have a pretty good idea of what they are.”
        HR looked pretty sheepish. She was a nice person, but way over her head trying to wrangle our terrible CEO. She thought if she sheltered him enough, no one else would notice how bad he was. Yeah, no.

    3. Mark*

      I respectfully disagree. For me, there is a huge difference between an employee making occasional complaints about someone and the employee leaving because of it. If person A leaves because of person B, it’s going to make me wonder how many other people also have issues with person B and just haven’t complained about it.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I know someone where complaints have been put in about a guy, “he’s being trained,” and six people have left OVER him.

  5. Extra anony*

    Drinking water or coffee helps me stay focused. I think having something that makes you look away from the camera or group for a second – like taking notes, sipping a water bottle – actually makes you seem more engaged vs. just looking ahead the whole time.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Ice cold diet coke works wonders. I’m on reception and it’s often very quiet, so I have found sugar-free energy drinks or cola to be very effective. I find the cold works as well as the caffeine does.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Drinking water also means you HAVE to ask for a quick break to go to the look between sessions, and the “having to go for a little walk” is often as helpful as the water itself!

    3. A person*

      I agree with this. I struggle with focus and not being overly emotive in on my face so often come off as bored. Sometimes I am… sometimes I’m perfectly engaged but my face just doesn’t show it.

      Having a beverage does seem to help.

      If your meeting is remote maybe try like a fidget spinner. If you’re in person, I find standing up occasionally especially if tired helps. It might not be acceptable in your culture but it’s an acceptable way in my company to stay awake in a meeting. They understand that sometimes people struggle and it’s ok to do what you have to to stay engaged.

      I agree with the advice though, that actually actively engaging is the best way to look engaged! So figure out how to ask questions, take notes, and contribute to the conversation whenever possible! I know this is hard as someone who is also very quiet but I promise it helps.

      1. JustaTech*

        I have a boss who, after his much delayed ADHD diagnosis, now will stand at the back of our big lecture-style meetings to stay awake/engaged.
        He also likes to kneel at his desk, which makes my knees hurt, but he finds super helpful.

    4. ferrina*

      +1 to this. I make very hot tea, then I sip it during meetings. It’s hot enough that I don’t drink a lot at once, but it makes me look engaged.
      You can also pull out a notepad and take notes (feel free to say “I’m looking down because I’m taking notes”) or move your hands. I tend to put a finger on my chin like I’m thinking, then tap a pattern. I’m ADHD, so these are all things that I do to keep myself at the right level of stimulation.

      1. laser99*

        There is much good advice here, but what concerns me is the co-worker appears to have targeted the OP.

        1. JustaTech*

          That’s a good point! We (and the OP) don’t know if the coworker gives this feedback to other people, or if they’re consciously (or unconsciously) focusing on the OP after noticing the “bored face” during one meeting.

          Would it be worth asking the coworker something like “I’ve noticed you comment on my expression when I’m very tired, do you see this neutral expression from me regularly, or only those couple of times?”
          That would alert the coworker that you’re not bored, you’re tired (I think of someone who is obviously bored in a meeting is actively engaged in something else, rather than just not focusing), and see if it’s something that *they* think that they see regularly or only once in a while (which might help the OP figure out if this is something they need to think about every day, or only on days when they didn’t sleep well).

        2. Lisa Simpson*

          This was my thought. Once you’re interpreting someone’s neutral facial expressions hatefully, there’s a lot more going on than “Gee OP needs to change their facial expression.” And it usually means the person making the accusation is crackers.

        3. Random Dice*

          Yeah I agree. This is primarily a coworker problem.

          It’s extremely unusual to tell one’s coworker that their face has too flat of an emotional affect for one’s liking. And by unusual I mean really messed-up, harassing, and heading in toward discrimination for not seeming neurotypical enough.

          That puts in context the many complaints about this LW’s facial expressions. She’s decided that LW’s face doesn’t do emotion properly, and she’s going to harass LW until LW performs emotion properly.

          I’d strongly consider going to HR to talk about it.

        4. Joron Twiner*

          I don’t think it’s just a coworker problem–OP’s boss has also brought it up!

  6. Observer*

    #3 – Revenge porn about your coworker.

    Please follow Alison’s advice. Tell her! It’s quite possible she doesn’t know. And if she doesn’t know, she NEEDS to know. But unless you *know* that your employer handles this stuff impeccably, please don’t tell your employer. This is not your job and it’s not fair to endanger her employment.

    You might want to pass on the web address of the Crash Over-ride network. I’m not sure how much direct help they can be, but they do have some resources on line that could be a starting point for her.

    Link to follow.

    1. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

      OP #3: This may be patently obvious, but when you do tell her, please do it over the phone and not over work mail, because that just isn’t private at all, and you don’t want to cause a paper trail that IT etc. can read later. Fingers crossed she can do something about it before the company has a chance to find out, ugh. Good luck!!

    2. LCH*

      Yes, please tell her. I had to tell a friend I found her on one of those mug shot blackmail sites and it was awkward AF, but allowed her to deal with it.

      I tried to think of of way to say she was happy I told her, but obviously she wasn’t happy.

    3. Database Developer Dude*

      I saw revenge porn on an online message board about someone who wound up being a colleague in my second job. I not only contacted her, I set her up with a friend who’s an attorney, and she got the stuff taken down! SCORE!!!!!!!

    4. meggus*

      LW#3 – This **federal crime** can be and SHOULD be reported at If you have or can take screenshots for those reports, that will help. local police aren’t terribly effective or helpful with this kind of stuff.

      1. IBA Support*

        Image based abuse is a crime to some degree in at least 48 US states. Even if your coworker doesn’t want to pursue that, here are some other resources that may help. Sorry if they’ve been shared already.

        Stop NCII is operated by the revenge porn hotline & can help with takedowns.

        Solid ground has some info about filing online takedowns:

        Legal support for NCP: cyber civil rights project aims to help 18+ year old survivors of image based abuse.

  7. Daniel Canueto*

    Regarding 5: is it possible that Allison has not understood the question? I read it as “the company had a job posting but removed it and now wants to fill it through recruiting; this might mean that they realized they need to make the search private because they want to replace a coworker”.

    1. Healthcare Manager*

      Alison didn’t misunderstand the question.

      Employers aren’t going spend money, or time, engaging with a recruiter to hide replacing a co-worker.

    2. Audrey Puffins*

      Well, we don’t know why the company has opted to make the posting more anonymous by using the recruiter, and Alison’s reply that it is normal and not necessarily a red flag still holds.

    3. Haven’t picked a username yet*

      While that is a possibility it is far more likely in my experience to be exactly what Allison said. The company didn’t get a great round of candidates from their posting, realized they didn’t have the manpower to handle the initial recruiting, then they decided to use a recruiter and those posting always go up in my industry without the company name. Or they posted on their site accidentally when they had decided to use a recruiter from the start.

    4. Peanut Hamper*

      I think this is silly fanfiction. The search will certainly not stay private for long once they start interviewing candidates, and coworkers get replaced all the time, sometimes because they leave on their own, and sometimes because they get fired (or encouraged to quit), or because they get promoted. This is actually a really normal business practice.

      Other, non-conspiratorial possibilities:

      1) They hired a recruiter after the job had posted to their website, because they felt this would get them a better range of candidates.

      2) They accidentally posted it to their website, instead of sending it to the recruiter. (I could see a new person in HR making this kind of mistake.)

      1. DJ Abbott*

        We recently hired a new department manager where I work. It was not a secret search, the previous manager had already left.
        I am the front desk person, and I did not see the person they hired come in. I only saw one candidate come for an interview, and he is not the person they hired.
        They must have done the other interviews on zoom, and none of us staff saw them happen. So it is possible to keep interviewing a secret.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          “secret” implies a conspiracy.

          “confidential” is the word you are looking for here. Most interviews are confidential and not everybody in the building needs to be made aware that they are happening.

          I think people tend to jump to some rather nefarious conclusions in these comments when they are not warranted.

          1. Mister_L*

            My last job was on site security. When we saw the meeting rooms had privated reservations after hours we knew that there were job interviews. However, only HR and the receptionist could see the details.

          2. Database Developer Dude*

            No. ‘Secret’ does not imply a conspiracy, you are inferring that. You are also inferring it incorrectly.

            1. Peanut Hamper*

              I was referring to DJ Abbot’s use of the term. I apologize; I should have been more clear about that.

              But to the general point, companies do prefer to keep some things secret, but no, it does not imply there is a conspiracy afoot.

              1. DJ Abbott*

                So, you said Daniel Cueneto’s idea that it was a private search was “silly fanfiction”, and now you saying it’s routine and not a big deal. And your first comment was rude to Daniel.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Using the word silly was a bit harsh, but the part they were saying was fanfiction was the keep it a secret *because they want to replace a coworker* part

                2. DJ Abbott*

                  It’s not fanfiction though. It does happen in real life. I’ve seen it happen in real life.

    5. Hlao-roo*

      I think the question was understood and answered well. The OP asked “Could there be legitimate reasons for a company wanting to remain anonymous when recruiting at that stage?” One possible illegitimate reason is that the company wants to hire a Widget Maker (to use a fake job title) before they fire their current Widget Maker.

      But, as the answer states, there are also legitimate reasons for this scenario. There are legitimate reasons for a company to want to use a third-party recruiter (easier for scheduling, recruiter has broader network, etc.) and there are legitimate reasons for a third-party recruiter to anonymize the job ad (so applicants cannot apply to the company directly, which would mean the recruiter would lose out on their potential comission).

    6. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      the company probably realized they didn’t want to handle all the work that involves looking for candidates and decided to hire a recruiter. This happens more than you would think. It doesn’t do any good to speculate wild ideas like they are trying to hire a replacement for a current worker.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I think this is the best theory. I see this happen all the time in smaller/mid-sized organizations with a lot of open positions. Particularly the harder-to-recruit or specialized positions get farmed to recruiting agencies so they can more actively source from the smaller candidate pool.

  8. Observer*

    #3 – Revenge porn

    You could pass this on when you let your worker know what’s up. They may not be able to provide direct individual help, but their resources might be useful.

    Crash Override network:

    This was supposed to be a reply to my first comment, but that seems to have gotten swallowed.

    1. DV-worker*

      Also for OP3 – I’m a domestic violence specialist worker. The advice about a) letting her know, and b) letting her decide to inform your employer or not is bang on. The opposite of trauma is choice and control – she’s had enough control taken away from her already. You’re doing the absolute right thing and doing really well

      Maybe you could refer her to a local DV service? I can tell you we’d be very happy to help, and also really equipped to handle the conversation and help her safety plan. Things like this don’t come out of nowhere – if the perp is pulling something like that, there’s almost definitely a background of other abuse. Escalating perpetrators = very, very dangerous situations. it’s best to have the pros involved. We’d also definitely discretely advise you, or maybe your employer as well.

      Are you able to access any support? The 4 steps we teach bystanders who intervene (like yourself, great job!), are “recognise, respond, refer, and recover.” These situations are taxing, and I’m gathering if you’re writing about it on the internet you’re processing it :)

      Also, and I say this with love and as a PSA: in the industry we don’t call it “revenge porn”, instead we say “image based abuse.” This is because it’s not revenge (which implies the victim has done something wrong, or that the response is somehow proportionate, or they “deserved it”), nor porn (porn can only be made with consent.)

      Keep being rad, and if you have any questions feel free to add them here and I’ll do my best to reply.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      All comments with links in them go to moderation and Alison approves them manually, just FYI.

    3. Chauncy Gardener*

      Wow! What a great resource. I hope I never need it, but I’m filing it away for future reference. I hope that poor woman the OP works with can get this resolved ASAP. How terrible!

      1. Observer*

        Yes, the world would be a better place if no one ever needed this. Since people DO need it, I’m happy to at least share it. ~~sigh~~

  9. Mister_L*

    #5: The awkward situation when a company posts a job anonymously and starts getting applications from their own employees.
    On a more serious note, sometimes companies also do this because they don’t want people to know they are hiring.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Happened to me once (this was a while ago in the days when most vacancies were done via agencies with an actual building that you visited and they put the jobs up in their windows!) – I saw “my” job advertised for more money. I asked for a chat with my bosses and said that I’d seen the ad and would like to apply for the X position as it was a salary bump from this one but seemed like a lateral move. They hadn’t advertised internally (or told me that they were recruiting another X who I would be working directly with) – I don’t think it was particularly keeping info secret from people but more just they didn’t think people were really worth the respect of knowing what was going on. I got the salary bump but on account of adding some more responsibilities that the new person didn’t have…

      I don’t think my current company would do this as we have a culture of being very open and keeping people in the know – but since that incident especially now everything is online I keep alerts for “my title” in “my location” switched on! Mainly just roles at other companies of course but you never know.

      When I was a renter I applied this there, too. We have a website (rightmove) in the UK where most property for sale and to rent I’d advertised, so I always had alerts set up for both for sale and to let on my postcode. (Life pro tip actually – helps with the “landlord was selling and didnt tell me” scenario!)

  10. Cj*

    i had to google the word squinching. the definitions I found are “closing your eyes almost entirely, as if you are very tired”, “screwing up your face” and similar (which could include doing it to your eyebrows, although I’m not quite sure what the OP meant by that. I’m picturing knitting your eyebrows together with a furrowed brow or something). how would that possibly make you look more engaged/less tired?

    1. Anna*

      Maybe more in the sense of “furrowing your brow in thought as someone speaks” to show you’re contemplating the presentation?

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      To convey “squinch” I would draw together “your eyes narrow (lids close slightly) when you want to focus particularly hard on something in your line of sight” and “your brows furrow (draw down) as you digest this new piece of information.”

      Contra “your eyes widen as you take in everything around you” and “your brows rise to indicate surprise.”

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Because you’re reacting. Being bored or tired is usually indicated by a blank face.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      My apologies to the OP for the comparison, but the first example I thought to try to explain it was Tucker Carlson. He has like… a very specific face that he makes in all his interviews where the goal is presumably to look like he’s listening very intently.

    5. Web of Pies*

      I’m wondering if OP is doing other things too that convey disconnection, like resting their head in their hand, staring into space, looking at something else, doodling or something. They don’t really give any details, but it sounds like they need to perform attention better.

      Nodding, reacting to jokes, making an aha face then jotting something down, and making sure to add things to the conversation where appropriate are all going to be better than just squinching, which could unintentionally convey things like anger or disgust, or that you don’t understand what’s being said.

    6. Samwise*

      Idle info: check out Galway Kinnell’s poem “Blackberry Eating”, which is where I first encountered the word “squinched “.

    7. Hell in a Handbasket*

      The other thing I find confusing is that she says she squinches in zoom meetings, but not in person. I’m not sure why the difference.

      1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        Performing attention somehow seems more necessary on Zoom. Maybe people are more inclined to assume we aren’t listening over video, or maybe there’s just a lot more natural shows of engagement in person, like eye contact.

        I definitely find I have to actively show that yes, I am paying attention, yes, I am engaging in this meeting more online. I have to consciously do it. It’s part of what can make zoom fatigue such a real thing.

  11. Matt*

    #1: And that’s why I’m glad that almost all of our meetings are camera off (and since screens are shared most of the time, if someone happens to have their on, the picture is stamp size at the maximum).

    1. Cj*

      its sounds to me like the OP not only looks bored, and therefor unengaged, but is actually is at least somewhat unengaged because they are tired.

      As other have mentioned above, it would be a good idea to have some tests done to see if there is a medical reason for this.

      if the tests don’t show anything, and not sleeping well is the problem, like it was at least one time, there is medication (and not just actual sleeping pills that have weird side effects and can leave you groggy in the morning, but milder meds that don’t do this).

      There are also many non drug options to help you sleep. i like to listen to relaxation recordings myself.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah it sounds like OP has both in-person and zoom meetings which makes it hard for there to be an across the board solution.

  12. Zombeyonce*

    While the advice for #1 could work, I am concerned that people are complaining about how LW looks when there seems to be an absence of any other issues. If they are yawning and unable to answer questions because they aren’t paying attention, that’s one thing. But if it’s just the look on their face, I don’t like this at all.

    There’s a big movement in the neurodivergent community (of which I’m a member) to stop masking and, when we do drop the mask, we get comments like this. The problem is that masking is actually the cause of a lot of exhaustion and even if we may look bored (or angry or frustrated) because that’s just our natural resting expression, we may still be highly engaged. It’s very easy to find out just by asking a question if there’s an engagement problem.

    I’m not saying LW is ND, just that accepting these types of comments when a facial expression is the only evidence someone has that a meeting attendee is bored or not paying attention is not only unhelpful, but counterproductive and damaging to a huge community.

    So LW, get some more rest and a sleep study, but I’m of the opinion that some pushback on their comments is well worth it if you’re getting these comments based solely on your facial expression and not on your participation.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      They did mention feeling tired, exhausted, trouble staying awake etc several times, so I do think there’s something underlying it beyond “resting bored face” here.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, she didn’t mention that she’s actually an engaged participant and people just judge her facial expressions despite that. Instead, she gives several (valid and understandable) reasons for indeed being exhausted which leads me to believe that “you look bored” refers to not only the look on her face but her overall demeanour/posture.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Demeanor, posture, tone, and the quality and appropriateness of any verbal engagement (e.g. do you ask good questions, or when someone expects input from you do they have to say your name again to get your attention).

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Also, we are a visual species (weighted relative to sound, scent, etc) and these meetings have a visual component, so I think the criticism has focused on visual appearance because that’s what registers first. It’s possible that without the camera a bored tone of voice, or failing to ask questions and comment in a way that signals engagement, would be the focus of the criticism.

          2. bamcheeks*

            I think the “asking good questions and verbal engagement” is a really critical one. If LW’s job is engagement with stakeholders and they’re supposed to be directly engaging in these meetings, then these are very definitely skills they need to develop.

            However, if they’re being brought into the meetings but not actually expected to ask questions or directly engage with the stakeholders, then oof, I feel for them! It’s super hard to stay focussed (AND look like you’re focussed) in that kind of situation. I can either do something with my hands like sew, knit, draw or play a game on my phone and listen, or keep my head up, look alert and interested and actually zone out. I can’t do both. If it is that kind of situation, then it would make sense to have a conversation with the boss about meeting overkill. Maybe it’s helpful to be in some of those meetings, but you can turn them down where it’s your fourth meeting of the day, for example.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        It can be a Venn diagram of sleepy/nuerospicy sometimes, of people who fall in both categories. There’s lots of nuerospicy people who find a workable sleep routine and paying attention in meetings to be absolute mountains in terms of goals. Of course the same applies to lots of people in the nuerotypical population too, so no diagnosing here. However, if I were commenting on a colleague’s or employee’s facial expressions, or performance of attentiveness I would certainly be aware of the ableist implications, just in case. It would be better for them to focus on OP’s words and effectiveness in the meeting than appearances.

      3. Random Dice*

        One peer regularly criticizes her facial emotional affect.

        Once, one other person mentioned she looked sleepy.

        I think she has a coworker problem.

    2. MEH Squared*

      I agree. I think there might be some underlying issue that is making OP#1 tired and struggling to stay awake (I, myself, have fought sleep issues for most my life), but I also noted that the coworker said OP#1 was not emotive in general. Some people aren’t. I am not, either. I am very good at masknig my emotions, and it’s difficult for me to perform positive emotions well enough to satisfy people who don’t know me.

      I have learn to appear engaged (whether or not I actually am), but I don’t know if I could do it for four meetings in a row AND actually be engaged.

      I think OP#1 should get their sleep and thyroid checked out and take the advice to be engaged as possible. I also think they should ask their coworker what she is seeing that makes her think OP#1 is not engaged (so OP#1 can evaluate if it’s something they can change or not). Ask for specifics because ‘it’s obvious you’re bored’ is not very helpful. There is nothing actionable about that. You may want to ask your boss as well if you think she’ll be honest with you.

    3. nnn*

      I just want to clarify for people who may not have encountered the term: in the context of the neurodivergent community, “masking” is not a reference to COVID protection.

      In this context, it means suppressing your natural facial expressions/body language/behaviour and instead performing “socially-acceptable” facial expressions/body language/behaviour. So in the context of this letter it would mean prioritizing appearing to be paying attention rather than (and perhaps even at the expense of) actually paying attention.

    4. GythaOgden*

      As neurodivergent myself, I find this kind of thing a bit awkward because it doesn’t mean we get a free pass on looking bored or whatever. It just means we have to focus more on strategies to overcome the issue. My grandfather (the one from yesterday’s post) had hearing loss in his left ear. But he himself had to make sure he wasn’t overcompensating by turning away oddly and looking like he was effectively turning his back on other people in the conversation. You can’t control what other people feel but you can control how you come across to others (and telling people outright they shouldn’t feel insulted by someone yawning in a meeting is going to be hard — rationally maybe it’s doable, but we’re not always rational creatures and if we fingerwag other people for genuine feelings of frustration we just look daft and out of touch with their needs).

      From a ND perspective who has been through all the crap life throws at you but also had to step up to the plate when it was my turn to be the carer rather than the cared-for, it’s often more exhausting to be continually explaining yourself rather than just trying to fix whatever people think is a bit off about you. Having worked hard to overcome a lot of mine, I don’t like it when people use neurodivergence as an excuse for not being engaged or whatever in what are obviously important meetings for OP to be in. It’s almost ableist in itself — it’s saying that us poor neurodivergent can never change our own habits or integrate with others so we have to have special dispensation for whatever, when many, many neurotypicals have issues of their own and may be nearer the front of the queue for assistance (and there is a queue, because many people’s stamina, never mind their funds, are limited as a matter of course).

      It’s also against the commenting rules to armchair-diagnose and it doesn’t change Alison’s advice — the quickest way to overcome a symptom of being neurodivergent is to learn how to adapt to the situation you’re in. (I went to a few meetings while my ankle was healing after an injury and did ask forgiveness if I looked pained, but sooner or later that informal dispensation wore off and I was better able to keep my pain off my face altogether. But that’s a healing injury — OP can’t really tell everyone every meeting that she looks bored because X, because sooner or later she’ll be expected as an adult to fix X for herself).

      If she is ND she needs to be able to find solutions (fidget toys, note-taking etc) that balance out the sleepy appearance. There may also be others in the meeting who have their own issues but have managed to get them under control. With one in five of the UK population having a disability, and the ratio probably being reasonably similar throughout the developed world, chances are that other people have some kind of similar issue but try not to show it in meetings. Getting the roots of the issue sorted would be the first step — sleep studies, better sleep hygiene etc — and finding out whether or not someone is neurodivergent might be on that list, but at the end of the day adults are expected to handle their own issues on their own time.

      It may be because I’ve spent forty plus years struggling with the less sexy varieties of it (more neurophysical wonkiness than the ‘savant’ type) that this annoys me so much. It may be because people still misjudge it and make assumptions, but bringing it up as ‘poor little ND can’t ever change needs her colleagues to just change around her’ is…unhelpful to those of us who want to do more than just mask.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        It looks like you didn’t fully read my comment. You said “I don’t like it when people use neurodivergence as an excuse for not being engaged or whatever in what are obviously important meetings for OP to be in” and that’s actually the complete opposite of what I said. I also very clearly did not diagnose the LW (I said specifically that I wasn’t saying they are ND), but related their struggles to those of ND people.

        I’m actually concerned that it sounds like you think the solution to ND people being exhausted from masking is to mask more and harder. That’s a recipe for extreme burnout.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I thought that Zombeyonce was saying that not masking (ie, not guarding their expression) actually makes them *more* engaged with the content. You seem to be treating it as saying that not masking means not bothering to be engaged with the content.

        I can see how having to explain “I may look disengaged, but if you want me to look engaged, I literally won’t hear a word you’re saying because I’m thinking about my expression instead” is tiresome, especially if you’re having to repeat yourself because neurotypicals don’t want to learn. However, I can’t imagine it’s more tiresome than getting in trouble later for not knowing what was said in a meeting because you spent all your energy on masking instead of absorbing.

        Also, your depiction of ND people demanding everyone change around them is highly unusual, and in fact vastly less common than people demanding the ND person ALWAYS be the one to change. So much so that I get an impression you think ND people occasionally explaining “My face looks disengaged when I’m doing my best listening; I promise I’m not bored and if you ask me questions, or wait for my questions at the end, I can demonstrate how much I was absorbing.” constitutes demanding the entire world change for them, when in fact it’s just requesting a bit of grace for a change.

      3. Angle*

        “it doesn’t mean we get a free pass on looking bored or whatever”

        It means we get a free pass to look however our face looks in a neutral expression, just like everyone else does. Some people have resting jerk face, some people have resting tired face, I’ve been told I have resting despair face. The solution is not masking, for anyone. The solution is to reply to comments about it with, “Oh, that’s just my neutral face. Please don’t read anything into it.”

        OP mentioned that frequently they are very tired, and I would advise them to both do more of whatever self care will help with that and to manage the expression of their tiredness more. Outside of that, however, OP has no obligation to perform any particular emotion.

        1. aebhel*

          Yeah, I think LW has an obligation to not be like, visibly yawning during important meetings, but if they ARE engaged and listening and participating, then that’s the important thing. I have Disney Villain Eyebrows; my face looks angry unless I’m actively smiling and sometimes even then. There’s a point at which ‘fix your face’ is not a reasonable expectation to be accommodated but just someone else’s weird quibble.

      4. Lisa Simpson*

        ” But that’s a healing injury — OP can’t really tell everyone every meeting that she looks bored because X, because sooner or later she’ll be expected as an adult to fix X for herself)”

        And what about people with chronic disorders that can’t be “fixed for themselves.” There are a lot of medical issues that cause discomfort that simply cannot be “fixed.”

      5. Random Dice*

        It’s pretty offensive of you to tell ND folks to stop making “excuses” and mask harder.

        We’re not making excuses, we’re pushing back on ableism like yours.

        Yes, ND folks can be ableist, just like women can have internalized misogyny.

    5. Irish Teacher*

      Yeah, I find it problematic that people are judged based on whether or not they “look” engaged. I know it’s something that does happen and the reality is that people will judge, but it’s very likely to be inaccurate, as you’ve said, especially for ND people. But it’s not exclusive to them either.

      I can understand that the LW might not want to change society though and might be happy just finding a way to look more engaged.

    6. Lyra*

      I came here to say something similar – for me there is a big difference between *looking* like I am paying attention and *actually* paying attention (I am ND). I actually don’t find it super clear from #1’s letter if the problem is solely with appearance or also with attention – they say they were tired, but not whether they missed anything content-wise in the meeting.

      If I am *actually* paying attention I will look to many people like I am daydreaming. I’ll be working on an elaborate doodle or staring off into space. Maybe majorly fidgeting, if I know it won’t distract anyone. When I contribute, I will be looking off into a corner instead of at anyone. I only do this in meetings with people I know quite well, where I am likely to substantively contribute (so it will be clear I am plugged in).

      When it’s important to *look* like I’m paying attention (clients, c-level, etc.) I’m spending energy on looking at people who are talking, nodding at important points, keeping a neutral-positive expression on my face, and maintaining an open posture (facing towards the speaker, slightly leaned in, no arms crossed). I’ll relegate my fidgets to sipping water, playing with some fidget rings, and taking notes. I have trouble doing this in more than two meetings a day, and it’s harder when I’m tired.

      So it’s not clear to me whether #1 needs to work on their attention act, or push back on stigma, or pay more attention… but I think it’s a good idea to think about which solution fits them and their work.

      1. MC*

        This is how I am. I have ADHD and one of the earliest things I figured out when diagnosed (30 years ago) is that to pay attention to or concentrate on something, I need mindless background distractions to keep my mind from wandering.

        If I *look* like I’m paying attention, I’m actually bored out of my mind and can’t retain a thing that’s said. If I’m doodling on a piece of paper, or twirling a pen around, playing with a fidget spinner (that trend was a miracle for me), etc, I may look like I’m not focused but I can recall everything said and participate without any issues.

        I also really dislike the “not really emotive” comment. Some people simply aren’t, and that’s fine.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          I don’t have ADHD or any other neurodiversity as far as I know, but I stood and folded laundry through a 2-hour volunteer meeting last night, and I definitely heard more than I would if I was spending my whole time sitting nicely in my chair either comparing my expression to everyone else’s and hoping I look engaged, or hiding my view of myself so I don’t stare at it to check my expression, and STILL hoping I look engaged. Aside from making sure I kept underpants and such well below the video capture area, I only looked for more than a quick glance when we had maps and slides on the screenshare, or when the chat window popped up for questions.

        2. Aggretsuko*

          Same here. I’m so tired of the “you’re not paying attention” complaints. LET ME JUST KNIT OVER HERE PLEASE IF YOU WANT ME TO ACTUALLY HEAR YOU.

    7. mlem*

      Yeah, I hit a record scratch at “she has also mentioned that I’m “not very emotive” as a person in general”. Like others here, I agree that trying to address the sleepiness is a good idea, but … I also wonder if this coworker is expecting a certain kind of affect that isn’t fair to the LW.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Agreed – if I were the OP, I would push back on “not very emotive” commentary. It’s not a job requirement to be emotive. It’s a personality trait, and it’s not good or bad. It just IS.

        Falling asleep / being disengaged in meetings – valid managerial or even colleague concern
        Not being emotive – nobody’s business.

      2. aebhel*

        Yeah, this. If LW is, like, visibly yawning or distracted, that’s an issue. But not being very emotive is not a performance issue in the vast majority of jobs, and demanding a performance of ~emotion~ from a coworker strikes me as crossing a line. Some people are just more low-key. I find it kind of off-putting when people are really loud or overenthusiastic about work stuff, but that’s my problem, not theirs.

      3. GythaOgden*

        I think we’d advise them to try not to bother about it if they came to us with advice themselves, but we’re advising the OP. We can’t control others, so the only thing we can do is experiment with our own habits to find the sweet spot that makes life easier for everyone around us.

        I’m reminded of a story when a couple were going through marital problems. The wife resented that her husband turned away from her on his side at night and wanted him to cuddle her, and this happening night after night just broke her (I used to be unable to sleep if I was in bed but my husband was elsewhere in the house. It was crazily psychosomatic because if he wasn’t there I could nod off ok, but if he was there but not in bed…no dice. I didn’t start resenting him but it was really odd when I became conscious of it — and even when I was conscious of it I still couldn’t actually reprogramme myself). It was a small thing, but it created resentment in her so strongly that it got to the self-therapy stage (I think this was an article about a game that encouraged people to open up to each other about things like this).

        The husband said that he hadn’t realised she was upset, but that he rolled over on that side because it was too sore for him to sleep on the other side. The solution they found was to swap sides of the bed so the wife didn’t feel so alone but the husband didn’t have sleep in discomfort. The moral of the story is that we’re not robots and things like that, if left unchecked, can cause problems and resentments if not discussed and understood.

        If OP wants her colleagues to turn back towards her, maybe she should approach them with a compromise solution rather than being angry that they feel she isn’t engaged enough. People are going to have responses to how we carry ourselves, and they may be right or wrong, reasonable or unreasonable, but we can’t physically force them not to have those responses.

        I think that’s a kind of macro-level issue that may change over time (like I’ve seen understanding of neurodivergence and things like fidget toys etc blossom over the past 10-15 years), but to be honest looking disengaged in an important meeting is something that can be relatively easily fixed individually. It wasn’t necessarily ableist of other people who didn’t know my grandad was deaf in one ear to feel excluded by his posture — they may also have had difficulty communicating with him as a result and just the feeling of someone turning their back to you is a bit of a trigger for anxiety even in absolutely neurotypical people. And because I’m often distracted more in meetings by someone fidgeting than by the content, and my autism will just about guarantee that if someone is fiddling with something halfway across the room I’ll pick up on it and it will bug me much more than anything else.

        So it’s not necessarily ableist of me to ask someone else to maybe not fidget when I’m trying to tell them something important — just like I upset my husband on one occasion by looking like I was more interested in my phone than in his bad headaches that were an early sign of a brain lesion. I was in fact listening but it was actually reasonable of him to be annoyed that he had potentially life-threatening news for me and I was keeping my fingers busy playing Candy Crush. Appearances are reality and we’re not the centre of our own universe — sometimes it’s about someone else rather than ourselves and we have to put down the fidget thing or suppress the yawn to extend them the grace that we’d like them to extend to us.

        It’s like how we go on and on about ND people being able to knit in meetings because other people shouldn’t be distracted — but because they are. I couldn’t really call my hubby ableist for getting upset about my phone fidgeting in those situations where he really needed my full attention just because I am autistic. Neurotypicals have needs just as much as us neurodivergent; the able-bodied have needs as much as the disabled do (and of course there are invisible disabilities, so it’s not often that we’re the only neurodivergent person in the room).

        It’s part of living in a reasonable society that we give as well as take, and I actually think if we want others to excuse our own foibles or give leeway to our situations when we need accommodation, it’s worth considering how we come across to others and how our habits or traits affect them as well, even if their reasons sound like they’re BS. At work you’re all meant to be on the same team, so I think if you know your behaviour might be causing tension in a team, you need to examine it before it starts creating rifts where none should be.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          I believe there might also be a wee bit of difference between “Can you pause and look towards me for this 5 minute (but really important) conversation” vs. “We just generally want you to look engaged and happy to be there throughout all four meetings in a day without any significant breaks.”

        2. aebhel*

          Part of living in a reasonable society also includes not jumping through hoops to accommodate unreasonable people when you don’t have to. ‘Not very emotive’ is not a substantial or reasonable criticism in most work contexts. It might be something LW has to take into account, if said unreasonable person is in a position of power over her, but that doesn’t make it reasonable, and I think it’s worth maintaining an awareness of that distinction.

        3. Lyra*

          I do think it’s super important for people to signal to each other that they’re listening – the conflict is that sometimes the signals we give aren’t the ones others can read. In the context of ongoing relationships (work and non-work), I can signal attention by nodding, clarifying, contributing, following up, remembering things later, etc. I can give genuine signals without putting up an act.

          When someone needs the momentary reinforcement of attention, I’ll do it. When I’m interacting with someone new, I’ll give the appropriate social cues. But it’s very draining, and I don’t feel comfortable if I’m always the one having to do this accomodating.

    8. WillowSunstar*

      Could just be the content in the meeting actually is boring. A. Not all presenters in a meeting may be aware they have vocal variety issues. B. Not everyone is great at acting out emotions they aren’t actually feeling.

      You could ask if allowed to bring your work laptop/tablet to the meeting and multi-task. At least then you would be mentally focused on something, and you can have a Word doc open so it looks like you’re at least writing things down. Otherwise yeah, bring a paper notebook/pen and take notes. Even if you don’t want to take notes, just write things down like what was said so it looks like you’re mentally engaged.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, I used to lean my head in my hand when I was tired, and that plus a slumped posture really looks unengaged. Now I sort of lean forward and cradle my chin like I’m really contemplating the discussion and it “looks” better even though it’s basically the exact same thing. Sad that we have to play these little games sometimes but it has made a difference for me.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I learned how to “look engaged” in school, to the point that it sometimes backfired on me — teachers would call on me because I “looked like I had something to contribute” when I was 100% not paying attention at all!


        1. Anna*

          I’d like to propose the possibility that these teachers saw clearly that you were not paying any attention and that they called on you to get that attention :-)

        2. There You Are*

          When I went back to school a few years ago, a lot of my classes involved getting up in front of everyone and giving a presentation. I always felt so bad for the students who were boring or painful to listen to / watch, so I did the fake “look engaged” thing, too, just to maybe give them a boost of confidence.

          Which meant that I inevitably ended up being the only person in the audience whom the presenter directed their attention to. Which meant that I couldn’t pick up my phone and check email or whatever. (Obviously, I literally, physically *could* but that would kill my effort to boost the person’s confidence).

          So, yeah, I’ve mastered the ability to nod at the right points, open my eyes wide in surprise at an astonishing point, tilt my head as if concentrating on / thinking through what someone has said. . . all without any freaking clue what they’re saying. I kind of just mimic their body language and follow the tone of their voice for cues on the right response.

      2. Critical Rolls*

        I don’t think it’s sad that we are, what, engaging in the basic human behavior of trying to communicate through body language and facial expression? It’s a bad thing when we are *policed* for things that are within normal ranges of expression, but trying not to give off widely-recognized signals for boredom and disengagement in meetings is just regular people-ing.

  13. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (looking disengaged in meetings) – my first thought is that the conflict avoidant boss has asked the (presumably much more direct) coworker to bring it up with you…

    I feel like there may be something medical going on here (assuming it can’t be explained by obvious things like staying up far too late watching Netflix or whatever) and may be worth a trip to a doctor. (don’t want to derail on concrete possible things it could be though!) Think about whether it has only recently become a thing- maybe no one said anything previously but have you had that “can’t stay awake” sensation before – etc.

  14. Working Girl*

    #1 Have you tried to set a quota for the number of meetings you’ll take in a day or blocked out times when it’s harder for you to focus? If this isn’t something you feel you have the autonomy to do this may be a good thing to discuss with your boss as a tangible solution to her feedback. We’ve all had days where we feel like we’ve spent so long discussing the work, there’s no time to do the work. Fretting over a mounting to-do list always pulls my focus.

    Since you’re co-worker brings this up, next time they do, or even in advance of it, you may want to ask them what additionally they are looking for from you to feel supported in a meeting. Once again, in an attempt to move toward tangible things you can imcoporate.

    Where possible you may want to take a may active roll in setting the agenda (or adding action items to an agenda), so you feel invested.

    Lastly, as an adult diagnosed with adhd I realized late in life that I can start to tune out conversation without even realizing it and there are many practical tips for this that are applicable for all professionals. This came to mind when you mentioned doodling to stay focused. You may find tips with the adhd sphere that hit on the same concept but present more professionally.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree with doodling. There’s no denying that sometimes professional meetings really are boring; the section that’s relevant to you may be very short but you have to sit through the whole thing to get to it (without making it obvious how very bored/disengaged you are, particularly if this is a partner org you’re supportive of) – or you might be the designated person sent by your org to indicate they care about this partner/topic but have no actual role in the meeting other than radiating interest. I have several times been stuck listening to the same presentation I created myself, but I’m there demonstrating that my org is part of the Thing. I do some doodling or take notes that are not relevant to the topic (to do lists, in illegible short hand) to remain visibly and physically engaged even if I have allowed my mind to wander somewhat.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        I had a meeting like this once. Every Friday, 9:30 to noon, 20+ participants. I only needed to actively participate for about 10 minutes, but I had to be there to indicate that my division was supporting this internal client.

        Instead of doodling, I wrote down all my personal chores & shopping list for the weekend. Including meal planning for all 7 days of the following week. Having to rack my brain for whether I needed laundry detergent or onions made it look like I was engaged.

  15. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (leaving because of Beth) – the problem seems more systematic than just this particular person, from an outside perspective. She is in charge of that team but also the behaviour and situation doesn’t exist in a vacuum; others ‘above’ and around her are tolerating it or even encouraging it to happen. The bigger issue seems to be that Beth’s team is more “visible” within the company, gets all the good projects, all the plaudits, and OP (personally and on behalf of her team) probably feels slighted, ignored – not just ostensibly by Beth as described, but also more broadly by “the company”.

    Personally if I was in this situation I wouldn’t make it about Beth specifically except in passing, but I would talk about the broader situation of how your team seems “frozen out” from the company, no visibility on projects etc and that is why you are leaving for a role that is more central to the new company’s activities, or whatever. (What language did you use in interviews for the new roles when asked why you want to leave and what draws you to their role? Is there anything in your answers there than can be usefully reworked for the exit interview?)

    1. EarlGrey*

      yes, this and the fact that reporting issues went nowhere (that would also leave me feeling like a less important part of the company than the more central person)! You can de-Beth it a little by making it a non-responsive management issue and not a personal axe to grind. (And obviously by phrasing it like “this made it hard to succeed in my job” rather than “why didn’t y’all punish this jerk?”)

    2. Letter Writer #2*

      This is a very valid answer, and definitely true regarding the broader company. For interviews, I have been just talking about looking for a new challenge after being here for 8 years, partly because I don’t want to seem like somebody with a grudge or who is difficult to work with. And it is true, I AM looking for a new challenge.

  16. Anxious Volunteer*

    I’m very interested to read #2 today because I’m considering resigning from a volunteer position mostly because of one “coworker” (discussed in this name in the Friday thread a few weeks ago).

    I really like Alison’s suggested wording, tone and angle, and will keep it in my back pocket.

    What I particularly like about it is the general principle of candour but framed personally. It’s not “this person is impossible to work with” but “I can no longer work with this person”, in the same way that you might say “I can get more money elsewhere” rather than “you don’t pay enough”.

  17. Cj*

    The OP might have just worded this wrong, but they said the job is now listed with anonymous recruiter. I highly doubt the recruiter is anonymous – at least I’ve never seen this, and I’ve looked at a lot of job ads in the last few months.

    Also, recruiters never, ever name the company in the ad for the reason Alison gave.

    Even if the company did remove the ad from their website because they plan to replace a current employee, I wouldn’t necessarily see this as a red flag. Hopefully the company has done what they could to coach the employee, let them know the seriousness of situation and that they are in danger being let go if things don’t improve, etc., but other than that, I don’t think they have anymore obligation to let the employee know they are going to be terminated than an employee needs to notify an employer that they are job searching.

    just as you shouldn’t tell your employer your job searching so they don’t push you out before you are ready, employers don’t want you to know they plan to let you go so you don’t quit before *they* are ready. Which I think is fair if the company did coaching, gave warnings, etc. as I mentioned earlier.

  18. niknik*

    OP1, Staying awake in online meetings: Standing up during meetings was a game changer for me.
    I stay more focused, have better posture and i think that also improves my speaking.

    Try it, if your setup allows to ! Maybe not every time, but for the afternoon ones ?

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This helped me in person. We used to have long 100-person meetings. I switched from sitting up front (comfortable chairs) to sitting in the back (hard folding chairs), and switched off between sitting to standing. When a manager offered me a comfie chair up front, I smiled and said something “I have a seat thanks. My back just likes it better if I switch position. I’m back here so I don’t distract anyone.” Future meetings got a shorter answer “I’m fine; it helps my back.”

      (And I just realized that may have helped us finally get sit/stand desks!)

      1. JustaTech*

        My number one use of my sit/stand desk is to keep me paying attention in terribly boring but important training sessions (so much repetitive training, ugh).

        I’ll give it a try at my next super dull video meeting!

    2. Cazaril*

      I agree on standing occasionally. I have a sit/stand desk at home, and when I was taking zoom meetings from there, I’d stand when I got tired. I’ve occasionally done this in in-person meetings, citing “back problems” and a need to change positions. (A former job involved international travel and associated jet lag, and this was sometimes a life saver!)

      I also take notes on a laptop. When I’m stuck in an interminable meeting where I don’t have a contribution, I multitask by doing something low-key that allows me to still listen like filing/deleting emails. A task keeps me awake and looking alert. Your mileage may vary on this one.

    3. My own boss*

      This works for me, especially for zoom meetings. Standing gives my brain something to do in the background so I can stay focused on the conversation. My job is often back to back meetings all day so I need whatever help I can get!

  19. Amanda*

    #3 As someone who works in communications, it would be a few days at most before something like this shows up in our tools for media coverage. If it can be found through google, it will be picked up. So please tell her before she’s blindsided by it from the company.

    1. Sloanicota*

      yeah since the company was tagged in the posts I think it’s safe to assume they will see it eventually, unfortunately, although I suppose it’s possible OP or the victim could successfully get the content taken down/blocked before that happens.

  20. bamcheeks*

    LW1, I’d tackle this from both ends– have a thing about your “feeling sleepy” and whether things like a quick brisk walk, ten minutes of fresh air or changing anything at home to get better sleep could make a difference, and consider talking to your doctor if your sleep and/or sleepiness really stubborn. (And tell your boss that you’re working on some of these things! Really helpful for a boss to know that you’re taking steps to detail with a problem.) But also look at the meeting patterns, whether you need to be in all of them, and whether the rooms are stuffy and oxygenless. There ARE good reasons for having multiple people in meetings just in case you need to offer a fresh perspective or something relevant to you comes up, but quite often if you are feeling snoozy during a meeting it’s because you’re not actively involved, and that does raise the question of whether you really need to be there.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Other people commented above about seeing your doctor for the sleepiness issue and I just wanted to chime in on that as well. If you’re out partying until late and that’s why you’re sleepy, then obviously you should save the partying until the weekends, OP, but if you are giving yourself adequate sleep time and not actually able to sleep, that’s definitely worth a conversation with your doctor. I had insomnia for over 10 years before mentioning to my doctor how I was tired all the time and I wish I’d said something years earlier. I tried All the Things (the ones bamcheeks mentioned) and they made no difference but medical intervention did. I hope you can figure out a solution that might help!

      And I’d also ask your coworker why she thinks you look bored and reassure her that you’re not bored, or if she keeps asking, tell her that’s just how you look in meetings. It’s your Resting Meeting Face.

  21. MPerera*

    I once left a job because of an extremely rude and unprofessional supervisor. I was the fourth full-time employee to quit in a year because of that supervisor, and I made it clear in my exit interview that I was leaving because of the things he’d done, with examples. Months later I found out he’d been fired (he arrived for work at eight, as usual; at nine the manager and an HR person showed up, had a meeting with him in his office, and then the manager came out, called all the staff together, and said, “The supervisor no longer works here.”). I also found out a fifth full-time person had left after me, so at some point it must have become too much for management to overlook or work with.

  22. Irish Teacher*

    LW1, given that you mentioned doodling as a thing that might help, would some form of fidget be helpful? I usually bring a marker to meetings so I can play with it.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Unfortunately fidgeting will also read as “bored” to a lot of people. So it might help LW *actually* focus better, but it won’t solve their problem of *looking* focused.

      1. Heidi*

        I think this is such a good point. A lot of people conflate sleepiness with boredom, but when people are actually bored and not sleepy, they can also start looking around for other things to entertain themselves. I’m guessing that’s not what the OP is doing since they said they were tired, but some of the solutions to appearing bored may end up coming across as distracted. When I’m on zoom, I sometimes try to see if I can type out what everyone is saying as fast as they can talk. I don’t type quite that fast, so it’s raises the tension. Also if someone is on zoom and references a study or news item, I try to look up that topic online. If someone calls me out, I can just say I was looking up that paper and comment on it.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      I have one of those hand therapy gel balls and I squeeze it (usually off-camera) during meetings all the time. It’s totally silent, so if nobody sees you doing it, they’re not going to know!

      1. Lily Rowan*

        The problem is they are trying to figure out what to do in smaller in-person meetings.

        I actually think doodling is OK, if you combine it with note-taking and active engagement in the meeting.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Since LW would not leave if Beth were not an issue, it makes sense to let them know.

      Yes, some companies won’t care. But other companies may see an exodus of highly talented employees and realize that they have a bigger liability on their hands than they realized.

      1. Hans Solo*

        In my experience, this isn’t the case. If serious issues have already been raised and it appears nothing has been done about it, then people like Beth are valued higher than these other people. I worked at a company with a SVP that was truly awful and people left all the time citing all the things she had done and nothing was EVER done. Over years and years. When my friend left she was giving her exit interview and the HR person was basically like, oh yeah we understand, we have heard it all before, but the CEO felt that she was more valuable than all these people – which wasn’t true, but…he also hated conflict and wouldn’t address her issues at all. We basically assumed that she could always do literally whatever she wanted and everyone else would always be sacrificed. I mean, if it makes you feel better to still say it, do it, but don’t expect anything to change.

        1. MsM*

          Counting on anything changing and whether there’s value in speaking up just in case this *does* turn out to be the thing that finally spurs some kind of action (or at least strengthens the case enough so that the next person to complain can get something done) are two separate considerations. Plus, there might be value for OP in just knowing “I did all I could, and now I can walk away and focus on what’s next.”

  23. I should really pick a name*

    If you decide to tell them you’re leaving because of Beth, make sure you got some unambiguous examples of problem behaviour.

    Reading your letter, I don’t really get a sense of what she’s done that’s worth leaving over. I totally understand that you’re just giving a brief overview for the letter, but when you present your issues to management, you’ll want to make very clear statements and not leave it to them to connect the dots.

    1. Office Lobster DJ*

      On a related note, this is why I loved Alison’s phrasing. Aside from moving it away from being dismissed as interpersonal conflict, “I’m leaving because of Beth” leaves an open invitation for them to feign surprise or argue back. “I’m leaving because X issue with Beth got to be too much to handle” already carries the assumption that X issue is valid and unambiguous, making it harder to argue against.

      1. Anxious Volunteer*

        You can’t in good faith argue against “I don’t like working with X” whereas “X is impossible to work with” invites discussion or rebuttal.

    2. MsM*

      I don’t know, I think even with those summary examples, OP paints a pretty clear picture of someone who operates on favoritism and cuts people out of the loop in ways that are counterproductive at best just because she can. And there’s something to be said for being able to simply say “I won’t rehash X, Y, and Z, because I know HR is already aware of those incidents, but to my knowledge Beth never faced any consequences and certainly hasn’t changed her behavior as a result.”

    3. Letter Writer #2*

      This is very good advice. One of the challenging things is that so much of it is little behaviours, that don’t sound like much on their own but add up. Will have to find the best way to sum them up.

      1. MJ*

        Maybe something along the lines of “There were a number of seemingly minor irritants, that cumulatively become more than I want to deal with.”

        I’m not happy with the wording, but something that acknowledges that the things listed individually would seem petty, but that all together were too much.

      2. Ranger*

        Just brainstorming here, but what about something like “Beth gives the impression of not valueing inclusion of everybody on the team. Some of the things that contribute are aaaa, bbbb, and cccc, which on their own are not big of deal, but the cumulative impact of all those things ends up being sort of cliqueish.”

  24. ConstantlyComic*

    Maybe I’m just being cynical here, but my first thought when I saw the “to be redefined” was “oh, so they want full-time amounts of work, but ostensibly at part-time hours so they don’t have to give as many benefits”

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Lots of things are possible. I read it as “We have been covering this role as a group for a while–if someone offered to come in and do it, but only full-time with benefits, we could add J, K, and L to their plate. If someone offered to come in and do it part-time, we could give them A and B (and then Donna won’t quit, she’s tired of covering those on top of her normal work) and C, D, and E, and keep F G H I where they are now.”

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yes, exactly. I have been in this position before. This happens more often than you would think, because some positions can’t just sit there open, and other people have to scramble to cover those duties, which leads to a rethink/reorganization of responsibilities/coverages/etc. This was my exact thought as well.

        1. LW4*

          You’re both right, even though I didn’t think of it at the time I wrote to Alison.
          This is a role that requires a specific degree and a license, but some parts of it can be done by anyone who feels comfortable doing it.
          I asked how they managed for so long, and the answer was that they had someone come over from another part of the organisation every now and then, for those parts that require the proper license.
          The rest must have been divided between a few people, and some parts have been outsourced (but it’s definitely not as efficient).
          Since this was a first phone interview, with someone who’s higher in the hierarchy and doesn’t work day in and day out with the team, I didn’t get many details (also, it was already longer than I expected). But I’m meeting the team soon and will ask for clarification on who’s doing what currently, and which duties would be transitioned back to me or shared.

        2. LW4*

          That’s a good point. It’s been on my mind since the interview, but I didn’t make the link between “redefine the role” and “how have they managed for so long?”
          Some parts require a specific degree and license. Others du not require a license, but since they rely on knowledge and experience which is typically acquired during the degree…
          Ever since the last person retired, they’ve managed the parts that require a license by having someone from another team come in once in a while.
          The rest has been divided between a few persons, or outsourced (but it’s not as efficient).
          I’m meeting the team soon, and I’ll take this opportunity to clarify who’s doing what right now, and which duties would be transitioned back to me or shared.
          Thanks for the insight!
          (here’s hoping whatever I write makes sense, because English is not my first language!)

      2. negligent apparitions*

        I read it as this, plus with the “clean slate” comments – “it didn’t work out with the last person, so we’re taking a different approach.” But that may be because I’ve been in that position as a hiring manager before.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, there are a million reasons they could be reevaluating but it seems like if the role has been vacant a long time then other people on the team will have been picking up some slack of what a person in that role would have been doing. So my first guess would be that they are deciding what things need to belong to that role and what things that have been picked up by others could maybe be moved out of that role permanently. So maybe it used to be full-time but now they are leaning toward or open to makin it part-time.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      The biggest problem with the job is definitely the “oh, well, we’re not sure if it’s full or part time and we’re redefining it/letting the candidate decide”. That won’t work for a lot of people. OP, if you haven’t, reach out via email (assuming you don’t yet have another interview lined up) and be clear–“I hear that you’re not sure about the parameters for the role. I’d need them to be more defined before we continue, as I’m looking for X and Y with FT work” (or whatever it is you’re looking for!). At the very least that should start them making some things about the job role concrete. Hopefully they don’t want to lose their few (only?) applicants because the job parameters are too vague.

      1. Ama*

        Honestly this situation feels likely to lead to the letter from a couple days ago where the employee wanted PT but the employer’s idea of what that meant for her availability didn’t match up with hers.

        1. LW4*

          Good point, I’ll make sure to clarify their expectations around general availability.
          It’s not really what I’m concerned about however. It’s more that they must have at least some expectations, and I want to be aware of those.

      2. LW4*

        Thanks for the insightful comments.
        Alison’s advice is spot-on as usual and she definitely put words on that nagging feeling that something needs clarification.
        I guess at first it looks like offering flexibility and giving me room to take ownership of the role, which would be great! Especially when my current job is pretty rigid.
        But “letting the candidate decide” feels like going too far. Also it would be a lateral move for me, and there are some parts of the job that are somewhat unfamiliar, so it’s hard to know what would work for them.
        I’m meeting the team in a few weeks and will definitely ask for concrete parameters.
        The previous person in the role left because they retired, so maybe I can ask if they can be reached to discuss?

      3. LW4*

        That’s a great point. You’ve put words on something that was just at the beach of my mind.
        It would be great to have some room to take ownership of the role, but “letting the candidate decide” feels like too much.
        Some parts of the role I’m not overly familiar with, which doesn’t help.
        The previous person left because they retired, so I guess I could ask if they’re available to discuss?
        I’m meeting the team soon, and will also use this opportunity to clarify.
        (hope whatever I’m writing makes sense, because English is not my first language!)

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I read it as, “we want full time but we’re having trouble recruiting anyone good, so we’d rather have 60% of a competent human than continue as understaffed as we are”.

      I once took a job that was advertised as FT (as standard for the industry) but when it came to salary negotiations etc I said actually PT would be better, and they were glad because there was only really 80% of a job needing doing, so I saved them money.

      1. LW4*

        That’s at least partly true.
        I was looking for a replacement for my maternity leave a few years back (self employed at the time), and I remember not finding anyone and thinking “anything is better than nothing, even if someone is available one day a week I’ll hire them”.

  25. Elsa*

    LW1, this doesn’t directly answer the question you asked, but I think that the expectation that you have a responsibility to look more engaged in meetings isn’t really fair in the first place. If you are doing your work, contributing to conversations, and getting along with others, then why does it matter if you look bored during meetings? And when they make you attend four hours of meetings, it just seems cruel that you are expected to look like you are having fun!
    It also seems clear to me that if it were the other way around and the manager had written to AAM to say “my employee always looks bored in meeting, what should I do?”, that Allison would suggest ways the manager could make meetings more engaging and ways the manager could see if the employee could attend fewer meetings, but I can’t imagine that Allison would suggest that the manager reprimand her employee for this.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on the context. If there are clients in those meetings, looking bored is a problem. It’s still not a reprimand but it’s “we need to change this.”

  26. Boolie*

    #5 I get that it’s normal, but I don’t like it. Sometimes you can’t know if it’s really a recruiter or someone collecting personal info just to plug into a database that will spam you later, or even farming resumes and address/phone numbers for sketchy reasons. I may have shot myself in the foot in my past job search so I’m curious what others say, but I just skip those types of job posts.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Agreed. I know I might be losing opportunities over it, but I don’t really care. My process for applying involves doing a lot of research on a company before I engage with them and I’m not willing to compromise on that.

      1. Boolie*

        Right on. Gotta be selective when giving away a collection of highly personal information. Legitimacy of the organization is not enough – gotta know what they stand for.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I’m curious as to how you “can’t know if its really a recruiter or someone collecting personal info”. Recruiters and recruiting companies will have legitimate websites where they will post job openings. (On the other hand, job postings on Cragislist–whoooof!)

      You need to do some due diligence, but I’m not sure how this an issue for you, so I am curious to hear more.

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

        Many recruiting companies will spam you with job offers if you have ever applied through them. 4 years later and I STILL get the occasional text from a local employment agency with offers. I’ve blocked them but occasionally one will pop through.

        1. Boolie*

          Exactly this. Yeah there are legitimate big players like Michael Page but then I’ll get clunky emails years later for jobs that aren’t even close to my field or experience level (in both directions).

    3. learnedthehardway*

      If you are concerned, I would ask the recruiter what the information is being used for and tell them that you will not consent to your resume being marketed to companies other than the one for the role to which you are applying.

      When I was in house in HR, we used to blacklist companies that willy nilly forwarded resumes without having a contract with us. We would also tell them point blank that since we did not have any agreement, we would not hire anyone they put forward. Now, if we found them in some other way – eg. did a search for the same qualifications and the same person came up on a job board, LinkedIn, etc., we would still consider them for the role, because we had found them ourselves.

      1. Boolie*

        How can you know they’ll comply or that they get the message when odds are they won’t reply? That would be awesome if it works.

        Second paragraph – I like your style.

      2. Lisa Simpson*

        I worked for a company with a similar deal, but a twist. We had scammy recruiters scraping resumes off of public websites, and then putting that person forward for the job without notifying them. So then when that person applied, it was actually the second time they’d applied.

        We ended up being zero-tolerance on unsolicited resumes from recruiters.

        1. Boolie*

          Would they do this in hopes you pick the scammer’s submission so the applicant would have to pay them? Or why would they do this? Such an odd thing.

      3. Industry Behemoth*

        I would love to have seen @learned’s employer stare down a recruiter who tried to muscle in, when a company made direct contact with a candidate who was also registered with the recruiter.

        Company and candidate had found each other, with no involvement by recruiter. Unfortunately, Company HQ said to drop the candidate rather than risk a fight with the recruiter.

    4. RagingADHD*

      I’m really curious as to what “sketchy reasons” a company would have for farming directory information like phone numbers and addresses that is already widely available.

      It is also perfectly acceptable to put only an email address, a Google Voice number, and your city/state on your resume. It’s very common practice to use burner numbers or even burner emails for job hunting, as long as you check them regularly or have them forwarded to your main.

      1. Babadoo Bradley*

        I’m surprised you’re living in 2023 and not concerned about information safety online?

        That’s the thing. It might not be a company. Anyone can post a job listing. (1) Why give my email away? That’s not public info. (2) Google voice calls are not distinguishable from cell phone number calls, so there’s no point in giving a different number. Texts yes but calls no. (3) there exist sites that compile this info, group it together (link email with phone number and address) and sell it. And it’s not just well known sites like White Pages, it’s websites you’ve never even heard of.

      2. Joron Twiner*

        Just got an email from a “startup” that has scraped info from LinkedIn, resumes, and wherever else claiming to start a prestigious alumni social media network, where participants can “network for jobs”, beg for money from each other, and enter lots and lots of personal info that will almost certainly be sold off to even sketchier places.

  27. ecnaseener*

    Another thing to add to #1 is (for in-person meetings) pay attention to where you’re looking. You didn’t mention whether you usually look at the speaker, but when I picture someone whose “boredom is evident” the first thing I think of is they’re either looking all around the room or staring off into space. Try to keep your gaze between the speaker and a few other focal points, like your notes and your water/coffee — that’s why it’s so helpful to have them, so you have a reason to look at them occasionally instead of just staring at the speaker for minutes on end.

  28. Michelle Smith*

    LW1: I agree with what has already been said about considering a medical workup to figure out what’s going on with your sleep and working to limit meetings so you’re not so exhausted at the end of the day. Even blocking your calendar in the afternoons once you’ve hit your scheduled meeting limit (e.g. 2 or 3, whatever you decide) might be a solution to avoid being overbooked.

    One thing I’d like to suggest you also consider though is whether you actually enjoy this aspect of your job. You said the work environment is good and that you’re good at what you do, but that’s not the same thing as actually enjoying what you do. You can be amazing at something and hate it at the same time. Do you like your job? Do you enjoy being in a position that has so many boring client meetings all the time? If not, it might be worth considering whether this role is the best fit for you or whether this role might work better for you at a larger company with a different environment. The only reason I suggest this is because I always have trouble staying awake and paying attention and feeling exhausted when I am actually bored. There is a limit to how much boring meetings I can take before I want to scream and run out of the room. If I’m not intellectually stimulated at my job, it makes those boring moments even more exhausting. It’s been like that for me since grade school – I’d be falling asleep in classes I was excelling in, because I found them painfully boring. I know that boredom specifically is the issue for me, because once the school or work day is over and I have control over my schedule again, that nap I desperately felt I needed doesn’t happen and I get a second wind to engage in my hobbies or stay up late watching TV.

    One last thing to suggest – if you get checked out and nothing is wrong with you medically and you do actually enjoy your work, but just don’t *look* like you do to these two people, maybe consider whether the environment is as good as you think. Perhaps a different office where the expectations are more about how your work is performed than your facial expressions while doing it would be a better fit. I have to wear special glasses on my face that have a bit of a darker tint on the lenses – not dark enough to be confused with sunglasses, but enough that it would be noticeable to others. I have photophobia (a type of light sensitivity) so wearing them has been the only way for me to manage the struggles of working in shared and/or open plan offices where I could not control my own lighting. I remember a supervisor suggesting that they were a problem and that I should ask for permission from judges before wearing my EYEGLASSES in court (I was a practicing lawyer in a job where I would be in court basically daily). I *still* feel self-conscious about those glasses to this day even though her comments were nearly a decade ago, I didn’t take her advice, and not a single person since has ever criticized me for them or suggested they were inappropriate to wear indoors. My point is that sometimes people’s criticism can be unwarranted and cause us to feel self-conscious about something that isn’t actually a problem to 99% of other people. If you end up discovering that your face just isn’t all that emotive and that’s the extent of the issue, perhaps the problem is more your boss and coworker than you and will resolve itself when you find yourself working with different people. Please don’t let people make you feel insecure about your appearance.

  29. The Somewhat Average Gilly Hopkins*

    #1, I am sorry you’re going through this. Frankly, I have meetings with people all the time who look incredibly bored, but as long as they’re asking questions or not clearly derailing the meeting, personally, I think it’s none of my business! meetings are boring sometimes! Why are we policing people’s faces?

    I get that LW#1 is hearing this from several people, but I’ve noticed people point out facial expressions and body language in female-presenting coworkers (particularly more conventionally attractive ones). I have a friend who literally had her boss chew her out because she wasn’t “emotive” enough in meetings despite her being on top of projects and answering questions thoughtfully. I sense that people have very strong expectations of pretty women to look engaged, smile, nod thoughtfully, etc. Whereas none of my male coworkers ever seem to care or get told off for how their face looks….

    1. The Somewhat Average Gilly Hopkins*

      Also as a very plain-looking woman, I have NEVER had someone mention my body language or facial expressions, despite the fact that I have literally nodded off in meetings sometimes due to the temperature and how boring the meeting is. Anecdata yes, but still.

      1. allathian*

        Yup, same. I’m not conventionally attractive either, just a rather average-looking fat woman. This has literally never been an issue, either in person or on video. Thankfully. But I guess I work for reasonable people, I don’t think my conventionally attractive coworkers have had any more issues than I.

    2. Lynne*

      I’m of the mind that if, as you said, someone isn’t causing an issue, leave them alone. It causes so much stress for the person being called out for whatever their face is doing.

      My grandboss loves to think she’s good at “reading” people’s faces for reactions, and for whatever reason, started calling me out in Teams meetings for whatever she thought my face was “saying.” At first, it wasn’t bad, but one day, she made some snide comment about how it was clear I had something to say about whatever was being talked about. I have no idea what she was picking up on, and it was horrifically embarrassing. Since then, I’ve gotten very good at keeping an expression that makes me appear engaged, but with no emotion. I tilt my head, look directly at the screen, and “smize” to look engaged. Most of the time, I’m daydreaming. It’s exhausting, but I don’t want to give her a reason to say anything about me again.

      1. aebhel*

        My experience is that almost everyone who prides themselves on their ability to ‘read’ people’s hidden emotions is unusually terrible at actually doing it, and mostly just projecting their own feelings and insecurities onto everyone around them. I’m sorry you had to put up with that.

  30. Seahorse*

    Sometimes I look bored in meetings because I am bored in meetings! I’ve also been criticized for being insufficiently “bubbly” even when I am making an effort to look engaged or cheerful, so I get the frustration over policing my neutral / listening face.

    Certainly there are times when optics matters over content, and I can make the effort to look extra interested for a while. If we’re hitting the 90 minute mark in a meeting where I’m not learning or contributing though, my will to pay close attention or to perform excitement has all drained away.

    Other people’s boredom can be a useful soft metric to me when I’m teaching or leading a meeting too. If people start to glaze over, I know that it’s time to take a break, change tactics, or wrap up.

    Sometimes work is boring and we have to pretend otherwise, but long term, I’d prefer not to regularly bore people or constantly be stuck in meetings where I don’t need to be. That seems like a potentially bigger issue than resting-bored-face?

  31. Jay*

    #1: I inadvertently solved my huge problem with this same issue while solving another issue. I have never really had a computer/office focused job before. I’ve always done field research type positions, until an accumulation of injuries finally grounded me for good a couple of years back. I took on a new role and suddenly found myself doing a LOT of computer related “stuff”, including these things you land-lubbers call “meetings”. It was then that I discovered two things about myself: 1) I have a condition on camera that can only be described as “Resting Gilbert Gottfried Face” and a propensity for constant yawning and 2) staring at a computer screen under harsh white florescent lights gives me agonizing headaches. I’ve broken fingers and toes, cracked ribs, and had my back go out, shrugged these off and kept working. These headaches sent me home.
    In desperation I tried computer glasses (mine are amber). This had three effects: 1) You could no longer see my eyes (so I didn’t look board) 2) I stopped yawning on camera (at least no more than anyone else) 3) The headaches went away like flipping a switch.
    Turns out that “Looking board” is actually a symptom of severe eye strain!
    They sell computer glasses fairly cheaply on Amazon (mine were about $30.00, but you can get them for less, I just liked the style and color). You can also get very, very nice glass prescription ones from an optometrist that are indistinguishable from regular sun glasses.
    Hope this helps.

    1. Seahorse*

      I like this idea, especially for people doing a lot of virtual meetings!
      For a related effect, I turn off the blue light on my computer and phone. Most devices have a “night light” setting now, and I keep that on all the time. It turns everything a bit yellow or red depending on your color settings, but I’m fine with a vaguely yellow Zoom meeting or Word doc if it doesn’t give me a headache.

  32. HonorBox*

    OP1- In addition to the other suggestions that include getting checked for sleep problems or thyroid problems, a simple solution I’ve found is making sure I have a nice cold beverage with me for marathons of meetings. Sometimes just that gulp of cold water (or a soda, or whatever you prefer) can give you a boost AND that keeps you engaged.

    As @niknik mentioned above, too, standing up is a great way to wake your body up a little bit. I have a terrible back, and have had to stand up in meetings from time to time. It also has worked as a nice excuse when I’m finding myself a little disengaged in a meeting.

    Finally, I’d say that marathons of meetings suck. Especially if you’re the constant and others are moving in and out of meetings, of course you’re going to get bored, tired, disengaged if you’re sitting for hours on end, either on your computer or in a meeting room. If there’s a way to limit the length of meetings you have without a brain break, I’d suggest that too.

    1. JustaTech*

      Marathon meetings are terrible!
      One day during early COVID my husband had back-to-back meetings literally all day (I had to sneak his lunch into his office or he wouldn’t have gotten to eat), and when he was finally done 9 hours later he was basically made of silly putty.
      When I’ve gone to industry conferences (very interesting but either highly technical scientific presentations or meeting strangers) I’m so exhausted by the end that I have cried on the flight home of sheer tiredness.
      Even in college I didn’t have more than 4 hours of lecture in a day, and at least then I got to get up and move around between classes. (We had one extra-long 8am lecture for the entire freshman class where the professors would stop halfway through and give us 10 minutes to go get more free coffee because otherwise we would all fall asleep.)

  33. theletter*

    +1 for asking if you need to be at these boring meetings. It’s entirely possible that you’ve been roped into too many meetings where you don’t have a clear function or a stake in the discussion. It can be easy for teams to think that everyone needs to be involved or a meeting has to have X number of people to feel productive, which can lead to situations where more people are included than necessary. It’s possible that these long, un-engaging meetings could be contributing to chronic fatigue if they take time away from productive activities or productive restoration breaks.

    Is it possible that in a rush to get to the early meeting, you lose time in the morning to make the healthy choices, resulting in a sugar crash before lunch? If you can reduce those meetings to the point where they can start at a later time, you might get milage out of them.

  34. Mrs. Jameson*

    OP #1 – I used to struggle with looking sleepy and checked out during meetings as well. I have come up with a few tricks to help from feeling so tired, which I recognize is only one piece of the puzzle for you. First, cut back foods that are high in carbs before meetings. I find being full and having the subsequent insulin rush in my system would make me extra tired. If there is time for a break between meetings, I try to go outside for some fresh air and sun, or do some quick exercises like squats to get my heart rate up. And when in doubt, I drink tons of water in case I’m tired from dehydration, but also so I have an excuse to get up and walk away from the meeting for a few minutes to use the bathroom.

    Also, are the meetings just dragging on too long? Can you prompt them for an agenda at the outset and nudge along the conversations at all? Not only will you look more engaged, but you might be saving yourself.

  35. Parenthesis Guy*

    #3) I would suggest asking for her personal cell phone number to tell her rather than calling her on work resources. Your work phone really isn’t private either.

    I hope your co-worker finds out who did it and unmentionable things happen to that person.

    1. Observer*

      In the US, recording calls (even on work phones) is illegal unless you have been informed that your calls will be recorded. Even in “single consent” states, at least one person on the call needs to be aware that the call is being recorded, and effectively consent.

      1. Parenthesis Guy*

        The US does have laws that you can’t record a personal call without consent. This is not the law when it comes to business calls. Employers are allowed to monitor business calls without consent. They are not allowed to monitor personal calls, but they may not consider this a business call and may presume that all calls on their devices are business related.

        Long story short, use your cell and don’t do it on company property.

  36. Molly Millions*

    LW1: it sounds like you’re adequately engaged but people are reading something into your resting neutral facial expressions. Do you actually have to be on-camera during these virtual meetings? It sounds like you don’t have a huge speaking role. If you can’t turn your camera off, I think visibly taking notes is the way to go.

    I also wonder if this isn’t something your colleague has hyper-fixated on because she noticed it, rather than something an outside client in a large meeting would pay any attention to? Can anyone think of a way to head this off proactively with the colleague/boss (“e.g. I’ve been told I have a non-reactive face when I’m listening intently”).

    (I once exhaled loudly with my mic unmuted during a zoom call, and found out later people thought I was sighing. I wasn’t – I just breathe weirdly sometimes. I wish I’d corrected the record when it was first brought up to me.)

    P.S. if I’m wrong and you’re actually fatigued during these meetings, maybe try stepping out for fresh air or taking a short walk if you have any time in between them.

    1. JustaTech*

      Agreed about the coworker maybe hyper-fixating. They noticed once that the OP looked bored, and now they’re always looking.

      Maybe the OP could ask the coworker to look at the OP’s face when they’re projecting “bored” versus “focused but neutral” and ask for tips to help differentiate? (Only if the coworker would be reasonable/helpful and not expect “talk show host face”.)

  37. Hiring Mgr*

    It probably won’t go anywhere since you’ve already raised the issue, but if you do mention Beth as the reason for living, I think you’ll need to give stronger examples than in the letter – those things sound annoying but not necessarily toxic to the point of needing to get out.

    1. bamcheeks*

      if you do mention Beth as the reason for living

      That would be a very different conversation! :D

      1. Letter Writer #2*

        Yeah, I have raised some issues. A challenge is that many of the examples don’t feel big enough to raise on their own (like asking my team to drop everything for a week for urgent work, confirming the work was good when I asked for feedback in a meeting with me, and then scrapping that work an hour afterwards without apology) but lots of these little things mount up.

        I need to find a way to sum up the experience.

  38. WantonSeedStitch*

    LW#1, I think that Zoom makes us pay more attention to people’s faces during meetings! It’s weird. We don’t see their full bodies or the surroundings of a conference room, so instead, we focus more heavily on what we DO see–faces. So it may be that you are looking somewhat bored, but that no one would notice in an in-person meeting.

    In addition to what Alison said, do you have much control over when meetings are scheduled that you need to attend? Do you get breaks between meetings? It might be worthwhile, if you can, to ensure that you have at least ten minutes between Zoom meetings to give yourself a break to stand up, move around, and take your eyes off the screen, to prevent Zoom fatigue. Scheduling meetings for 50 minutes instead of a full hour and agreeing at the start of the meeting that the stop time is a hard stop can be really helpful to protect that buffer time.

    Another suggestion would be blue light reducing glasses. Those can help keep you from getting bleary-eyed while looking at a screen for a long time.

  39. Ms. Elaneous*

    Solution: Acting class. No really.
    It sounds like your meetings are small enough that you not only need to be interested, you need to LOOK interested.

    Many medical schools teach skills like this to their students, since it is important for a doctor to look attentive and concerned in addition to being attentive and concerned to gain the patient’s trust.
    Other professions do this too.

    It’s exhausting at first, but if it’s a really boring meeting, just think of yourself as being on camera.

    And a big slam to your nosy- parker co-worker. I wonder what she’d do with my RBF?
    Ms. Elaneous

  40. Samantha Parkington*

    LW #1: When I am having trouble engaging, looking engaged I like to:
    1) Take notes, gives my hands something to do
    2) Rest my tongue on the roof of my mouth. It relaxes the face and gives a neutral/pleasant expression
    3) Nod

  41. anon for this*

    I’m working in a dept that has lost a flock of people because of one terrible manager, and nothing is being done and I have given up on any change. The people above this manager know they are bad, know they are costing the org good people, and know she’s in over her head and probably can’t do any better. So why are they still here? My theory after observing this mess for almost 2 years now is that the org itself is so strained–too much workload for too few people–that the prospect of sacking senior staff is untenable. It means someone above this manager would have to pick up the slack, and they can’t. It’s not possible to work harder, smarter, or longer: we are all at max capacity. So this manager will continue to suck and make everything worse because they are basically a load-bearing stud and removing them will bring the roof down.

  42. J!*

    LW #1 I’m able to stay much more engaged in zoom meetings when I knit out of frame. It lets me occupy a part of my brain that’s likely to zone out and lets me be more present for the conversation.

    This is obviously easier to do with zoom than in person – not everyone is cool with that sort of thing, you’d know your work culture better – but knitting or coloring or folding origami or whatever else that will help keep you awake and not zoning over back to back meetings might be something to experiment with if you’re in a virtual space and can do it without having to explain yourself.

    I’d also second the suggestions for checking in with your doctor unless there’s an obvious reason for being so tired (like kids or pets who wake you up at night). I have sleep apnea, and it was a rough adjustment to using a CPAP but now I get much better sleep even being in bed for less time!

  43. BellyButton*

    #1, I make sure to do all the physical things Alison mentioned. I also use a bit of eye brightening concealer under my eyes, and my secret weapon? I bought a pair of blue light blocker glasses, and they have just a hint of pink tint on the lenses that shows on Zoom. I have found that they help brightening up my eyes and even provide a tiniest bit of glare combined with the eye brightener it seems to cover up how tired I am feeling and how glazed over my eyes get.

  44. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    As a ND person, I really dislike people requiring performative attention. While I understand it for pitching a client, a general critique like “you’re not very emotive” is a them problem. Too much of what is considered “paying attention” is by NT standards. I know we have to deal with the world the way it is, but I raise it to encourage people to not apply NT standards to things like attention. I like to tell the story of when my son was wandering around the room, looking out the widow, that kind of thing. I said I thought he wasn’t listening and he repeated back basically an entire paragraph almost verbatim.

    1. Random Dice*

      I very much twigged to this as a demand for a performance of neurotypicality, with this LW’s peer as the self-appointed ableist judge.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        OP did not say they are ND. I’m not convinced anyone is being abelist, here.

  45. Fat Mermaid*

    #1: This advice reminds me of a professor who used to refer to the students who nodded along with what she was saying as her “amen section.” It’s a simple thing but people do notice and is very effective.

  46. Anony776*

    2. Should I say I’m leaving because of my horrible coworker?

    Wow, I am in a similar situation as you. It is amazing how managers and coworkers can influence ones happiness at work. We have a new hire whose manners are absolutely driving me nuts to the point where I have started to look elsewhere. Of course there are some other issues but the newbie was the last straw for me. In my experience, it is better not to reveal the coworkers issue. Why? Bc what good does that do for you except taking the risk of possibly losing the reputation you have spent years building for yourself. Even if you tell them, it won’t affect you anymore if coworker changes or not bc you are no longer going to be there to see the results, if any. Move on and and let the business figure it out for themselves. In my situation, my manager hired the newbie and even if I do reveal newbie as the issue, the manager hired the newbie and it is going to change anything. What is manager going to do, fire the newbie? Just st move on and be done with it.

  47. Addison DeWitt*

    Alternative choice to complaining seriously about Beth: in your exit interview, snarkily say “Beth wants to run the whole goddamn world here, she’s welcome to it.”

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s really not going to accomplish anything and is likely to delegitimize any real feedback OP has.

    2. Letter Writer #2*

      Honestly, that’s what I WANT to say. But you know, cooler heads and all that.

  48. DivergentStitches*

    Definitely nail down the expected schedule before you start. I’m in the unhappy position of having to work 9-6 because I didn’t do that, and expected a salaried experienced position would have a standard schedule.

  49. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    Oh, my dear OP1. Has no one explained the concept of caffeine to you? Joking aside, there was a reason in the old days that our employers provided free coffee to us. And it wasn’t out of the goodness of their hearts. We simply were more alert and more productive.

  50. No Tribble At All*

    OP 4 (schedule TBD): This seems like an orange flag to me. While there’s a possibility you really could define your own schedule, it seems like the role isn’t going to have clearly-defined expectations and that could affect your entire tenure there.

    If there’s any possibility this job could have non-standard hours, nail that down. Do they mean part-time but evening shift? Part-time but weekends? Was the previous person available 24/7 and they’re having trouble finding someone else who will commit to that?

    1. LW4*

      That’s a good point.
      I’m not really concerned that they’re expecting unconventional hours, and they’ve told me clearly that they don’t expect me to be available outside of my hours.
      But they most likely have at least some expectations, and I’d like to be aware of those.

  51. BellyButton*

    OP4, I was in a similar position when interviewing, not the schedule part of it, be defining the role. When I asked about more detail I was told that they really wanted me and they realized that the role I was interviewing for could be so much more with me in it. The position they offered was an increase in title, in pay, and I got to have input on what the goals/role would look like! So ASK! It may not be a negative thing, it may because they really want to hire you and may be willing the adjust the position to be more in line with your skills and needs!

    1. LW4*

      Yes, I can understand that they would be willing to be flexible for the right candidate.
      But they have to have at least some expectations, and I’d like to be aware of those so I don’t look out of touch.
      Also this would be a lateral move for me, and some parts of the role are somewhat unknown territory for me. I’ve been upfront about that, but I’m going to ask directly for more details on those.

  52. Serious Silly Putty*

    LW1- Could you offer to keep minutes/notes for the meeting, and offer to send them out after? That would give you a concrete task, a reason to be looking at paper (in case that’s easier for you) and you would need to ask clarifying questions to make sure you represented people’s ideas correctly.

  53. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    Back at ToxicJob, my favorite way to look interested in boring meetings was to think of something interesting (anything from planning a trip to playing “Do, Dump, Marry” with the cast of Firefly). I also would make lists for upcoming trips, home projects, etc. while pretending to take notes.

  54. sb51*

    For #1, you can’t do it all the time, but I have had people be very understanding when I apologize up front that I have a headache or have been in back-to-back meetings all day and am a little fried. I tell them I’m eager to hear what they have to say but might look like I’m wincing/need to ask them to repeat things here and there/whatever I need. (Exhaustion pretty much always gives me a headache so “a headache” isn’t a lie, and is an easy understandable non-contagious issue.)

    As long as you only do it occasionally, it works wonders. So if the issue is really “every meeting”, this won’t work, but if it’s an occasional thing being egregious enough for people to notice and then your general “resting meeting face” being less excited than other people, it might do the trick.

  55. kiki*

    I am both a sleepy person and someone who does not naturally emote much, with my face or otherwise. But I learned that, especially as a femme-presenting person in the workplace, I need to convey engagement with my face. I’ve become a very active listener– lots of nodding, raising of the eyebrows, hand gestures, etc. I treat it almost like an acting performance. It has the benefit of keeping me awake if I’m sleepy too– it’s a lot harder to zone out if you’re moving, even just a little bit with the face and hands.

    1. Carmen in Canada*

      I was wondering about the gendered component as well. I’ve had a lot more public events this week than I have in a long time and it felt exhausting having my face “on”. I also noticed that female presenting people have more of a smile and engaged look than male presenting people when being part of an audience.

  56. Pink Candyfloss*

    #2, it isn’t just Beth causing you to leave – it’s next level management’s failure to do anything to address Beth, that is causing you to leave as well. Beth can shoulder some of the blame, but whomever never stepped in to address the problems or change her behaviors, is also responsible and that should be noted.

  57. Jessica*

    LW1, I’d second Alison’s question about whether you need to be in all these meetings. Microsoft released the results of a study they did on their employees that showed that back-to-back meetings raised their stress levels and impaired creativity considerably. Even two consecutive meetings had a pretty negative effect. Rather than simply being tired and being in meetings, you might be tired *because* you’re in meetings.

    So while I second all the tactical advice here–tricks for keeping more engaged, checking for potential health issues that might be making you tired, etc.–I’d also look into strategic approaches to managing your workday. See if you can be in fewer meetings or space them out more.

  58. Coco*

    LW #3: I agree it would be a kindness to tell her about the images. But you are not a bad person if you decide not to because it’s overwhelmingly stressful/triggering/anxiety inducing etc. Another option might be to send her an anonymous note. Im usually not a fan of anonymous notes, but given the situation, it might her her feel less embarrassed.

  59. BabeRoe*

    #5 My company often posted hiring with just the position information and not the company to avoid spam and having people just come in in person etc. Then when we narrowed down the list we would contact them and give our company info so they can be prepare.

  60. ILoveLlamas*

    OP #1, I don’t know if anyone mentioned this in previous comments, but can you try standing up for some of these calls? Perhaps if you are able to stand and shift your feet a bit, you might not feel so sleepy? You don’t even have to stand for all of the calls, but a change of position might help. I am fascinated by the blue-light blocking glasses for these calls. I have to look into that!

  61. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    LW 1: for the first time ever, I slightly, slightly disagree with Alison’s advice. I don’t believe in performative attention. What also bothers me is that it’s only one coworker who is nagging you about this. If it were me, when she brings it up again, I’d be calm and friendly while saying, “Jane, this is my face. I get that you think I look bored, but no one else has brought it up. It’s just really weird to me that you’re spending meeting time checking my face instead of engaging with the meeting.”

    1. Head sheep counter*

      But her manager has also brought it up…. so it is not true that her coworker is the only one noticing. If two people bring up the issue… its an issue. It may be that the issue is they need to understand the LW (if that is just her base face) or it maybe that the LW needs to look at all the various suggestions here and see what works for them. I think its possible her colleague is watching out for her and trying to help.

      As an aside, I had a colleague who had a sleep problem and would fall asleep in meetings. We all knew that there was a health issue… but it was… distracting and discourteous to have him full up asleep in meetings. Asking for accommodations is fine, but there is always a give and take (my colleague really needed to manage his meetings so that he minimized the number he slept in).

        1. Joron Twiner*

          OP says that their manager is the type of person who would notice something many times before bringing it up.

  62. Petty_Boop*

    My life:
    “Are you sick?”
    Are you bored?”
    Are you upset?” ”
    “No, no, no, IT IS MY FACE.”

  63. Joron Twiner*

    OP#1 It’s interesting that the examples you share from your coworker and boss both were times you were genuinely sleepy. This makes me think there are some biological things you can do (get better sleep, seeing a doctor, drinking caffeine, standing up, eating, chewing gum, etc.).

    Many of the other comments have focused on specific criticism of your facial expression. In my experience, the number one behavior that makes me think people are bored/not paying attention is when there is a delay and their response has nothing to do with the question asked. I’ve had this happen with cameras on and off.

    This is usually a sign that that person doesn’t need to be in the meeting, so if you find that you rarely need to contribute, see if you can skip the meeting and skim the minutes later.
    But sometimes you just need to look good for a client, or be prepared to answer a random question about your area of expertise–in that case you need to find a way to keep your ears open even if you’re doing something else during the meeting like knitting or doodling.

    1. Lisa Simpson*

      I mean, sometimes people are just sleepy for reasons that can’t be cured by a doctor. Should we fire everyone who: is pregnant, has a child who doesn’t sleep through the night, has a long commute, has caretaking responsibilities on top of their job, has a cold, is menstruating, is jetlagged from last week’s vacation, got stuck running to Walmart at 9 pm because their 11 year old “forgot” tomorrow is the science fair, had to take their dog to the emergency vet because he got hurt on his last walk of the night, got work texts every hour all night that woke them up, has a spouse that is under stress and sleeping poorly, got stuck working a splitshift because their employee is out on FMLA, etc., etc.

  64. Devan R. Hudson*

    I don’t think it’s cool of either the manager or the co-worker to police her emotions or facial expressions. If she gets the job done and powers through does it really matter what she’s feeling? Who cares? Sometimes neurodivergent people especially just don’t wear much facial expression. And she’s clearly dealing with exhaustion and has said so. Are they going to pay her an extra ten thousand a year for all the stupid emotional labor they’re demanding of her? This is dumb and unreasonable.

  65. Weyrwoman*

    OP#1 – I was once told by an ex that I wasn’t emotive and he was upset that he couldn’t tell what I was thinking. Like Alison said, learning to project the right facial expressions can help a lot. It’s annoying to have to put on a mask just to look ‘normal’, but it can improve things immensely and keep people from thinking you aren’t engaged. I highly recommend taking a peek at body language studies and just mimicking the things that indicate attention/engagement, whether you are or not.

  66. Kate*

    I find the anonymous job listing bizarre. Why would you apply to a role when you don’t even know what company it’s at? That would immediately be a red flag to me.

    Something similar happened to me a few years ago when I worked in a different smaller industry, I was approached by a recruiter about a role and they were cagey about which company it was with, saying they would tell me after I applied. I declined. A colleague did apply for it and it turned out it was with a company notorious in our small industry as a toxic workplace. It didn’t surprise me at all they would hide who they were as I’m sure they had trouble hiring with their reputation.

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