rude instructor comments on our food choices, husband won’t wear noise-canceling headphones at home, and more

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

1. Instructor keeps commenting on everyone’s food choices

I’m taking a four-day online class (I’m federal government and the class is put on by a private sector training company). We get a break for lunch, and when we return, the instructor checks in to make sure we’re all back by asking us to type what we had for lunch into the training chat (since we aren’t on camera). Then, as the answers come in, he makes conversation by passing judgment on each person’s lunch, declaring many of them “too healthy” but deeming things like pizza to be much better and something he would enjoy eating. He talked a lot today about how his wife makes him eat salad before he’s allowed to have dessert.

Setting aside his very gendered approach to his nutrition, this is an absolutely terrible environment for anyone with food issues. I understand why he wanted to have a “conversation” as we came back in after lunch. In this virtual setting, no one is on video and he’s the only one on audio — the rest of us are typing into a group chat. So having him just asking “are you there?” over and over would have been pretty dry and boring. I like the idea of him asking a question that requires something more than “here” as an answer. But this is the second day he’s labeled me a “health nut” because I didn’t have pizza and I’m dreading the next two days. I’m trying to decide if I should say something, either now in a private message to him or in the course evaluation at the end. From some of his comments, I don’t really think he’d would put much stock in anything I tell him about this. Do you think I could suggest another topic for our after-lunch conversation? Or do you have a good suggestion for how to bring us back together in this weird virtual setting?

I’m just not sure if I want to spend capital on a guy who I don’t think will understand the issue. It’s annoying to me but not derailing me, so it might not be worth the effort of shouting into the wind. But then I don’t like to “tell on him” to his employer without giving him a chance to address it himself, and I don’t like to just leave it unaddressed. I feel like I’ve eliminated all of my options!

I think you should complain about this to his employer because what he’s doing is so rude — not to mention full-on harmful to some people — and he (and they, and his future classes) would benefit from someone in a position of authority telling him to stop. And if you want to just go straight to that rather than trying to address it with him directly first, there’s nothing wrong with that — especially when he’s already given you the impression he wouldn’t be receptive.

However, if you’re willing to speak up directly before the class is over, I think there’s value in that too. A private message to him is one option, but what about just typing it in the public chat? The feedback you’d be offering isn’t so sensitive that it demands privacy … and it might be good for other people to see it (and who knows, maybe someone else will back you up). But whether it’s public or private, the next time it happens, you could write, “I know you don’t mean anything by it, but could you stop all the commentary on people’s food choices? It would be really terrible for anyone with food issues. Maybe you can ask us to indicate we’re back by naming our favorite movie or show instead.” If he blows you off, that’s one more thing to add in your evaluation later.

2. Employee won’t do the work we hired her for

I am the the grand-boss of our administrator, Jane, who is driving her manager, Marissa, distracted. We are a small organization and this doesn’t leave a lot of leeway for picking up other’s tasks and means we have to be very focused in our priorities. When Jane started, she was very enthusiastic about our work and explicitly said she wanted to do “backroom support” as she was burnt out from front-line work.

Unfortunately, it has been an uphill battle to get her to do the admin work we desperately need. She doesn’t seem to see or take ownership of tasks that are right in front of her, e.g. getting rid of furniture we don’t need that is in the way or she starts a task such as organizing to get the furniture picked up, then works from home and emails the whole organization to “see who will be in the office” on delivery day. Staff in the office are usually there doing front-line support work or strategic and finance work and are constantly having to reorganize around this. It seems like she has to be constantly reminded what her actual job is and that she should be doing it.

Alongside this, she will go off on tangents doing work that no one has asked for, isn’t in our strategic priorities, and takes up other’s time and capacity to deal with. She has emailed our board directly a number of times trying to arrange meetings about work that is not at their level. (The board have nicely redirected her but she keeps trying.) This is despite repeatedly being told not to do this, that this work is not our priority and not in her job description.

We have raised these issues with her and are about to go down a more formal route, but Marissa and I are baffled about WHY. Jane is smart, personable, and enthusiastic but despite being here for nearly a year has not picked up the tone and strategic position of the organization. It doesn’t seem malicious or lazy and although we are taking steps to address it, it’s bugging us both that we don’t understand. Just to be clear we have asked Jane, we’ve reviewed and tightened up her job description, set clear work plans, talked about communication mismatch, and asked her point of view, and then things improve for a week, then circle back. Can you help me understand?

You might never know the “why.” You should certainly ask Jane that directly if you haven’t already — phrasing it as, “We’ve spoken repeatedly about X and it improves for a week but then backslides. This is serious enough that we can’t keep you on if it continues. Do you have any insight into what’s getting in the way?”

But ultimately, while it’s useful to try to figure out the “why” if you can, the most important thing is the “what.” And the “what” is that Jane, for whatever reason, isn’t doing the job you need her to do, even after clear, explicit, and repeated feedback. Sometimes an employee just isn’t well-matched with the job they’re in, no matter how much coaching you give them — and the reason could be anything from a fundamental skills mismatch, to lack of interest, to things in their personal lives, to mental health, and all sorts of other things. The best thing you can do is to be really clear about what success in the role looks like, how she’s falling short of that, what needs to change for her to stay in the job, what support you can provide, and how much time she has to make those changes. (And because she improves briefly and then backslides, you should be explicit that you need to see “sustained and consistent improvement.”)

That said, I get why you’re so interested in figuring out the “why”; if you knew it, it could potentially point you toward solutions. But sometimes you just won’t get that answer. Ultimately — assuming that you have been clear about your expectations and the consequences if she doesn’t meet them — the mismatch sounds significant enough that you should be planning to resolve this quickly one way or another (for example, if you do a formal improvement plan, do it for something like four weeks, not months and months).

3. Can I make my spouse wear noise-canceling headphones at home?

This is a bit of an odd question because it involves my spouse, not my coworker, but as we are both working from home, I feel like this is about a shared workspace. My husband works a later shift than I do, and he takes online meetings after our kids return home from school and while they are home in the evenings. The kids are 11 and 14, and the youngest has some behavioral disabilities that make them a bit volatile at times. My husband is constantly shushing us at home, and it really stresses me out! I will try to pack all the kids off to the park after dinner, but then one kid starts dribbling a basketball on the way out the door — and my husband comes out to shush us. I let them have screen time, and he says the video game is too loud. He does use earbuds; I’ve suggested he invest in a really good pair of noise-canceling headphones that will eliminate the noise around him, but he says the technology isn’t good enough to cover up how loud we are when he’s speaking in a meeting. Is there a solution I’m missing? Are there headphones that will help? He says the situation is not that bad, but I feel awful for my kids.

I don’t have the technical know-how to speak to whether there are noise-canceling headphones that would help (although I’m inclined to think yes) but hopefully readers can. But I do think this may be more of a husband problem — it’s not reasonable to expect perfect silence at home in the evening, particularly when you have kids, and if he’s shushing you just for dribbling a basketball on the way out the door (when the noise will obviously be short-lived), it sounds like his expectations aren’t reasonable. I’m also concerned that he’s not willing to even try the headphones idea, given how helpful it could be for all of you if they work and especially given the stress he’s causing your family.

At a minimum, he should be collaborating with you to figure out how to make this better — if not noise-canceling headphones, then how about sound-dampening material in the room he works in? Some other solution? The answer shouldn’t be that the rest of you have to spend your post-work/post-school hours in silence.

Read an update to this letter

4. My company is cutting pay to force people out

I work at a small startup, and a new CEO has just come on. He has decided he wants to get rid of me and other senior members of the company without having to pay severance, so he is cutting our pay.

In my case, I’ve had multiple promotions and many glowing performance reviews and he wants to cut my salary by nearly half — to less than what my direct report makes.

Is this legal? Obviously I’m looking for a new job, but my field is very hard to find new jobs in so I fear I may either be stuck or unemployed without unemployment if I quit.

It’s legal unless he’s targeting people based on race, gender, religion, disability, age, or other protected classes (and age is one I’d particularly look at here). However, the salary cut is big enough that in a lot of states it would be considered “constructive discharge” (which is when your employer changes your working conditions in such a way that remaining in the job would be intolerable to a reasonable person) and you’d be able to get unemployment benefits. At a minimum, you should consult with your state unemployment agency — and you might also want to consult with a lawyer who can look at the specific facts in your case (not necessarily to sue, but lawyers can be good at finding points of leverage to compel the employer to behave differently or, failing that, to get you severance).

5. Can I charge a fee for all the follow-up I have to do with my boss?

I am a 1099 contract employee project manager for an ad agency. I have to continually follow up with the boss to see if they have read and approved the proof attached to emails before sending to the client.

Following up with the boss to see if they are reading their own emails is a burden on me, as I have to keep an eye on my own emails and projects. Can I bill an inconvenience fee or babysitting fee on my invoice to cover this insane amount of follow-up? Child care service rendered?

You can’t bill for fees your employer never agreed to, but you can either (a) raise your rates to account for the additional hassle or (b) bill for the additional time you’re spending, if your contract is written to allow that.

I suspect the bigger problem might be that you’re referring to yourself as an employee when you’re actually a 1099 contractor — those are two different things, legally speaking. If you’re being treated as an employee but your employer has misclassified you as a contractor, that’s a legal issue that needs to get straightened out (especially since it would mean you’re paying a bigger tax burden than you should be) — but if you’re an employee, this kind of thing is part of dealing with having a boss. On the other hand, if you’re correctly classified as a contractor, then the remedies in the first paragraph are available to you, whereas they wouldn’t be to an employee.

{ 668 comments… read them below }

  1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    LW3: Sorry going to disagree with AAM. I have two kids 9 & 10. They know when Dad or Mom are in a meeting they are to be silent. Send them to another room or outside or if play video games (or watch videos) have them use headphones.

    You and your husband need to be consistent with the children on this for results. At 11 and 14 they should understand when they need to be silent.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      It’s entirely not reasonable to expect children to be “constantly” silent all afternoon after school/evening.

      1. Rosyglasses*

        I agree with the below comment that it is on the way towards abusive in that it is teaching the kids some really unhealthy habits about adult and child interaction. Kids at that age SHOULD have a lot of energy (barring health needs) and they are still learning to self-regulate through puberty etc. Of course we had a whole few generations that grew up in the kids should be seen and not heard and they didn’t die from it – but it’s a really unhealthy dynamic for a kid to have to be in constantly.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          “Seen and not heard” was something for being around people (meaning, adults), but this father wants children in other rooms to be silent. I think he’s being pretty rude about forcing his family to accommodate his non-standard work hours in such an extreme way. (Also, he’s completely wrong about the technology, which tells me that he is pretty selfish as well. He sounds like a “my way or the highway” kinda dude.)

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        I agree. Husband is working from his home, not a monastery. His family shouldn’t have to take a vow of silence every single evening. At the very least, he needs to invest in noise cancelling headphones for the short term and look into arranging his workspace for better usage in the long.

    2. AnneMoliviaColemuff*

      The 11 year old has behavioural disabilities. LW is trying to wrangle 2 kids, I’m assuming getting dinner together etc. It’s extremely unreasonable to request that it’s entirely quiet.

    3. Joron Twiner*

      When do they get to be kids making a normal amount of living noise, then? Sounds like they come home from school and Dad is in meetings all evening. I think it’s too much for anyone of any age to be silent all afternoon and evening every day. If that’s what Dad needs to work and headphones, soundproofing, etc. don’t help then that’s what office spaces outside the home are for.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yes, this. It would be one thing if there were occasional meetings that everyone needed to be quiet for, but this sounds like it’s every day. They need to be able to eat and talk to each other and wash dishes/put them in the dishwasher, get ready for school, etc. Those aren’t things you can reasonably expect everyone to manage in perfect silence on a regular basis.

        1. Cj*

          yeah, if it was only from the time they got home at 3:30 or so until 5:00 it won’t be so bad. but going into the evening give the kids no time to be kids.

        2. Artemesia*

          Is this guy doing his work on the dining room table or something? If he can’t do office work in a relatively isolated spot at home — the basement, the master bedroom? then he needs to figure out a workspace situation where he can hold his evening meetings.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        Agreed. Being silent for an hour a few times a week is reasonable at those ages (though the behavioral problems may make it trickier). Being completely silent all the time when one is at home is just not how children should live. Heck, it’d be an imposition for a lot of adults too, depending on what level of quiet is required here.

        1. amoeba*

          Yup, just meant to say – it’s not how *anyone* should have to live! This sounds horrible!

        2. Lady_Lessa*

          That only works for men who have chosen that kind of lifestyle. And even they get the silence broken at times. Please see “Into Great Silence”, the film for insight into both the style and the men who have chosen it. (FYI, it is a 3 hour movie)

          1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

            Per his oath of silence, a monk is only allowed to say two words every year. After his first year, he comes before the head abbot to speak his two words.

            “Better Food.”

            The head abbot understands and obliges the monk, hiring a new chef and improving the food quality at the monastery.

            A year later, the monk appears to speak his next two words.

            “Warmer Blankets.”

            The head abbot gets right on it and purchases new blankets for the monk.

            The next year, the monk appears once again for his annual two words.

            “I quit.”

            The head abbot replies, “Well good, all you’ve done since you got here is complain.”

            1. Delta Delta*

              This is my mom’s favorite joke, but she always tells it with “food’s bad,” “bed’s hard,” “I quit.” then bursts into giggles every time.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Hahaha thank you, I needed this to help start my Monday morning!

          2. ADidgeridooForYou*

            That movie sounds fascinating but I do think it’s a tad bit ironic that a movie whose whole subject is men who don’t talk is 3 hours long!

        3. Zennish*

          FWIW, I’m a Zen Buddhist and regularly do silent retreats, or meditate silently for several hours (with short breaks) and I’d still find it annoying.

          1. Sister Michael*

            Agreed! My order* spends part of our retreat time in silence and agreeing as a group that we’re practicing silence as a discipline for spiritual reasons is something completely different than one member of a community (be it a religious order or a family) just demanding that everyone be completely silent so as not to annoy them personally.
            We also don’t ask the people around us- for example, the retreat center kitchen staff- to be silent. That’s our practice, they didn’t sign up for it. If we need to not hear another person speak, we have plenty of spaces around the retreat center that we can spend time in that will allow us external as well as internal silence.

            *I first used this username before Derry Girls came out, although I love that show.

        4. Chauncy Gardener*

          Totally agree. This is for sure a husband issue. He needs noise canceling headphones and/or to work in a quiet part of the house with a door.
          IMHO it is not fair to the rest of the family to have to be silent for the entire afternoon evening when they’re home. This is family bonding time, homework time, play time. Not time to sit in silence.

          1. Portia*

            And he doesn’t want to be the one who has to change. He won’t try better headphones, he apparently can’t let even a brief disruption go, and he says the situation is “not that bad” (yeah, for him). Is he running out in the middle of meetings to tell the kids to be quiet? That’s going to be more disruptive to the meeting than any noise the kids are making.

            He seems to just want a house full of people to shut up and accommodate his needs. That wouldn’t be OK even if he just had adult roommates, and it’s certainly not OK with a family.

            1. I have RBF*

              Yeah, I think he is inflating the disruption, and making more with his shushing.

              I work from home 100%. I have an active railroad that runs behind my house, plus a busy street out front. I often run a noisy air conditioner as well, plus neighborhood kids play loudly outside. There are no complaints about noise in meeting from my coworkers.

              Unless he has a special mic that is really sensitive, it isn’t disrupting his meetings. He’s just being overly paranoid, or controlling. Honestly, him getting up to yell at people to be quiet or shushing them is more disruptive.

              He needs to stop with this, or get himself a office away from home.

          2. ferrina*

            Exactly! The family is not a monolith- each of them has different things they need from their home. The husband is trying to make the home function like the office while he’s working, which isn’t fair to the rest of the household.

            It’s one thing when it’s exceptional circumstances, but this sounds like it’s a regular thing.

      3. MEH Squared*

        Agreed. Dad is the one with the issue (not trying to be mean, just stating the fact), so he needs to come up with a solution that isn’t everyone is quiet every afternoon and every night. The letter writer is doing their best to keep the noise down, but it’s impossible to do all the time.

        There have been several good suggestions already (noise-cancelling earphones, dampening panels for the room, shutting the door to the office, white noise machine, etc.), and in addition, people in the Zoom meetings should understand that things are not going to be completely quiet in someone’s home–especially at night.

        1. Rex Libris*

          This. IMHO, his blanket statement that noise-canceling headphones won’t work is the indicator that he’s not interested in fixing the problem, he’s interested in having everyone else in the house fix it for him, so he doesn’t have to bother. I have a relatively cheap pair of noise canceling headphones, and can take calls while mowing the lawn, with only minimal background buzz.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Right? I overhear my teammates’ kids on calls all the time. Nobody is upset by this. On a different team, we used to have morning standup calls when half the team was on the opposite side of the globe and it was evening. We heard traffic, street noises, dogs barking etc on our calls. Seemed like some of our teammates were calling in from their public-transportation commute or walk home after work? It was fine! No one had an issue with it. If LW’s husband’s coworkers are going to have a conniption because their virgin ears were exposed to a sound of a basketball hitting the floor twice on a kid’s way out the door, then maybe he needs new coworkers.

        3. Lynn Whitehat*

          Is going into an office a possibility? That would really solve this whole problem.

      4. BubbleTea*

        Yes, it’s not reasonable to expect that because someone works from home, everyone else must live in an office.

        1. Dark Macadamia*

          Not reasonable to expect silence in an office, either! Even libraries allow some amount of noise. If this guy has ever worked in a different environment I bet he wasn’t coming out of his space to shush coworkers or clients. But when it’s “only” his spouse and children…

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I’ve come out of my space to shush people in the office. Well not in those exact “shhh” words. But only when they would park in my and my officemate’s space for long chats that could’ve easily been had somewhere else like in their own space. To your point, if anyone at work would keep bursting out of their cubicle outraged that their coworkers are human beings who aren’t completely quiet all the time, there would probably be consequences *for that person*. which is why I, too, would bet money that he wasn’t doing this when he was in an office. I’m sensing a whiff of “I work my butt off so you freeloaders can afford nice things, least you can do in return is do exactly as I say” and I don’t like it.

            1. Observer*

              I’m sensing a whiff of “I work my butt off so you freeloaders can afford nice things, least you can do in return is do exactly as I say” and I don’t like it.

              The guy clearly has some issues, so I can’t say for sure, but this sounds like a very unlikely take. The OP clearly states the BOTH of them are “working from home” which means that the OP is contributing to the household finances, too.

                1. ShanShan*

                  To elaborate: a lot of people pick up their parenting styles from watching the dynamics of their own parents.

                  I can’t tell you how many men I’ve met who believe all wives and mothers should take on the same family’s role THEIR mothers did, without recognizing that their mothers were able to do so because they didn’t work.

                  Even liberal men who would describe themselves as feminist. The stuff you pick up as a child is deeply ingrained.

                2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  Yep – my ex developed this mindset when he was the breadwinner, and then oddly continued with it for the 6-month period of time when he was out of work and *I was the breadwinner*. Admittedly, this also means I’m biased and may be seeing this attitude when it isn’t in fact there.

        2. MassMatt*

          It really sounds as though the husband and his situation are not cut out for working from home. Requiring silence when there are three other people in the house, two of them kids, and one with special needs, is not reasonable.

          Combined with his refusal to even consider noise reducing headphones and he is coming across as a real jerk.

          1. female peter gibbons*

            I think you make a good point. I have a friend with two kids who has to work outside of the home, and I’m starting to understand why. everyone should know their own limits.

            1. female peter gibbons*

              oh, also, i love noise cancelling headphones. Cannot sleep without them as I live in a noisy area.

              1. Joielle*

                I sleep with them too, due to my husband’s outlandishly loud snoring. If they can block that out (along with a bit of white noise), they can certainly handle the sound of a basketball being dribbled.

      5. Zweisatz*

        Also, it’s what the other parent suggested as a reasonable solution. We don’t have to guess if Alison’s suggestion made sense because a family member already told us it’s what’s right for this family.

      6. goddessoftransitory*

        And Mom is apparently having to deal with two kids, after school activities, dinner, homework, etc., on her own. And it seems they’re supposed to emulate the family in the Hush films on top of it!

        If Dad’s WFH involves another time zone, then it is what it is. But if it’s that important to have quiet he needs to A) rent or otherwise set up a fully independent office where he can work and B) if he’s not already, take on the morning shift of breakfast, driving kids to school, dishes and so on.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          But *his* job is *important*! Her job and the one she gets paid for, is to run the house, raise the children, and make sure he doesn’t have to change anything.

          1. Bess*

            I might be missing some humor in your comment but she also works from home, just on a different shift. So she works during the day and then works all evening with both kids as well.

            And even if she didn’t work for pay, childrearing (especially with a special needs kid in the mix) is a 24/7 job before you even add in all the housekeeping. It’s many jobs rolled into one and is far more demanding than a job that starts and ends on a standard shift.

      7. Fellow Fantasy Fan*

        No related to the question at all, but I love your username! I just finished reading the trilogy and loved it!

    4. Artemesia*

      The home is the kids’ home too. They live there. When they come home from school they shouldn’t have to be quiet day after day. If it is summer and they are home all day — well the parents need to have them in camp or day care so they can be kids. And then when they are home in the evenings, they need to be able to be normal kids.

      Dad needs to figure out how to do evening shift work without turning the rest of the house into an office. Maybe he sets up office space in the bedroom, spends more time at the coffee shop, wears noise cancelling headphones, uses outside workspace. It is reasonable to have the kids quiet on the occasional meeting but not every evening after school

        1. Dahlia*

          We can’t say that. We don’t know what their situation is. Maybe his office closed during covid. Maybe it’s 2 hours away. Sounds like you have a bit of a bias.

    5. Dark Macadamia*

      People are allowed to make noise in their own home. A regular office has background noise too!!

    6. bamcheeks*

      This is fine if it’s a once in a while thing. It’s unreasonable if they have to sit in silence for three hours after school *every night*.

    7. IceQueen*

      Completely disagree with this. This a home environment for the children, not an office. Being quiet for a meeting here and there is okay but not certainly all the time. The expectation that they be silent whenever their dad is working at home is unreasonable. And a little bit controlling. Can Dad work from another location, say the office or alternate workspace? Can the garage be converted to a home office?

    8. Jade*

      No. I grew up in a household where I was expected to silent. It’s incredibly harmful.

      1. HotSauce*

        Same here. My dad worked 3rd shift and would scream at us if we accidentally woke him up. He could have worn ear plugs, but I guess it was easier making his kids anxious all the time (all three of us have crippling anxiety as adults).

      2. Smith Masterson*

        My dad was the only one allowed to make noise. So, for instance, if he wanted to watch TV loud enough for me to hear it two floors above with a shut door–that was fine. But I had to sit close to the TV and lip-read if I wanted to watch something.

    9. CityMouse*

      Adding to the chorus that this is unreasonable. It is bit okay to make kids be silent when they get home from school for hours every single day. That is not okay.

    10. Jacques the shrimp*

      Well yeah, once in a while, I’d agree. All evening every evening? Nope.

      LW could also get a divorce and take the kids, then hubby will have the same quiet house he apparently wants, but I’m pretty sure we’d all agree that’s overkill too.

      There are solutions to this that don’t involve drastic measures like divorce or asking kids to be quiet all the time in their own home.

      There’s some pretty good suggestions in the comments already, but I would definitely say: LW, you and your husband need to talk. Why is he constantly shushing you and the kids? Once you figured out the problem you can figure out a solution from there.

      1. Well but*

        Given that this man has pre-emptively rejected noise-canceling headphones (which absolutely exist), maybe this isn’t a drastic solution at all.

    11. Harper the Other One*

      I disagree. A house is for living in, and if you work from home, the trade-off for not having to deal with a commute is that understanding. People are allowed to speak, watch media, and otherwise live on their living space, and that includes kids.

    12. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Ah no, the children are allowed to be noisy in their own home. In my personal experience, sending them out to play in the garden will simply displace and increase the noise. The husband could go to a co-working space or his own office, or wear headphones, which solutions are all preferable to stifling young children who’ve already had to sit quietly all day at school and need to let off steam.
      This is a serious husband problem, because he seems to think everything revolves around him. The entitlement is mind-boggling.

    13. STEMprof*

      Disagree strongly. It is reasonable to expect them to stay out of the office. It is not reasonable to expect them to be silent. I’ll add that I have loud 15 month and 8 year olds and the only time people on my calls can actually hear them is when they are in the same room as me. Most telecon/videoconferencing platforms have technologies that filter out a lot of background noise. If you yourself need silence to work, maybe working from home when there are kids present is not for you (although many offices are also pretty loud!)

      1. Magpie*

        Exactly this. When my kids were home during the pandemic they were frequently very loud during my meetings. I would often apologize for the noise and my teammates would respond that they hadn’t heard anything. I don’t think they were just being nice either, we have the kind of dynamic where talking about stuff like noisy kids is par for the course. Headphones combined with the noise filtering functionality in most teleconference software works wonders.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Yes – my boss is routinely apologizing for her dogs barking at the goings-on at her house, and nobody can ever hear it, we would have no idea if she wasn’t saying something. Likewise, I semi-regularly have 165 combined pounds of dog playing tug going on practically under my feet in my home office and nobody can hear the thumps, barking, and ruckus from that either, they tell me. She’s wearing garden variety Apple corded earbuds, and I have either the original basic AirPods or Beats3 headphones, so it’s not like either of us is using any super specialized equipment.

          1. Matt*

            That’s my experience at this very moment with very noisy construction work going on at my house (they set up scaffolding and now are repairing water draining on the balconies or whatever) involving lots of drilling into concrete. At times I have difficulty hearing anything on my meetings even with earphones (I have to cover my ears or apply pressure to the phones), but I was surprised when I apologized to my coworkers for the noise, asked them if they could unterstand me and they said they didn’t hear anything worse than my laptop’s fan (which a sadistic hardware designer put next to the mic and has been driving everyone crazy for ages as soon as I unmute myself ;-)

            1. Allison K*

              I was teaching a class from my dining table when the neighbors started installing shelving on the wall directly behind my head – maybe three feet from my microphone. I use a pro mic without headphones, and it sits right out there with no noise protection. The pounding was so loud I had to stop teaching for a minute. My class didn’t hear a thing!

            2. Bookmark*

              Yes, I am amazed by how effective microphone technology is at muting out barking dogs and jackhammering. A couple weeks ago there was jackhammering one floor below me and nobody could hear it but me. The only problem is that there can be this weird disconnect where I’m flustered for what seems like no reason to anyone on the other end of the line.

          2. negligent apparitions*

            I was giving a presentation and my child (who had been well prepped to not interrupt!) asked me for something, was upset she didn’t get it, and when her siblings tried to get her to get away from the door because they knew they weren’t supposed to interrupt, wailed about the injustice of it all. I apologized, but got a private chat that they couldn’t hear anything, I was good. I thought they were just being nice until I watched back the recording later and you couldn’t hear her at all!

            I was also on a call last week and apologized for how noisy the wind must be- everyone told me they couldn’t hear it at all.

            1. alienor*

              I was presenting on a call recently when a summer afternoon storm rolled through, complete with gigantic booms of thunder. No one heard a thing, though I did worry about the power going out (it didn’t).

        2. Reed Weird*

          For sure, I play a lot of D&D and other games online with friends and also have two very clingy and needy cats. My friends barely even hear the deaf one screaming at me for attention, unless I let her yell directly into the microphone.

        3. Justme, The OG*

          I was in an evening meeting with a prospective student who apologized because his infant was making noise. I told him there was no need to apologize. Kids are allowed to make noise.

        4. Becky*

          Yup – I a block from a fire/police station and I fairly regularly have sirens blaring as they go past. I have apologized for the noise and people have told me they didn’t hear it.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        It’s pretty amazing. I often have a radio on and our videoconferencing platform filters it out completely.

        1. HotSauce*

          I have a screamy cat, everyone tells me they can’t hear him when I apologize and he’s literally sitting at my feet singing the song of his people.

        2. many bells down*

          My spouse and I have adjoining home offices and I can practice my (fairly loud) musical instrument while he’s in a meeting and no one’s heard a thing. And with his noise canceling headphones, he doesn’t hear me play either.

      3. RishaBree*

        I’ve been especially impressed by the improvements Teams has made since the pandemic. I’m routinely surprised by the loud kids shows and toys and such, playing in the same room as me, that my colleagues cannot hear. Once in a while, one will be loud enough to break through, sure. But I really doubt that 30 seconds of dribbling actually made it onto OP’s husband’s call.

    14. Ellis Bell*

      The child with behavioural issues will have been struggling to be quiet all day in school so others can learn (most SEN kids bust a gut trying to be ‘good’ and a big part of their learning is teaching them to do what other kids can do easily in spite of multiple hiccups). It is incredibly unfair for any child to be made to feel their home isn’t really theirs to relax in, but it is incredibly abusive to do this to a kid who has been working hard at quietness for eight hours already.

      1. Darsynia*

        This is the thing to highlight. It’s going to create lasting damage to require this.

      2. higheredadmin*

        1,000 times yes. SEN kids need home as a safe space to decompress. My one can’t even make it through aftercare – one school day is the limit. Kid is at summer camp and I’ve already had the talk about letting kiddo have a space to decompress if needed. (And note that this decompression can often be noisy – jumping/thumping. All good.)

      3. lucanus cervus*

        THIS, so much. The poor kid needs a few hours each day when they can stop striving to perform and just be.

    15. Ash*

      Your kids have to be silent EVEN IN ANOTHER ROOM FROM YOU? This is a completely unreasonable expectation. The LW is not saying that the children are in the same room as the husband. The husband cannot tolerate any sound in the entire house. That means the house is not a suitable space for the husband to work. (Honestly, it sounds like the husband is not a suitable father/spouse.)

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        It’s reasonable if you think kids are an extension of yourself and exist as an accessory to your life rather than the star of their own, which unfortunately some adults do.

      2. Justme, The OG*

        There have been times where I’ve had to ask people in my house to keep noise to a minimum because I was in an important meeting. But that kind of thing is rare. I would never ask my kid to be silent all day because I was working from home.

        1. Melissa*

          Yes, I agree! My husband will occasionally take an absolutely critical call, for 30 minutes or an hour. He will say “I beg you, don’t come upstairs from 11 to 12!!” and we try to be as quiet as mice. But not all day, and not once in a great while.

      3. librarianish*

        Agreed, I work from home and my husband is a teacher so is home with the kiddos during the summer – they can be loud, my son has some behavioral struggles, so I use headphones to mitigate. Sometimes (less than once a week!) I ask for them to go elsewhere or be quiet because I am doing a presentation/have an important meeting, but the default is that people shouldn’t be yelling directly outside of my door but beyond that they can live their lives. I have considered getting a coworking space for the summer etc. because it is sometimes a pain (as I type this my husband and daughter are having a …spirited conversation about hairbrushing and have forgotten not to do it outside my door) but I’ve never considered telling them to be quiet, I see it as my problem to solve in a way that mostly impacts me. Also, most decent earbuds block outside noise so it seems most likely the noise bugs him and is not impacting those on the other side of his calls.

    16. Sarg*

      you’re free to raise your kids however you want. But no, Dad’s expectations are not reasonable AT ALL. 1 person doesn’t get to coopt an entire family’s living space for their needs. It’s 2023. We are no longer doing the “kids are to be seen and not heard” thing.

      1. Observer*

        We are no longer doing the “kids are to be seen and not heard” thing.

        That’s not even the issue. That line (which was not as common as portrayed) was ONLY in the context of events where children were at “adult” events or, in some cases, when children were at more formal meals with adults etc. But kids were absolutely expected to be kids when not in those particular circumstances. (And it was also common for children to eat their meals separately from the adults, either completely or at a separate table.)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Mm this might be cultural to extent. All of my grandparents absolutely grew up in households where children were expected to quietly entertain themselves and not bother the adults.

          1. Observer*

            That’s a very different thing. No one was expecting total silence. But “stay in your room / the backyard / in the park / wherever and don’t scream or keep coming to the adults for entertainment” was pretty common.

    17. Also-ADHD*

      It sounds like they ARE in another room though? Or Dad isn’t in a room to work, but maybe he should be? It’s not reasonable to expect complete and total silence frequently in the afternoon and evenings.

    18. Lavender*

      I disagree. It might be reasonable to have the kids keep excess noise to a minimum: use inside speaking voices, turn down the volume on video games or TV, don’t hang out right outside the office door, and so on. It might also be reasonable to expect silence for short periods of time, like the occasional meeting. But it sounds like OP’s husband is expecting total silence for hours every day, and that’s just not reasonable for *anyone*—especially kids and ESPECIALLY when one of said kids already struggles with this.

      1. Viva*

        I had a six month stint as a WFH call center agent, and these were the guidelines I gave my kid, along with things like waiting until he could no longer hear me on a call before he knocked on the door if he needed something. His default setting is ALL THE SCREAMING ALL THE TIME, but he was extremely respectful the entire time and tbh I didn’t hear much over my headset anyway.

      2. Artemesia*

        The only way I can see this being a problem is if the husband is trying to work in public social space in the home and doesn’t have an office or isn’t working from a room where he can close the door. Of course video games should not be on loud; of course kids can be asked not to yell or scream inside the house or bounce a ball against Dad’s door — but normal talking, media, toys etc should not be a problem.

        1. Lavender*

          Yeah, I’m wondering if OP’s husband doesn’t have a workspace with a door he can close. If he doesn’t…well, then he needs to figure out a different work-from-home arrangement or start going into the office if possible.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Yuuuup. I have a home workspace that I can’t close a door on, and our kids of similar ages to OPs are home for the summer. But I’m not on meetings all the time and I just tune them out, use headphones when I need to be on a meeting, and ask them not to come in and tell me about their video games in the middle of my workday. If they’re playing them one room over and it’s a little loud, that’s having kids. If it became disruptive to my work, I would need to find a different solution – specifically with a door that I could close.

      3. DLW*

        No, it’s not reasonable for anyone. When I work from home, my mother is upstairs watching TV. And it’s loud. So I wear noise cancelling headphones (Bose Quiet Comfort) which work extremely well at blocking out the TV as well as neighborhood noise like playing kids and landscapers. It would not be reasonable for me to expect my mother to be silent for 8 hours.

        1. I have RBF*

          Yeah, the landscapers across the street with leaf blowers twice a week make a lot of noise, and I sure can’t shush them. I hear them but the people on meetings don’t. The guy is being ridiculous and controlling.

      4. I have RBF*

        Hell, I’m an adult, with adult roommates, plus cats. I don’t expect silence from them, only “keep it down while I have a meeting” which only applies to the room I’m in.

        I have an active railroad running behind my house, and we are the third lot from the corner where the railroad crossing is. So you get train horn, bell, plus crossing gate bells about 4 times a day during the workday. I just mute myself if I’m not talking in a meeting, and no one has complained about it.

        The guy is being ridiculous, IMO. If he wants to work in silence, he needs to get a separate, silent place, not expect his entire family to tiptoe around silently for nine hours a day.

    19. Frankie Mermaids*

      LW doesn’t say, but it seems like her husband may not have a dedicated workspace with a door. I don’t, either. I also have a 14-month-old who eats breakfast in the same room during my standing 9 am meeting. She screams like a banshee until that first spoonful of oatmeal hits. Even with just regular Airpods, no one on the other end of teams call can hear her. So I think OP3’s husband is being a little precious about the whole thing. Besides as an adult, if another adult, especially my husband, ever “shushed” me in my own home we would be having a Very Serious Conversation about respect and boundaries and shared living spaces.

    20. Still Nameless in MN*

      If dad went to the office it wouldn’t be completely silent there either.

      Home is where you live, decompress, spend time together, pursue hobbies and interests.

      Dad needs to compromise too.

      Expecting anyone, of any age, to be completely silent in their home for hours is not realistic.

    21. kiki*

      I think there are a lot of variables at play in this letter– how often and for how long in the afternoons and evenings is Dad in meetings? Is Dad expecting a 3 hour block of silence in the evenings? Or is it one hour? How long after Dad is done working do the kids get to be at normal volume? Are the video game systems actually very loud? How much noise are the kids really making? Are they truly being loud or is it just normal tween levels of noise? Is there any way for Dad to move his work station further away from where the kids are during the times kids are home?

      I feel like the lack of willingness to even try noise-cancelling headphones is raising my hackles a bit with this husband. It sounds like LW is trying really hard to be considerate– even having the kids relocate to the park a lot of evenings– but then one relatively small and short-lived noise gets a shush.

      1. I have RBF*

        Yeah, what happens when it rains? Is his spouse expected to find a place to take the kids just so he can have his quiet? If he can’t work in his house with kids around, then it’s his wife and two kids vs him – he is in the minority, he needs to change by either using headphones or going back to the office.

        If I started shushing everyone at my house there would be strong words. Yes, my roomies are respectful of keeping the noise down in the area where I’m working, but that’s all that is required. Plus, I can’t silence street noise, and the street is right outside the window. It doesn’t even come through into meetings.

    22. AnonInCanada*

      Sorry, add me to the list of those who disagrees with you. It’s one thing to have your kids be quiet once in a while for an important meeting, or going to the theatre etc. It’s another thing for hubby to expect his children (one of which has behavioural challenges) to sit still in absolute silence for the entire time he’s working from home. That’s being unreasonable and borderline abusive. Especially since the reasonable request from OP (to have him wear noise-cancelling headphones) is dismissed without discussion. Maybe they need to build another soundproof room in the house so hubby can work in absolute silence whilst in there. But don’t take it out on the rest of the family because there’s (gasp!) the sound of a dribbling basketball as one of them is leaving.

      In other words, OP is NTA, hubby’s TA, and the kids are innocent. Sorry, wrong website.

    23. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’m far from a child and live alone, and there’s no way I could be completely silent all evening every evening. WTH. That’s not possible.

      I am very curious, does LW’s family have pets? neighbors? Because in the three years I’ve been remote, I moved twice, so have worked from two different houses and an apartment, and it is simply not possible to get away from ambient noises from traffic, landscapers, snow plows, garbage trucks, people talking outside, people’s kids being kids outside, dogs barking and so on and so on. When in the past people complained that they cannot hear me on calls, I used a headset with a mic that I had bought for just these occasions. A gaming headset should provide enough protection from the sounds. LW’s husband is being unrealistic in my opinion. I mean, the kids shouldn’t throw parties or have wrestling matches in the living room while he’s working, but they should be able to breathe without being shushed.

    24. fhqwhgads*

      There’s a giant difference between “silent” and “not loud”. Expecting the kids to be “not loud” is reasonable. Expecting them to be “silent” is nonsense.
      It also matters whether the dad here is shushing because he hears it and it’s disruptive to him or if the people he’s talking to hear it and it’s disruptive to them. If it’s the former, he needs sound blocking in the room he works in, whether it be via his own headphones or doing stuff to the walls. If the latter, he needs a unidirectional microphone that’s better and not picking up stuff that isn’t his voice.

      1. Remote work, remote minds*

        Expecting them to be “silent” is nonsense.

        It’s not nonsense at all. Either this guy somehow creates a professional work environment, sans noisy kids, at home, or he comes back to the office.

    25. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I saw your user name after I read and concluded this from your comment: you made your kids are part of the team. “OK, when Mom/Dad do X, you need to do Y.”
      That makes sense. It’s the same at my best friend’s house. Dad works from home. He has a meeting, the kids are quiet(er). Full stop. Even neighbor kids get it. I work there some days. From the kitchen table. “Hey, I have a (rare) call.” Kids: “Not Tom is in a meeting…pass it on.” They remind each other while they play in an open concept room.
      OP’s husband is demanding total silence. He doesn’t want to hear anyone while he’s working.
      That is the problem.
      OP has a solution.
      He is not willing to try it.
      He doesn’t want a functioning shared work/home space. He wants silence.

    26. Observer*

      They know when Dad or Mom are in a meeting they are to be silent.

      True. But do you have meetings the entire time they are home? That’s the issue here. It sounds like he *always* objects.

      This is not reasonable.

      Either Dad needs to start working from he office, change his schedule or figure something out for the day-to-day. And if it’s the employer who wants him WFH, then he has the standing to have the employer pay some of the possible costs.

    27. TootsNYC*

      I disagree with you.
      First, it’s not always clear to the people outside the room when a meeting will happen.

      And this is their HOME. and it’s every day, not infrequently.

      And there is a possible solution–noise-canceling headphones, and an audio setting to eliminate background noise. And he’s not willing to find it.

    28. Peccy*

      Dribbling a basketball INSIDE the house is excessive but people need to be allowed to make noise in their own home. Feeling like you’re walking on eggshells all the time is horrible.

      Yes when he speaks people will be able to tell there is noise happening at his house. This is part of working from home. I hear peoples spouses and kids and sirens outside and construction next door and pets losing their minds at the mailman and the doorbell ringing for packages etc etc all the time. It happens, we all have lives. As long as he’s keeping himself on mute when not talking (listening to everyone’s background noise through the whole meeting is annoying) and they’re not blaring TV in the same room as him it’s fine, and if his work wants to be really precious about it then he can’t wfh

    29. Lychee tea*

      I’m trying to imagine trying to do homework but not being able to ask for any help until nighttime every single day or not being able to play until it’s basically time to go to bed… so essentially never.

      If I was the kid, I think I would be inclined to stop talking to my dad altogether, especially as an adult if he wants to pretend I don’t exist during my childhood (or would prefer if he didn’t have any kids? Or at least no kids except on weekends. And zero neurodivergent kids). He doesn’t even want the kids making noise in other rooms or coming in/leaving. Basically a code of silence as soon as they hit the driveway until they go to college or he stops working from home.

      I’d literally do my best to never have to be around him and try to get my friends’ parents to let me hang out in their houses so I can be allowed to be a human.

    30. No More Murder Podcasts*

      I’m child-free but my spouse loves to listen to podcasts while working where I can hear. If hiring a pro to add sound insulation in the walls between our offices was an option, I’d do it in a second.

      Unless they get big over-the-ear noise cancelling headphones, it probably won’t block the noise since active noise cancellation works best with steady drones like HVAC systems, etc.

    31. The Shenanigans*

      Sure, if the meeting is for an hour or so. Even then, though, the collaborative thing to do is for the parent to do everything they can on their side, too. That’s just called being a good person for your family. The fact the husband doesn’t even want to try is a big, bad deal.

      But it sounds like the husband wants the kids silent ALL afternoon and evening, which is just not reasonable. Also, he sounds like he thinks he is in the right and therefore should not and will not work with the family to make things okay for everyone. That is a much, much bigger problem.

      OP, is your husband unwilling to compromise in other situations? Is he irrationally stubborn in other ways? Does he insist on his way, or else e.g. is he yelling at the kids about other things that aren’t bad, just not the way he prefers? If you can’t think of anything, ask the kids. I guarantee you they have some ideas.

    32. CommanderBanana*

      “I’ve suggested he invest in a really good pair of noise-canceling headphones that will eliminate the noise around him, but he says the technology isn’t good enough to cover up how loud we are when he’s speaking in a meeting.”

      How does he know if he hasn’t even tried a pair??

    33. This_Is_Todays_Name*

      I am so sorry for your children. You are asking them to be SILENT in their OWN HOME. Yes, Mom or Dad are in a work call, but complete silence and lack of play is onerous and … mean. Take calls in a room with a closed door, as far away from the FAMILY area as possible. Use the best noise cancelling headphones one can afford, and also, understand that since the pandemic, people understand you may not be alone. Unless a kid is screaming at the top of their lungs non-stop for no reason, it is unreasonable to ask for SILENCE to accomodate your needs while ignoring theirs.

    34. Mockingjay*

      I’m going to reiterate a point that I made here during the pandemic. Not all homes are conducive to WFH. The architectural setup (open floor plan for instance), the family presence (I’ve got a chatty retired hubby that I have to boot out of my office occasionally), work times conflicting with normal household activities, etc. The last part is what OP3 wrote in about.

      OP3 works day hours in which (presumably) the children have school or some kind of care, so WFH is fine for her. Hubby’s shift directly conflicts with evening family life. She and hubby need to have a sitdown about ways to solve this (and there can be more that one solution). Heck, ask the kids for their input. It’s a family problem, and while the husband says it’s not that big of a deal, this is the kind of thing that can fester. It’s a conversation – save it for the weekend when there’s time and everyone is relaxed.

    35. popko*

      It’s frankly not even reasonable to ask an adult to be silent for three hours of their after-work time every single workday, much less a child.

    36. There You Are*

      @Capt. Liam Shaw – Do either of your kids have a behavioral disability?

      “The kids are 11 and 14, and the youngest has some behavioral disabilities that make them a bit volatile at times.”

    37. Nina*

      My dad worked from home occasionally when I was a kid. I have two siblings. His job involves a lot of meetings, and a lot of quiet focused work. No way in hell three kids are going to handle being either silent or yelled at for three to five hours a day (end of school to end of work). What did he do? He parked himself in a room with a closable door, at the far end of the house from the living room where the noise was, and put on noise-canceling headphones.

      Yes, we still had to be reasonably quiet (no yelling, no turning the TV up past 30%, no playing the trumpet), but there’s a lot of distance between ‘complete silence’ and ‘no yelling’ that can be absorbed by decent noise-canceling (or even muffling!) headphones.

    38. Lenora Rose*

      It’s exceedingly unfair that they should have to behave like that within their own home and after school. This is the space they go to to decompress and not have to be on best behaviour, where they go to release energy. Controlling shouting, yelling, overexcited running about, sure; curb your enthusiasm or go outside, but “your video game is too loud” — assuming they’re playing at what would be a normal conversational volume — is absurd.

  2. Steggy Saurus*

    LW3: several years back I bought very expensive noise cancelling headphones in an attempt to block out the constant wailing from my neighbors’ ill-behaved kids. To my shock and dismay, I discovered that they don’t block voices. At all. I hope you can find another method or come to terms with your husband in another way.

    1. Cold and Tired*

      Agreed. I have had my Bose overear noise cancelling headphones for years, and while they’re great for ambient noise (the sound of an airplane, neighbors with loud bass, city noises that filter in), they’re not great for human voices. It does reduce them for sure, especially if you have other sounds or music playing, but it definitely is still there. So better than nothing, but not a perfect solution.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      Noise cancellation works best when the noise is low frequency and fairly constant – traffic noise from outside, the drone of an A/C unit, that sort of thing. Higher pitched and more abrupt sounds don’t cancel as well (people talking, dogs barking). The best combination would be noise cancelling, plus noise blocking (good over the ear headphones that insulate your ears from sound, rather than earbuds, for example).

      1. Mongrel*

        Agree. A good headset with closed cups that seal well and enclose your ears is amazing at reducing background noise.
        If he can find a physical store that allows you to try them on then do so, comfort is important and everyone differs inn what they find comfortable.
        Also, go look at the gaming headsets they can be gaudy but there are some good brands out there that function well

        1. Hans Solo*

          Yeah, with just a headset no one can hear anything around my apartment unless they are speaking directly into the microphone. I work in my living room, my kid is around a lot. I have noisy cats and live in a city so that garbage truck, while absolutely super loud to me, has never been heard on a call.

          1. Betty*

            Mine work like this, too (& they’re about 10 years old). I was very surprised the first time I put them on for a meeting recently. My dog would not stop barking, and the other people in the meeting could hear hear me just fine, and they didn’t hear the barking at all. So if the OP’s husband is worried that other people in the call will hear the kids, it’s possible that they won’t.

            It also sounds like the husband needs to figure out how to f-ing relax, especially regarding telling other people how to behave – as though he’s the most important person on earth.

    3. Jackalope*

      I will add in my experience that they don’t block all sound but they do a decent job at muffling it. I can generally work with my noise cancelling headphones on even when people are talking around me; I can hear them but it’s possible to focus on what I’m doing. And for what it’s worth I’ve managed good conversations with people through my headphones while people around me were talking and we could both hear and understand each other.

      Also, one option if he’s still having a hard time with background noise would be for him to play a white noise or brown noise background loop; you can find some online that will go for several hours so you can sleep to them; he could put that on and that should really help block things out.

      1. Darsynia*

        Agreed; it may be that he’s got an unreasonable expectation of how much sound he can hear, and isn’t tuning out things that are scarcely audible because he’s TOLD them to be quiet. An authority thing, I mean. That should be recalibrated.

        I have misophinia and some sounds are infuriating, but that’s a me problem, lol. I do many things to mitigate, including reassuring my 3 kids that they are not at fault when I am struggling (chewing is a huge trigger and they need to know they’re doing nothing wrong!).

        1. Hollyhock*

          Not sure if this is already one of your mitigation strategies but they make a lot of earplugs that reduce, but don’t eliminate, noise and are great for misophonia. Chewing is a fairly high-pitched noise and so is fairly easily blocked out, which is great as it’s one of my triggers as well. And because the earplugs don’t actually block out a ton of noise, you can hear the ambient environment pretty well and don’t get your own voice/footsteps/chewing noises amplified to yourself quite as much (although some is inevitable). I have Loops Engage but there are other options from that or other brands that people say work well.

          1. Random Dice*

            Loop doesn’t ship to the US (except for I want to say Samoa?), but Flare has earbuds called “Calmer” that take the edge off the highest sounds going into the ear.

            But this is 100% a “him” problem, and he needs to rent a Staples Cowork space or other coworking office.

            Expecting his wife and kids not to exist at home in the evening is, frankly, horrible. This is divorce dealbreaker territory.

            1. Silver Robin*

              Loop definitely ships to the US? I have some and so do several friends; scattered all across the lower 48.

            2. Coverage Associate*

              I bought Loop Quiet from Amazon last month and could have bought them directly from Loop. I am in California.

            3. Justme, The OG*

              I have 2 pair of Loop earbuds, the definitely do. Plus you can get them off Amazon.

            4. Lychee tea*

              You can get them off of Amazon in the US. I have a pair of Loop Quiet because my apartment walls are made out of tissue psper and I have a friend who has Loop Experience (both of us live in America).

            5. elemen*

              I thought the same thing about Loop until I realized I was on the wrong section of their website. If you replace the “www” in the URL with “us”, they’ll ship with no problem.

    4. Anon in Aotearoa*

      I, too, have learned this to my cost. Mine are excellent at blocking the washing machine, the neighbour’s circular saw, the inevitable lawnmowers and overhead helicopters – but not my five year old telling me (and my meeting participants) that he’s hungry. Sorry.

      Acoustic lining or separation of the husband’s work room might be more effective. When I’m working from home, I banish myself to the spare room which is physically far away from the noisy kids in the living room.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        I think blocking voices is incompatible with having a mic.

        I’ve had headphones and earplugs that blocked or hugely reduced voices, but my AirPods actually make voices EASIER to hear when I am on the phone because, well, it’s carefully gating everything else to let voice through.

      2. Waiting on the bus*

        In my experience you have to differentiate between noise cancelling headphones and a headset. I have expensive inside cancelling headphones which are great for listening to just but the microphone is super sensitive.

        The headsets by company uses are also noise cancelling. They’re not as good for listening to music, but on calls they are amazing. I barely hear anyone talking (open plan office) and whoever I’m talking to only hears me – even when my colleagues are yelling and laughing loudly behind me.

        Other colleagues have kids or pets running around at home and sometimes apologize for the ruckus but literally nothing but their own voices are coming through the headset.

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I get the inoression it isn’t really about background noise making it hard to concentrate, but because of the specific focus on “when he’s speaking” it sounds like the actual issue could be noise from the family being heard at the ‘other end’ of the call (by the other people in the meeting). As such it’s a microphone sensitivity issue more than “noise cancelling”. Perhaps he should try approaching it from that angle (I’m sure mics are available that do a better job at this).

      1. Rainbow*

        Yep, that’s a noise-cancelling headset. In fact does he even have a headset at all? That’s the first place to go here.
        I got my work to pay for a fancy noise -cancelling one, but even before that with a cheaper one I could be in super loud places like airports, train stations, and never get background noise.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Yeah, even the cheap headsets are now fairly good at only picking up what is spoken directly into the microphone (when people move it away from their mouth, one cannot hear them anymore).

      2. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        This is what I was thinking too. He’s right that noise-cancelling headphones won’t block out unpredictable noises for him. But if the issue is actually the noises leaking to his colleagues or clients, a good headset mic will go a long way to solving it.

        1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

          Update – maybe I was a bit too blanket-statement about the potential of headphones, going by what other people in the comments are saying about circumstances where they have been helpful.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I find “will go a long way” is true. Especially since some of the noise the husband is worried about is definitely ambient – dribbling, video game noise, etc. But the fact that the noise will be muffled more for the other people in the meeting than the husband is pretty true regardless of the extent it will be muffled, and it doesn’t sound like the husband will be satisfied with that.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I do wonder then if the other end is hearing it? Directional and smart microphones picking up primarily the voice directed at the computer are ubiquitous now.

        Specifically, I was doing a Zoom Thing where the facilitator tried to set up some meditative background music, and her system steadfastly refused to pick up what it viewed as background noise.

        1. Moo*

          Teams seemed to have similarly developed. My very loud dog had a backing fit right beside me and I wasn’t wearing any headset and I apologised and people on the call said they didn’t hear anything. its happened several times since – He’s so loud my friend’s apple watch warned her to move away from the loud noise because it might damage her hearing when he barked beside her, so it’s not a small noise.

          It’s gotten to the point that my team joke that my dog is imaginary because they never hear him.

      4. Nea*

        During lockdown I was startled to find that really good quality gaming headphones muffled a lot of background noise to my ears and the mic didn’t pick up anything – no matter how loud – more than 4 inches from my lips. And they had a notch in the over-the-ear foam to keep my glasses from pressing painfully into the side of my head.

        Obligatory disclaimer – I don’t game, but my housemate likes to watch TV very loudly in the next room and I just wanted comfortable, wired, over-the-ear headphones. Then lockdown happened.

        1. Miette*

          I have gaming headphones for the same reason and they work quite well. They’re Skullcandy Venues and weren’t terribly expensive.

          Also, has OP’s husband tried asking his employer’s IT department for this equipment–surely he’s not the only wfh employee with such a need. Unless he’s self-employed, the cost of this shouldn’t be all that difficult to justify.

      5. Also-ADHD*

        That doesn’t really make sense for the examples given though—on Zoom and other platforms, way more noise is filtered out readily than video game sounds (in another room?) or someone dribbling a basketball.

        1. lilyp*

          It could be that his behavior is coming from anxiety about people hearing background noise from him, even if that’s not actually happening. I think it’s a useful question for OP to ask at least — maybe he could check in with a friendly coworker about how much is actually bleeding through?

          1. Also-ADHD*

            Oh totally, but that’s still a him problem. It doesn’t seem like this is a studio apartment so where is everyone? That I wonder too. There’s nothing wrong in most workplaces to even have some background noise (lawn service etc can unavoidable).

      6. Frank Doyle*

        Yes, thank you, this is what I came here to say! Is it that *he* can hear his kids, or that the people are on the other end of the line can hear them? He should get a headset with a microphone, that would probably help a great deal.

        1. Miette*

          Yes, this. I use wireless gaming headphones with a built-in mic and periodically ask my colleagues if they can hear things from my end. I have two small doggos with a particular hobby for barking at the smallest noise outside, and I’ve been reassured their enthusiasm is not being picked up.

          Now, if hubby is just easily distracted or annoyed by the (very normal) noise in his household, that’s a him problem. There are solutions he’s clearly not willing to even consider, so OP’s got her work cut out.

      7. Jamjari*

        This was my thought as well – that he’s worried about others hearing it – but it still might be a him issue. For example, I have construction going on outside my place (think industrial jackhammer that makes it hard for me to concentrate with my over-the-ear, noise cancelling headset) but when I’ve apologized to meeting participants about the noise, they don’t hear it. I think we assume people in the meeting can hear what we can hear, and that’s not necessarily true.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve heard a podcast host or YouTuber apologize for background noise or say their pet is nearby so we might hear them, but I heard nothing at all.

    6. Emmy Noether*

      That is kind of inherent to the principle of noise canceling. Noise canceling means making a sort of “anti-noise” that will cancel out the noise (it works because sounds are waves). But of course that will only work if the headphones can predict the noise they are canceling.

      Since all headphones will physically block noise somewhat as well, it will attenuate voices, but not cancel them.

      What you want for children’s noises is noise blocking or damping. So either headphones or insulating the room. There are now thin foam panels one can apply on the door that do a fairly good job for example.

      1. Sales Geek*

        I’ve experimented with a bunch of ANC headphones and the best of the bunch right now is the Apple AirPods Pro (earbuds). First, they’re just darned good for listening to music. But most important they have some adjustments you can use to manage what sounds get through.

        The latest firmware for these has a really clever “adaptive” noise cancelling. In short that allows them to tamp down sudden noises that are louder than normal ambient noise. Think of a dog barking as a good example. I use them a lot to make phone calls and being a bit of a nerd I’ll ask the person(s) at the other end how I sound. The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) always gets good marks from the folks at the other end.

        They also provide an interesting feature that helps people like me who have difficulty with hearing conversations in a crowd (e.g. a party or a bar). It boosts sounds in the range of the human voice but does the noise cancelling for sound outside of that range.

        The main drawback is that these really advanced features only work if you have an Apple device (phone, tablet, watch or laptop). The AirPod Pro earbuds work fine as Bluetooth devices with Android and Windows but you don’t get the fancier adaptive and transparent listening modes.

        I spend a lot of time online and on the phone. I have a collection of bluetooth ear buds and over-the-ear headphones (e.g. Sony and Sennheiser ANC) that I’ve tried over the years and so far the Apple AirPods Pro are head and shoulders the best so far.

        1. SC in NC*

          I’m like you Sales Geek that I’ve tried a number of different noise cancelling headphones including the AirPods Pro. I like them as headphones but in my case the noise cancelling is OK but not great. I’ve had much better luck with over the ear type headphones that have noise cancelling as well as offer a better physical barrier to noise intrusion. My current go-to headphone is the Soundcore Q45. Reasonable priced and great performance for both sound and noise cancellation. I also have a pair of Soundcore Q20 which are less expensive and almost as good. Not to sound like a commercial but they also make a pair in-between that some reviewers say outperform the Q45s. If having an earbud is a must, then the Airpods Pro are good but if someone is OK with over-the-ear, I think you’ll find better performance.

    7. Antilles*

      I’ve found several types of noise canceling headphones over the years that work perfectly. If someone is right next to me talking, yes, that comes through, but if they’re in another room? Not a sound. The key point that I’ve found is that it needs to be full-sized headphones. Not tiny earbuds, not the subtle small flat ones, but full-size cups that cover your entire ears.
      I would consider buying a headset like this with an attached microphone as well (gaming headsets are great for this actually), which will also help in addressing any issues with people on his calls overhearing stuff from OP’s side.

    8. learnedthehardway*

      I got my oldest son some Bose noise-cancelling headphones for Christmas a few years ago – almost wish I hadn’t. He literally cannot hear if I am knocking on his bedroom door or talking to me when his back is turned. They work entirely too well!!

      I had to have a quiet house to work from home in, when the kids were small. Things that helped – having 2 doors between me and the kids, being at the back of the house AWAY from the action, and the kids knowing that they needed to be quiet if they were near my office. They could play normally in other parts of the house, but yelling inside was not allowed (“inside voices” for the win). Now, we are in a bigger house, and we have a finished basement for the kids to hang out and play video games in. They still wear headphones for that and for music.

      It sounds to me that the OP’s husband has his office in the wrong part of the house, and that his expectations are unreasonable. I agree that basketballs shouldn’t be bounced inside, but the rest sounds pretty normal. He needs to get some noise-cancelling headphones for work, the kids need the same for their video games. He should also look at moving his office to a quieter part of the house.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        I do agree with relocating the office. It didn’t take me long in my new house to swap my main-floor office for an upstairs back-corner bedroom, which I swapped the hollow door out on and put a big thick rug down in.

    9. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, noise-cancelling only works when there’s something of a reasonably-constant frequency for them to cancel out. People talking are pretty much never going to be that.

      But you can get well-insulated headphones that help cut down on the noise a lot more than earbuds would. I don’t like the big over-the-ear headphones personally, but if I just had to wear them during meetings when the kids were home (my job isn’t constant meetings) then I’d deal with it in the spirit of compromise.

    10. GlutenFreePharmacist*

      My company provides these headsets. They’re a bit pricey, but I have a lot of coworkers with kids in the house and have never heard them over the mic. Personally, I know it’s blocked out major construction, helicopters and the occasional cat fight on my end to where my coworkers haven’t been able to hear a thing. Definitely worth the investment!
      Plantronics Savi 8240 UC Convertible, Wireless Headset, Black

    11. Observer*

      To my shock and dismay, I discovered that they don’t block voices.

      But they would help for things like the 2 minutes where the kid is dribbling the ball in the hallway! Same for a lot of the noises coming from a video game.

      What’s more, if the issue is what others on the meeting hear, the right mike WILL absolutely block the sound, because they work on figuring out where the sound is coming from. And if it’s not coming from your mouth it filters that out.

    12. Not A Girl Boss*

      Yep. During rona times, I had the neighbor kids (6 of them, in a 2 bedroom house) from hell move in and planted a trampoline one foot from our property line. Fast forward to me, sweating to death with all the windows closed in the middle of summer in a sad attempt to block out the noise, repeatedly getting rude “Um, do you need to check on your kids? It sounds like they’re getting murdered or something?” comments from coworkers. Nope, they aren’t my kids. I don’t even have kids!
      I tried lots of microphone and noise cancelling solutions but nothing really works for the random unexpected screams.

      The solution? …we moved.

    13. Global Cat Herder*

      This doesn’t sound like a noise-cancelling-headphones (what he’s hearing) problem, it sounds like a mic (what other people are hearing) problem. Or at least what he THINKS other people might be hearing.

      Which can be solved with a $30 headset with mic. “Call center” headsets like Jabra are more expensive; “gaming” headsets are basically the same thing and tend to be cheaper. Both are designed to pick up just the voice that’s very close to the mic (his earbuds pick up a wider range because the mic isn’t close).

      You can also do a test so he can hear what other people hear. He goes out of the house with his phone, you do a call with the earbuds, then change to the headset, while the kids play the video game. He’d be able to hear what other people hear, which is probably far less than what he thinks.

  3. Lexi Lynn*

    OP1 Why do you have to provide him with your lunch information? Telling him you had a good lunch meets the purpose and decline to give him information he doesn’t have a right to.

    1. Joron Twiner*

      I think it’s perfectly acceptable to push back on this level of weirdness right there in the chat. This is what the passive aggressive smiley was invented for.

      Chat: “I’m back, had a salad, it was yummy.”
      Trainer: “Wow, too healthy! Here’s my stupid comment about what you ate!”
      Chat: “Well I enjoyed it, good thing it was my lunch and not yours :)”

      Or like Lexi said stop sharing since you know the details aren’t important.
      Chat: “I had a good lunch and I’m back.”
      Trainer: “What’d you eat?”
      Chat: just never respond
      Chat: “Something I’m sure you’d disapprove of :)”

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I’d be fighting the urge to be nasty and say something like “I’d rather not say, because your judgments might just trigger my anorexic tendencies again”.

        1. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

          That was my first instinct, too. It didn’t occur to me to take it seriously and I’m not sure anyone was meant to. My answers would all be “a bowl of dog biscuits in yogurt” or “worm-on-a-string tacos.”

          1. Observer*

            That doesn’t really matter. If this was supposed to be a joke then he can respond with *actual* jokes. Even lame jokes. *Not* passive aggressive digs and insults excused with “I’m JUST kidding! Lighten UP! Can’t anyone take a joke anymore?!”

            But, at this point responding with jokes and nonsense is probably a good response if you don’t feel like you can call it out.

        2. Potatogrip*

          I’m really sorry but a cafe in my area does have something with that name on the menu.

        3. Nea*

          Fictional and offputting, like “The tears of my enemies. I’m on a liquid diet.” If only one person in a conversation is going to be enjoying making fun of the other speakers, well, it doesn’t have to be the other person.

          1. The Shenanigans*

            “The blood of the last person who made a stupid question about my food” (No, not really. But I’d be thinking of it).

            Another way to go is to answer where you went instead of what you ate, “Oh, I just grabbed something from the kitchen/a local cafe/my lunchbox.” and then ignore any other questions or comments about it.

            I agree about saying something to him AND to his company. This is just ridiculous behavior, and it’s actually insane that we, as a culture, allow this. Also, OP should be getting screenshots of the comments.

            1. HR Friend*

              It is not ridiculous that someone is saying things like “mm pizza!” or “yuck salad!” on a work call. Nor is it insane that culturally we like to talk about food. Maybe it’s not ideal for this dude to make silly comments, but it’s far from the atrocity you’re painting here.

              1. Observer*

                “yuck” anything is rude. And repeatedly calling someone a “nut” is also rude.

                Talking about how his wife manages his diet is also uncomfortable for a whole host of other reasons.

                So maybe not an “atrocity”. But absolutely seriously out of line.

                1. HR Friend*

                  Agree to disagree. I reserve “seriously out of line” to describe behavior more damaging and offensive than saying “salad! I prefer pizza!”

              2. Rainy*

                There’s nothing wrong with talking about food if you can do it in a way that isn’t rude or problematic. This dude is doing both, so yeah, it’s ridiculous of him to do that.

              3. Lenora Rose*

                Atrocity, no. Out of line and a bit problematic? Yes.

                Just because he’s reversing the “everyone must eat healthy” dictat as seen in several other letters to AAM in the past doesn’t mean he isn’t saying things that are out of line — and beyond the norms of cultural food discussion. He’s explicitly placing judgement.

          1. I have RBF*

            “The still-beating heart of the last person who quizzed me about my food choices.”

            This would be very, very tempting.

            I don’t put up with strangers commenting on my food. It makes me almost irrationally angry, because I’ve had to deal with it for years because I’m fat. I shut it down, hard.

      2. Observer*

        I think it’s perfectly acceptable to push back on this level of weirdness right there in the chat. This is what the passive aggressive smiley was invented for.

        Chat: “I’m back, had a salad, it was yummy.”
        Trainer: “Wow, too healthy! Here’s my stupid comment about what you ate!”
        Chat: “Well I enjoyed it, good thing it was my lunch and not yours :)”

        Yes. This is perfect.

        It doesn’t matter *what* his objection is. And it doesn’t matter *why* you didn’t have pizza for lunch. All that matters is that he’s being rude as all get out, and he needs to stop dumping his lunch desires all over you and the other participants.

      3. Random Bystander*

        Chat: “I had a good lunch and I’m back.”
        Trainer: “What did you eat?”
        Chat: “Something delicious and filling. Ready to get back to work now.”

        Any further probing just gets a repeat of that “Ready to get back to work now” sentence.

        (Actual food is, in most cases very healthy for me–I’m currently on a diet that involves intention to lose quite a bit of weight and hopefully keep my A1C well under control as I have a very strong family history of type II diabetes. But it also happens to be food that I very much find enjoyable in terms of flavor and it keeps me from feeling hungry until dinner. Who could ask for more out of lunch, really? And yes, many times, it is some variation of a salad with protein.)

    2. Heidi*

      I was also considering the option of just putting down whatever foods will invite the least amount of commentary. But I still would favor mentioning it in the course evaluation since it’s such a fixable problem. He can’t exactly read the room the way the course is set up, so I think it’s fine to provide that feedback in the course evaluation.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This is a good point about how he can’t physically read this room. Possibly in person he would have noticed on Day One that this wasn’t landing in the light ice-breaking way it appeared in his head and he would have course corrected with no one saying anything.

        1. Observer*

          I think that that’s giving him waaaay too much credit. You don’t have to “read the room” to know that repeatedly using terms like “health nut” is not going to be taken well by a lot of people. I’m am perfectly certain that if he were in person and DID “read the room” he would conclude that the people who don’t like it are just “special snowflakes.”

      2. Jay (no, the other one)*

        This sounds like the kind of guy who would keep at it even if he could see people – and possibly double down on the “snowflakes” who can’t take a joke. He’s an ass, and a misogynistic ass at that. I would absolutely put this in the evaluation and if I had access to someone over his head I’d go directly there. I teach workshops and we sometimes talk about food as a warm-up and one of the absolute ground rules is that we don’t judge other people’s food choices. Not once. Not ever. My daughter was two years old when we taught her not to yuck someone else’s yum.

        1. Smithy*

          This reminds me of the very negative side of that group of couples who owned the vacation spot where the part-owner who was the chef was irritated with the other part-owner giving tours and repeating stories over and over. That story struck me as the normal version of someone who interacts with different groups regularly, and therefore has a set list of stories/ice breakers they regularly repeat because they work well in a customer service environment. (Even if they might irritate someone else who repeated hears them)

          The negative side then is someone knowing they need a story/ice breaker for a situation and leaning into an option because they find it funny, their friends find it funny, etc. Essentially, it’s not a true winner for all audiences, particularly in a work setting, but they’re going to push through anyways.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I am more likely to ascribe this to ignorance than deliberate assholery. There are a lot of people who have been conditioned to think of certain foods as “good” and others as “bad”, but who also know that it’s not okay to criticize the “bad” food choices.

          Unfortunately, they haven’t yet learned that it’s also not okay to criticize the “good” food choices (or more generally that food isn’t “good” or “bad”). I’m betting this guy thinks that calling someone “too healthy” or “a health nut” will be taken as a compliment or lighthearted teasing, and he might respond well to feedback that it’s not working.

          1. Mayor of Llamatown*

            This. It’s so prevalent in society to think of food as good vs bad that many, many people do not stop to think about how utterly rude it is to comment on someone’s food choices. The fact that he was talking about having to eat salad to be “allowed” dessert by his wife is just another indicator.

            Someone would be doing this guy a service to help him understand how harmful this is.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              I mean, from the examples in the post I would think this guy might be working on food issues of his own, and it would really start bugging me to constantly have to be looped into it.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        That’s what I was thinking I would’ve done. That, or something nondescript like “takeout” or “yesterday’s leftovers” or “it hit the spot”. That is, if snarky me wouldn’t take over and come back with responses like the ones I’m seeing in this thread. “Chugged a bottle of elmer’s glue, hbu?”

    3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I’d be so tempted to respond with increasingly outrageous “lunches”, like “three shots of whiskey and half a croissant”, but I’ve gotten better at reining in my temptation for inappropriate sarcasm over the years so I’d probably no longer actually do that.

      If you have capital to spend on this, I definitely agree on pointing out the issue to him and/or his superiors, and otherwise, well, your lunch was whatever he had no particular opinion about when someone else said it yesterday.

        1. Anon in Aotearoa*

          Heck, I’d be tempted to answer either “ants and worms” or “coq au vin with an appetiser of pate de foie gras, followed by tiramisu and a snifter of cognac”. I mean, your video is off, he can’t actually see your salad.

          1. Spero*

            I wouldn’t reply anything that involves alcohol, because if he’s vengeful after the complaint he can screen shot that out of context and send to her HR “just wanted to let you know I had concerns that OP was drinking during the training, here’s an example of her admitting to it…”
            OP doesn’t need to deal with that!

        2. MEH Squared*

          Same. Coupled with Alison’s message in chat about using another topic for discussion and small talk after lunch.

        3. Pocket Mouse*

          “Food” was my immediate thought too – if OP wants to give a legitimate answer to the question at all. “Hi, I’m back from lunch” or “Ready to go!” are non-answer options.

          1. Caliente Papillon*

            This is where I landed. Q. What’d you have for lunch? A. I’m back
            I actually use this method on people who want to talk to me but ask ridiculous things! Most of the time it ends with a hilarious, or good conversation.

        4. Pennyworth*

          I’d go for ‘leftovers’ and if he asked what they were, ‘I’m really not sure what it was’.

        5. Phryne*

          just every day.

          Maybe it was healthy hummus, maybe it was greasy bacon, who knows. You had a sandwich.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            “What kind of sandwich?”
            “Oh I was so hungry, I wolfed it down without even noticing what was in it and now it’s gone” (sad face emoji)

            1. AnotherHealthNut*

              “A hot dog”
              “What?! A hot dog is not a sandwich”
              “Yes it is, bread, filling, bread – so is a taco”
              “So is pizza come to think of it, as long as you fold it”

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Now I’m reminded of that Silicon Valley episode where a guy invented an app that takes a photo of a food and tells you what it is, only it always gave one of the two answers: “hot dog” and “not hot dog”. Which would also be a fun way to answer that guy’s inquiries. “A hot dog”. “Not a hot dog.” “Not a hot dog again.”

              2. Bear Expert*

                I worked with an overall lovely bunch of people who could get very pedantic about arguing minor details. (Our job was often to argue the minuscule details that turn out to be important later, so this wasn’t a tendency to curb, it just happened.)

                I found myself in the habit of, after discovering we were in yet another long discussion about “but what if… maybe it could be…” I would turn to someone next to me and start a parallel evaluation of “is a cannoli a sandwich though?”

        6. Phony Genius*

          If you’re looking for absurd answers, you can try “I had fun,” “a good time,” or “a nothingburger.” Maybe even recreate the Silence of the Lambs “liver with some fava beans” bit, complete with that weird sucking sound.

          On the more serious side, if you just want him to lay off you, you can just lie and say something that you know he said was OK by him. But you may want to raise this with your agency’s training coordinator. They would want to know if an outside training provider is doing anything inappropriate and this probably meets the criteria as far as the federal government is concerned.

        7. TootsNYC*

          my mother-in-law used to call almost every day, which was way too much for me.
          And she’d want to make conversation, so she’d start with, “what did you have for dinner?”
          It really bothered me for some reason. Mostly because it just highlighted that there wasn’t anything substantive to talk about. But also I hated the idea that our food was supposed to be conversation-worthy (it wasn’t; we ate basically boring, uninspiring stuff–we liked it enough to eat it, but not enough to talk about it!)

          So I would answer, “Food.”
          And the immediately ask why she’d called, and try to have a more real conversation. But that specific question, I never answered with the real answer.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            There are two types of people: those who hold endless telephone, text, or social media conversations about the banal details of their everyday lives, and those who cannot imagine why anyone would do this. I fall in the second category, but I know my share of people in the first.

            1. TootsNYC*

              the funny thing is that she’s actually in the second category! But she just didn’t know how to start the conversation.

            2. AnonInCanada*

              The people in the first category is the reason why Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok exist.

          2. umami*

            My spouse (then BF) used to do this every time he called me; his default question was always ‘Where are you?’ which irritated me to no end. I’m at work, or the grocery store, or, wherever I am, why is that at all relevant to what you want/need from me with this phone call? Lol. I finally caught on that he was REALLY asking if I was free to talk and just phrasing it in a way that sounded more like an inquisition to me. Now he just asks how it’s going.

        8. Just Another Zebra*

          After the first comment about my choice of nutrition, “food” would be my go-to answer.

          “What kind of food?”

          “Good food.”

          “But what KIND?”

          “VERY good food.”

      1. coffee*

        “I have taught myself how to photosynthesise, and I had a delightful meal of sunshine.”

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I’d also be tempted, with the probable consequence of the discussion now revolving around whatever outrageous or largely-unknown thing I wrote. Trying to decide if that’s a good thing…

      3. Mister_L*

        I’d be careful with “admitting” drinking alcohol during work hours. This could be seen as a written confession.

          1. SoloKid*

            Some federal agencies are strict enough to prohibit alcohol consumption during work hours. If this is a group class with other employees, it’s common sense to limit what you put in a recorded chat.

          2. MassMatt*

            This is really not a far-fetched scenario.

            We recently had a letter where an employee was treated with suspicion because they called out sick on 4/20.

            There are many fields where alcohol consumption is prohibited—anything involving driving, or operating machinery, or medicine, or finance.

            Typed responses are devoid of nuance or sarcasm. This is why attorneys advise their clients not avoid sarcastic or jokey answers in depositions. The transcript will not show a sarcastic tone and such statements will probably be read literally.

          3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            The trainer reports the comment to his bosses, who tell the OP’s company. Basically, through the same mechanism he could flag that one of the trainees was being disruptive. I’m not saying it’s super likely, but it’s absolutely possible, particularly since it’s harder to know if someone’s joking in text than if they’re speaking.

          4. Spero*

            I mentioned this above, but the presenter could be vengeful after OP’s complaint. They could easily screenshot that comment and send to OP’s HR/Manager and say something like, during this training I had several times where I was concerned OP was intoxicated during training. Here is an example of OP discussing drinking during the lunch break. I know my workplace does not allow drunken behavior during work meetings and thought you should know…

          5. Generic Mid-Career HR Person*

            Scenario: LW replies to the instructor and says that their lunch involved alcohol. The instructor then shares this info with the other federal participants in the class. Someone takes a screenshot of what LW wrote or the instructor sends an email to LW’s training coordinator or supervisor. The LW is then questioned about drinking while attending a training that the federal government paid for.

      4. This Daydreamer*

        Yeah, I was having fun coming up with ridiculous meals.

        “Chicken tartare with spicy oatmeal”
        “Deep fried butter”
        “Three magic beans and an arugula leaf.”

        1. MsM*

          “Now if you’ll excuse me just a second, I have to go deal with the witch next door who’s mad at me for ripping up her garden.”

          1. wendelenn*

            So…there’s no more fuss and there’s no more scenes and my garden thrives! You should see my nectarines! But I’m
            telling you the same I tell Kings and Queens don’t ever never ever mess around with my greens! ESPECIALLY THE BEANS!

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            “Honestly, you steal a few herbs and she’s all GIVE ME YOUR FIRSTBORN I SHALL HOLD HER HOSTAGE TO THE WIGMAKERS and I don’t know what all–our HOA is really falling down on that damn tower in her yard, too.”

      5. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

        Non- zero chance I’d be fired for answering “your mom”.

    4. Professor Plum*

      I’d recommend questions that relate to the class—such as, what was your biggest takeaway from this morning’s session? Or, what questions have come up for so far related to todays topics? Run a survey/poll related to the topic.

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Speaking as a corporate trainer, there is a time and place—and purpose— for everything. Not everything in a class needs to be, nay even should be, about the content. Building a sense of community, rapport with the class, having fun are all important, too.

        1. MassMatt*

          Yes, but this trainer is harping on food and criticizing what people eat. He is using a captive audience to work out his food issues.

          1. LtBarclay*

            And it’s really the criticism that’s the issue. Like if he’d responded “sounds delicious!” or something similarly upbeat to everyone, it would be OK.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          That’s right, and he’s doing none of those things. He called a student a health nut in front of everyone for two days in a row! I can literally *feel* the sense of community building up there.

        3. Observer*

          Which is all good and fine. Since that’s not what the trainer is doing, there is no need to worry about replacing his current question with something course related.

          *Ideally* the trainer would have actually been doing what you suggest. But given his abysmal behavior, focusing purely on the course material is probably a safer course of action.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I think if the purpose is so he can see everyone is back signed in, this won’t be a successful gambit. There are lots of other harmless icebreaker questions he could have led with; even “what was lunch” if all the responses he gave were “Cool! Sounds yummy!” or “I never would have thought of doing that. I’ll have to write that down for the next time I’m stuck for a lunch idea.” or something equally harmless.

    5. Chrissssss*

      I would probably feel tempted to make something up like “pizza with fries on it”, or whatever very unhealthy thing you can come up with. This is probably not a very good idea, so please don’t do it.

      1. TriviaJunkie*

        Sadly that is not a made up thing… that actually happens at least here in the UK, and I saw it for sale in a shop in Venice a decade ago. I’m an American in the UK, and still have never gotten used to the idea of having fries as a pizza side, let alone as a topping!

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            I stopped going to the “fancy” burger joint in my town after they got rid of the curry-flavored dipping sauce. Many things you don’t think would go well with fries are in fact fantastic! A had a takeout gyro with fries in it last year and it wasn’t bad.

            1. amoeba*

              Curry sauce – yes. But I assumed the point was an actual (Indian style) curry dish? In which case I’d probably abstain…

              1. ian*

                If you’d eat potatoes in an Indian curry (and why wouldn’t you?) why would fries be bad? I probably wouldn’t do it from scratch, but if I was making a curry and had some leftover fries…why not?

            2. ian*

              You can pretty quickly make a delicious fry or other condiment by mixing some curry powder into your ketchup! I highly recommend giving it a try.

          2. amoeba*

            I’ve seen chips (so, fries) as a side to basically anything in the UK, it was fascinating! “Mac n Cheese with a side of salad, garlic bread, or chips”. …wait, what?

            1. Timothy (TRiG)*

              I’ve read an American food writer report on a trip to Ireland. He was baffled at the concept of lasagna with chips (fries, to Americans). Reading, I was baffled at his bafflement! That’s perfectly normal to me.

              UK & Ireland: chips & crisps
              US & Canada: fries & chips
              NZ & Australia: chips & chips

              Yes, the antipodeans use the same word for both.

            2. TechWorker*

              And many in the U.K. would be baffled by mac & cheese as a side :p I’d say that’s a stronger flavour!
              (But also I have had macaroni cheese as a side to jerk chicken as cooked by my Caribbean friend and it was great, so no judgement here)

                1. Meh*

                  wait, wut? Mac and cheese is most definitely a side dish in the US South. maybe not to lasagna. Maybe I’m reading the nesting wrong.

                2. Essess*

                  ? Any place you order fried chicken usually has mac and cheese as a side. And most sit-down restaurants that serve American-style food usually have mac and cheese as a side dish that I’ve seen and I’m in the middle midwest US.

          3. TechWorker*

            OOI.. why? I don’t eat loads of fries but they’re basically just potato and for me if I’m after a carby side to go with something proteiny then rice/pasta/potato/bread are to some extent interchangeable. Yes some combinations are better than others :p but they’re not ‘gross’

            1. amoeba*

              No, I agree, none of those are actually horrible/gross/whatever. But there are some that are… unexpected (and maybe don’t actually complement each other that well) and I’d be surprised at seeing them at a restaurant. At home, when I have leftover, I basically combine whatever’s there!

              But it’s certainly interesting to see how those vary geographically!

          4. Lenora Rose*

            Fries with, say, a chicken curry sounds delightful, tbh. Even Butter chicken. Less so with veggie curry or any korma, which is my favourite when on rice, but I wouldn’t yuck someone else’s yum over it.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          it’s not like breadsticks are ever served with pizza in the US after all

        2. Cat Tree*

          Why is that sad though? Let people enjoy things, even if you wouldn’t like those things.

      2. Timothy (TRiG)*

        Oh come on, we can do better than pizza with fries. Let’s pretend we’re Scottish, and go for deep fried pizza with fries.

        Alternatively, something I’ve actually eaten: doner kebab pizza.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            LW, if you still are having that class, please tell him “haggis pizza” and report back.

            1. workswitholdstuff*

              One of my favourite comfortfoods at the moment is Haggis Macaroni cheese.

              SO Good.

              Before the Haggis purists come after me, I’m going to point out it was a Macsween’s recipe we followed the first time.

              (I also enjoy a Haggis Supper with Salt n’Sauce. Which will make sense to a very select geographical demographic, and I’m interested to see if any AAM peeps fit it…)

    6. amoeba*

      I don’t think it would be a problem for the OP to not reply from now on – but it would also be doing the world (future participants) a favour to point out how harmful that behaviour potentially is! Because the first time the question is asked, I guess most people would just reply without any second thought and without expecting harmful commentary… and by the time they notice, the harm’s already done. Would be great to put a stop to that!

    7. Barrie*

      I think it’s more around the fact he’s using food and “good and bad” comments as part of the session. I did a training course and the guy used this whole analogy of going on a diet to look good at the beach as the basis for a three hour training course on project management- it was so random and inappropriate. I found it gross and felt like I warped back to the 1950s, and I couldn’t imagine how awful it would be to have a disorder or food issue and have to sit and listen to it for 3 hours. I ended up reporting the comments and overall off putting nature to the course provider and my manager. People need to recognise some things shouldn’t be joked about or used as a prompt in forums without some thought.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        That’s so weird! Especially when I would think that planning a trip to the beach (or anywhere) would already be a fine analogy for PM without getting into appearances.

    8. Don't Be Longsuffering*

      I would change the subject. Instead of what I had for lunch I’d say I enjoyed my midday walk, or “the package I’ve been waiting for came”, anything I didn’t think would be derailing for the group and no obligation for it to be accurate.
      As a wise woman once told me, just because someone asks a question doesn’t mean you must answer it. :) (You could also just say pizza every day. But I would still put it in the evaluation.)

    9. learnedthehardway*

      My guess is that the speaker is trying to be funny and foster comradery, but it is failing badly with some the OP and possibly others in his audience. I mean, for most people, lunch is pretty innocuous.

      It probably hasn’t occurred to the speaker that anyone would have an issue with his comments about lunch. He could use a different perspective on this, of course.

      1. Observer*

        It probably hasn’t occurred to the speaker that anyone would have an issue with his comments about lunch.

        That’s pretty bad for a supposedly functional and competent adult. *Especially* one in a highly people facing role.

        This needs to stop even if the instructor was explicitly told that there is not a single person in the group with eating disorders. It’s rude and even hostile (“health nut” is absolutely a pejorative. And there is no place for that in a reasonable training.

        1. maringe*

          Oh, please. learnedthehardway’s comment is entirely sensible.

          The guy is clueless and tacky. That’s it. No need to crucify him for it, because we all commit crap like this.

          ALL of us.

          1. Observer*

            I have yet to call someone a “nut” (or any other derogatory term) for choosing a food I don’t like. I know many people who have never indicated a need to publicly comment on people’s mundane food choices.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Not specifically about food choices, maybe. But lots and lots of us put our foot in our mouth over different stuff. This guy needs to learn better, and do better, but let’s not go too far in castigating him. Below, OP says he’s otherwise “an excellent instructor”.

    10. OP1 food*

      I didn’t want to make the post too long by including every detail, but I did try a version of this. On the third day, I said I’d had “leftovers” without specifying anything further. He didn’t really have anything to say about that.

      Also, I should make it clear that he was otherwise an excellent instructor who went out of his way to make sure we understood the material (working with people individually during breaks, lunch, and after class).

      1. Nea*

        Okay, if he’s otherwise doing his best to be a good teacher, I rescind my previous comment about a snarky reply and point out that you’ve now got an opening for a script like “You’re such an excellent instructor, I’m impressed that you go out of the way to make sure people understand. However, I wish you would find another icebreaker; commenting on people’s food can work against the rapport you’re otherwise establishing nicely.”

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Or even just “you can have people comment what they had for lunch so you know they’re back online, but refrain from making any comments other than something like ‘okay glad everyone is back and fed, let’s launch into NextTopic, unless anyone has questions from this AM!’. That’s an innocuous way to use the lunch comment.”

          1. TootsNYC*

            or, maybe he can say, “that sounds good!”
            or “salads are so crisp; that sounds refreshing–what kind of dressing?”
            or “sometimes a pizza is just what you need; I like black olives, but no one will ever share a pizza with me if I get them”

            No criticism, no connection to good vs bad, healthy vs unhealthy.
            Just: Food tastes good.

      2. Malarkey01*

        If he’s otherwise good, it would be a real service to point this out to him. I think every single one of us has been guilty of doing something without realizing how it could be taken or that there’s something potentially hard, unpleasant, hurtful around it that we aren’t aware of. Especially in a virtual training where you can’t see reactions or tell that a joke didn’t land, etc.

        Assuming the best of people and pointing out missteps is a great way for us all to learn and improve.

      3. Observer*

        I should make it clear that he was otherwise an excellent instructor who went out of his way to make sure we understood the material (working with people individually during breaks, lunch, and after class)

        I have mixed feelings here. I find it hard to believe that someone who is really good at this truly didn’t realize that people are not going to like this. On the other hand, if he is that good, I can’t imagine that he’ll keep this up once he’s called on it. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to approach it with the POV that this is just a really, really weird quirk. And that, yes, it’s harmful and needs to stop but it’s an outlier.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          I don’t find that hard to believe at all – he was bantering and while it fell flat here, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t be a good trainer.

          1. Observer*

            The thing is that what he’s been saying goes well beyond typical “banter”. Calling someone a “health nut” is kind out of line to do ONCE. A second time? That’s just not what people with good interpersonal skills do, by and large.

    11. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Came here to say something similar. He can ask whatever he wants (which is not to say that you shouldn’t provide this feedback to his employer), but you’re not obligated to respond how he wants. There are a variety of options, depending on how rude/snarky/shocking you want to be. In no particular order:

      “food I enjoyed”
      “whatever I wanted”
      “you going to make fun of me if I tell you?” (benefit: it calls out the behaviour)
      “that’s classified”
      “none of your business”
      “grilled raccoon” or something equally ridiculous

      1. CareerChanger*

        Personally I like this approach, because this is OP protecting themselves without waiting for someone else to acknowledge or address the problem. And if the instructor is savvy, he’ll pick up the hint and maybe switch up his afternoon icebreaker.

    12. WillowSunstar*

      This guy sounds like the opposite of the food police. Food police are why I’ve learned to be extremely vague about what I had at meals when asked. Also, what’s to stop people from outright lying, if you’re allowed to eat off-camera?

      1. Junior Dev*

        He’s still the food police, he just has a different set of standards than is usually associated with that phrase.

    13. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This. He is taking attendance. He is trying to make it clever/innovative. He failed.
      This is the reason that ready phrases like, “congratulations!” and “sorry for your loss” have withstood time.
      Because when people try to be innovative, they end up saying “Did you have to get married?” and “wow, he really was sick, then.”

    14. Forty Years In the Hole*

      “What did you have for lunch, OP?”

      OP: “A large platter of NUNYA…with extra sauce. Delicious.”

    15. There You Are*

      OP1 and anyone else who ever finds themselves in this situation: Just answer with something random.

      Instructor: “What did everyone have for lunch?”
      OP1: “I went to a local charity golf tournament over the weekend.”
      Instructor: “I asked about lunch.”
      OP1: “Yep, you did.”

      Or, if you feel like letting everyone else know why you said what you said:
      OP1: “Yep, you did. In my experience, inquiring and commenting about other people’s eating habits is poor form, so I offered another way to let you know that I am back from the lunch break.”

    16. Gluten Free*

      I agree. I think this was probably intended to be playful and OP is getting more upset than warranted. Give a made up answer, or a silly one, or deflect with something vague. It may be heavy handed playfulness or misguided, but no need to take it so seriously that you let it upset you so much.

    17. goddessoftransitory*

      I totally agree with Alison that this guy’s boss NEEDS to know this little quirk of his, because I guarantee it’s not just antagonizing the OP, but many, many, many others as well, and his company is going to suffer losses because of it.

  4. Uldi*


    Headphones won’t help. Sounds like he’s concerned his mic is picking up the sounds from you and y’all’s kids as you do things in the house. If he has a closed-door office, you might consider hanging a sound dampening curtain across the wall with the door; it’s what a lot of professional streamers do.

    You can also point out that his mic is highly unlikely to be sensitive enough to pick up ambient noises. Even professionals often overestimate how sensitive their mics are. Again, assuming he has a door he can close for his office.

    1. Juli*

      Also depends upon the mic. Like my laptop mic would pic up all random noise from all around. The small external mic I propped up in front of me pics up only stuff directly in front of it and at a fairly short distance.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Yeah, if it’s a mic issue he can get an external mic with a more suitable pickup pattern rather than an omnidirectional one if he’s for some reason using one with a wide pickup pattern now. A good headset should have a mic tuned to pretty narrowly just pick up the person speaking, or he could get a lavaliere lapel mic or a streaming/vocal external mic with a carotid pickup pattern. If he got an external non-lapel non-headset mic he’d need to be careful to stay in the pickup cone, but that seems like a reasonable thing to need to do if that’s the choice he lands on. (Easy enough unless he needs to move around a lot, in which case headset or lapel mics would both solve the problem.)

    2. Keyboard Cowboy*

      If the mic is the concern, this is why we have and use mute buttons. Most video conferencing software since COVID will now let you “push to talk”, so you are holding down a key while you want to speak, and as soon as you let go your mic mutes again. Use mute. Use noise filtering in the video conference software. And quit shushing your family who needs to be able to, you know, live their lives. There are technical solutions and no reason to be a jerk about it.

      1. Observer*

        If the mic is the concern, this is why we have and use mute buttons.

        This is about the only thing that he’s being reasonable about – he says that it’s a problem *when he’s speaking*. The mute button is obviously not an option for that.

        Having said that, the idea that he’s constantly speaking, and that the combination of mic and setting is that sensitive to any noise in the house doesn’t pass the smell test.

    3. Firecat*

      If he’s using Teams there are settings that work amazing at cancelling background noise in meetings. the husband should look into that.

      it’s really weird to me that the husband even found playing a video game too loud. maybe the office needs insulation or something. I frequently host my young nieces and don’t expect them to be silent the whole time I’m working, that’s an unreasonable ask imo.

      1. sushiroll*

        I was looking to see if someone made this comment – the conferencing programs are adding features like this to block background noises and they work quite well! My dog has barked in another room during meetings and I was worried about it but the people I was meeting with couldnt even hear her. And she’s loud. So I think OP’s husband need to invest in the good headphones (they work – my husband also has some) and honestly just chill out. Unless the kids are excessively loud or are in the same room as him, it’s likely not an issue at all.

    4. KR*

      If he is worried about noise being picked up by his mic, it might help to get a headset specifically meant for call based work. I have a Jabra one provided by my employer and the mic is very good at limiting what it picks up just to the immediate area around the mic, to the point where if it is flipped up away from my mouth, you can’t really hear what I’m saying. They’re pricy but worth it imo. Pro tip – if you go this route make sure to disable the microphone built into your laptop so they don’t get into a feedback loop.

      1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        Yeah, co-signing Jabra as a reputable brand. You can often find refurbished ones on eBay for significantly less than the original price.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, that’s what mine are. And sometimes my kids come and stand next to me during meetings and my colleagues will say, “Oh, is that your daughter? Hello sweetie!” and my kids will say, “Are those your work friends? Can I talk to them?” and neither can hear each other unless I give my kids my headphones!

      3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Third co-sign for Jabra. I’m a corporate trainer and use mine for virtual classes. I’m set up across from our washer/dryer and have a dog who thinks every delivery person is trying to murder me… neither makes it though to classes when I have the headset on, even when I’m not muted.

      4. Observer*

        it might help to get a headset specifically meant for call based work.

        This is an excellent idea. OP, if you talk to your husband about this, point out that the key here is not the headset per se, but that it has the mike built in so that it stays in front of his mouth all the time, and the mic is REALLY good at filtering out anything (including voices) that’s not coming directly from that direction. Those things REALLY work.

        What you are looking for is a “unidirectional” mic on the headset.

      5. A person*

        Same. My Jabras work great. I’m not work from home but my “office” is loud since we are open seating in a plant type environment so there’s always people milling about and having side conversations when you’re on a call. Only occasionally do we ever have to shush each other.

        This sounds excessive to me. Maybe he should consider if wfh is really working for him.

      6. I have RBF*

        I have a Plantronics headset that is only on one ear, left over from my tech support days. It lets me hear what is happening around me, but has a directional mic that means it won’t pick up outside noise.

    5. Pennyworth*

      I watch a YouTuber who records his videos in the traffic with a fuzzy microphone pinned to his lapel. The only thing I can hear is his voice.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      It might help to have OP run his rig from home while he goes to a coffee shop or park and they do a call–if would provide a better sense of what ambient noise is actually getting picked up and transmitted.

    7. TootsNYC*

      there are also settings. Zoom has different options for background noise; maybe his is set at a higher setting by default.

    8. Observer*

      Headphones won’t help. Sounds like he’s concerned his mic is picking up the sounds from you and y’all’s kids as you do things in the house.

      If he has decent headphones with a good mic, then that makes an enormous difference. If he’s not using that, then he needs to do that ASAP.

      The combination means that he doesn’t hear too much, and people on the other end won’t hear anything. Even if he’s in the main room.

    9. atalanta0jess*

      Yeah, if he’s just in a teams meeting or whatever, I’d be really surprised if folks could actually hear your kids. I’ll have my toddler in the same room watching tv and no one can hear the TV when I speak. I use earbuds with an inline mic.

    10. Raida*

      He should just…. oh I dunno… act like a responsible adult and problem solve it.

      Find a good active noise cancelling over ear headset.
      One with a microphone with a clearly defined, small range.
      Ask an audio professional for advice, test different options, look for baffling and in-wall noise cancelling options for the home.

      Anything except shushing the household constantly. He’s gonna have his wife or kids explode on him because he’s made them *a problem for him* instead of taking it upon himself to find the solutions

  5. Pamela Adams*

    NY work from home days have me surrounded by a couple of Jack Russell terriers. Their occasional barking doesn’t come through my mike, even when they are in the same room.

    They’re nothing special- your standard Logitech brand.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yep, any sort of headset with a mic that sits near his mouth ought to help. Ours are nothing special, but 90% of the time when someone apologises for ‘all the background noise’, no-one else on the call has heard a thing.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s a terrifying or wonderful surprise: When the headphones get to 18.3 hours of use, they suddenly become Jack Russell terriers.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      I have a Jack-Chi mix. The barking is frequent, piercing, and she’s also got supersonic hearing.

  6. MK*

    Frankly OP, the “why” Jane acts thus way Serna obvious to me: she doesn’t like her work and is trying to change it. She probably took the job in good faith, being burned out by her previous work, nut just because you quit a kind of work out of burnout doesn’t mean you will love doing the opposite kind of work, especially if you liked the actual work and the burnout is due to other factors. Or it’s possible she took the job as a “foot in the door” stepstone, and she is trying to turn it into something different or get herself a different role in your company. Either way, there isn’t some mystical reason, she is trying yo do the kind of work she wants instead of what she was hired for.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      The “why” seemed obvious to me too: the burnout wasn’t solved by raking this new “back-office” role (possibly because of the cause of the burnout having been misidentified) so has brought it with her.

      I would be asking Jane “why” though — why does OP (and the official answer) assume that we can’t ask her and may never know? This seems to me an exception to the “focus on the behaviour that needs to be changed, rather than the reason for it”, although strangely I can’t quite articulate why that is.

      1. Erin*

        Because that advice is usually a redirect for people who are overemphasising investigation of causes and underemphasising (or entirely neglecting) management of outcome.

        Whereas here, it’s clear that direct management is happening but unclear whether much investigation has happened.

        And a certain amount of Root Cause Analysis is worth doing. If nothing else, to develop strategies to reduce the chance of this happening again

        (eg if the top theories are right, maybe probe a “I wanna shift from X to Y” interviewee a bit more on whether a shift from 95% X and 5% Y – so Y always feels like a break from the drudge – to 100% Y is necessarily the right balance for them, and always take “I’ve never done a lot of it, but I know that I am well suited to doing a lot of it” with a pinch of salt)

        1. MsM*

          Yeah, I think at this point, the question is less “why is Jane still resisting every attempt we’ve made to get her on track?” when the answer ultimately seems to boil down to “she just doesn’t want to be doing what we need her to do,” and more “how do we make sure we do a better job of hiring next time?”

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Asking why would make sense if, say, their company had cycled through three or more hirees in a year, or something–then it would make sense to think that something about the job itself is untenable. But this is not that. This is this one person trying to physically reshape the job away from what’s needed to suit herself.

        2. MassMatt*

          I think the root cause analysis is better directed at discovering why this person is not doing her job, creating needless work and distraction to her supervisor and other employees (who evidently do not have the excess bandwidth to take on her work), AND is repeatedly trying to draw the board of directors into this nonsense, and yet still has the job a YEAR later.

          She should have been put on a PIP immediately, and then fired when she failed to make sustained progress. Start looking for a replacement immediately.

      2. GythaOgden*

        Agreed. Asking why means you can find a solution that will work by addressing the root cause. It won’t make everything better — she’ll still have to rise to the occasion and implement the change consistently — but it will help fix things if it can be fixed.

      3. EPLawyer*

        Because the WHY doesn’t matter. She was hired to do a certain job. She is not doing it. There have been numerous conversations — in which Jane could have raised the why and did not — and the behavior continues. OP needs Jane to do her job, not explain why she cannot.

        OP you have let this go on for far too long because you got invested in the WHY. The FIRST time she emailed the board after being told not to, is when you should have had the We need You to Do the Job You Were Hired For Or We Will Have to Let You Go conversation. Because at this point, she is ignoring explicit directives. You cannot have that. Especially in a small organization where others do not have the capacity to pick up her slack. That is not fair to everyone else who is doing their jobs.

        1. Sara without an H*

          +1. The smartest HR person I ever worked with always told me never to get down in the weeds with the employee about motivation — focus on the behavior. In this case, I suspect that “Jane” is trying to remake the job into something she’s more interested in. LW is not doing her any favors by letting this drag on.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            To quote an old joke:

            Actor: What’s my motivation?
            Director: Your paycheck.

        2. Random Dice*

          That part was certainly burying the lede!

          It’s EGREGIOUS that an admin is contacting the board directly.

          I work at a mega-corporation and am senior enough to interact (with great care) with executives on a regular basis. But I’m pretty sure I’d be fired, immediately, if I ever contacted the board.

          This made me gasp with shock.

      4. I should really pick a name*

        The advice actually suggests asking why. It’s just realistic about the fact that the LW might not get a useful answer.

        You might never know the “why.” You should certainly ask Jane that directly if you haven’t already

    2. Anon12*

      Thank you – I’m LW2 – this is pretty much what I think, but I suspect as we work for a very niche non-profit so saying you don’t like working there might be seen as saying you don’t want to work in this area. That said we have asked her about it (didn’t want to make the letter too long) and she has said she’s not clear about her role description or where it fits in the organisation, so we have explained and rewritten it to be clearer to no effect.

      1. Jobbyjob*

        That sounds like something she might say to save face. Also possible she’s ill suited to the work to a degree where she can’t actually anticipate her job’s responsibilities even when written out.

      2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        LW while you are accomodating her, you are disaccomodating everyone else who has to pick up her slack. Or deal with her tangents. You cannot spend all your time and effort to make one person do the job they were hired to do at the expense of everyone else who is doing their job. All that does is tank morale.

        1. Tedious Cat*

          Phrase I picked up from the comments here: “Being considerate to cruel people is being cruel to considerate people.” Replace Jane now or replace your functional employees later.

      3. Beth*

        Good employees quickly get tired of watching bad employees get away with bad behavior.

        Good employees are better positioned to find other jobs where they don’t have to pick up slack for bad employees.

        Are you willing to start losing all your good employees rather than get rid of the one bad employee?

      4. snailsharkk*

        Take my experience with a grain of salt but I have been Jane. For me this is what was going on:

        Over the pandemic I got very burned out at a higher-level job and took a job doing work that I had done a little of in the past at a more entry-level. I knew I could do it well, felt generally well-suited for that type of work, but found it boring. However, I figured – due to my burnout – that I needed boring (I couldn’t even function by the end of my previous job, like could not even type out an email and was basically completely paralyzed when it came to any work getting done).

        I ended up in a weird combination of bored by the work but also still very burned out. It turns out the solution to burnout (for me) was not an “easier” or different job, but NO job. I needed a break. Unfortunately I live in the US with no safety net so a sabbatical/extended time out of work of any kind was really not on the table. So an “easy” job was the closet thing to a break I was going to get.

        This did not work. In my new job I came across really oddly because people could tell I was generally competent and intelligent. My coworkers liked me. I had solid work history. But, in this job, I was procrastinating constantly (due to boredom and burnout), getting things wrong (due to burnout), and generally unconsciously finding more “interesting” work (aka not my work) to do – I think I did this to alleviate boredom but also to feel productive. I realized a few months in that it wasn’t working, but also needed to be working so chugged along for longer than I should have. I ended up leaving before they could fire me :/

        All that to say, my experience could be similar to your Janes (or it could be completely different) but I agree with Allison. At the end of the day, the WHY really doesn’t matter. People are strange and burnout can turn a really amazing worker into a non-functional one in ways that don’t – from the outside – make a lot of sense. I don’t know how much time she had between jobs, but if she had written in I’d encourage her to take a long long break if possible (I ended up out of work for 8 months and had to file bankruptcy after so don’t begrudge anyone else not wanting to/being able to do that).

      5. Sara without an H*

        So you asked her what was wrong, fixed the problem — and she’s still not doing the job you hired her to do? Anon12, dragging this out any longer is false kindness. If you insist on doing one last PIP, make it very short, very specific, and be very clear that if you don’t see sustained improvement, Jane will no longer have a job with your organization.

      6. Marna Nightingale*

        I don’t know if this gets you any further forward on a practical level or not. You may still need to let Jane go.

        Reading just the description of where she is struggling my immediate sense is: Yep, Jane was indeed seriously burnt out by frontline work and she really hasn’t recovered.

        That kind of “if it isn’t actually on fire I can’t see it, and even if I can see it I don’t know if I’m allowed to touch it and even if I’m allowed to touch it what if I exhaust myself on that and then something else catches fire also we are not currently at home to Learning New Things the brain is full” pattern is very familiar. On a bone-deep level.

        I don’t know what kind of frontline work she was doing but I bet things were on fire a lot. And now things that aren’t on fire are hard to notice.

        If you want a way forward that isn’t firing her or an extended leave, if Jane has qualities that make you want to invest in her, then two things that will help her are probably an extremely detailed job description and a designated person to say “Hey, Jane, can you deal with X?”

        Like, yes, she should be able to figure out X, Y, and Z herself but also when your executive function and initiative supplies are very limited it makes sense to automate/ritualize all you can and save what you’ve got for the situations where your focus, judgement, creativity and initiative are really needed because there’s no precedent to go off of.

        Alternatively, a less demanding position, even a very basic one, explicitly framed as “burnout requires recovery time, what say you do this for a year and we reconsider?”

        And an EAP brochure would be appropriate, I think. (I know that many commenters have strong feelings about being intrusive with this stuff. But also, burnout is a workplace injury. I think the balance on this one swings to matter-of-factly saying “yeah, this is a thing people go through, we have resources that can help you while we look for a way forward.”)

        And, lastly, if you do need to let her go, and I get that that’s the most likely outcome, this framing may help you work out what that should look like and leave everyone with a better taste in their mouths than a termination framed around “you aren’t doing your job for no obvious reason.”

      7. spiriferida*

        I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought she was ready for ‘admin’ work and thought that it would still be working with the mission, somehow, and wasn’t ready for the reality that some of the unglamorous backend things like dealing with furniture pickup. But yeah, considering that it seems like you’ve clarified the realities of the role with her, at this point she either needs to do the work as assigned, or find a new job.

      8. Remote work, remote minds*

        Lw2, it seems like an obvious step is to require Jane to return to the office full time.

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Yeah I get the impression she doesn’t like her job and is trying to turn it into something else. She sounds as exhausting as husbands who weoponise incompetence.

    4. TootsNYC*

      my thought exactly.

      It’s actually one of the reasons I personally would hesitate to hire someone who is stepping back from a position of authority. I wouldn’t trust that they’d stay in their lane, and understand and prioritize their support role and their “lower,” more administrative status.

      I’d worry that they’d try to delegate their tasks (asking for someone else to supervise the furniture removal), invent new programs, try to directly reach over their head instead of following the chain of command.

      I say this because I personally have struggled with the transition from being in charge and autonomous to needing to stay in my lane.

    5. goddessoftransitory*

      Yep. I’ve trained a lot of people who took this job thinking it would be easy or soothing compared to their former ones–not so much. My favorite was the woman who completed the entire week’s training, then quit because “she didn’t realize she’d be talking on the phone so much.”

      I am a CSR who takes pizza orders. Talking on the phone is literally the whole, entire job.

  7. Woohoo*

    Re: Letter 3
    Small “fixes”:
    Not sure what type of gaming device the kids are using, but you probably can get them headphones so the sound isn’t coming out of the TV. Can sports equipment be left outside or by the door to reduce the chance of use indoors? Definitely but him headphones to try out, you can sell them if they don’t work.

    big “fix”: heart to heart with hubby. Meaningful family time is hard to do whilst remaining silent. When he has the option, he should try to schedule the meetings earlier in the day or just learn to accept a certain level of noise.

    1. Roland*

      Imo headphones for tv and video games is an ok solution for shorter periods of time, but it’s not really healthy to always have loud sounds in your kids’ ears.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Many children’s headphones are designed so they cannot be turned up loud enough to be harmful; definitely look for those.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      In my experience the loudest part of a videogame is the participants & observers shouting. There can be some truly NSFW language from a group cheering at a victory, groaning at a battle they’re losing, and arguing about puzzle clues. (Even without curses, because ‘get the boss’ means something very different at work from gaming.)

      1. MigraineMonth*

        My nephew has watched too many gaming streamers; he now narrates all of his activities in the video game in a super-dramatic voice.

        Nephew: “Oh no! A terrible spider is approaching; am I going to be able to kill it with my diamond sword before it kills me?”

        Me: “Honey, you’re in creative mode. Nothing can kill you.”

  8. Sophie K*

    LW3: I use Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones and I highly recommend them (There are a handful with similar features and price point but these are the ones I have firsthand experience with). I don’t currently have an office with a door and they have saved my sanity. They block probably 95% or better of all sounds, including talking. And that’s with the active noise canceling on and no audio.

    I was skeptical before buying them about how effective they would actually be, but they have absolutely delivered for me, and I believe would do a great job at blocking out the kinds of noise you describe.

    If he’s worried about others on the call overhearing the noise, pretty much any headset/headphones with a microphone these days has that type of noise canceling.

    Possibly relevant, I also have pretty good quality noise canceling earbuds, but they can’t compare to the over ear headphones in that regard.

    1. David*

      I think it’s still worth emphasizing that active noise cancellation cannot completely block noise. It’s a fundamental limitation of the technology: the headphones have to “hear” the noise before they can figure out how to cancel it out, and even though the modern ones can react pretty quickly, that still means they’ll have a tougher time dealing with sudden or dramatically varying noise (like kids yelling in excitement when they deliver a knockout punch or score a point or whatever in their video game). So, while I totally agree that it LW3’s husband should give these headphones a try (if they are affordable to the family), probably best to buy them from somewhere that allows returns, just in case.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      If he’s worried about other people overhearing – is there any way he can do a Teams (or whatever they use) call with a trusted colleague while there is a normal level of noise, and get the colleague to feed back honestly on how much of it they can hear?

    3. Varthema*

      Agreed – I have a pair of Bose headphones and my coworker was astonished when my toddler was right by my elbow and talking loudly and not very audible. Not wholly INAUDIBLE, but still, the fact that she was still able to hear me and not just cacophony is kind of insane. They’re expensive but if he really wants to keep working at home and still have a family, it’s definitely worth a try, perhaps in conjunction with other measures.

    4. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I have the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones (i.e. the following year’s model) and I also love them. Voices of people sitting right next to me mostly sound like a murmur so I’m able to ignore them unless they really make an effort to get my attention. When I was reading reviews, the ones you have came out on top of all the reviews I read, but they weren’t available anywhere by the time I needed to buy them.

      The other thing that’s great is that you can use the noise cancelling even without listening to music or while you’re on a call. These ones have an app, and while normally I hate having an app for everything, it allows you to set up really custom noise cancelling preferences that might also be helpful for LW’s husband.

    5. Somehow_I_Manage*

      Just be sure that whatever headphones you use are fully compatible with whatever conferencing software you use. I also have the WH-1000XM4 and they are not great on MS Teams- the microphone is not good because of the bluetooth sample rate. If they use MS Teams, stick to an MS Teams certified device.

  9. EC*

    LW3, you need to get headphones for the kids. During work hours they should be playing games with no sound, or with headphones. They should also not be bouncing the ball inside.

    1. Jackalope*

      When do they get to talk, then? If a couple of dribbles of the ball on the way out the door is too much, then the husband needs to figure something out because it’s not reasonable to expect an 11 year old and a 14 year old to be quiet all the time after school.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Honestly – this is where I land too. These kids have a right to be kids in their own home, and husband/father needs to accept that. It sounds like spouse is already doing everything they can to keep noise below a certain level (ie no shouting in the house) but if he wants totally silent then it is up to him to leave the house and go somewhere where he can have that totally silent workspace without constantly yelling at his family.

        And this is coming from a B-Shift WFH person – total silence isn’t going to happen even in an office. He needs to adjust his expectations, and quickly.

      2. Heather*

        EC didn’t say they can’t talk. Telling kids not to dribble a basketball in the house or to use headphones when on electronics is hardly stifling them.

    2. MugShot*

      or maybe Dad could go to the office!
      The children should not have restrictions imposed on them in their down time.
      Dad needs to go somewhere else to work is he can’t vote with general family noise in the family home!

    3. Anonychick*

      Except that “during work hours” appears to include pretty much all the time they spend in the house during the week:

      he takes online meetings after our kids return home from school and while they are home in the evenings.

      Having the kids be silent for what sounds like a minimum of four hours a day (estimating that they return from school around 2-3pm, and he takes meetings until 6-7) is not just impractical, but cruel…and that’s before you get into the fact that, depending on the 11yo’s disabilities, it may be literally impossible!

      (As for bouncing the basketball as they walk out the door: should they be doing so? Probably not. But should the very fact that the phrase “don’t play ball in the house” is such a cliche indicate that bouncing a ball as they walk out the door is the among the lowest/least-destructive levels of a pretty common misbehavior? Yup. So when it comes to picking your battles, I’m not sure I’d waste a fight on that one, especially since it’s almost certainly quieter than, say, a truck driving by outside.)

      1. Paulina*

        Also it’s not just being silent for four hours a day. It’s being silent for an additional four hours on top of whatever quiet behaviour they had to adhere to at school. When do these kids get to be kids? Just if OP can take them out to the park?

        1. Anonychick*

          Yes, exactly! I did not say that the way I meant to: that LW’s husband expects the kids to be silent for at least four OF THE ALREADY FEW hours they have to NOT be silent!

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          And assuming the OP is in the US, what happens during summer vacation, which is going to start soon if it hasn’t already?

      2. Raida*

        I’ll be honest, even as an adult if this dude was shushing me for a laugh out loud or a conversation or washing dishes or something… I’d be likely to start bouncing a tennis ball off the wall in my room.

        And I’m very happy with a book!

        It’s just an unreasonable demand, and selfish. He needs to be responsible for his kids and his household, and figure out technical solutions to the problems instead of placing the responsibility on the other people – it’s not their job, they didn’t sign up for it, he did so he can find the solutions.

    4. Skytext*

      But it’s not during work hours—it’s after school and IN THE EVENINGS. He’s shushing his wife as well as his kids. They can’t live normally in their own house. He needs to take steps to solve this, whether through technology such as better headphones and mic, physically through sound-deadening curtains, fixing up a new home office area away from the rest of the household, or going to an office. (Heck, I often go out to my car to do conference calls so I can have privacy and silence). But expecting his family to be silent when they are just living in their house is not the answer.

    5. Allonge*

      Beyond the ‘they live there too’ part, headphones-on all the time has a risk of hearing damage. If it would be once every two weeks, fine, but all the time? OP’s husband may need a different place to work.

      1. amoeba*

        I mean, if it’s just for calls, I’d say it’s pretty normal? I take all my calls with a headset, anyway, as do most people in my company…

        1. amoeba*

          Ah, you meant for the kids. Yeah, no, the husband should be the one wearing a proper headset for his calls…

          1. Allonge*

            Yes, sorry, I meant it’s a risk for the kids! I assume here that video games are fairly noisy in the first place and the kids don’t necessarily notice when the sound level is too high.

    6. bamcheeks*

      What you’re arguing for is basically putting the kids into stasis for three to four hours a night until the dad is ready for them to exist again. Kids playing video games with their siblings should be cooperating, fighting about whose go it is, cheering each other on, problem solving together, and so on— just like any other kind of play. That’s the point of it. Sure, there are also quiet, solo things kids can do— but REQUIRING them to do them for what sounds like most of their waking hours outside school is miserable and bad for everyone.

    7. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      When are the children allowed to be children then? they sit still at school all day and come home and have to be quiet there too? Children need to make noise and shout and run and have fun.

      1. Random Dice*

        Not to mention the fact that he’s offloading ALL of the parenting to his wife… Including a special needs kid.

        Why, precisely, should she stay married to someone who makes her do all the hard parenting work and yells at their kids for being kids in their own home? In a divorce he can go find his own place to work, and send money while she does all that hard work by herself but this time without having to pretzel around his unreasonable demands.

        1. Bess*

          Yeah, I don’t like the picture painted here, because Mom works (presumably) all day and then essentially solo parents all afternoon and evening, and can’t do that in the comfort of her own home?

    8. Dark Macadamia*

      This sounds so bleak. Like, Black Mirror bleak. “Plug your children into the silence device for capitalism!” When does LW get to interact with her children? To relax and live her life? She’s getting shushed too. While she herds her entire family out of the house every day because they’re not allowed to have fun in their own home.

      1. Lychee tea*

        Right? The man probably would prefer it if everyone in his family surgically removed their vocal cords.

    9. Melissa*

      I think the problem is that it sounds like the requirement for silence is almost ALL of the time the kids are home. My son is 11. When my husband is working from home, we make an attempt to keep our noise down— but that means “no shouting”, not “absolutely no noise at all.” Very occasionally, my husband will say “I have a critical call from 1:00 to 2:00; can you guys possibly go do some shopping or something, or play outside?” But it’s time-limited and it’s rare. It isn’t “Anytime I’m working there must be no noise at all.”

    10. Broadway Duchess*

      “Should” can be a very loaded word. I don’t think it’s helpful to OP for you to impose your ideas about how these kids’ video games are best operated or what they can do with a basketball. OP is looking for solutions that take into account the very reasonable level of noise made by members of a household. For the record, while OP’s husband works from home, it is still very much a home and not an office.

    11. Tommy Girl*

      I mean that’s a normal rule unrelated to sound issues. We were never allowed to bounce balls inside. They are dirty and could break things. That’s just normal nice-household rules.

      1. Observer*

        If the ONLY issue was that he didn’t want the kids playing with balls in the house, you would have a point. But also, I suspect that the OP wouldn’t be writing in.

        The problem is that 1. He’s demanding *silence* for the entire afternoon and evening. That’s untenable. 2. He’s claiming that the 2 minutes of noise from the dribbling is *so loud* that it’s disrupting his meetings. Which is not really credible. *CERTAINLY* if he has a decent unidirectional boom mike in his *headphones*, it would not be a problem. But he’s refusing to get that. (He’s currently using earbuds and refused to get the over the ear headphones that come with mikes.)

    12. Observer*

      During work hours they should be playing games with no sound, or with headphones.

      You’ve gotten a lot of questions about when kids get to be kids – and that’s REALLY important.

      But also, when do they actually get to interact with each other and their mom? They are not allowed to talk to each other, play together etc. How are they supposed to build their relationship? How are they supposed to learn some of the basic skills that are frequently learned in a home environment (because schools are not designed for this)? How are they supposed to even do any homework that requires any sort of cooperative work or requires some assistance? And yes, I get that parents should not be sitting with their kids doing homework with them. But his kind of mandate also means that if a kid has a problem and needs some help working it through, they can’t get it because they are only allowed to type and listen to their headphones.

      The kindest way to put it, is that this is absolutely untenable, and Dad needs to find a better solution.

  10. E*

    letter 1: he’d illicit a different response from me purely because I’m type 2 diabetic and pizza is 2 days of carbs and would basically mean I was feeling unwell for a few days.

    “my food isn’t your business” would definately be on the tip of my tongue at some point, but I’d probably just default to saying “lunch was good, I’m back :)” and refuse to answer instead.

    I really hate people who try to police food, especially when they aren’t even there in person!

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      “Lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle paté, brandy and a fried egg on top and spam”.

    2. I have RBF*

      Some of my lunches: Hot dogs and beans, egg salad sandwich, pastrami sandwich, leftover stew, a chicken bake, tuna casserole, granola, etc. This I’m sure would elicit comments, but my go to response if he didn’t approve would be “Well, it’s a good thing then that you didn’t have to eat it, isn’t it?”

  11. Bethany*


    I’m not American, so I’m not familiar with these protected class laws. But if he’s targeting senior members of the company, who are probably more likely to be older, how does that work? At what point does it become him targeting people based on age (protected class) and not seniority (presumably not a protected class)?

    1. GythaOgden*

      You say that, but my bosses have been routinely younger than me and I’m only in my mid-forties. My Regional Manager is the same age as me and the head honchette of one of the tenant organisations looks like she’s in her thirties (but then again, I’m often mistaken for 30 rather than 43, and a very young-looking woman in the administration department recently turned 50, so I could be wildly off base here.

      I’m not a lawyer, nor am I American, but this probably would be seen as a way to make a reasonable RIF for budgetary reasons. They’re doing it in a really crappy if not illegal way, but while senior members of the company are likely to be older (my dad was about 50 when the axe fell just short of his position) they’re also likely to be seen as somewhere to cut costs that doesn’t affect the production infrastructure itself or gets rid of supposed ‘deadwood’ in the C-suite. They might also be able to go elsewhere with their skills and corporate experience a bit more easily than other older employees.

      There are loads of reasons to fight this one tooth and nail without age even entering the picture.

      Constructive dismissal like this is not only baaaaaaaad but illegal here in the UK. Here when redundancies are mooted, senior staff who could draw their pension in the not too distant future may actually volunteer to protect their younger colleagues. Age is a protected characteristic here but it doesn’t just apply to older folks. However, I really don’t think this rises to age discrimination — because I think you’d probably have to prove causation rather than just correlation.

      In this case, were it in the UK, I’d go for constructive dismissal rather than age discrimination. Slam dunk win at tribunal. In the US…hmmm, tricky; ISTM that constructive dismissal has a higher threshold. You could certainly consult with a lawyer, but I’d imagine the decision would be made on the facts of the situation (whether indeed those targeted were the actual older ones there) rather than pure out of context semantics on the internet. Real lawyers can’t get away with the sort of chicanery we think they can, and while it wouldn’t be a bad avenue to pursue if it was obvious IRL, I don’t think we can ethically answer that one without seeing the actual context.

    2. Varthema*

      The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) only protects people over 40, so you’d probably need a scenario in which the senior members are over 40 (not necessarily the case at a lot of startups) and also (I’m guessing here now) that there’s a recognizable correlation between the cut salaries and the older people – so, if there are several people over 40 who are not having their salaries cut, that might be a tough case to prove.

      It’s still crappy behavior, obviously!

      1. WorkingForLess*

        OP here: Definitely no case for discrimination here – the people impacted are pretty diverse in gender, age, and race.

        I think my main issue is just how angry I am – it feels so disrespectful to be told I don’t bring value to the company and cutting my pay so much. I don’t understand why they don’t just do layoffs if they need a RIF and feels like to should be illegal to cut my pay that much.

        I really want to quit but I know that would be foolish financially and also make it harder to find a new job, so I have to figure out how to gracefully stay and work for half my salary while frantically job hunting.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          It feels disrespectful because that’s what it is: a combination of arrogance and cowardice. They’re too chicken to just lay off the people they need to, but assume that no matter how much they cut their pay they’ll either stay at the lower rate or “solve the problem for them.”

    3. MsSolo (UK)*

      Generally, discrimination legislation also covers indirect legislation. So if you fired everyone who had worked in the org for over 25 years, even though the number if about tenure, not age, it’s clearly a proxy for age, and is therefore age discrimination. Maybe you also end up firing former wunderkind Bob, who started at 13, and is therefore under 40, and keep Dave, who’s 70 but only started last week, but the impact is still disproportionately on older staff.

      It’s really going to depend on the age distribution of the company. Ironically, if they’ve had good DEI over the years, sweeping cuts based on seniority may well not form any kind of indirect discrimination, because the senior staff will represent a broad range of characteristics (still likely to skew older, but much less so than an org that has a ‘you have to pay your dues and wait five years for each promotion’ kind of philosophy). As Alison says, the fact it’s clearly being done to make people quit, rather than fire them, might have more legs legally.

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

      If the new boss is getting rid of people who are only over 40 that’s where the age discrimination is coming from.

    5. snailsharkk*

      To add to what others have said, for age discrimination it does not matter if that intent is to discriminate based on age, but if the affect is that of discrimination. So if only 40+ folks are affected, you may have a case regardless if the leaders are purposefully trying to discriminate or not.

    6. Random Dice*

      Yes a lawyer would be likely to eviscerate them for this.


      /that always feels like a NSFW comment rather than what it actually is

      1. GythaOgden*

        I feel that is the crucial issue though. A lawyer might give better advice including maybe to keep the age discrimination powder dry until you actually need it. The first place I’d go with this would be whatever laws exist in OP’s jurisdiction to fight it on the constructive dismissal grounds and maybe they might turn up some grounds for age discrimination, but that’s a bit of a stretch considering it’s really hard to prove one way or another that actual discrimination is in play.

        Being aggressive in wielding this kind of sword may feel good as a battle cry, and as someone who has been interviewing recently I do wonder sometimes. However, with my issues of having been in a dead end job for a while dealing with personal issues and only being ready to move on right now, I have my doubts that my age is really a factor in a lot of rejections. I can’t obviously fight a job rejection, but to be quite frank it’s not my age that’s getting in my way, and if I allowed that to blind me to my need for some not-stale experience and simply blamed it on protected characteristics, I’d come across terribly to others and not actually end up improving my situation.

        DEI suits are hard to win because the burden of proof is still on the plaintiff and because there is still prejudice in the judicial system made worse by a lot of people crying wolf, and not having a convincing case beyond ‘this guy is over 40 so reducing their pay is ipso facto discrimination’; the employer simply has to show that other over-40s employees weren’t affected or that the business case for the cut positions is reasonably sound and bang goes the case. Being technically right, or the way the RIF axe falls showing correlation doesn’t mean a judge would definitely rule in OP’s favour. The existing issue sounds like there’s enough legal legs to stand on without drawing discrimination into it. You would have a good case here in the UK without the need to bring age into it at all, and we don’t even know the OP’s age anyway, so this entire thread is fanfic — which Alison is trying to fight back against in the comments section.

        Additionally, as someone who is female, over 40 and neurodivergent, I actually feel it’s important not to jump immediately to discrimination accusations. Just like how trying to find ever more obtuse words to colloquially describe reckless and impulsive behaviour obscures the more nuanced issues behind supposedly ableist language (I have indeed done really silly things while under the influence of paranoia because of that paranoia, so the word ‘crazy’ really doesn’t need to be censored because it is perfectly adequate to describe the negative effects of mental illness on the mind and behaviour) and solves only a symptom of the issues we face: forming social coalitions to tackle the issue of better accessibility and healthcare/therapy for disabled people so they can take a more active role in the workplace and people no longer see them as an ‘other’ to ridicule with words in the first place. It rarely makes a dent in the root cause and makes all suits sound ridiculous. Working to solve issues of social equity is hard and does involve a certain amount of emotional labour from the people involved, but we’re better off for people doing that work rather than charging in lawsuits blazing because it’s really only a temporary solution.

        I feel it’s important not to dilute the directly obvious age discrimination by using it to fight something that would fit any definition of constructive dismissal that exists out there. What we want to hear — lawyer up, this is obviously age discrimination — might prompt someone to do something very silly with an unwinnable cause when they have a good case of constructive dismissal in front of them anyway to get immediate remedy.

        I know it’s really tempting to give this advice but legal action is expensive and in the long run, it just fights fire with fire. Let’s not be so quick to judgement here.

  12. T.*

    LW3: I use Poly (former Plantronics) Voyage headset. It works very well in canceling the noise and it has a really easy way to mute me when needed as well as increase or decrease the volume. When I worked for corporate, it was the only brand they offered. When I went solo into my own business, I bought this headset because it’s so good. I would highly recommend your husband tries it.

  13. Tau*

    The thing that concerns me most about OP3 is this part:

    He says the situation is not that bad

    Because from the description which clearly IS that bad, I’m afraid that what he means here is “it’s not that bad: if you guys are just totally silent 100% of the entire evening I have a great work environment, and I don’t mind going out to shush you every now and then when you forget!” And if that’s his position, any change is going to be a hard sell.

    OP3, before getting into the solution space, I’d suggest having a serious talk where you make clear to him that the current situation is just not tenable, it’s bad for the kids and also not great for you (the stress you must be under!). Once you have him on board with the fact that something’s gotta change, you can brainstorm together and are much more likely to get him to try out things that are an extra inconvenience to him or maybe not quite as optimal as you just not making any noise at all, such as headphones, a sound-blocking curtain, or him (frankly) needing to accept a certain level of low-level background chatter, the way he’d have to do in an open office.

    1. Green great dragon*

      I agree. It isn’t that bad for husband, but it *is* that bad for LW and the kids. LW’s kicking them out to the park every day as soon as they’ve eaten and husband is still complaining! I think LW needs to be really clear the impact on them (stress) and on the kids, who are regularly getting pushed out their own house. I think the non-negotiable bit has to be the kids get to live normally in their house without constantly being shushed; husband can then decide it’s “not too bad” and live with it, wear a headset/improve the soundproofing, or start working elsewhere.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      Since LW3 is also working from home, I really wonder about the overall household dynamic and if there are other issues attached to this one. When does the husband parent? Does he get the kids ready for school in the morning, and do they have to be silent then? Is LW expected to manage her volume throughout the workday to accommodate him? (I assume they’re both quieter than the kids so it’s less of an issue, but still.) Who cooks dinner and does the dishes? How much normal-volume interaction does the whole family engage in each day? How’s their marriage? How’s his relationship with the kids?

    3. Lavender*

      This is very well-said. Total silence every afternoon might be “not that bad” of a solution *for him,* but he is not actually the one who gets to decide if it’s workable for everyone else.

      1. Hazel*

        Husband may not have an option for office work, he may work for a distant company (the time shift suggests he could be east coast and work is west). He may be genuinely stressed and feel his job is in danger for this or other reasons. It does not matter, because he is wfh, not them living in his office. I sympathise with the LW and kids; he needs to work it out. However a gentler conversation might yield better results than an ultimatum.

    4. Mill Miker*

      It’s also possible (although, maybe not likely from what’s in the letter) that “not that bad” means he actually has a handful of smaller meetings scattered around, and is happily ignoring 90% of the noise, unless it’s something loud during those specific slots.

      I’ve been there before with other issues. From my point of view I was ignoring most of the “noise”, only complaining when the timing was bad. From the point of view of the person “being loud”, they only noticed they were doing it when being asked to stop, so it seemed like I complained every time.

      How well do you know your husbands call schedule (or is it more random or constant calls?), could he more proactively communicate things like “I need quiet from 6:45 – 7:15 today” instead of “Quite at all times please”.

      Aside from all the tips about better microphones and checking how much is actually coming through on calls, another option could be an “on air” light he can turn on during calls (they even sell some that sync to zoom/teams)

  14. Bizhiki*

    LW1 – The really great thing about being able to acknowledge that it doesn’t derail your day is that you’re now well placed to help out the folks who could be utterly derailed by this, and who might also have a much harder time disclosing to an employer *why* the instructor’s behaviour is a problem. I understand this might feel like something annoying or a waste of capital, but maybe you could look at it as you spending a bit of your capital on helping someone who comes after you.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      This! I’ve been a vegetarian for decades, & I am not shy about calling out the food police (or those who ignore unique dietary needs). Not everyone is as willing to do so, & I love when someone who I know has no special requirements speaks up for those of us who do.

      1. snailsharkk*

        As someone who has (and still does) struggle with disordered eating, I appreciate you (and those like you)! I have a vegan in my office who is always willing to go to bat re: weird food stuff/food shaming/etc. She has no idea what I struggle with but she actively makes our office a better place for me and protects me from having to disclose any of my own stuff.

    2. Observer*

      The really great thing about being able to acknowledge that it doesn’t derail your day is that you’re now well placed to help out the folks who could be utterly derailed by this, and who might also have a much harder time disclosing to an employer *why* the instructor’s behaviour is a problem.

      Yes. And the thing is that if you can push back that it’s a problem even when it doesn’t derail your training, it avoids someone trying to “deal” with the problem by trying to find out “who has a problem.”

      “It’s not the end of the world, but I seriously don’t see why I should have to deal with the food police at work. Comments on my food choices are rude and distracting.” If you’ve got good people making these decisions, this is very hard to argue with.

  15. anon24*

    LW3 Neither my husband or I work from home nor do we have kids, but we are both gamers and both own Razer Kraken headsets. I can hear some noise through them but have been standing right behind him yelling hello and he barely hears me. The Razer software is a little annoying to use but has microphone ambient noise canceling that works really well (plus an on headset mute button so you can just reach up and mute and unmute yourself as needed). I’ve had my husband come talk to me when I’m in a voice channel in discord and it didn’t activate my mic and I also spent an entire 2 hour session in a voice channel in discord with my cat sitting next to me shrieking for attention and none of the people I was talking to heard her. It is bulky so if your husband is worried about how he looks on video that may be a concern, but I wear mine for hours on end and I’ve never felt uncomfortable or like I just wanted it off my head.
    I also had the Corsair HS60 headset for awhile and it wasn’t quite as good for noise canceling but worked just as well with the microphone canceling out the ambient noise. Sadly the mute button broke after a year, which is when I switched to the Razer.

    1. Raida*

      I am taking notes from all these great headset comments, I’m currently looking for a new option for gaming at my computer!

  16. Elysta*

    Regarding OP #3 – if he’s largely concerned with being heard over his microphone, I highly recommend setting up what’s called a noisegate. A quick Google will show you how to set it up on your PC. My dogs will bark in the background, and no one can hear them anymore on a call!

  17. Coverage Associate*

    My husband has tv and video games up as high as the volume can go on his laptop, and while any noise bothers me, as long as I am in the other room, it doesn’t interfere with my calls unless the door is left open. It doesn’t interfere whether I am using my laptop’s built in mic or a headset with a mic.

    When my husband’s entertainment gets to me, I ask him to wear headphones, but he prefers to just cut the sound for a few hours.

    Vacuum cleaners anywhere inside, leaf blowers outside and some dishes activity in the same room can be enough to disrupt my calls, in contrast.

    All that is to say the husband might be too sensitive or think his mic is more sensitive than it is. I am very sensitive to noise, but I can work in it. As others said, offices have their noises too.

    I do have a pair of noise canceling headphones. They’re cheaper used, and buying used usually you gets you junior a shorter remaining product life, rather than immediate reduced function.

    I will say both the flimsiest and most expensive over ear headphones do hurt a bit after several hours. If we’re talking 6 hours every day, that might be too long to ask someone to wear headphones, but if it’s just a few hours before dinner or bed, that’s reasonable. Maybe the family can trade off? Kids need to wear headphones from 3 to 6pm for screen time, followed by a quiet evening. Dad wears them from 6pm to 9pm if normal household noise bothers him.

    Finally, I haven’t tried them, but there are now earplugs designed to filter out certain kinds of noises, like background noise but not conversations. If the issue is that the husband is too sensitive to noise, earplugs may be a solution. I find earplugs can be comfortable for 8+ hours in a way headphones aren’t.

    1. I have RBF*

      Yeah, my maximum headphone time is 4 hours a day. Any more than that and I get ear infections or my outer ears hurt. I can’t wear earbuds at all for the same reason. But the better the over-the-ear headset, the longer I can wear it.

      I had the problem in an open plan office of too much noise, and all people did was tell me to wear headphones, which wasn’t a solution I could use all day. So much for collaboration, lol.

      But you can get very good directional stand-alone mics that will not pick up yelling from the next room. So when I would be on calls, I wore a headset with a directional mic, and no one heard anything but me when I talked.

  18. Goody*

    My response in LE1’s situation would have been “food”. Nobody’s business but mine, and especially if the facilitator is being judgmental. and if he pushed for more info, I’d tell him exactly that. My in-person Co workers only know what I have for lunch if I have a take-out cup after wards, or I brought food from home and they happened to walk into the break room while I ate.

    1. AngelicGamer*

      Same here. I probably would have changed it up with “leftover food” or “quick food” but kept to just “food”. You want more specific, then you have to buy me lunch.

  19. Chrissssss*

    I would probably feel tempted to make something up like “pizza with fries on it”, or whatever very unhealthy thing you can come up with. This is probably not a very good idea, so please don’t do it.

  20. NewGround*

    op1, I’ve had training in online training and this is a trick used to engage your virtual audience. But we were also told to mix it up and be mindful of your audience. Asking the same question each day is boring and not engaging.
    How about you do the mixing up and reply that you’ve shared your lunch choices for two days, and it’s getting repetitive. So today instead this is the book you’re reading, Last film you saw, last holiday you took ….(whatever suits you need).

    you know the famous quote, be the change you want to see

    1. MsM*

      But the problem isn’t that it’s boring; the problem is that even if they switch topics, there’s no guarantee the trainer won’t be a judgmental jerk about those contributions unless OP is willing to voice the real issue.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        “oh that book? I’m not much of a reader because of gender stereotypes, but my wife prefers “Eat this, not that!” have you read that one?” lol

      2. metadata minion*

        Yeah, if he just asked for lunch every day and gave innocuous replies to it, that would maybe be not 100% optimally engaging, but would be fine.

    2. No More Murder Podcasts*

      I’m really surprised this is so triggering for people. I’ve seen this in trainings before and I thought people just roll their eyes and move on with their day, and I’m probably one of the ones that would have had lunch criticized.

      I do like the mixing it up idea with books, movies, music. It helps get to know people more.

      1. QueenKingFan*

        Personally, it’s not the fact that he’s asking what was for lunch that’s the trigger. The issue is his “responses” to what people are saying. There’s just no justification for telling a class participant that they’re eating too healthy.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I would say that the majority of Americans have a relationship with food that has been screwed up by the dieting industry and fatphobia. I’d say most people would be okay entering their lunch, but *not* with someone making (public) judgements about it.

        Diet is also strongly associated with other frequently-sensitive areas such as culture, religion or other deeply-held beliefs, and medical conditions.

      3. Observer*

        And I’m surprised that you don’t understand why the *responses* are a problem. I mean, he actually literally insulted someone who is eating food that is “too healthy”. How is this NOT a problem?

        No form of food policing is ok in this context.

      4. I have RBF*

        I get triggered by people snarking about my food.

        Why? Because I’m fat, have been for decades (since puberty). So everything I eat in public is automatically a subject for comment by the food police!!

        I get very angry when someone comments on my food choices, whether it’s “praise” for eating a salad, criticism for having a donut, or passive-aggressive judgement from vegetarians for daring to eat a hamburger or piece of chicken. I am so damn sick of it that my response tends to start with sarcasm, and if they keep it up goes very quickly to outright anger.

        Our culture is very hostile to people who are considered “fat”. We are seen as easy marks for “concern”, which is just judgement with a thin veneer of supposed caring. It’s not actual caring, it’s just judgement and an attempt to make themselves feel superior by shaming the fatty.

        I’ve put up with this shit for all of my adult life. I have a trail of failed diets (complete with rebound weight gain) and food issues to show for it. I’m done, and I am not shy about saying so.

    3. Observer*

      I’ve had training in online training and this is a trick used to engage your virtual audience. But we were also told to mix it up and be mindful of your audience. Asking the same question each day is boring and not engaging.

      Except that this is not the issue. Asking the question is not really the problem. It’s the running commentary, especially given the negative nature of this. It would be one thing if the response to “Salad” was “Oooh, I hope they have good toppings.” But “that’s too healthy. You’re a health nut” takes it way out of bounds the first time. It’s bad enough for people who make these choices because that’s just what they like. When it’s probable that some people are choosing their lunches for reasons that are important to them but they don’t necessarily want to share….. This is not about reading the room. By that point, you’ve already done damage. And there is no reason for it.

      There are MANY other ways to engage a virtual audience.

  21. Awkwardness*

    LW1 – I think the instructor is just socially awkward and thinks to have a solid conversation starter by going after the clichée that everybody will eat healthy but secretly only craves the fat and sugary stuff. While I disagree with him using it to this extent, I found myself very often to have small talk about chocolate in the office vending machine or sugary cravings in the afteroon. I think it is a relatable topic on the easy side, have used it myself and do not understand how this could cause actual dread.
    It might be annoying and I might give the feedback in a light-hearted manner. Or I might shut it down along these lines:
    Instructor: “Oh, this is too healthy for me!”
    LW1: “Perfect! That’s more of the good salad/fruit/zucchini for me! :) “

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I think that between people having eating disorders and people falling outside of what is deemed normal weight being used to being judged all the time, this type of talk is just too fraught.

      I know people use this as small talk, but I just don’t think it’s a good idea. For example, last week I was standing at a buffet when the desserts were being brought out and a colleague started in on “oooh, I’d like the chocolate mousse, but I’m trying to be reasonable”, and I shrugged, said “I’m not” and went to get two desserts. Now, IDGAF, and I’m also currently pregnant, so I doubly dgaf. But someone who has issues about food, or doesn’t want to be judged… would probably refrain from dessert in that situation even though they wanted it, and that’s just too bad (the gingerbread brownie bite was really good).

      1. Awkwardness*

        I get the idea, but food has honestly proven to be the only “useful” topic for small talk in my environment (useful in the sense that it did not spiral into heated discussions that were stressing out most of the group).
        I am female in a very male-dominated environment and we share neither similar hobbies, taste in movies, politics or music. Food is the only thing everybody could contribute if they wanted – if one likes the taste of something, what new recipes somebody tried or interesting cooking shows they saw. One colleague always brought her home-cooked lunch and did some education on the differnt foods she brought along. It was light and interesting.

        But maybe this is some cultural thing too. I am from Europe and I have the feeling there is less sensitivity over here.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Emmy Noether is in also European! German, I think.

          As I’ve said below, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with talking about food, but making disparaging comments about other people’s food is super obnoxious, whether you’re calling it unhealthy, too healthy, smelly, making a fuss about someone being vegetarian or not drinking, being a dick about someone’s ethnic/heritage food, whatever. It’s just not OK! You want to talk about other people’s food, you stay positive and interested in their choices. Nobody wants to feel judged for what they are eating.

          1. MsM*

            Yeah, I’m socially awkward, too, but even I know better than to criticize other people’s lunch unless they microwaved fish in the office without spraying air freshener afterwards or something. (And you’d think a trainer wouldn’t want to go out of their way to antagonize participants if they wanted good reviews, or to avoid their own sensitivity training session.)

        2. Melissa*

          If there’s one thing I want to convey to you, it’s how non-representative the AAM comments section is of the US. For the same reasons you brought up— it’s an easy small-talk topic, everyone eats food. This sort of light-hearted food talk is so normal here. I would be shocked if the facilitator has ever even considered the issues that the LW brings up.

            1. Erie*

              I think basically a lot of people in the mainstream would not consider “Haha, somebody’s a health nut!” or “that’s too healthy for me, I love junk food!” to be criticism. Since he’s saying he likes unhealthy food, I bet it seems to him like self-deprecating humor rather than supercilious criticism.

              For people in the AAM universe, commenting on food at all is beyond the pale. This is not really how the rest of the world operates, even if maybe it should be.

              1. doreen*

                I’m pretty sure this is exactly what it is – that it doesn’t seem like criticism to him. There are certain things that one should (almost *) never say because they come across as criticism , whether about food or something less but there are lots of other comments that will be seen as critical by some people and not by others. People shouldn’t assume that everything they see as criticism is meant as criticism – there’s nothing wrong with telling someone that calling food “too healthy” is sometimes offensive but you can’t assume their intent.

                * I say almost because I have a friend who refers to his own diet as “nuts and twigs” and doesn’t mind if his friends do as well.

              2. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

                “Since he’s saying he likes unhealthy food, I bet it seems to him like self-deprecating humor rather than supercilious criticism.”


              3. Observer*

                I think basically a lot of people in the mainstream would not consider “Haha, somebody’s a health nut!”

                Eh, I grew up before eating disorders were something that was commonly recognized. And my parents would have had my head if they ever heard me say something like that. To anyone. Even about someone who they legitimately felt has unreasonable food ideas. (And, yes such people exist.)

                Even “light hearted” insults are insults. And even mildly negative commentary on people’s food choices are problematic.

              4. Joron Twiner*

                This is a good point. I was reading the letter as if it was a direct admonishment of what participants were eating, not a self-deprecating joke.

                I still think people can be sensitive about those kinds of jokes but they’re definitely not as bad as direct criticism.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Talking about food is OK, it’s the judgement that’s not OK. So I don’t mind saying I had two slices of organic wholemeal bread with seeds in it, with cashew nut spread, a small punnet of strawberries and plenty of coffee with milk, and I don’t mind people commenting that they hate cashew nut spread, or that wholemeal bread is really tasty, or asking what kind of strawberries they were. If I were told it’s too healthy (?! what does that even mean???!!!) I’d probably counter with “you are what you eat so I don’t eat trash” except that I wouldn’t want to look like I’m judging my colleagues for eating pizza.

            1. What?*

              I’m having leftover pizza for lunch today. How nice that there are people in this world willing to tell me I’m trash.

              1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                I specifically said I wouldn’t want to *look like I’m judging* my colleagues for eating pizza. I would only want to say it to the instructor, like I’m descending to his level, because he has already judged me. I’m not actually judging anyone but him, and I’m judging him for his nasty remarks not his food choices.
                I’m sorry if that nuance was not obvious!
                FWIW I eat pizza myself. I quite understand that people don’t all have the same priorities in life as me, and not everyone can afford organic groceries. I apply “you are what you eat so I don’t eat trash” to myself only (and my kids when I was responsible for feeding them).

          2. STEMprof*

            I am half french/half US and have spent a good bit of my life outside the US. “Yucking other people’s yum” (to use my 8 year old’s expression) is not cool anywhere. Talking about food is fine – food is a topic of conversation in many places! Criticizing other people’s food choices is not okay.

          3. Former Retail Manager*

            Agreed 100%. This person is a remote instructor working for a third-party company that OP will likely never deal with again. Someone saying my lunch was “too healthy,” or even downright insulting what I ate, is the least of my concerns with any remote instructor. If they are mentioning that their wife makes them eat salad, they sound older and of a different generation that grew up with different views on food. If you must say something, I’d send a message to the instructor privately and frame it as an awareness that it might be upsetting to those with eating disorders and you don’t believe they meant anything by it.

        3. Emmy Noether*

          I think talking about food as smalltalk is generally fine (and often works well). What you want to avoid is talking about dieting, healthy/unhealthy, “fattening” (urgh), how much you will have to work out to work this off (double urgh), criticizing someone’s food choices (even implicitly), pretending like everyone is always on a diet or everyone secretly craves X food, etc. You want to keep it positive, light, and opt-in.

          (bamcheeks is correct. I am German, I work with international colleagues, so food is indeed a popular common ground for small talk. But no diet talk!! And purely voluntary.)

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Yeah, there’s a world of difference between “I had a donut today, it was great” and “I had a donut today, I’m so naughty, I’ll have to skip dinner/work out an extra two hours today”.

            One is about food (fine as a work topic), one is about fatphobia (not okay as a topic).

        4. Ellis Bell*

          Emmy, it is a common topic of conversation, but it shouldn’t be. It’s not that there’s “less sensitivity” where it’s commonly done, (I’m also European) it’s because people don’t discuss the problematic nature of judge food conversation in real life, like they do here. Like OP, I’ve noticed the issue, but felt unable to speak up. Should I out people’s long term anorexia and tell the room they nearly died as a kid and struggle still? Should I let people know my colleague has a cereal lunch five days a week because it’s the only control for her IBS? Of course not. When parents complained to the exam boards a few years ago about their seriously affected anorexic kids being subjected to questions about calories, they were publicly mocked on television by the delightful Piers Morgan. Thank god there is a public space (this comment section) were people have more sensitivity to the needs of others.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, if you’re going to use food as small talk, you’ve got to keep it at the, “ooh, lovely, sounds nice!” levels of blandness, with an occasional, “I’d like the recipe for that!” Making disparaging or judgmental comments about other people’s food is never OK, whether it’s focussing on health or anti-health!

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, this is the issue here. It’s not that food can never be mentioned, but the ‘Ugh! Too healthy! Eat a pie now and then!’ or the ‘Pizza??? For lunch??? Whoa that’s unhealthy!’ comments are absolutely problematic. There’s no need for them. If the trainer really can’t resist passing some sort of judgment on people’s food choices then they should come up with something else (to be honest I’m not sure why a simple ‘I’m back!’ can’t suffice).

    2. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      I think it is a relatable topic on the easy side, have used it myself and do not understand how this could cause actual dread.

      How about reading up on eating disorders and fat stigma? That might give you more of an idea of the potential stress or harm.

      1. Despachito*

        One thing is policing other people’s food choices or commenting their bodies (totally unacceptable, and it seems that is what the instructor is doing), and another thing to mention MY OWN food choices in passing (I’d definitely not talk about it at length, and I’d avoid mentioning it altogether in front of a person who I know is struggling).

        Body shaming is one extreme of the spectrum, it is an awful thing and should not be done, but I think that another extreme is to carefully avoid ANY mention whatsoever of food-related things because there can potentially be someone with a disorder, and that a mention genuinely not meant at them (and I am not referring to any passive-aggressive stuff that actually IS meant at them) might possibly trigger a reaction in them.

        I find the instructor’s behavior (ie the food policing) unacceptable but the chocolate mousse colleague’s comment OK. I think there are reasonable expectations we should adhere to but it is impossible to factor in every possible trauma people may potentially have.

      2. Awkwardness*

        LW1 said she dreaded the next days because of the comments on her healthy food choices.
        While I agree that discussion on food might cause dread because of judgement on “unhealthy/unnecessary” choices (no matter if fat, sugar or restricted food choices due to allergies), I did not see this context here.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Yeah, well as someone who likes to eat healthy food, organic, vegetarian veering on vegan, fair-trade… if someone told me my food was “too healthy” I’d probably feel like treating them to a tirade on all the reasons why we should eat organic, healthy, vegan, fair-trade food. It could take all afternoon because there are plenty of reasons. It’s a very sensitive topic for me, I feel like I have spent my life battling to be able to eat well, the proportion of income I allocate to food is much higher than for most other people and I’m not ready to be criticised on it. And FWIW I’m European with a history of borderline anorexia.

          1. Awkwardness*

            I was going through the replies and wondered why I could not understand “too healthy” being an offense too because… healthy is good, isn’t it?! Everybody wants to be healthy, right?
            But with your explanation it makes sense that “healthy” also could convey criticism as elitist/too self-concerned/whatever. That was the missing piece. Thank you!

            1. Ellis Bell*

              That is definitely a thing. People think I eat hyper healthy because I’m gluten free for allergy reasons but the amount of mockery/offense or assumptions that I must be criticising them has been eye opening. It’s also kind of an aggravating misunderstanding because there’s nothing stopping me from eating pizza and ice cream (and I do!) and the gf versions of foods are in some ways much more unhealthy; but people love to think I eat nothing but lettuce leaves (and cater for me accordingly)!

              1. londonedit*

                Yep, I’ve had the ‘Ugh, can’t you just eat a burger like a normal person??’, ‘Salad AGAIN? What, are you on some sort of diet??’ ‘What do vegetarians even eat?? I couldn’t stand all that rabbit food’ comments. People do it with exercise, too – I run, and I used to work with a woman who would insist on asking me whether I was running that evening or that weekend, just as an excuse to then say ‘Ugh, I don’t know why you do it to yourself, can’t you just sit on the sofa like normal people do’. It all comes from a place of insecurity, I think – of course you’re not eating salad or going for a run AT these people, but if they have some niggling feeling that they should be eating better or exercising more, then seeing other people do it can trigger some sort of defensiveness where they react by mocking and criticising.

                1. bamcheeks*

                  My partner is vegetarian and has had 20+ years of people feeling the need to comment on it. When our daughter decided she was vegetarian too, my partner did kind of encourage her in her, “urrr, are you eating MEAT, do you know that’s DEAD ANIMALS, that’s GROSS” phase, and I set a very firm rule of If You Can’t Say Something Nice About Other People’s Food, You Don’t Say Anything.

                2. MigraineMonth*

                  @bambcheeks – I went through that phase too when I became vegetarian in high school, but I only did it in retaliation to people who made fun of my food. If they called my seitan weird, I reminded them how cute pigs are.

            2. Jackalope*

              It also gets really old after awhile. Even when people are saying it as a positive comment (or think they mean it that way), having people say it over and over gets frustrating.

            3. Nightengale*

              Another piece is that “healthy” is not universal (for example a person who is trying to gain weight, a person who has GI problems with whole grains) and people in these groups and so blanket statements about what foods are healthy or not get really tiresome.

              And also a lot of people with disordered eating problems started with a focus on “healthy” and society overfocus on this

              1. snailsharkk*

                Yep, I cloaked my own disordered eating for many years as “healthy” eating and “cleansing”. What is healthy is not universal and “healthy” food does not always = good.

              2. MigraineMonth*

                I tracked my food for a while to try to find the source of some GI problems, and the app kept telling me I was eating way too much salt. I have low blood pressure; “too much” salt is good for me.

        2. Observer*

          While I agree that discussion on food might cause dread because of judgement on “unhealthy/unnecessary” choices (no matter if fat, sugar or restricted food choices due to allergies), I did not see this context here.

          You mean that it’s ok to criticize people for their food choices if those choices are “good” and “just” choices? It’s OK to criticize me because I had a salad, or because I had a whole grain sandwich filled with veggies and lean protein, and I didn’t declare that I have problem x that necessitates that? But if I had a pizza or I had that “healthy” sandwich after telling everyone that I have problem x, it’s not ok?

          It’s not OK in the latter case, and it’s not OK in the former case. The OP is there for training. They shouldn’t have to defend their food choices. Period.

      3. Green great dragon*

        I think ‘what did you have for lunch’ is an easyish relatable topic. Not zero risk of course, but few things are.

        The inappropriate bit is the trainer putting value judgements on the food. If he stuck to ‘sounds delicious’, I don’t think LW would have a problem with it.

    3. Observer*

      I found myself very often to have small talk about chocolate in the office vending machine or sugary cravings in the afteroon. I think it is a relatable topic on the easy side, have used it myself and do not understand how this could cause actual dread.

      Well, there is a lot of information on that, here and elsewhere.

      But that’s not even the issue. I don’t think I have food issues. But being called a “health nut” (or any other type of nut) in response to my sharing what I had for lunch can hardly be called “relatable” to the person being so called, nor to anyone else who chooses similarly “healthy” options.

      I think that talking about food is probably a bad idea, but if it were just him asking and then a truly innocuous comment (Sounds good. Does that place have good service? I hope you had some good toppings with that. etc.) that would be ok, and probably relatable to most people. But negative comments and talking about how his wife is apparently trying to manage his diet are very, very different. That’s where things are going off the rails, and why the OP should try to do something about if they can.

  22. JR*

    OP #5, if you are indeed properly classified as a contractor, I think what you describe can sometimes come with the territory. If someone outsources a piece of work to you, sometimes part of what they’re outsourcing is the nagging, or sometimes they just have other higher priorities. And also, that follow up, on your end, is part of the work and you should be paid for it. That’s easy if you’re billing hourly – those follow-up emails/calls are just billable hours. If you bill by a flat rate, it’s harder. You might need to have a conversation about renegotiating the rate based on this issue making the project substantially more time consuming. Or you might just need to learn from this experience, to improve your estimates of how much time future projects will take. And if the client’s behavior is putting the project timeline at risk, that’s worth a conversation with the client where you’re very clear about that.

  23. Bobette*

    LW#1, if the learning platform you are using has a reacts and/or hand raise feature (and really it seems like most of them I’ve used have one or the other) you could suggest that the instructor use that to track attendance. I’ve been in classes where it’s been used with great success, even I’ve where the instructors are all about forcing you to interact as much as possible.

    1. Nitpicker*

      I take an online class (not work) where the instructor asks everyone to enter their name in the chat.

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

      I don’t think the problem is teh question itself but the comments. It sounds like the instructor is trying to be engaging and make (a probably pretty boring) class more entertaining. I think he should change the question to something like “whats your favorite movie, what are you binge watching/reading/ listening too. Something like that.

  24. scandi*

    LW3: It may simply be that your home environment is unsuitable for your husband to work in. This is not an indictment of your kids or your parent skills, simply a statement of fact that your kids’ normal behaviour is not compatible with the kind of working environment your husband feels he needs to be productive. This is very normal. My office has a very flexible hybrid work scheme requiring a minimum average of one day a week on site, and the people who consistently spend 3+ days every week in office are those with kids. Maybe the path of least resistance to proceed would be for your husband to look into coworking spaces if working from the office is not an option?

    1. IpingedYou*

      OP is your husband actually working in a room away from the family with a door that shuts? Or is he sitting in a communal area?

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        this is what I didn’t understand.
        I’ve WFH in my own bedroom on the bed and don’t get me wrong it sucks but even 1 or 2 doors shut between the noise and the work call makes a big difference

        i understand in today’s modern American open concept apartments and houses there are fewer walls and doors but unless the kids and the worker are in the same space, the noise is probably not bothering the actual employees on the other and as much as it is bothering the dad

        can the dad find a closed door space to work from home? in addition to upgrading electronics on his end (not the kids) this is what I suggest

        1. I have RBF*

          Open plan offices can regularly be very, very noisy. I worked at one where I measured it at as consistent 65 dB or greater all day long. I often had a headache by the time I went home.

          IMO, there is no difference between the office yakker being on speakerphone for all his calls all day and having kids or pets, except maybe that kids and pets are less consistently noisy all day long.

          The reason I like WFH is that it’s actually quieter than an open plan office, even with the train blowing its horn nearby, the gardeners with leaf blowers, people driving “boom cars” with the volume turned up, and the neighbor kids when school lets out.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      This is what I came to say: working at home just isn’t a good fit for OP’s husband, and the solution to that is to find somewhere else to work.

      If he doesn’t have permanent office space at his employer, a coworking space would be one option. Another would be that a lot of libraries now have cubicles (sometimes in soundproof enclosures) you can sign up for. Heck, maybe they even have a friend whose house is empty until they get home from commuting and would be willing to let him work there. But shushing OP and the kids constantly is not sustainable.

  25. Awkwardness*

    LW3 – Was this a recent change in your spouses behaviour? Does he have a new position/a new manager/a new colleague?
    Is the department/company under stress? Does he feel his job is at risk or he has to prove himself to be unfailably professional?
    It sounds as if he is under a lot of stress and the behaviour of your kids is an easy outlet/something he believes he can control (compared to the rest). I am not saying this is justified or if the pressure is real or only in his head… just food for thought.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I was sort of wondering about this, as well. If he’s already got some sort of sensitivity, it could be that noises send him over the actual edge if he’s stressed and concentrating. This doesn’t mean he gets to be a jerk to the family, it means the family needs to work to find solutions. The kids need to understand that Dad’s work needs quiet so living room basketball isn’t okay. Dad needs to understand other people live in the house, and he needs to sort out ways to make his work time and workspace what he needs without unduly hindering the rest of the family, because requiring monastic silence isn’t the way, either.

  26. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    If you don’t eat your salad, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your salad?

  27. Empress Ki*

    Due to a medical condition, I have to eat healthy most of the time. I’d be really annoyed to be criticised for not eating the pizzas I would often prefer to eat if I could.

    1. Second mouse*

      I have a dairy allergy… and same. Pizza with dairy-free cheese is just a circle of sad to me. I miss cheese.

  28. Jade*

    OP, if you are truly an independent contractor, this guy is not your boss. He’s your client. Raise rates accordingly.

  29. CC*

    I agree that’s a silly and oddly judgemental instructor, but it’s 4 days and he’s using it mainly for a check-in. How about just having fun with it?
    Response Ideas:

    “I had a delicious lunch of purified air and positive thoughts.”

    ” Ice cream Sunday, Chocolate brownies and 2 cheesecakes. I’m currently snacking on an apple pie as my mom told me to eat more veggies”

    “Hand dived scallop, tomato tartare, fig leaf, furikake
    Wye valley asparagus, taleggio, cured egg yolk, elderflower vinaigrette
    Aged raw beef, burrata, ponzu, smoked ox heart
    Wild Turbot, chicken, morel, white asparagus, truffle, Vin jaune
    Aged duck, carrot, black garlic, fennel, plum
    Pecorino, fruit cake & pickled walnut
    Lemon, blueberry, tahini, timut pepper
    Cheddar Valley Strawberries & pistachio
    Petit fours”

    “13 hot dogs”

  30. I take tea*

    #4 I really can’t understand why this is legal. I could see a small pay cut for everyone if the business is failing, but half? That’s just awful. I hope you can get proper severance and a better new job.

    1. doreen*

      It’s legal in the US because unless you have a contract, your choices when your employer lowers your pay going forward your choices are to accept the pay cut or not. But not accepting the pay cut essentially means quitting the job.

      I am confused about trying to get them to quit to avoid severance – severance isn’t required in the US unless there is either a contract or possibly if the employee handbook/past practice provides for severance. Lots of times severance is provided in exchange for waiving claims – my husband once lost a job after his company was sold and the new owners decided to get rid of the highest-paid people. They got severance in exchange for agreeing not to claim they were terminated due to their race or sex or age. But I don’t think cutting pay in half so people quit will save you from a discrimination suit – it just changes it from “They fired me because I belong to this protected class” to ” They cut my pay because I belong to this protected class”. It’s no less discriminatory. It almost has to be that they hope to discourage people from applying for unemployment ( lots of people think you aren’t ever eligible if you quit)

      1. Anon for this*

        But the company would have to pay unemployment claims, which is why Alison brought up constructive dismissal.

        I had an employer try something similar. Unfortunately for them, they started with my tiny department tasked with meeting weekly federal contractual requirements that nobody else has the training or experience in (aside from one person who hadn’t done the job in years). Once we started asking questions related to our role & made clear our willingness to quit without new jobs lined up, the pay cut somehow vanished. (They still reclassified us in a way that cut our benefits, but I was willing to deal that while looking for a new job.)

        I think they thought we’d be more vulnerable as a small department, but we were actually better informed than they anticipated. The funny thing is that they should have started with a slightly larger department that did similar work to one in another division & was paid much, much more for it. That cut could have been justified.)

        1. doreen*

          Yes, but they only have to pay unemployment if people apply – lots of people wouldn’t even apply because they don’t know that “constructive dismissal ” exists and will make them eligible.

          1. Lana Kane*

            And based on some letters I’ve seen here highlighting the shocking lack of knowledge of some people who are in charge, CEO might not even know about constructive dismissal.

            The older I get, the more I realize that many of the people in positions of leadership and power have no clue what they’re doing.

        2. Not A Girl Boss*

          I also have a success story with the constructive dismissal. My husband was a manager and they tried to force him out by ‘demoting’ him to janitor so they wouldn’t have to pay unemployment. He just filed unemployment anyway and filled out a form about how his job was substantially changed, and was granted the unemployment right away.

          1. WorkingForLess*

            OP Here: Good to know! I definitely thought I wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment but it sounds like I still might be. Thank you!

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            Besides all the other reasons, his bosses clearly thought being recast as a janitor was a horrible insult and he’d storm off.

      2. MassMatt*

        I was going to say something like this, but while the site is based in the US lots of readers (and letter writers) are based elsewhere. It’s possible that in LW’s area severance would have to be paid for laying someone off.

        Cutting someone’s pay to below that of someone reporting to them is definitely a jerk move, but in the US at least, it’s legal unless there’s a contract (not common) or done retroactively.

      3. WorkingForLess*

        OP here: You’re right, I had assumed the pay cuts were to make people quit, but I didn’t realize severance wasn’t guaranteed in layoff. So I’m really baffled as to why they are doing this since they have to know everyone will quit!

    2. metadata minion*

      They can’t cut your pay retroactively, and it can’t put you below minimum wage, but other than that it’s absolutely legal. (Insert obligatory plug for unions here; they’re a great way to prevent your employer doing stuff like this)

    3. WorkingForLess*

      I agree, it wouldn’t be bad if it was a small cut for everyone to save the business but it feels so personal when it’s a small group of people and such a big cut!

  31. AlwhoisThatAl*

    Husband does sound rather precious with his desire for absolute silence while he speaks. Has he ever worked in the thing called an “Office”? It’s this place where lots of people go to work at the same time. I do, there are 4 phone conversations happening at the moment, a new person being onboarded and 3 people having a quick discussion next to me while I’m on a Teams call (which is boring hence I’m reading this). In an Office people expect background noise on calls, why on earth would anyone he’s speaking to demand complete silence from his end because he’s remote. Quiet enough to hear him, that all I need. Unless a cat miaows and I can hear it, at which point said cat must come and say hello via the camera, no excuses.

  32. Harper the Other One*

    OP3: one thing I noticed is that you say your husband comes out immediately to shush you and the kids. That HAS to be more disruptive to a meeting than noise in the background. So that being the case, I don’t think headphones/mics are the solution here because the problem isn’t really the effect on his work, but that he wants a space without other people in it for his work.

    He needs to find another place to work (in office, a coworking space, etc.) I don’t think even moving back to an earlier shift will work because the kids deserve to be able to enjoy their home during school holidays etc.

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

      I wonder if there is someplace in the house where the husband could go that would be quieter. Like a basement or attic? It does sound like the husband is right in the middle of everything,

  33. STEMprof*

    LW3, I have pretty loud 15 month and 8 year olds, and I have found that even when I can hear them, people on calls can’t hear them unless they are actually in the same room as me. There are also settings in tele/videoconferencing software that you can tweak to filter out background noise. If the problem is your husband getting distracted by the noise, maybe he needs to invest in some soundproofing of the office or explore a coworking space or office (while noting that those will also have some background noise- my office at work has a solid door and I can still hear conversations in the hallway). Complete silence while working is not a reasonable expectation, and if that is what he needs, the onus should be on him to make it happen.

  34. Llama Llama*

    I am a mom of 3 and they are home for the summer. I work in the kitchen and on calls A LOT. Good noise cancelling headset cancel out a lot of noise. No one even heard my daughter scream with joy when she was scammed into thinking we won a free TV. I honestly can tell the ones on calls that have them and don’t.

    It also helps cancel our what I am hearing too. Believe me they are still distracting but not nearly as distracting as when I am not wearing them.

  35. Erie*


    >what about just typing it in the public chat? The feedback you’d be offering isn’t so sensitive that it demands privacy

    This immediately strikes me as a terrible idea and I’m having trouble articulating why.

    This feedback absolutely is sensitive enough to demand privacy; you’re telling someone he may have inadvertently offended people and you’re asking him to change a group activity midstream. This isn’t pointing out a typo on a slide.

    Also, in settings like this, people who use the group chat to air sensitivity-related frustrations come across as hostile, like they’re looking for a one-way conversation, to just drop a bomb and move on rather than having a chat about the issue. Do not, do not do this.

    1. doreen*

      I disagree – not all feedback requires privacy and while this isn’t pointing out a typo on a slide, it’s also not providing public feedback on a behavior that either the rest of the group has not seen or that doesn’t affect them. It’s not like the trainer privately asked the OP what they had for lunch and the OP is provided feedback publicly.

    2. Green rose*

      I agree. Also I can’t help but be annoyed by the “if a person has … this could offend them/harm them”.

      If something doesn’t offend YOU then don’t object on the grounds that it could be offensive.

      I think it’s perfectly ok to say – please stop commenting on my food choices it’s rude – publicly. Or simply – you know these comments really aren’t funny please stop.

      But to say you could be causing harm to people … that’s best a conversation privately because it needs a conversation. The presenter is probably trying to create a light-hearted conversation. He’s knocking “healthy” options most likely as a joke. I’m not saying it is a good joke – but I think it is important to consider someone’s intent. Unless you believe his goal is to harm people by his comments, show him some grace and speak privately to educate him.

      1. Cj*

        yes, I agree with this. I generally don’t disagree with Alison’s advice, but I do think this should be a private discussion or message.

      2. Melissa*

        “If something doesn’t offend YOU then don’t object on the grounds that it could be offensive.” Amen and amen. There are a lot of things that could, theoretically, be insulting to someone I’ve never met.

        1. Lavender*

          There’s a difference between “theoretically harmful” and “likely to be harmful,” though. I’d say this falls under the second category.

        2. Colette*

          Based on that, no one could object to racism unless they were the target.

          There are minor things that some people find offensive where that principle make sense; there are other things that are actively harmful. With the right audience, constant value judgements about food fall into the second category – and the instructor doesn’t know the students’ relationships with food well enough to judge what category they’re in.

          1. Despachito*

            Fair point, but people can (and should) still be annoyed if someone makes a racist/sexist remark, even if they are the race/sex that is not being attacked.

            Generally, I agree with Green Rose though – it grates me the wrong way if somebody says that something “might be potentially harmful for someone with a mental health issue”. Why not own it and say “it is annoying to ME”? If someone polices my food, it does not trigger me but is annoying like hell, why should I hide behind the backs of some imaginary potentially more vulnerable people and not say it right on?

            (If someone was making sexist jokes against women, I’d rather hear a man saying “it annoys me” than “it might annoy some ladies in the room” because that would imply “I don’t really mind (wink, wink), but some women might).

      3. Lavender*

        RE: the “If a person has [x] then this could be harmful” phrasing, I think it depends on the issue and how likely it is that someone in attendance might fall under that category. Eating disorders and other food-related issues are common enough that I think it’s worth raising.

      4. RightSaidDread*

        I am white, but I will absolutely raise a stink if someone begins speaking in a way that I think would be offensive to other races. We should not ignore potentially offensive speak just because we are not part of a group that the speech is targeting.

        1. Lavender*

          Yes, exactly. Eating disorders and other food-related issues are also pretty stigmatized, so a person who actually does struggle in that area might not feel comfortable speaking up. (In fact, I’ve used the “this could be harmful…” phrasing when I don’t want to disclose that I’m actually the one who is being harmed – not with food issues specifically though.)

      5. Raida*

        I concur.

        “If someone maybe heard this and they maybe had this maybe condition or maybe experience they may or may not be negatively impacted emotionally so if we could all just be mindful of how our words may significantly harm others in an unspecified way that would be really lovely. Or by gods I’ll tell HR about it.”

        that’s what I hear when someone is too vague about this stuff.
        I’d far prefer simply before going to lunch sending him a message that says “After lunch I suggest you find a new topic such as movies, music, what laptop are you using instead of asking about food because your responses of “health food yucky!” isn’t something we’re interested in hearing for a third day in a row. Your negative opinion on other peoples’ food is not adding a fun way to get back into training. It’s fine to like pizza, it’s not fine as the only person with a voice to make fun of foods that aren’t on your favourites list.”

    3. Bee*

      I agree with this. Especially because everyone in the class has cameras and mics off, and there is no way for others to perceive tone, it will likely not go over well and may erect an invisible barrier between OP and everyone else. I say “MAY” because it could also have the opposite effect — people may be appreciative. It kind of just depends on the other people in the class.
      I would take the route of gently or jokingly pushing back like, “Don’t judge me.. I ate an evil salad today! Yup, I’m so bad.”

    4. fhqwhgads*

      The problem is that he’s mocking people for their food choices. Eating disorder or not, medical restrictions or not, whatever other reasons people may have for choosing to eat what they eat, insisting people tell him what they ate and then mocking them when they’re a captive audience – however lightheartedly and well-intentioned, sucks.
      This guy is the one having a one-way conversation as he’s on audio and everyone else is chat only, and he’s reading the text coming in and talking aloud to everyone about what he sees.
      It’s not so sensitive to be like “dude, my lunch isn’t boring to me, how about you pick some other method of check-in?”

      1. Erie*

        I mentioned this above but I’ll repeat it here – in mainstream culture, saying “that’s too healthy for me, I like junk food!” is often considered gentle self-deprecating humor. Since healthy food is the “morally virtuous” choice, he probably thinks he is not mocking or criticizing but actually mocking himself.

        There’s also no indication that he said anything like “boring”; that would indeed be more broadly considered rude.

        1. Observer*

          “health food nut”, however is not considered “gentle self deprecating humor” when directed at *someone else*. He’s spending waaay too much time on people’s food choices here, and doing it in a way that’s rude.

          1. Lavender*

            Fully agree. If your joke is directed at someone else, it is by definition not self-deprecating.

  36. I should really pick a name*

    Simple solution here would be to just say “I’m back” instead of describing your meal.

    I wonder if there was a disconnect one what was considered backroom support and front-line work when Jane was hired. When it’s time to find her replacement, it would be worth it to look into the hiring process to make sure duties are described clearly.

    1. WellRed*

      Yeah the furniture example was odd to me and makes me wonder is this idea of tasks she should be owning is as clear as OP thinks. I mean, Jane is obviously a problem but worth taking a hard look at the job description etc.

    2. Baby Yoda*

      Many of us don’t eat during the actual lunch hour. Just say you took your car to get washed.

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

      In another comment the OP says that they talked with Jane and was very specific with what her description was. Even rewrote the description and the problems keep happening.

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

    L1….Asking what everyone had for lunch would be ok to me and I have food issues. Just asking one day, without the commentary. To me the problematic thing is asking every day and then commenting on it. It often seems with these more social things they just go too far. “Really. An adult has pb&j for lunch?” spoils the social aspect of making sure everyone’s back from lunch, if nothing else!

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

      Yeah, I don’t think the LW is having problems with the question itself. Its the commentary.

  38. Green rose*

    LW3 no you cannot *make* your spouse wear noise cancelling headphones. And they probably won’t provide the solution he’s looking for (co-workers/clients not hearing children making a lot of noise in business calls). But you should look into noise dampening for the room and good microphones as options.

    If your house is large enough, you soupy also look into what space you are using for an office and what space your children use for recreation of an evening. If they can be better separated it might worth some rearranging.

    Also – you do need a conversation around whether WFH is a workable situation. Is this an all the time issue – or for an hour or two after school (times many kids would be in after school care)? The occasional meeting at known times? Something that pops up unplanned?

    Kids can be taught not to dribble a basketball in the house, and to be quiet while someone is on the phone (behavioural difficulties is very non-specific, it is possible that this is not a feasible goal for your child – but it is for most children even with behavioural difficulties). If it is quiet all evening or quiet for an hour after dinner that is very different expectations.

    He needs to understand the impact on you. You also need to listen to what he needs to do his job and why he is so worried about noise. Is he getting poor reviews from clients? It’s it mentioned in feedback? Is his boss commenting on the noise? Is he worried this is risking his position? Does he have a good reason to be worried?

    I’m not suggesting divorce is a viable solution (I really don’t understand how people got to that “solution”). But it might be that you both need to talk through whether this job works for the family. Bear in mind though – that you might be trading one challenging situation for another if he would have to take a significant pay cut, incur significant travel costs, or be out of the home with long commutes etc. to find something else. Good luck finding a solution.

    1. Random Dice*

      He has a problem, that he has to resolve. His solution of having impossible demands that he enforces through being mean to his kids and wife is not ok.

      It’s not reasonable for kids not to be able to exist in their home, as kids, all afternoon and school. It’s not reasonable that his wife has to remove the children for hours. It’s not reasonable to yell at your kids for being kids.

      This is a very serious thing that he’s doing to his family.

    2. Kara*

      In addition, i would recommend paying attention to how willing he is to listen to the impact on you and your kids, and how willing he is to look at those other solutions, because if he isn’t this goes from home workplace problem to spousal problem. I get that stress and dealing with the same problem over and over can cause tunnel vision, but I’m not encouraged by the seeming obliviousness to the impact on everyone else. Even if it is a workplace issue, it sounds as though respect and communication have been impacted enough that marriage counseling might not be a bad idea just to get things back on track. (I should note here that i don’t see marriage counseling as the last step before divorce; i see it as helping partners through minor problems before they become big BEC problems!) Good luck!

    3. Just Another Zebra*

      I think some people are jumping to the divorce solution because, based on the letter, it feels very much like OP is handling the brunt of parenting, at the behest of 1/4 of the household. The house is those kids home. They have a right to exist in it. OP also works all day – she, too, has a right to sit on the couch and watch a movie with her kids after work and school because a single member of the household is doing work outside of normal work hours. One thing I noticed, as well, is that OP’s husband seems to be both pushing the quest for a viable solution onto OP, while also rejecting any solutions she presents (headphones, leaving the house, video games, etc).

      OP, realistically – you need to sit your husband down and explain that this is a home, not an office. Your kids live there, and have a right to be teenagers and exist and decompress in their home. You are allowed to end your work shift and exist in your home in a relaxing manner. 3 people are no longer going to put themselves out for one single person. If the work environment is not suitable, perhaps your husband needs to make adjustments that don’t impact everyone else in the home.

  39. A single, solitary newt*

    LW1–is the person in question a Millennial or Gen Z? I’m a Millennial, and it honestly never occurred to me to take this seriously as a slight until I got to the comments. I immediately read it as “I have to perform some sort of check in so let’s do something light and easy.” Especially since he’s not saying “let’s all eat only eat vegetables or judge each other if we don’t.”

    Honestly, my first reaction to this was “ah yes, office humor. I ate 17 gerbils with hot sauce for lunch, each wearing a tiny propeller hat for added zing.” Never in a million years would it have occurred to me to take it seriously or see it as offensive.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Can we not make this a generational thing? I’m also a millennial and I would super not appreciate someone assessing my eating choices every day. My workplace does this kind of “light check in” prompt but it’s different for each meeting and actually something enjoyable to chat about for a minute, not just being judged for your meal every time. LW isn’t taking it seriously or finding it offensive… they’re correctly identifying rude behavior as rude.

      1. Lavender*

        Fellow millennial here, and I fully agree. I wouldn’t mind being asked what I had for lunch, but I would absolutely mind if the host responded with, “Ugh, a salad? That’s too healthy! You should have had pizza!” The question is fine but his responses are super rude.

        1. londonedit*

          Exactly. I’m an ancient Millennial/one of those people who falls down the gap where no one can agree where Gen X ends and Millennial starts, and I’d have no problem with ‘So what’s everyone had for lunch?’. I do have a problem, however, with the comments on people’s food choices. There’s no need for that and it’s totally rude.

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

            I agree. The only appropriate response would be “ohh that sounds good” or “Lucky you, steak and eggs are my favorite.” or something similar

    2. metadata minion*

      “Especially since he’s not saying “let’s all eat only eat vegetables or judge each other if we don’t.””

      Well, no, he’s saying “let’s all eat pizza and judge each other if we don’t”, which has very different social weight but is still really annoying. Not everyone wants “office humor”, especially in a context where he’s talking to a group of people he doesn’t know and in a context where he can’t read the reactions. Plenty of offices have weird in-jokes, but to do that you have to actually all know each other well enough to know what everyone finds funny.

      1. A single, solitary newt*

        That’s a good point. I can see a lot of presenters/teachers I’ve had doing this (including my tech bootcamp instructor, since that was virtual) but they have a better understanding of their audience. I do still feel like this was an attempt at humorous connection (however misguided), though.

        1. Lavender*

          I’m sure he wasn’t trying to be rude! I think this is an “impact vs. intent” type of thing, though. It very well might be the kind of thing his coworkers find funny, but it’s not something that would fly in every workplace.

    3. Michelle Smith*

      Yeah as a millennial person recovering from disordered eating, I also would like to push back on this being a generational thing. I do not agree with you at all. I think this is just a blind spot you have and has nothing to do with how old you are. And I think that’s one of the great things about this blog and comment section – we can learn from each other and think more carefully about how the words we use impact one another, and therefore hurt each other inadvertently a lot less.

      I think you do have a good suggestion in here though, although you didn’t explicitly make it. If the point is the check-in and not the actual contents of the lunch, LW 1 could absolutely make a jokey lie. Next time it happens they could type in the chat that they had “17 gerbils with hot sauce for lunch, each wearing a tiny propeller hat for added zing.” If the instructor balks or doesn’t laugh or insist on her disclosing her actual lunch, that opens the door for her to say “I actually would prefer not to say what I ate. I got some critical comments the last couple of times I did that hurt me as someone recovering from food issues. But I’m here and ready to learn!”

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      Identifying someone’s generation doesn’t change the advice, especially since the LW’s question was about how to push back on this.

      Yes, this is someone trying to be light and fluffy in asking people to check in post-lunch. It’s also someone who doesn’t understand that people with eating disorders (or people with very strong boundaries) would have a problem with the question.

      1. atalanta0jess*

        yes – the assumption that asking your food choice and then teasing about it is “light” is incorrect, regardless of generation.

        (Also, Millennial here who rejects diet culture and thinks this is an inappropriate activity.)

    5. Observer*

      Especially since he’s not saying “let’s all eat only eat vegetables or judge each other if we don’t.”

      But he is actually saying the same thing, just using different words. He’s not judging people for not being healthy enough, but for being “too healthy.” If he just used that particular phrase, it MIGHT be coming from a place of self deprecation. But calling someone else a health nut takes it firmly out of that category.

      Replace “vegetables” with “pizza” and you’ll see what I mean, I think.

  40. Chairman of the Bored*

    LW3’s husband seems unreasonable overall, but I highly recommend going with low-tech noise blocking headphones rather than active noise-cancelling ones.

    A product like the “3m Worktunes Connect” does a fine job of blocking out ambient sounds. They’re rated for 24 dB noise reduction, which roughly means that they take the noise of a gas lawnmower down to about the level of normal spoken conversation.

    They can definitely handle a basketball or a video game in the next room.

  41. Sundance Kid*

    LW3: concur with some other commenters that it may be he’s worried about his mic picking up the noise. Consider a really good mic upgrade – that might look like an XLR microphone plus a USB audio interface. That’s basically a pro-quality microphone that you’d find on stage or in a quality podcast, plus a USB box that connects it to your computer. Budget $100-200. The advantage is that you can find a microphone that is highly directional and less sensitive (less sensitive is good here, it means less background noise).

    Check out Podcastage on youtube – his tests include getting farther away from the mic so you can see how much background noise it picks up. Personally, I have an SE v7 mic and a Focusrite interface, and I can say that it does a great job of keeping the kids and dog at bay on my calls.

    Additionally, for calls, you don’t need noise cancelling as much as over-the-ear headphones (imho). Those will naturally block out sound and let him focus on calls better than earbuds.

  42. CLC*

    For letter 1, I wouldn’t put it in the group chat. People do NOT understand this issue and it could easily derail into people attacking the LW. I would send a private message to the instructor or his employer.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      I very much agree.

      Dropping it in the group chat is very likely to feel like an attack even if no one else chimes in.

      I get Alison’s thought process that it not some big issue that requires discretion. However, this is not a colleague you know how they handle feedback – it’s a stranger.

      Personally I’m always a fan of allowing people to save face when possible. It tends to make people more receptive and willing to learn and change.

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

      I disagree. All the OP would have to say is “I don’t appreciate the commentary on our food choices.” and leave it at that.

  43. Fluffy Fish*

    LW2 – If Jane isn’t in general incompetent then this is a skills mismatch.

    Admin work is often thought of as lesser, easier, unskilled.

    It’s not. It’s like any other profession where some people have the skills necessary and others don’t. Being unable to see the tasks in front of her is a big symptom of this.

  44. Madame X*

    LW3 It seems like he’s easily distracted by any noise, rather than the noise actually being a problem on his calls. Even if he worked in an office, there would still be ambient noise (conversations from his coworkers, copiers and printers working etc.)

    The husband has two options:
    1). he needs to invest in a good set of noise canceling headphones and actually test it out instead of immediately dismissing that as a suggestion.
    2). Or he can start renting a co-working space that has a private office for him to work in.

    Of course, none of this will work, if he’s not willing to see his current working method as a problem for your home life. I’m concerned that he’s being extremely unreasonable. For example, it seems like it is more distracting for him to have interrupted a meeting just to come out of his office to shush the kids as they were leaving the house.
    If he is truly dedicated to finding a solution, he needs to be willing to collaborate with you to find a suitable compromise.

    1. Pucci*

      I wonder if he is this unreasonable in other aspects of their life. I suspect he is. If he is unwilling to compromise, the LW’s only option might be telling him that either he finds another location for his office or the LW and kids find another location to live.

  45. Nathan*

    LW3: You’ve probably discovered based on all the responses that this is a particularly deep rabbit hole to dive down, but I will add that depending on the hardware and software he is using, one weirdness of noise canceling headphones is that they can make it harder to hear your own voice when you’re talking. Obviously bone conduction means that you hear it better than you would hear someone else’s voice, but most people who use ANC headphones will use the monitor feature of their microphone, where it will pipe your own voice into the headphones (without delay so you don’t speechjam yourself) so that you can hear yourself and modulate your own volume accordingly.

    That said, a living situation is always a two-way discussion, and nobody unilaterally gets to decide what does or does not work for him without considering the other person. If he enjoys the perks of working from home, he must also accept the downsides.

  46. Toaster Pastry*

    LW #2: You mentioned Jane was suffering from burnout. That she took this job to gear down. Stress is addictive. She’s probably so used to doing her old job, being responsible for whatever it was that burned her out, she’s having trouble letting it go.

    Let me tell you a story. I am a person like Jane. My “normal” job is akin to corporate version of fast food cashier at lunch and it’s always lunch. I frequently meet myself coming and going. I was given an opportunity and took a secondment job in the same company to calm down and get away from the constant stress of my “normal” job. The difference is I never told anyone this other than a couple of close friends. Certainly not my bosses. The job I took was supposed to be verifying things and didn’t require me to “own” anything but getting my assigned work done. This job has transmuted itself into the job I was running away from. And somehow, I did it to myself. I’m not sure how other than I couldn’t say no, and I couldn’t reveal why without telling my bosses more about my mental health than I wanted them to know. Now I have to “own” a bunch of stuff because “I’m good at it.”

    Jane has told you she’s burnt out. She may need someone to point out to her that by over owning things, she’s exacerbating her own burn out. She may need someone to remind her to take it slow, and that she asked for less responsibility. It may be you give her one “project” to occupy her mind, cause odds are she’s bored and inventing things to do because she’s so used to being stressed out. It takes time to learn to come down from the adrenaline high. It takes time to learn how not to be burnt out.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      She’s been TOLD not to email the board with ideas. Yet she is still doing it. If she felt she had to take ownership and do this — being told no should be pretty clear.

      At some point, this is not OPs job to make sure Jane is comfortable not doing things she has been told not to do. OP needs Jane to do a specific job. If Jane is unwilling to do that — for whatever reason — Jane needs to go.

    2. MsM*

      Except that it sounds like OP’s had multiple conversations with Jane about what she should be focused on that sound like they’ve gone pretty in-depth in terms of breaking down the tasks. It may be that Jane doesn’t know how to de-stress, but it may also be that deep down, she doesn’t really want to if it means completely giving up what she was doing before to do the things she’s supposed to be doing in this role instead. And at this point, there have been enough failed attempts at a collaborative solution that I think this needs to be less of a “help us help you” conversation and more of a “we hired you for X, Y, and Z; if you can’t stick to that for whatever reason, then this isn’t going to work out, because we can’t keep having this conversation.”

  47. Sparkles McFadden*

    LW #2 – It’s an interesting thing, but I have found that asking someone why questions in the workplace is not usually helpful in terms of addressing an issue. Asking a boss “why” sounds like you’re pushing back even if you don’t mean to (and sometimes the boss doesn’t know why, which makes her uncomfortable). Asking a direct report “why” may open the door to a long explanation which then turns into a negotiation of sorts which makes people think they can find a way out of doing the parts of the job they don’t enjoy.

    So, I know you want to fix this, but this is a Jane problem, not a you problem. You need to say outright “you need to do the following to stay employed here” and if Jane won’t do what you’ve stated, she’s got to go.

    I’m going to make this comment too long but… we once hired a Jane. My boss and I were on the fence about our Jane. We both just felt that something was off about her interview. My boss decided to give her a chance and hired her to fill a three-month spot for someone on leave and then hire her permanently if she worked out. She did (and didn’t do) everything your Jane does. My boss asked why she wasn’t doing the assignments by the deadlines we’d set out. Her reason why was that she knew how to do her job and we were wrong about everything and she was just going to do things her way and we’d see she was right and that we didn’t know what we were doing and we’d be oh so grateful that we hired her because we were such uptight idiots. That was at the end of the first month and my boss fired her on the spot.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        She was extremely surprised, but she merely left in a huff. There was some slamming of drawers and such but nothing terrible. She did ask if she could use me as a reference and I pretty much said “No, of course not” and advised her to leave this temporary gig off of her resume.

      1. Observer*

        LOL. Yes, that was my first thought.

        OP, I think that the takeaway here is that even if you do get an answer, it may not be something you can really use to change her behavior.

  48. Kit*

    Looks Like 3’s husband has an Aversion to noise, all noise, and instead of trying ANYTHING to make his own accomodations Like an adult, he uses Work as a excuse to lash Out for his Family Not Walking on eggshells about it. This Guy needs to Go to a not-at-home Office OR Accept the reality that his spouse and Kids live at Home.

  49. Enginerd*

    OP#3 is the issue that your husband hears the kids and its distracting him or the mic is picking up the noise and broadcasting it to the meeting? I’d suspect the nature of the earbuds are picking up the background noise. First thing to do is to adjust the microphone sensitivity. This should be an option under the computer audio settings. Best option would be to have you call in to him directly and balance it between you and him with the kids playing. Second is to dump the ear buds and get an actual headset. Doesn’t need to be expensive you can get a $30 Jabra headset. You need the boom mic. Ear bud mics pick up everything they’re a terrible choice for a work headset if you’re in a loud area. If he really needs isolation you can drop $300 on a gaming headset that will have noise cancellation, built in mic adjustment and a pile of other features

  50. Nep*

    Things that could be done to help the noise situation:

    Noise cancelling headphones. Replacing the door to his office with a solid wood door. Installing thick curtains or sound blocking panels. Making sure the area where the kids are going to be and where he’s going to be in meetings are as far away as possible. Having a conversation as a family and figuring out how to balance everyone’s needs.

    I agree with AAM that y’all need to be collaborating with each other to find a solution – and the kids are old enough to help too. Even if it’s just making noise to testing solutions during a non-meeting time.

  51. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    #4 – Time to polish up the resume. Your time at this job is coming to an end. Either through outright firing, forcing you out through pay cuts or the start up folding. Get ahead of things and start looking for a job now.

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

      This is not helpful. They are already looking for another job. They just wanted advice to see if what the boss was doing was legal.

  52. El l*

    Yeah, I’d raise it the next time it comes up, and I’d throw in comments about it in the course evaluation so his supervisor can see.

    Because “food issues” aside, the guy needs feedback that he’s messing up a pretty basic thing. Namely, his job for those few minutes after lunch is really just to do small talk – personably ease people into getting down to work.

    Getting judgmental about what people eat is actively counterproductive to that.

  53. Michelle Smith*

    LW3 There are also software programs out there like Krisp that mask the noise you make when speaking in a call. They won’t block him from hearing the noise, but they will minimize how much others hear it.

    Obvious other alternatives are him working somewhere outside the home (whether literally outside like in a garage or on a balcony, or off-site somewhere) or him changing his reaction to the noise by not hassling your young children every time they make the kind of noise children make. But it sounds like whatever you do, you need to have a serious conversation with your spouse. He doesn’t just get to dismiss your concerns because “he says the situation is not that bad.” It is that bad because it’s bothering you and your children enough that you’re writing into an advice column about it. So frame the conversation as it’s a problem you’re having and that you want to collaborate on solving. And then go from there.

    Ultimately you have to do what’s best for you and your kids. Hopefully that isn’t something as drastic as separate living arrangements, but always remember that you can’t control or force other people to do anything. You only can control your own actions. And if his behavior is negatively impacting your kids, that has to be taken super seriously.

    1. Bess*

      Yes, I think a conversation with the spouse needs to lay out what’s happening–mom is solo parenting the kids all afternoon and evening and is expected either to keep them out of their own house or consistently quiet. Maybe spouse is just stressed and doesn’t see the complete picture, but that’s an absurd expectation for normally developing kids, much less ones with a disability, and he’s adding a ton of strain and stress and placing the burden of solving it on LW3, and seriously constraining what she can do to make wrangling two kids easier.

      I guess we don’t know what happens during the day, but LW3 also has a job while the kids are in school. What does spouse do in that time? When does spouse spend time with kids? Is this temporary or a long-term arrangement? Is the spouse working behind a closed door? Can he work in a bedroom, or does he expect to work in the main space but also to command silence in the shared areas?

      I also do feel like these very weird gendered things happen in families where regardless of job status or pay, some men will feel an odd sense of entitlement over the space, as if they’re the primary owner rather than joint owner, and women and children who exist are supports who should cater to him. It can be subtle.

  54. Les*

    OP#1 either forgets or was never told that it’s a fed’s privilege to be a little more free in interactions with paid instructors than with coworkers, agency customers, or the general public. Be as direct as you’d like; “Thanks for the editorial” will get the point across. If they’re really obnoxious, sometimes it’s fun telling them, “no thanks – I’m not interested” when they waste time with anything other than training.

  55. Bea*

    For number 3: I’d be pretty insulted if my wife went and asked an advice blog to take sides in a fight we were having. What’s your plan? To tell him internet strangers are on your side? I’m sure that won’t cause a bigger fight.

    1. Lavender*

      People write to advice columns for relationship advice all the time. In fact, I’d say the majority of advice columns I read tend to be focused on relationships.

      In this case OP was asking for recommendations for noise-cancelling headphones or other potential solutions, not just validation from strangers on the internet. If they get advice here that they think might help, those will be actionable ideas they can pass onto their partner that go beyond “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Plan A: Present husband with several practical solutions to his problem, such as specific noise cancelling headphones (he isn’t distracted) with a directional mike (background noise isn’t transmitted).

      Plan B: Assured by others that absolute silence in the home from 3-9 is not reasonable, OP is more willing to push back against this.

      I feel strongly that in a group of equals, if someone is bothered by something then it is on them to try to contribute to the solution, not just inform the other group members that they are bugged and so everyone else needs to figure out what to do. But out in real life meat space sometimes more prodding/grace is needed to get things to function smoothly. “I’ve suggested three practical solutions, which you have rejected, and you have suggested only one, which is unworkable, and then stopped” is ground one might like to occupy in an argument. In the hopes that the other party is reasonable, and so stops and reconsiders their behavior and does something more useful about fixing the problem.

    3. spiriferida*

      What an uncharitable response. The LW is asking for strategies to discuss a problem with her spouse, not writing in to AITA to prove that she’s ‘in the right’. And even if she were… shaming her for asking for advice in the first place isn’t a helpful comment. If you actually want to be helpful (which is the goal of this comment section), start by saying how you would address this kind of conflict with your wife.

    4. Broadway Duchess*

      If that was your take on an advice column question, that’s unfortunate. People crowdsource info amd solutions to problems all the time. What do you think Yelp and Amazon reviews are? This person is asking for solutions to a work-adjacent problem, not asking for people to take sides. And even if that were the case, there’s no evidence that OP is going to go to husband, waving a phone in his face screaming, “See? The AAM community thinks I’m right!!!”

    5. Dark Macadamia*

      You… don’t think people should be writing to the advice column you’re here reading for advice?

      This is a really cruel and weird comment. Many people in many situations have a hard time expressing themselves or even knowing if how they feel makes sense – which, again, is why advice columns exist.

      I’d be pretty insulted if my husband expected me to take on the bulk of parenting IN SILENCE and expected our children to cater to his unreasonable work preferences! It’s completely unsurprising that someone living in this situation would need a reality check and help knowing how to deal with it.

      1. L-squared*


        That word gets thrown around on here so much I think its lost all meaning. Is it a bit harsh? Possibly (though there is some merit IMO), but this isn’t cruel.

  56. Lavender*

    LW1: I absolutely hate when people comment on my food choices. This kind of thing would bother me SO MUCH, to the point that I’d be tempted to lie and say I ate pizza or something else that this guy “approves” of. Or I’d give a vague answer like “a sandwich” or “leftovers from dinner.” (I know that that wouldn’t actually fix the broader issue, but it would at least save me at a small amount of frustration in the moment.) I do think it’s worth raising with the instructor or his employer, because it’s rude and there are many other icebreakers he could do instead.

  57. HonorBox*

    OP3 – I don’t want to sound too harsh, but your husband is expecting an awful lot of your family. If you have to pack everyone up and leave the house or if video games are too loud, this is too much. I understand wanting to have some sense of peace while you’re working, but absolute silence all the time when you’re working from home is a bridge too far. You and your children have a right to be people in your home.

    Your husband is correct that noise cancelling headphones will not dampen the noise through the microphone. But I would guess that the noise he’s hearing isn’t nearly as prominent to people he’s talking to on the other end as it is to him. The headphones might be a way for him to not be distracted by what he perceives is an issue. Have him get a pair and test them out on a few meetings. If that doesn’t work, I think he needs to be willing to explore options that give him the workspace he’s looking for while letting the family be a family in their own home. That might include sound-proofing his office. That might include him finding a private office for rent. That might also just include him being more tolerant and understanding. I’d bet the $20 in my pocket that no one he’s meeting with even hears anything, and if they do, they’re sure not THAT distracted by it. We understand now more than ever that if people are working from home, we’re going to hear pets, garbage trucks, doorbells, children, etc.

    1. Melissa*

      Yes, and her statement that she “packs the kids up” and takes them somewhere made me exhausted. I know that she’s just parenting, but I also know I don’t want to be constantly on pins-and-needles and feeling like I have to always be taking the kids somewhere, lest my husband get annoyed. LW, I really think your husband may need to look into shared working spaces, renting a small office, etc. I realize that’s likely way outside a reasonable suggestion, and if so, he needs to adjust his expectations about what WFH means.

      1. HonorBox*

        Yeah, I sort of had the “we’re selling our house” feelings when the LW mentioned taking the kids to the park. I remember when we had our house listed and we had evening showings, we’d grab the dog and go for dinner, go to the park, get ice cream, etc. That had an end point and it was still exhausting.

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        Right, I can’t imagine ending my work day, coming home, cooking dinner, and then going out for a few hours to entertain my kids outside of the home *every evening*. That sounds a) exhausting, and b) unreasonable.

  58. Lily Potter*

    LW2, here’s my take and a suggested script. You’ve left out some important details in your letter, so I’m filling in a few things in my mind.

    Jane is a former Army Colonel who liked ordering people and mapping out work for others, but didn’t like the responsibility and long hours that come with being a commander. She voluntarily demoted herself to private (work with me here LOL) but hasn’t yet figured out that SHE now has to peel the potatoes instead of mapping out where others should plant the potatoes, scheduling others to pick them, and planning how others should cook them.

    Since you’ve already gone to the time to very clearly define her job description, HOLD HER TO IT. Here’s some very blunt language: “Jane, you were once a good Project Manager but you’re working in a whole different work stream here. When you were a PM, we needed you to see the big picture, propose new ideas, and sometimes delegate work to others. In this role, it’s completely different. Your job is to solely support the work of others, not to create new work projects on your own or to delegate any part of your work to others. We’ve laid out a good number of tasks in your job description, and you should be focusing 100% of your effort on those and nothing else. You shouldn’t ever need to delegate your work to someone else or ask for much assistance from others . If you find that you need help to get a job done on time, check in with Marissa to find out who’s got capacity rather than asking on your own. If you run out of work doing the tasks in your job description, check in with Marissa and she’ll gladly let you know what you can do to help others. You shouldn’t ever be spending time on projects that are outside of your job description, though.”

    Frankly, this sounds like a lot of work to monitor long term. Give it a month and see if she can follow through. If not, she needs to go on a PIP right away. I’m not hopeful for a good outcome though, unless you’re willing to deal with Jane’s shenanigans forever.

  59. Cookie Monster*

    LW2 – this has been going on for a YEAR? I expected you to say she just started a month ago…maybe three months ago, tops. You simply cannot let her continue to go on like this, especially as it’s affecting your other employees and even your board (!).

    I’d sit down with her one last time (since you’ve already talked to her about these problems) and make it clear that this is her last warning. Tell her what the expectations are (I know you already have, but just to cover your bases) and that she needs to start meeting them NOW. There’s no need to give her a month. You’ve already given her a year with multiple conversations and chances. She sticks to her job description – nothing more – starting today or else you’ll have to let her go.

  60. Clover*

    Something that stands out to me about the Jane letter is that you want her to take ownership and initiative in certain narrow areas, but explicitly NOT in others. I think it’s worth making yourself really, really clear in this area.

    As someone who (full disclosure) has struggled with some executive function stuff in a corporate environment, I’ve historically found it really challenging when my employer told me I needed to take initiative and not wait to be told what to do but then, when I identified a project or task that looked to me like it needed doing, they jumped in and said “no, not that!”

    I think if you want to make things work with Jane, you need to get more granular about where you’d like to see autonomy and initiative and where you don’t. Otherwise, for someone relatively inexperienced, it’s going to seem like you’re sending mixed messages.

  61. bunniferous*

    For #3…at this point the husband needs to own the problem. Either he needs to find a job with more regular hours or he needs to figure out a workspace/get those headphones. It is not reasonable for the family to maintain that level of quiet under those circumstances. For that matter, I am struggling to figure out WHY he needs it that quiet-in a normal workplace many folks do that kind of work with normal workplace noise in the background…..

    1. HonorBox*

      But we are to take the letter writer at their word. And it sounds like this is a situation that is more than someone having a different perspective on the noise of their house. If a kid is being shushed when they bounce a ball a couple of times, or if video games are too loud, or there’s an expectation that everyone should pack up and leave the house so dad can get his work done, it seems like the expectation of quiet is more of a problem than the noise.

      Also, suggesting that saying behavioral problems is played as a get out of any rules free card is rude.

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

      WOW! Have you ever been around a child, especially an 11 year old, that has behavioral disabilities?? The OP says explicitly that the child has behavioral disabilities. ot behavioral problems as you stated. The Op is not excusing the 11 year old. They just stated a fact, just like that the kid’s play video games or bounced the ball on the way outside. They are not using it as a get out of any rules free card.

      Behavioral disabilities are the same as any other disability. It is not a temper tantrum. It is not a spoiled child, and it is not a child who needs more discipline. The child has a disability that makes them more prone to outbursts, being loud, etc. They physically cannot help it. It would be no different than someone who has torrents and has twitches, or someone who has a speech impediment who stutters. You cannot turn it off. There are things that you can do to help, medication, etc. But it doesn’t go away just because it is an inconvenience.

      Please check your ablism and be kind to the OP

    3. Lavender*

      Whoa, no, behavioral issues are a legitimate thing and not some bogus excuse. Depending on what the specific issue is, OP’s child genuinely might not be able to be quiet for long periods of time – or maybe they can, but the stress of doing so would lead to other problems. We have no evidence that OP made up their child’s disability as an excuse.

      1. Lavender*

        Also, I used to teach 11-year-olds, and 11 is still pretty young. Even neurotypical kids can have a hard time being quiet for long periods of time at that age.

        1. Dahlia*

          If you factor in the full day at school, that’s just the whole day. No one can stay silent the whole day, child or adult!

          *Also, what’s the husband’s plan for summer, since school is letting out soon in most places, or is out already?

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      “I also have great skepticism on hearing a mom (any parent) who excuses a child with ‘behavioral problems’. Like that’s a get-out-of-any-rules-free card.”

      My kids are in their late 20s and early 30s now. They were three grades apart in K-12. One, as they said it back then, “has Aspergers”, (not sure of what the proper term is today as they keep changing) and the other has attention deficit. The school had me on speed dial pretty much from 1st grade through junior high. We had rules! They tried to follow, and were sad and upset whenever they failed. They weren’t even diagnosed until their early teens and until then everyone just thought they were behaving badly on purpose. Please try to understand that what is an easy rule to follow for a NT kid can be the equivalent of “and you have to run 100 meters in 8 seconds whenever I tell you to” to an ND one. This is a very polite version of what my first thought was when I read that in your comment. Like, come on. It’s 2023, there should be enough information out there for you to be able to educate yourself.

      1. Dahlia*

        Just because you asked, it’s all just autism now. We’ve moved away from Asperger’s for a few reasons (treating it like Autism Lite, the Nazi thing) and it’s no longer a diagnosis.

    5. Colette*

      Others have pointed out the issues with you dismissing the child’s behaviour issues, but let’s pretend that the only problem the child has is poor behaviour.

      How would that change things? She would still be unable or unwilling to be quiet to the level her dad expects. Then what?

    6. bamcheeks*

      This response makes no sense in the context of the letter. What if is it objectively loud, and they are objectively loud or even badly-behaviour kids? LW can’t magically change them into objectively quiet, objectively well-behaved kids. And it’s not fair on her to bear all the stress of “Daddy is working, you should be quiet”.

      This is not a public setting where you can have a back and forth about the parent’s responsibility vs. broader social tolerance. This is a family home. The dad has just as much responsibility to find a solution that works and isn’t super stressful for everyone else who lives there as she does.

      1. Lavender*

        Yes, and I’m sure LW *also* wants their child to be quiet while their husband is working! From what it sounds like, they’ve already tried several different solutions (taking the kids outside, screen time, etc.) and are open to trying something else. It really doesn’t seem like they’re looking for an excuse to stop making an effort.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      • A recording of what it sounds like on the other end of the call would be far more useful–as several people have noted, modern video conferencing often has some sort of sound filtering, at the mike or software level.
      • If it’s bedlam at high volume, then obviously it won’t work as a work space that requires quiet. As with people who try to do their video call from the coffee shop–loud shared spaces don’t meet the needs of quiet work, and it’s on the worker to find a more office-like set-up, not to get everyone else using the space to shush.

  62. JustMe*

    LW 2 – it sounds like you already have the “why”–the employee said she doesn’t want to do frontline work. I had a coworker like this once (and think it might be more common in slightly older adults, who may feel they’re too old to be treated like the admin–even when that’s what they are). You need to sit her down and say on no uncertain terms that she needs to do what she was hired to do–it may also help to explain that she can’t advance to higher level positions in your organization if she can’t do the minimum that she was hired for, because it seems like that may be her end-goal.

    1. MsM*

      I don’t know that bringing up other positions is a good idea. If that’s even partially her motivation, I think Jane will hear that as an implicit promise of “behave temporarily and you won’t have to keep doing this forever,” when what she needs to hear and absorb right now is that she won’t be doing *anything* at this organization for much longer if this remains a problem. Besides, the reality is that there may not be opportunities to change roles for the foreseeable future – and even if some open up, they may still need her to keep being the admin more than they want to hire a new admin and train her for the other role. She’s there to do X. If she’s belatedly realized she doesn’t want to be doing X after all, so be it, but she’s going to have to pursue that realization somewhere they don’t need her doing X.

  63. TootsNYC*

    I’ve suggested he invest in a really good pair of noise-canceling headphones that will eliminate the noise around him, but he says the technology isn’t good enough to cover up how loud we are when he’s speaking in a meeting.

    Does he think the noise you’re making in another room will carry through the microphone and other attendees will hear it?
    I was struck the other day that no one in my meeting could hear the leaf blower outside the bedroom window. And a colleague was apologizing for construction noises–that we couldn’t hear.

    Maybe there are settings we have that block those out, or maybe the mike just doesn’t pick up noise from further away. Zoom has a “background noise suppression” setting in preferences.

    He can try that!
    But I agree that he should be willing to try those headphones.

    I get that you all know he’s working, but this is also your children’s home, and their home time. He should be willing to try other things.

  64. Andrea*

    OP3: Apologies in advance if I’m about to repeat something that someone else has already said.

    Acoustician here! Noise control is addressed via the source-path-receiver model: you can quiet down the source, address noise along its path, or somehow isolate the receiver of the noise. Right now he’s trying to quiet down the source (ineffectively) by coming out and shushing you. Noise-cancelling headphones would be a receiver treatment, and IMHO would probably be fine for him, unless he needs absolute silence; I work in a loud, busy office, and I’m very easily overloaded by noise, and my Bose headphones are great. If he does need absolute silence, another receiver treatment is to remove the receiver completely from the noisy situation, i.e. he finds somewhere else to work, because I suspect your kids are not going to stop being kids.

    You can also work on the path: get a heavier door for his office, soundproof the room that the kids are playing video games in. That would also help, but those are not trivial, or cheap, solutions.

  65. Hawk*

    The thing that stands out to OP 5’s letter is that they say *the* boss instead of *my* boss. Could they be instead referring to the manager for the team that they get material from, who as to approve something before OP sends it on to the next person? This seems like how it has worked when I did similar work in my last position.

  66. Ialwaysforgetmyname*

    Sorry, noise cancelling headphones won’t help, at least in the way people are thinking. Noise cancelling headphones are designed to lower constant tones (think white noise) not sudden sounds such as someone talking or a basketball bounce. That’s why they help on airplanes – they drastically lower the engine noise and overall drone but you can still hear other things.

    Yes, they do reduce outside volume somewhat but they don’t get rid of interruption noises.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I posted it elsewhere, repeating because it might’ve gotten lost in the noise – I suggest a gaming headset. That’s what worked for me when I had no control of neighbors mowing their lawn, neighbor dogs barking etc and coworkers complained they couldn’t hear me over all of that.

    2. Observer*

      Sure. But what most good noise canceling headphones have, as opposed to earbuds, are good unidirectional mics that are REALLY good at *not* picking up sounds that are not coming from your mouth.

  67. Christine*

    With regards to #3, I would start by asking your husband exactly what the issue is. Have people in his meetings made comments about the noise? Is he afraid for his job? Does he feel that he cannot perform at the expected level? Is it just that he is distracted? Or some combination of the above?
    Next, if you have access to the same meeting tools he uses (Team, Zoom, etc) try to have a virtual meeting it two with him on the weekend. Have the kids make some noises (bounce ball, play video games). Record the calls. Play them back together and see how much noise from the kids the calls really picked up. This may be eye opening for one you or it may be that you meet in the middle.
    Some suggestions on the noise:
    Your husband may want to invest in a quality headset that includes a noise canceling microphone that would block out out the noise from both him and the calls.
    When your kids play video games, do they use headset? That may help with that noise.
    Perhaps your husband can post his call schedule so you you and the kids know when the “big” meetings are. Your kids are old enough to understand the difference between meetings with teammates and meetings with customers/VPs.
    Lastly, if your husband is working late because of time zone or sides, trust me, the West coast people appreciate him doing so so they don’t have to fool out of bed to dial into a 9am Eastern call and they don’t mind a little noise.

  68. doreen*

    I was replying to someone who thought “Dad would be better off just moving out and not even living with his family.” was excessive. That response is excessive if Dad is looking for quiet from 4-5 but not in what appears to be the actual situation.

  69. NumberBlocks*

    LW#3 – Your husband has the issue, yet you, your two teenage kids, Alison, and now the AAM commentariat are all expected to resolve this for him. Has he done any work to resolve his own problem for himself? He needs to be searching for the solutions! He has the same access to online reviews as you do.

  70. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    “Fresh gagh and prune juice. A warrior’s meal.”

  71. Usagi*

    OP3 your husband should be viewing this as a “we work together to find a solution” problem, not a “I shush the other residents of my house forever” problem. He should care enough about his kids’ experience of their evenings to realize that, while it’s fine to occasionally have evenings where they need to be quiet, it can’t be every day or constant. It just seems like he’s taking a very self-centered approach to what is a community family problem.

    1. Aelfwynn*

      For sure. Expecting his wife and kids to be quiet in the evenings every once in a while is fine, but to just expect them to sit silently after they get home every day is not a reasonable solution. He needs to find a different office space to go to work if he needs to work every evening.

      OP, this is something where your HUSBAND should be coming up with a workable solution. This is not your problem to solve, and you should tell him so.

  72. mcm*

    LW #3, I think this may have been suggested above, but your husband could look into a coworking space! I use one regularly because I don’t have a good place to work in my home, and it’s great to have the option. I was also able to negotiate with my current employer to pay for it. If going into an office is not an option for your husband’s job, he might try asking his boss whether paying for or contributing to the cost of a coworking space is an option. If you need a different space to be more productive or focused, that’s something many employers are interested in supporting. Especially if they’ve noticed him leaving meetings momentarily to “shush.”

  73. Observer*

    #1 – Trainer making comments on people’s food

    I think that the focus on the harm that could be done to people with eating disorders is obscuring a more fundamental issue – and one that anyone over the age of 12 or so is capable of understanding (albeit with some instruction for some kids)! That is that in general personal comments, especially about people’s food, are flat out rude (outside of personal contexts where commentary is your job or has been invited). And using negative terms, even in a supposedly “light hearted” just makes it exponentially worse.

    As a practical matter, you don’t want to take a chance of going down the rabbit hole of “But, come on, how likely is it that someone has an eating disorder in the group?” Because it doesn’t really matter. Ultimately, no one should have to face insults in employer mandated training. 1,000 x times over when it’s over stuff that is utterly unrelated to the material at hand. And no one should have to justify their food choices to anyone at work. Even if the issue has nothing to do with ED. Even if it’s just a matter of different taste! I like salad, you like pizza. Fine, but neither of us gets to chastise and insult the other over their choice!

    The fact that the group almost certainly has some people whose food choices are constrained by difficult issues (eg health, finances etc.) or larger contexts (eg religious, ethical, etc. considerations) just makes it worse. And the fact that someone might be dealing with disordered eating is just the icing on the cake. And an extremely dangerous one, at that.

    Just that alone SHOULD be enough to put a stop to it, for the simple reason that there is no reason to NOT stop it. There is no reason for these comments to be happening. But as a practical matter, it’s probably more straightforward to point out that this is *already* harming a significant number of attendees, because having your instructor be gratuitously rude to you is harm.

    I’m thinking about my 5th grade with 50 girls. Outside of “mean girl” behavior, there was only ONE student to who ever told someone that their food was “weird”. And she truly could have used some explicit instruction on how to interact with people. She was repeatedly rude to people in all sorts of surprising ways*. And while people should try to extend grace and compassion to people like that, you do not put them in positions of authority of any job that requires a lot of unscripted interaction with others, as training does.

    *As an adult many years later I can see that someone should have been working with her. But if she never got the kind of guidance and teaching she needed, there is no way anyone should ever let her lead a training.

  74. FattyMPH*

    LW1: My autistic ass would’ve said “I am here. I ate food. I’m not interested in your feedback on it.” starting on day 2. But that’s just me.

  75. Khatul Madame*

    About the suggestion to OP1 to chat about shows/movies: the guy that makes insensitive comments on people’s food will drop similar whoppers about movies. With the variety of shows out there, you could be in for for racist, sexist, homophobic, body-shaming comments.
    Safer to talk about the weather. Hasn’t the hurricane season started?

  76. Dances with Flax*

    LW1: Why is it that some people cannot resist making snide comments about other people’s food? It’s often said that people shouldn’t discuss religion or politics at work: I’d add “other people’s food choices” to that list. Please, folks; if you don’t like a particular food, you don’t have to eat it – but it’s none of your blessed business if somebody else DOES!

  77. just another queer reader*

    #1: I’d be tempted to invent the wildest lunches imaginable.

    Or just copy some passages from The Hobbit into the chat.

    Raspberry jam and apple-tart, and mince-pies and cheese, and pork-pie and salad, and cold chicken and pickles!

  78. ChatHurlant*

    For LW3: the Poly Blackwire headsets are incredible noise cancelling headphones and I use them at work all the time. I reccoment the Poly Blackwire 8225.

  79. Florp*

    OP5–It sounds like your boss does not have a tracking system for work handed out to contractors or client projects due, so you have become the tracking system yourself. You can decline to do that to some extent, but if you are working directly with impatient clients, I understand that’s hard to do.

    Make sure you are giving your ‘boss’ a sense of urgency when you send your emails. There’s an email technique called BLUF (bottom line up front). Put the call to action as clearly and concisely as you can as early as possible in the email. Put the call to action in the subject line when things get urgent. Only add explanations or background info after the call to action. Bosses are busy and they will skim the first part of an email to get the gist and ignore the rest, unfortunately.

    Make the subject line “Proof approval requested” or something succinct. If you are sending the proofs to your boss on Monday, say “our client is expecting delivery by Thursday 6/29; can you approve these by Wednesday 6/28 so I have time for revisions?” in the very first sentence. Use day and date so it’s crystal clear.

    If he forgets, send another email Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, and in the subject line put “Proof approval needed for delivery tomorrow.” First thing in the body you can say you want to make sure you have time to make edits before delivery, which needs to happen in one day.

    I feel for you though. I have a colleague who is so notorious for skimming emails quickly that she often completely misinterprets them. I once sent an email that in its entirety said “Please inventory the Large Blue Shirts (sku 1234-BLU-LG)” and she wrote back “Which color?” because somehow she could not read 6 words and a sku number. Blue is literally in there twice.

    1. Just send it*

      Adding onto this great recommendation, is it possible to automate or at least expedite the approvals process so the boss doesn’t have to send out a written confirmation each time something goes out? He might prefer that too, especially if he rarely has concerns with your work.

      You can switch from an opt-out to an opt-in approval method. First lay out the problem: “We’re missing our deadlines while waiting on approvals.” Then lay out the solution: “I’m switching to a system where I give you the date I’ll be submitting the deliverable to the client. You can opt to give feedback at any point before that deadline.” Then make it sound cozy because relationships matter: “If you need more time to review it, let me know before the deadline and I’ll wait for your feedback.”

      This is something that, as a contractor, you have all the authority to do. As an employee, you’re more restricted in the ways in which you can operate with your boss, but hopefully you’re not miscategorized.

  80. Essess*

    OP#1 – the easiest way to avoid him commenting on your food for the next 2 days is not to tell him. Just type in the comments that you are back. If he asks what you ate, you can simply tell him that you are back and that you did eat so now you’re ready for class again.

  81. One HR Opinion*

    Op #1 – you aren’t “telling on them” if you provide the feedback in the post-training survey. That is what they are for.

    Op 3 – This is a challenging situation for many people who work from home and don’t live alone. I think the first thing you have to decide with hubby is what problem is the noise causing. Does it distract HIM even if the others on the call can’t hear the kiddos? Then work to find a solution from there. My husband can be like this and has to wear over the ear headphones and keep the office door closed when others are around.

  82. Owlet101*

    LW3: My small town (16,000) has a space where people who are remote can pay for a pass and have an office desk in a building on main street. It’s useful for people who want to get out of the house, are having internet problems at home, or just need another space for work. Perhaps this would be good for your husband? Expecting children, especially one with behavioral issues like you describe, to be quite all the time is not feasible. And it’s also not right for you to have to be the one to leave the house all of the time. Then just normal earphones, not even expensive ones, would drown out the noise of other workers. (Or he’ll get an idea of how unreasonable expecting everyone around him to not make a single sound actually is.)

    Perhaps for 3 days out of the week husband can work in a space like the one I described and the other 2 days you go out with the children?

  83. Dancing Otter*

    Re: LW5
    Some places use the term “contract employee” to denote someone who was hired on a limited-term basis, with or without an actual contract. They’re on payroll, but usually no benefits other than legally required (payroll taxes and such). Basically, they’re temps without an agency between them and the company.

  84. SuspiciousFish*

    Re LW3: The husband is correct that the noise made by kids will come through on his microphone, so noise-cancelling headphones are only going to solve the problem halfway. I’ve had to deal with a similar problem and found a software program called Krisp is great at isolating only my voice and filtering out other sounds.

  85. Mothman*

    If he hasn’t actually tried noise canceling headphones, there may be another reason he won’t wear them. I don’t wear them because I find them incredibly uncomfortable and they make me anxious because I can’t hear what’s going on around me very well, and I have a strong startle reflex. He could also he in a workplace with no one else using the big bulky headphones (which I assume is the option given here), even those with kids or dogs or whatever, and he doesn’t want to stand out.

    If he HAS tried them…then it’s probably true that he can hear over them. They’re not soundproof, just sound dampening.

    Also, yes, the kids’ noises will pick up on the mic. The headphones only help him. They may not have a strict “no kids/pets/distractions” rule, but they could have a very heavy implication of the expectation. He may even have gotten in trouble for the kids being picked up and doesn’t want to tell you.

    I’d dig deeper into the question and try to find a solution. Having the kids be silent for a super long time isn’t reasonable, but at their ages they should be learning how to respect and set boundaries anyway. I taught this age (as the chosen elective teacher for kids who had behavior disorders and special needs, no less), and boundaries are totally possible 99% of the time. It may need to be brought up with their therapist or teacher, though, so you can work together on a system.

    1. Observer*

      Also, yes, the kids’ noises will pick up on the mic

      With a good directional mike? Not likely unless they are very loud, and right near him.

      As for all of the other stuff coming before that, you’re making up stuff that we have no reason to believe happened. If they DID happen, then he needs to tell the OP what’s going on, and work on a solution. NOT to tell her that “it’s not so bad.” And perhaps that answer is to go back to the office, find a workspace that’s not in the house or (in the case of his job being threatened for the transgression of having humans in the house in the evening!) looking for another job.

      Having the kids be silent for a super long time isn’t reasonable, but at their ages they should be learning how to respect and set boundaries anyway.

      That’s a total non-sequitur. What the OP is describing is not kids acting without any boundaries. Dad *is* actually asking for the OP to keep the kids silent for “super long” times.

    2. Joron Twiner*

      I am confused by the idea of an office where workers can work from home, but are judged harshly for using over-ear/bulky headphones. Is this office in the real world?
      Even then, there are small bluetooth in-ear noise canceling phones and sleek headsets too.

      Do you really think “don’t make any noise in your own house between coming home from school and going to bed” is a reasonable boundary?

      If the husband needs silence to concentrate or is being punished for kid noise, maybe he should work outside the home. The idea that WFH=kids live by office rules is completely unsustainable for most people.

  86. cardigarden*

    #3 (Noise Cancelling Headphones)

    Honestly, I think you need to have a longer discussion with your spouse about this in addition to maybe getting new headphones. My FIL is like this and when we go visit for the weekend (Friday afternoon arrival), spouse and I have to wait in the car in the driveway until the end of the work day so that there’s no noise in the house. We’re quiet, grown-ass adults.

    1. I have RBF*

      That’s ridiculous.

      I WFH. I have lots of Zoom meetings. My home is not pin-drop quiet. I have an active railroad that runs behind my house and the crossing is less than 100 yards away from my window. The neighbors have leaf blowers at least twice a week.

      My coworkers and job have never complained about noise from me, and I’m using the computer mic and speakers. I don’t like a lot of noise, but outside is outside, and my roomies are not shouting, just normal stuff. I get deliveries all day, plus my roomies talking in other rooms. It’s still quieter than an open plan office.

      This wanting of absolute silence in the house is ridiculous. It can’t happen, realistically, in a city with neighbors.

  87. Raida*

    3. Can I make my spouse wear noise-canceling headphones at home?

    Better question: Can you have a serious and uncomfortable conversation with your spouse? You, personally?

    Because that’s what you need: have the kids elsewhere for the day, you two sit down with no distractions and talk about the *serious issue* that he is making the other people in the home feel they don’t have the right to enjoy *their* space.
    He has not tried good headphones. He’s just decided they won’t work and you’re all noisy.
    He. Isn’t. Trying. To. Find. A. Solution.

    HIS solution is “Everyone else arrange your lives so that I’m comfortable and I don’t need to make an effort”
    And is that, in your relationship, what you expect?

    If it is – well okay then, train your kids to do what daddy says and don’t make noise.
    If it isn’t – serious, uncomfortable adult relationship conversation time!

    Go to a good quality store with good quality headphones to test. Active noise cancelling on Bose has always been phenomenal, but there’s plenty of options.
    Plus – noise baffling options for the house itself?

    But I’ll tell you this – if he continues to be ALLOWED to shush you and your kids without knowing the context that a noise is short-lived and joyous, he’s gonna get “YOU SHUSH! YOU SHUSH!!! I JUST WANT TO PLAY A GAME! GO AWAY!” and he’s gonna be really surprised. Or you’re going to snap at him in front of your kids and tell him to SHUT UP (at the very least, if you don’t just explode in the moment)

    So – this isn’t a work question, this is a relationship one. He is responsible for his kids even when he’s at work. The house continues to be a house even when he’s working. He must put in effort to solve his problem. You must put in the effort to stop and focus on a relationship, parenting, household issue.

    1. LJ*

      There really isn’t enough info in the letter to tell – if the dad’s work space is a corner of the living room, noise cancelling headphones simply does not cancel out voices like that. If the dad is in a separate office room, then yes they should try harder to find a solution. But if they all they’ve got is a small apartment and everyone’s living on top of each other, maybe there is no solution short of getting a bigger home (!) or finding some other workspace.

  88. AceyAceyAcey*

    LW #3, is the issue that *he* is hearing the noise, or that the other people on the meeting with him are hearing the noise?

    If the former (him hearing the noise), nearly any over-the-ear or on-the-ear headphones will block out most noises. Pay a bit more for noise cancellation, or thicker ones. My partner talks loudly in his meetings, and I usually work with a parrot on my shoulder, and I’ve had a few Jabra on-the-ear headphones that block both very well.

    If the latter (other people on the meeting hearing the noise), the Shure MV7X Podcast Microphone is amazing. It’s a bit pricey, but worth every penny. For every microphone before this, my parrot could be heard even from two rooms away, and this is the first microphone where she can’t be heard at all.

    For either, could also pick a room for his meetings (or his office) that’s on the far side of the house from where the rest of the family tends to make noise. Distance (and extra walls between the noise source) helps a lot.

  89. MAOM79*

    OP#9. I do a ton of contract (1099) work. I bill for every minute, in no less than 15 minute increments, and every job is 1 hour minimum, whether it takes me an hour or not. What does your contract look like? A minute or two here and there for followup is fine, but I’m wondering why you are following up at all? I don’t do this, generally. I finish the job, send it off to the client, and it’s on them to respond or not respond. The time I spent will show up on my invoice. Some of my clients work odd hours/days, and I may not hear back for 1-2 days after I send jobs to them, but I don’t let it worry me. Once I’ve sent it, it’s in their court. They know I will invoice at the end of the month.

  90. Carrots*

    To #1 – I used to work for a company that did that exact type of training schedule – I was responsible for scheduling the trainings and organizing them. If you have a survey at the end of the week, MENTION THIS. I would read every single survey and something like this I would definitely flag and make note of to all of our trainers about to avoid it happening in the future! I’m not sure if your training has this as well, but we also used to have organizational staff on the virtual meetings to monitor and just assist as necessary. You could also mention it to them and ask them to say something in a neutral “we’ve had some people who are uncomfortable with this…”.

    But overall, if the company organizing the training is worth their salt, they’ll hear you and stop that behavior right away.

  91. knitter of cats*

    for #3; there is a tool called KRISP.

    it does ai noise cancelling.

    when it’s nice out, i work in the backyard.
    my boss was saying he can’t hear me because of noise, jets going overhead, neighbors mowing….
    then my grandboss said: try krisp.

    it works like a charm.
    so he should try that.
    he’ll still hear the background noise, but his co-workers on the meeting won’t.

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