training an insecure coworker, our pumping room is being taken over for chair massages, and more

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

1. Training a fragile, insecure coworker has become Too Much

I have been trying to train a new(ish) coworker, Perdita, for just over a year, but she seems to be languishing and getting unhappier all the time. I have no authority over Perdita, don’t work directly with her on any projects, and was not involved in her hiring. In theory, I’ve just been showing her the ropes as a more experienced peer. We are both about the same age (early 30s).

The fundamental problem is that our role is one where you have to be comfortable operating without a lot of prescriptive instruction, and I just don’t think Perdita is. She seems to want to see a step-by-step, set-in-stone protocol for every single thing that’s asked of her. She gets upset and confrontational whenever she sees different people taking different approaches to the same types of projects, or when I suggest more than one way she could handle some aspect of her projects. Even with basic tasks, she gets stuck on granular details, freezes up, and gets emotional. For example, the first time she was asked to fill out a routine form requesting records from another agency, she came to me and asked, with tears in her eyes and her voice quaking, whether she should fill out a separate form for each date she was requesting records for or submit them all on the same form (the date field of this form has multiple lines) and whether she needed to fill out the fields in a box clearly marked For [Name of Other Agency] Use Only. I spent 20 minutes going over this one-page form with her, line by line, while she kept telling me she was “so scared” of filling it out incorrectly and “didn’t feel comfortable making those kinds of calls.”

By now, most people in the office have had encounters like this with Perdita and are limiting their interactions with her as much as possible. People assigned to projects with her prefer to simply work around her. She has noticed and occasionally has outbursts about feeling excluded. (She recently told the head of our office that he should require everyone to go back to working in-office full time because she “doesn’t get to make friends” while people are working hybrid schedules.)

I can’t begin to imagine what could be at the root of all this. I’m exhausted and just want to do my own work (which I otherwise love!). But I’m concerned this situation will keep snowballing if I “give up” on training her. As far as I know, management hasn’t taken any action, though I have raised this with them several times and they have witnessed the behavior for themselves. Does it seem to you like there’s a way to get her more comfortable in the role that I’m overlooking? Or failing that, a kind way to safeguard my own sanity?

It’s unlikely you’re going to find a way to get Perdita comfortable with her job a year in, given what you’ve described … and her manager needs to address that.

But right now, by not “giving up” on training her, you’re inadvertently allowing her boss to avoid dealing with the problem. Since you’re the one dealing with it, they don’t need to! Perdita comes to you and you hold her hand and walk her through the work, conveniently keeping all the burden off her management. That might have been appropriate when you were first training her but it’s not appropriate a year (!) later.

You said you’re concerned things will snowball if you stop, but it sounds snowballing is exactly what needs to happen to get any real action from management above you.

Have one more very clear conversation with your manager where you lay out your observations about Perdita’s work and habits and then say, “I’ve worked on training her for over a year now, but it’s taking up a large amount of my time and energy. I’m going to let her know that at this point she should be working more independently.” And then do that! If Perdita continues coming to you for this level of assistance after that, explain you need to focus on your own work and she should consult her manager if she needs help. Your manager is much more likely to take more action if it becomes her problem to deal with.

2. The pumping room is being taken over for chair massages

I’m a new mom in a job that involves occasional travel throughout the state and last-minute assignments. My office is in the city, but I often work from home unless the assignments take me closer to the office (easiest to get the work done there than to waste time driving) or need to get out of the house.

I use the nursing room- the only room in my office without a glass door. Last week, HR sent out an email that announced “free 15-minute chair massages on Wednesdays beginning September 20.” While pumping today, I overheard a coworker tell another that the chair massages will happen in this room. Once again: all other offices and conference rooms have glass doors.

I emailed HR, and their response was, “Will you be in that day? It’s suggested that you come after 2 pm (AFTER THE MASSAGES). Let me know so we can find a solution for everyone.” I asked if this was a reoccurring event, and yes it was. They told me yes, but they told me if I gave them notice they can cancel/reschedule the chair massages.

Some flexibility is critical for my job. One day I can be working at home and then at 4 pm I could get a last-minute need to go two hours out the next day.

The sign-up sheet for the massages is already full. I feel like HR is putting this choice before me: on the random days I need to come in the office, I don’t and people can have massage days, or I do come in and I cancel it for everyone.

I don’t feel like they’re being malicious, they just forgot I need this. I’m the only nursing employee. The admin staff uses the mini fridge in the room for their food, while there’s a larger fridge just a walk down the hall. And an associate was trying to use it as a private office for calls and I had to ask her to leave so I can breast pump today. Any advice?

Try saying this: “I regularly need to come in with only a few hours of notice for work that’s critical to my job, and I will need reliable access to the room when I do. This feels like it will be a real conflict with that.” You might also add, “Separately, it’s important to me that people don’t perceive me (or nursing mothers in general) as the reason they’re losing out on a perk like massages, so I hope there’s a way for you to handle it that avoids that.”

Maybe it’ll occur to them to consider a second room without a glass door.

Read an update to this letter. 

3. Is my white board full of personal items unprofessional?

The office I was given and have worked in for two years had two big white boards in it. I work in fundraising so I filled one with prospects and ask amounts. I almost always meet with donors virtually or in their space, so they generally wouldn’t see this board. The other, I recently filled with personal photos and cards, three of my new baby, two photos from my wedding, etc. I figured it made sense to use this existing space in place of framing a couple of photos on my desk, mostly because I don’t like having a big blank whiteboard taking up so much of my wall.

On the one hand, I do work in a touchy-feely profession where saying “here’s a photo of my baby” can endear me to donors and colleagues. On the other hand, I worry that having much in the way of wedding and baby photos in a professional space could make people perceive me as young or unserious. I’m in my thirties, so not unusually young but I’m short with a high voice and talk quickly, so I might be perceived this way. For what it’s worth, I’ve been at this job for two years and I think I’m reasonably well-liked, so I don’t think the stakes are particularly high, just curious how it’s likely to be perceived.

It’s probably fine … although if you wanted the play-it-safe answer, there is a risk that it looks like Too Much. A couple personal photos, fine. A dozen personal photos is more than you usually see in most offices. Is it likely to be a real problem? No. Is it something you might want to modify if you’re trying to Optimize Your Professional Persona? Maybe. (Although I’d be a lot more concerned if it were a bunch of photos of nights out with friends or similar. Wedding and baby photos don’t scream “young” in that way.)

If you feel like you have to work to get people to take you seriously, or if you were in a more buttoned-up office, I’d be more inclined to suggest you change it. If you don’t feel like either of those are issues, I wouldn’t worry much about it.

4. I saw something on my manager’s screen that I shouldn’t have

I was just on a call with my supervisor. While he was sharing his screen, I saw a PIP document for one of my colleagues. Even though I’m famously nosy when people are sharing their screens, I just looked away. He definitely didn’t realize I saw it.

In the past, when we’ve been on calls with other colleagues, I’ve politely reminded him, “Hey, just so you know, you’re sharing your entire screen!” (He has literally started typing in Teams chats while we’re on a group call!). As a team we are always reminded to only share windows/files rather than our entire screens.

In this situation, with it only being me on the call, would it be worth sending him a quick note letting him know I saw a sensitive document? Or should I just continue to pretend I never saw it and let him learn the hard way since this is something he continues to do despite my vocal warnings and general team reminders? I’m very much a vault with these types of things, but other people aren’t. He’s fairly high-ranking in our company and I just worry about sounding condescending, or even making him feel terrible that he accidentally shared something so personal about another colleague.

Nope, just pretend you never saw it. That would be true in most cases, but it’s especially true with someone who you’ve apparently already given many reminders to and who has been ignoring those reminders. For whatever reason, he doesn’t care. I suppose it’s possible that this will be the one incident that changes his mind, but it’s unlikely.

5. Can I log overtime even if I had a lot of downtime in that pay period?

Can I still log overtime when I work extra hours even if, within the course of a work day, I generally have up to an hour or more of “downtime” where I am not actively engaged in a work-related task? Or, should I let it slide since there was downtime within work hours?

You should still log the overtime, and your employer is legally required to pay you for it. During that downtime, you’re still at work and presumably couldn’t leave the premises and go do your own thing (like go see a movie or run nude through a meadow), so that’s paid time. If you let it slide, you’ll not only be cheating yourself out of pay you’re legally entitled to, but you’d be exposing your employer to legal liability down the road.

{ 476 comments… read them below }

  1. Penny*

    LW1, I’m exhausted just reading your letter! There is no way anything you do with Perdita will help after more than a year of training without results. Step away and let her manager deal with it. You deserve a rest.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. It sounds like Perdita really isn’t suited to this sort of work. Perdita’s manager will be able to do something about the problem with Perdita, but only when she becomes their problem to deal with.

      As it is, Perdita’s the missing stair everyone’s working around.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I agree. Some jobs require people to be “comfortable” with working independently and it sounds like this is one of them. It sounds like Perdita would be happier in a job that has a lot of oversight and clear tasks.

        I worked with a bit of a Perdita once. It was in retail, where the need for autonomy was a lot less but even then, she once asked me should she start a task five minutes earlier than the manager had said because she was free then. And this wasn’t a time-sensitive task. It was like “start tidying up about 10 minutes before closing.” “It’s 15 minutes before now but I have nothing to do, so should I start?”

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Yes. Perdita is simply not suited to this job. I trained someone like that once–not needing this level of hand holding, but they were a former programmer, and approached everything about the training in “programming mind,” trying to come up with workarounds and such. Everybody develops their own shortcuts in the course of the job, but the initial training is so that the new person understands everything about handling a phone call while constructing the ticket in a specific way.

        After a week, they were still on basically Level 2 of understanding stuff, and I went to my manager and said, this isn’t working. They may need another kind of training but I can’t provide it. And after another couple days with different trainers they were gone.

        Not everyone is mentally set up to do every job. It happens. But if we’d tried over and over with this person (because hiring’s a hassle or [fill in reason]) it would have cost us a lot more in time and money and we’d probably have had to let them go anyway.

    2. LW #1*

      Part of the reason this has gone on so long is that we’re in a role where our official managers aren’t actually the people we work directly with on a day-to-day basis. The way we operate is essentially that various Butchers around the office request to have a Candlestick Maker (one of us) assigned to their project. The Head Butcher and the Head Baker are responsible for allocating projects, approving vacation time requests, and writing our performance reviews based on feedback they get from other Butchers and Bakers, but there’s no Head Candlestick Maker position (and no real flexibility to create one right now, because we’re a government agency). I’m planning to be honest in my contributions to Perdita’s performance review and I hate to say it, but I’m hoping other people will too. I wince thinking about how brutal this will be for Perdita, but I do think a Greek chorus of complaints will be what it takes to truly make it management’s problem under this structure.

      1. Fikly*

        How your company is structured isn’t your responsibility, and neither is Perdita’s job performance, in the end.

        Perdita’s performance needs to be a problem that management cannot ignore, not just in the form of complaints from other employees, but in whatever happens as a result when you and everyone else does not perform an immense amount of emotional labor to get her through her work tasks, which is not any of your actual jobs.

      2. Lilo*

        Who I’d her rating official? If she’s on a PIP, who monitors it?

        Training is exhausting, particularly when you’re trying to make a harder situation work. Your higher upside really need to make that role clear and not just “whoever doesn’t get tired of doing it.:

        Perdita’s a problem that’s likely to get resolved in the short term (hopefully). But if the structural issues persist, you’re going to end up in this situation again.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Training IS exhausting. It’s stressful and requires tons of concentration and focus–it should be designated as the ONLY thing the trainer is doing while it lasts. It is ridiculous that the LW is being handed the Perdita Problem when training is not even part of her duties.

      3. Oatmeal Mom*

        I have worked with a Perdita and I eventually told my boss and said I would try to direct her to be more independent and that’s all I can do. So if she came to me with a question, I’d simply say, “I think we have some documentation on that on our company hard drive, you should look at that” or if she hemmed and hawed I told her “I think you can make an educated choice on this on your own!” or simply, “I don’t know and I’m too busy to dig in deeper on this, I’m confident you can sort it out yourself!”.

        In the end I left for maternity leave, Perdita hated my replacement, got a different job within the company, one she was even less suited for and quit after 5 months.

      4. Allonge*

        Honest is the way to go here, whether the results are brutal or not.

        Even if you were her manager, there would be a limited number of things you could do for her in this situation, but it would be your job to try for a certain extent and manage her out when that is exceeded.

        As things are, it’s not your job, and you cannot sacrifice yourself to keep her above water. It sounds like she is not capable of doing this job right now. Proceed in a manner that allows you to keep yours with your sanity intact.

      5. münchner kindl*

        Some part of the responsibility (not the blame) also lies with Perdita. Aside from management not acting despite getting feedback from you and others, Perdita herself should have noticed that this job is stressful and outside both her comfort zone and her competency (as in, she isn’t able to make so many decisions on her own).

        We could spend a lot of time speculating how Perdita became that way, but that’s not useful, because in the end, Perdita needs another job that fits her better. Whether it’s anxiety /PTSD or lack of training in decision-making, or just the general “I must have a job, any job, all jobs are the same” – she needs to start looking for another place. Maybe there is a more structured role in your place, maybe it’s elsewhere.

        1. kiki*

          I agree with you, but there are a lot of factors that could keep somebody in a job they know is not right for them/ that they’re not a good fit for. For all we know, Perdita has been looking for other jobs but not finding anything. Depending on what industry Perdita is in, the job market may not be very friendly at the moment, it could be a golden handcuffs situation (Perdita knows this type of work isn’t right for her, but it’s her most lucrative option), or Perdita has a stressful home situation that means she doesn’t have a lot of time to apply to other work.

          So while it would be ideal if Perdita self-selected out, that’s not always reasonable to expect of an employee.

          1. Broadway Duchess*

            Agreed, but I don’t think the advice changes even with any of those factors. LW doesn’t really need to consider why Perdita hasn’t noted her own challenges with the role. The output isn’t where it needs to be and is negatively impacting LW (among others, it seems), so the focus should be there.

            1. kiki*

              For sure, I don’t think what I mentioned changes the advice to LW and I don’t think LW needs to take on any consideration of why Perdita is sticking around even if the role isn’t right for her. I was responding to münchner kindl’s comment specifically because while I think in an ideal world Perdita would self-select out, the reasons I laid out are why it’s important for managers to actually do their job and actually manage employees. Putting responsibility on employees to opt out of jobs that aren’t working is not going to go well in our current system.

          2. Smithy*

            If this is a US Federal government job, then it could have been a really long process to get the job, and not only could that make leaving feel more exhausting – it may make figuring out how to pivot into something new hard as well.

            I work in an industry with a lot of ambiguity, and lot of figurative “solving for X” when there will always be an unknown number of unknowns. Some people really like those jobs, and some people absolutely hate them. Whatever reason why someone dislikes that kind of ambiguity, doesn’t matter – however – I have found it not uncommon that someone ill-suited to that kind of work, often finds that kind of work to give them anxiety or stress.

            Basically, a situation where there can be a number of possible choices to any given task assigned. Some will be considered “best practice” but within that best practice the people training us, likely have their own preferences. So they may appear to be waffling in their training, because they’re not even saying that their preferred best practice is the right way, just how they usually choose to do it. For people who want more concrete assignments, this can start to sound like chaotic soup really fast.

            1. MassMatt*

              If it’s a government job, I fear LW Zane coworkers may be stuck with Perdita for years. I don’t know why their hiring process can be so long (it certainly is to make sure they hire the best candidates, or Perdita wouldn’t have it) or why it’s so difficult to get rid of someone unproductive and terrible at the job.

              Sadly, there are many people in many organizations (not just government) like Perdita—people work around them, they wind up with very little to do, and they continue being unproductive (if not an outright drain on resources) for decades until they retire.

              LW’s comment talking about how there’s no real accountability or management there is sad but telling. This is exactly the result I would expect.

              1. government employee*

                hopefully, they weaned out during probation, however, I know from experience that doesn’t always happen.

            2. Hannah Lee*

              “Whatever reason why someone dislikes that kind of ambiguity, doesn’t matter – however – I have found it not uncommon that someone ill-suited to that kind of work, often finds that kind of work to give them anxiety or stress. ”


              I’ve also found it not uncommon for someone who dislikes or isn’t suited to work with that kind of ambiguity to see the very existence of the ambiguity as A PROBLEM, something that should be corrected, as opposed to simply the nature of that work, environment.

              They can get frustrated or worse at anyone around them who frequently answers their questions with variations of “it depends” followed by ifs, thens, and buts, because they fundamentally think the process and the people in it are doing it wrong. And that can create a stressful, sometimes dysfunctional work environment.

              1. Smithy*

                100% Absolutely this.

                And in well-functioning places, there’s a way that those in the very ambiguous fields to learn how to bridge ambiguity with the more concrete fields. I used to have a lot of issues with my finance team, until I realized they were reading the contracts signed between us and our partners and relying directly on the contractual guidelines around how they should do budgets. Which makes sense! But for our partners, those contracts aren’t actually a good guide for what is actually desired for financial reporting. And so it was worth working with our finance team for them to write a document that explained in their more concrete terms what was needed, but particularly make sure they weren’t relying on a document – that normally should work – but here didn’t.

                However, someone who has my job and sees that situation and wants to fix the ambiguity of the original contract would be fighting wars that would take a ton of time and they still might not win. And would likely have everyone else on the team question why they weren’t prioritizing just finding a workaround. That tension of people deprioritizing what you think should really be prioritized is a disaster for building better bonds with your coworkers.

            3. LW #1*

              I’ve also worked at companies in the past where I felt this way about my management. My boss at one former company once told me he didn’t think I was spending enough hours per week on X. So I asked him what my weekly goal should be, and he replied, “That depends.” I then asked what kinds of factors it might depend on and he replied, “Well, that depends.”

              I ended up leaving a lot about my current org’s entrenched management issues and my own shortcomings as a trainer out of my letter, because I think that even if I could wave a wand and solve those things tomorrow, this would still be a “more art than science” type of job. But I suppose wrote in because some part of me wonders if I’ve become the “What it depends on depends” guy myself. It’s been great to hear from this commentariat!

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                Honestly, that “moving the goal posts in a fog bank” style of managing is SO annoying! At best it’s a cover for disinterest or incompetence, worse is when it’s the policy used to make sure nobody qualifies for raises, promotions and bonuses.

                That extreme is one thing, but it sounds like Perdita needs the other magnetic pole, job wise.

      6. Khatul Madame*

        If you are in the Federal government and if Perdita is past her probation period, ya’ll may be stuck with her. PIPs are a lot of work, but doubly so in government, and there are many managers who avoid the aggravation.

      7. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Waiting until the performance review is not a kindness. Perdita should not be blindsided at performance review time. I know its tough to figure out who to raise issues with, but you need to. At the least, stop answering her questions and direct her to the project manager. Then it becomes that person’s problem who can figure out who to pass along the concerns too.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This – at minimum, OP1 needs to speak to her manager so she gets this feedback prior to an official performance evaluation. This is a pet peeve of mine – the performance evaluation should summarize performance, not be the first time someone is receiving feedback. The point of feedback is to improve performance. It’s not a grade, like in school.

          I work in a place that is project-driven, so the management structure is a less direct on a day-to-day basis, but the managers are still supposed to be aware of what’s going on and check in regularly with both their employee and anyone who’s mentoring them. If the managers here are just leaving Perdita and hoping everything is okay, then OP1 is going to need to raise it through their manager and expect to be asked to provide details/examples to Perdita’s.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            OP said above that their department currently doesn’t have real managers, which complicates this a bit. BUT, OP should stop doing anything for Perdita. The pain point needs to be pushed up to the other dept managers, who have the standing to Do Something (hopefully). Perdita should be sent to them (or whoever is in charge of the project she’s been assigned) when she asks questions, so that it’s not just OP and their managerless department dealing with this issue.

            1. Zweisatz*

              Agreed. What LW can control at this point is how much impact the behavior has on them – by redirecting Perdita to whoever is responsible or any materials she should check (or also “sorry, I’m busy, can’t help right now”).

              It’s not on LW to make sure that this issue is raised with Perdita before performance reviews, that’s management territory and LW doesn’t need to compensate for an impractical organizational structure.

        2. learnedthehardway*

          Agreeing very hard! Perdita is struggling and she should be coached / performance managed now, not just at performance review time.

          If nobody else (ie. Perdita’s managers) will deal with this, could you have a conversation with her about the fact that the job seems to be stressing her out in general, and just let her know that a mistake on a form is not the end of the world? One of my friends had to do that with a new member of her team – just pointing out that there was nothing the new person could do that couldn’t be fixed made a big difference to the new person’s stress level. (Of course, you would have to balance that out against the risk that Perdita might start looking at you as her personal work therapist.)

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            This is a VERY good issue to raise! Assuring a new person that there’s no button they can push that releases the hounds or similar disaster can do a lot in jacking down stress levels so they can concentrate and actually absorb training.

      8. kiki*

        I’ve worked in a similar sort of management structure and really didn’t like it. If everything is going well and everyone is working well together, it’s fine, but not having a manager actually seeing the work of their direct reports allows for really bad patterns to develop without anyone with authority to step in and correct the issues.

        Since Perdita is still “new” and you’re still sort of training her, I think you have an easy opening to talk to her manager really candidly about her struggles and ask how to move forward on the issues. You don’t need to wait for an official review period!

        After a while working in this structure, I learned that managers were assuming that team members would alert them to any major issues. They didn’t realize that most people don’t want to “snitch” on a coworker or feel bad bringing up complaints, especially if it’s clear the employee is trying hard but just falling short.

        1. Smithy*

          I would add to this, that particularly if this is US Federal government work – but honestly, government job where it’s difficult to get hired – a kindness to the training may be to highlight other ways to get new assignments without applying for a new job. Essentially, if there are short-term placements, ways to get on loan to another department, etc.

          I know that these are typically in mind for people doing well and may seem counter-intuitive – but if it seems like she’s not horrifically unprofessional but just really doesn’t like assignments without clear guidelines – if there’s a Department yonder with extra money to staff up a 3-month data entry assignment. Or anything else where the tasks are more concrete, basically something that might make another department actually find value in the work she might prefer doing. May make her getting a full time new gig much faster, and then the chance to hire another person in her place better suited to the work.


      9. fhqwhgads*

        It shouldn’t be brutal for her though. She’s had a year of feedback at this point, so if it somehow manages to be a shock to her, that’s a(nother) her problem.

      10. Observer*

        The Head Butcher and the Head Baker are responsible for allocating projects, approving vacation time requests, and writing our performance reviews based on feedback they get from other Butchers and Bakers

        I think you need to let them know what is going on – and that *you* are no longer going to be her resource, nor are you going to continue to gide her or “show her the ropes”. And,, also, you are not going to be taking on her work or fixing her projects. You could ask them if they have a resource they want you to point her to when she comes to you with questions. Also, tell your official manager, and the most senior person you actually work with the same thing.

        Then let PErdita know and hold the line. No one is doing her any favors right now. You are correct – it’s going to be brutal for her. But you really don’t have too many other options. And doing it this way might give her a heads up that things are not working. Hopefully there will be complaints before the next review, as well.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Yep: right now Perdita has been cut so much slack she could open a tailoring shop. It’s not doing any good and claiming a lot of time and resources from her coworkers.

    3. JSPA*

      Adding, LW1, if you’ve trained people before, even in a different context, it may help to set benchmarks based on that experience (rather than your own perceived learning speed, which is more subject to perceptual warping). And I’d be very granular / detailed, about her demands for uniformity and granularity, and the level of emotional work required.

      Tracking time spent, in a week, at present, is also powerful.


      “Last week, I spent 6 hours, 15 minutes on Perdita’s tasks, including:

      1. Reassuring her that she can indeed order multiple items on one form, if the form has multiple lines, for items–and that this is true whether she’s requesting records, or ordering pencils and pens.

      2. Reconfirming (yet again) that she indeed should not fill out any field that says, “for use by Spanish Inquisition Desk Only,” nor indeed any other section that says “for use by X, only.”

      3. Talking her down when she came to me with accusations that I was hiding secret instructions and teaching her wrong procedures, after she noticed that some people copy and paste by using their mouse to highlight sections of documents, then selecting “copy” and “paste” from a menu, when I had instead showed her how to select the beginning and end of a section, and use the keystroke commands for “copy” and “paste.”

      4. Same, but regarding an excel spreadsheet, where I had shown her how to “fill down” to populate records with duplicate information, only to have her notice that other people were using copy & paste to do the same task.

      5. Same, but about contact procedures, because she was distraught upon learning that the sales team tend to first call people, then follow up with email; the fundraising team do the reverse; and she (being neither in sales nor in fundraising) has been instructed to use email and paper.

      6. waiting to get into my office for a full 20 minutes because she stood in my door to have a highly emotional diatriabe about how the whole office is unprofessional, because there is no universal procedure across departments for handling tasks like #3 and #4 and #5

      7. Fielding complaints from others in the office about her grilling them about procedure, and fuming at them for varying, in even the slightest detail, from the procedures she’d been shown.

      While Perdita’s distress is very real, and her self-reported sense of not having been adequately trained is off the scale, none of these problems can reasonably be seen as training issues. I am not trained, licensed nor equipped to take on the role of emotional support person and crisis manager. I will therefore be declining to “train” Perdita further, and will instead, starting Monday, be sending her to you, her manager, so that you can decide what further steps can and should be taken.”

      1. LW #1*

        Thank you for a good laugh! Much as I hate to say it, it’s actually eerie how few words I would have to change if I were to just cut and paste this

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        8) “Complained loudly that Mary at the next desk is only in office twice a week, and therefore not available to be her lunch companion or go to out after work. Said she has noticed this tendency in many of the employees and it is hindering her ability to build her social life.”

    4. Ellis Bell*

      It sounds like Perdita is also exhausted and miserable; She is a script-person working in an improv job. OP can’t possibly be held responsible for teaching her critical thinking skills when she just wants a (very limited) flow chart. The sooner this all comes to it’s inevitable end of “this role really is just not right for you, Perdita – we wish you luck elsewhere”, the better. OP can’t do that, so shove this firmly back on to Perdita’s manager’s plate.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Except she isn’t even really script-driven, as she is unable or unwilling to follow the clearly written instructions on a simple form. It’s more like she wants to learn one part in one play, and do that over and over again.

        1. BetsyTacy*

          Yes. As a manager, I have observed that often lower level jobs have people excel because they follow EXACTLY the process. However, in my job type, as you get promoted, there is a greater expectation of problem solving and the work is less ‘follow steps 1-8’. Some staffers really excel, but there’s a subset who doesn’t like to work with any gray area. That sometimes means the promotion wasn’t right for them.

          I’ve managed Perditas before and, as the training staffer, I’d ask you to be VERY direct with your manager. I’m also in government and even here, accurate reviews are critical.

          1. I Have RBF*

            Seriously. I have tried to train script followers before, and if they can’t learn to make educated decisions, there is no amount of scripts I can write for them.

            I write procedures for all kinds of things, but some of them include things like “Determine if X or Y is needed. If X, then A, B, and C. If Y, then F, G, and H.” If the person can’t make that determination, they will fail.

            There are jobs that require a lot of judgement, and ones that don’t. Some people can’t even handle jobs with a minimum of judgement – like copy-paste with Ctrl-C Ctrl-V vs drag and drop. If they can’t cope with there being more than one way to do simple stuff, they won’t be able to do the actual job that requires troubleshooting and judgement.

            Perdita seems like she needs a rote data entry job, because deciding how to fill out forms is beyond her skill set.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        The things the LW described aren’t even really improv-job, though! Filling out a basic form isn’t exactly flying by the seat of your pants–it already is script-job level, and she can’t even do that.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          I can see why the form situation might have felt like improv. I don’t think it would have been an unreasonable thing to clarify if you don’t have context yet (“Hey Bob, Can I actually put multiple dates on the one form, or will it mess up something down the line?”), although her emotional reaction and LW’s 20 minute line-by-line guidance sounds over the top.

          1. CRM*

            Yes, this is 100% correct. Especially if Perdita previously worked for an employer that wanted things done a very specific way (and employees were disciplined when they weren’t), I can understand wanting clarity. In the instance of that form, it’s not unthinkable that the process wouldn’t work as expected, and the answer would be “Yes, the form allows us to request multiple records, but we never use it that way because of our auditing process. If you don’t use one form per record, then you will violate our agency’s compliance standards and face potential disciplinary action”. I know it sounds like that is the sort of thing they would make people aware of, but some might assume that you would already know that, or would say it once off-handedly and then expect you to remember it forever. While it sounds like Perdita is probably overly anxious and emotional (again, likely due to a previous bad experience), it’s not crazy that she would seek clarification on a task like that.

            1. LW #1*

              I agree with this much too, actually. The majority of the questions I get from her aren’t questions I consider unreasonable in themselves. It’s the fact that she’s on the verge of a meltdown every time she asks that’s getting my shoulders up around my ears.

            2. IneffableBastard*

              I agree with you. The same way hypercritical, micromanaging parents/caregivers can break one’s sense of initiative, experience with this kind of policy/employer can foster lots of anxiety and need for clarification and reassurance.

    5. AnonInCanada*

      Seconded. Hand-holding Perdita isn’t in your job description, OP1. Let her manager do their job to manager her. You have your own work to do.

      1. AnonInCanada*

        manage her. Must be a bad case of the Mondays without the requisite caffeine boost kicking in yet. %-\

    6. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Last fall I inherited a Perdita when I took over a new team, and she needed more attention than the rest of my team combined. I’m not sure she would have been hired if she hadn’t been an employee referral; while her heart may have been in the right place, she really wasn’t a good fit for what my team and/or our department does.

      After months of re-training, coaching, explicit written instructions and roadmaps, shadowing team members, very plain discussions about my expectations of her performance and work product, and a PIP my boss extended an extra 60 days so no one could claim we didn’t do everything possible, I had to let her go. She told me she was disappointed but also relieved – she knew she wasn’t a good fit for our needs, and wasn’t producing results.

      Funny thing, my team could deal with the lack of output. Sometimes things just don’t happen the way we want them to. But the endless questions, emotional displays, repetitive training, inability and/or lack of interest in taking initiative, etc., took a toll.

  2. nnn*

    #1: I absolutely agree with Alison’s assessment that it’s time to let management handle Perdita. But if, for whatever reason, it doesn’t end up being possible to immediately and fully remove yourself from working with her, it might be productive to talk to her about the consequences of whatever it is she’s fearing getting wrong.

    For example, this form that she’s “so scared” of filling out wrong: what would happen if she actually did fill it out wrong? Probably something less scary that what she’s dreading!

    So tell her what would actually happen. “The computer will give you an error message telling you how to fix it” or “Human beings read and interpret the form, so they’ll be able to figure it out even if you don’t fill it out perfectly” or “They’ll send it back asking you to make corrections, but it’s NBD, that’s perfectly routine”

    That might help disrupt the pattern and get you through the day en route to transitioning away from training her regularly.

    1. bieve*

      huh, thats really helpful. sounds like the kind of thing that would be helpful in general during training people, even if they’re not unusually anxious

      1. AnonyMoose*

        It’s funny that even in the midst of catastrophizing, I can sometimes jog myself out of it by considering the actual worst possible outcome. If I get a zero this test, I might get an F in the class and have to retake it. Which is a pain, but doesn’t actually end the world.

    2. KateM*

      Yes, I can definitely relate to the “ooh this is an official form and I am here the representative of Our Agency and if I fill it up wrongly then the Other Agency will be pissed at Our Agency and all kind of Consequences will happen”.

    3. Kay*

      I love your suggestions! I’ve worked with Perditas (and was probably a bit of one myself), and a lot of the time, they had come from a company with extreme micromanagers who went overboard with harshly reprimanding people for simple mistakes. When you’ve worked in that environment for years, it’s hard to trust yourself again!

    4. LW #1*

      I told her almost exactly that about the form, actually! I’m can be anxiety-prone myself, and I’ve had her walk me through the worst thing that could actually, realistically happen pretty regularly. (And I emphasize to everyone I train that virtually any mistake we can make is fixable.) For the first several months, this calmed her down in the moment, but it hasn’t stopped the pattern of her getting flustered by every decision point. More recently, she’s been getting a little confrontational and saying it isn’t fair that we can’t give her clear explanations of things and that she shouldn’t be in the position of “making that call. ”

      She seems to be the kind of person who just has a strong emotional reaction to everything, negative or positive (if you mention that you’re going to a movie after work, for example, she’ll jump up and down and clap her hands), and the frustration seeping into her interactions with people has me worried that things will come to a head in a really dramatic way before she ever realizes that this job just isn’t a great fit and that’s okay. C’est la vie, I suppose!

      1. Green great dragon*

        Not your job, of course, but has anyone tried telling her that making that call is part of the job?

        1. LW #1*

          Sure have! People who have this job in the private sector do commonly have a lot more oversight, so I really make it a point to tell new folks that a lot will be left up to their individual discretion and that they’ll be best-served by thinking of themselves as consultants. But I don’t feel like I have standing to take it a step further and say, “This is the job, and it is also just one job out of many millions of jobs; are you up for this job?”

          1. Green great dragon*

            Ah. Thank you for clarifying. If making that call is part of what she’s paid for, then ‘but it isn’t fair’ is definitely not a helpful response.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            “People who have this job in the private sector do commonly have a lot more oversight….”

            That is very interesting. I was wondering if it was the work in general or the role, and it sounds like it’s something about the way this role is structured that doesn’t suit her. I might start finding ways to underscore that point when she pushes back. “Funny you should say that, because at Llama Corp, you’d be right. You probably wouldn’t have to make that decision. But like I said during training, here in the public sector….”

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              Don’t give her the if then and you would be right. because she will seize on the you are right part instead of focusing on doing the job as it is structured where she is.

              OP has done what she authority to do. It is not within the scope of her authority to explain why things are the way they are there or explain her job could be in jeopardy. All OP can do at this point is push the issue to the project managers.

              1. Office Lobster DJ*

                While I agree that LW should not be the one to tell Perdita her job might be in jeopardy (is it?), discussing the larger state of the field is perfectly appropriate and provides context that may help Perdita.

      2. JSPA*

        Have you challenged her, very directly, on the statement that “she shouldn’t be in the position of ‘making that call'”?

        “Let me cut in, please. I don’t know why you have the idea that you shouldn’t be in the position of making that call. Everyone in your position is expected to make that sort of tiny judgement call, on a regular basis, by the second or third week of employment.”

        It’s possible that the person who handled the hiring did somehow promise her that she would not be making substantive decisions, or even “any” decisions; if so, this is something that needs to be taken back to the people in charge of hiring.

        But in the meantime, you can explain that what she’s perceiving as decisions are not, in a business sense, considered substantive decisions at all. They’re at the level of deciding when to go to the bathroom, or which pair of identical white socks to pull on in the morning, or where to place one’s feet while walking.

        (Is it possible that those things also on some level give her problems? Sure, maybe. But, “these so-called decisions are like the other tiny decisions in life that you already know are your things to deal with, not someone’s business to teach you” is necessary framing. And how she can do that, or if she can do that…that’s a health issue, meaning it’s on her to figure out, not something that you should be addressing.)

        Another good line might be, “There’s no such thing as one single, right way. There are several dozen slightly different right ways. Even computers find different ways to do a task. It’s not your job to learn every one of those variations, and it’s not my job to teach you every one of those variations.”

        Another would be, “We are paid to be thinking human beings. If every part of our job was a triggered mechanical response requiring zero independent thought, the company could get rid of our jobs, and use a computer instead. Think of every one of these decision points as a little bit of job security, and see if that makes you feel better about it.”

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I think saying “making these decisions is part of this job” will be important – and honestly, I’d add “if you aren’t comfortable doing that you probably won’t be happy in this role.” I’m amazed sometimes at how people may fail to connect things they hate doing with the reason they are miserable at work! Sometimes it takes an outside voice saying it before someone realizes they need to reevaluate.

          1. bamcheeks*

            If LW1 is up for this, I agree it needs saying. But it’s a difficult message to deliver, and it’s absolutely fair enough for LW1 to decide that it’s not her job to give this kind of feedback.

            1. Ray Gillette*

              I might phrase it as, “This isn’t going to go away, so if you don’t see yourself getting comfortable with it you should talk about it with your direct manager.”

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                I think this version is the way to go; the LW doesn’t want to give the impression she has power she doesn’t have, but also needs this off her plate.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        (if you mention that you’re going to a movie after work, for example, she’ll jump up and down and clap her hands)

        I can see why people are avoiding her. Even her positive responses are exhausting.

      4. thelettermegan*

        I like to say that I try to bring as little emotion to work as possible. The walls are gray for a reason.

      5. buddleia*

        Here’s my “have you tried…?” suggestion.

        For the form situation, would it have been possible to show her an example of an already completed form, tell her to complete it to the best of her abilities, and then you could go over it with her?

        It sounds like the work is that you have to try to find your own style, everyone does it a little differently. Is it possible to show her examples of previous work from others for similar situations, to show their particular thought process, and that if you (LW1) had done things slightly differently, X would have been the outcome, but that would have been ok too? Also, you’ve probably already done this: telling her that there are no set in stone protocols, everyone’s kind of making it up as they go (I work in government as well, in Canada), the best that she can do is follow other work examples.

      6. She of Many Hats*

        LW1 –
        Have you actually asked her if she feels this is the right job for how she wants to work? Point out that you’ve repeatedly told her expectations for the role and the task and she still is not comfortable doing them without someone telling her the exact next step, word to write, etc. and the team needs her to able to do the work with a reasonable independence. Remind her that she is not required to stay in a job that doesn’t fit her preferred way of working or type of role that doesn’t meet her needs.

      7. noncommittal pseudonym*

        How do people like this even get through life? I mean, she has to be able to make *some* decisions, right? Or does deciding what to have for breakfast reduce her to tears? Or does she rely one someone telling her what to do every moment of every day?

        1. Zweisatz*

          Well.. I have a colleague who is terrible at making decisions (though he has gotten better over a LOT of years of coaching) and he is a Jehova’s Wittness. Meaning his up-bringing and private life is driven heavily by rules.

          Meaning there are indeed circumstances that may shape such behavior – over-protective parents, growing up in a cult, or as somebody mentioned above an earlier job with a micro-managing boss.

          However none of that particularly helps LW. I think their best bet is to consider how to insulate themselves from the constant drip of questions.

          1. Observer*

            I have a colleague who is terrible at making decisions (though he has gotten better over a LOT of years of coaching) and he is a Jehova’s Wittness. Meaning his up-bringing and private life is driven heavily by rules.

            Not THAT heavily. You still need to shop, and decide what to eat and when, what to wear, whether to take a job, etc. They decide when, where and what kind of medical treatment they get. The bottom line is that these folks make plenty of decisions within the rules.

            1. Zweisatz*

              I’m sure he is capable of all that, as is OP’s coworker.

              But we are talking about independent decision-making in a job context meaning having to take a small bit of responsibility and making decisions without getting immediate feedback what’s right and wrong. After all, in a sufficiently controlling environment you are not supposed to make a lot of decisions yourself (come to think of it, JWs also control your style of clothing, education and most of your free time).

              And yeah, they both seem to have BIG trouble with that.

        2. Emikyu*

          I once dated someone like this. He relied on me to make every decision about everything, no matter how inconsequential. Once evening I just didn’t feel like doing it anymore and insisted that he choose where we went dinner. He eventually did, but it took him over and hour and a half and he agonized over it the entire time.

          After meeting his mother, I started to understand why he was like this – she was greatly offended by the idea that I had independent thoughts and was not a blank slate for her, specifically, to turn into her masterpiece.

          Anyway, since he and are no longer together, I can’t tell you how people like this function because I genuinely have no idea. They definitely exist, though, and it’s honestly really sad.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I think I dated that guy! He was a sweetheart, but clearly making decisions TERRIFIED him–he seemed to be waiting for some Invisible Permanent Record Committee to descend upon him and declare him wrong and bad forever if he suddenly “messed up” on deciding where to have dinner.

          2. Susan*

            I grew up in an extremely controlling and toxic home. When I was 18, we went on a school trip and stayed in some kind of vacation apartment. Whenever I wanted to eat some food my schoolmates and me had purchased together, I first asked my schoolmates for permission: “May I open that bottle of orange juice?”.

            One schoolmate harshly criticized me for being “super immature”.

            The thing is… my mother would have gone absolutely mad if I had consumed any food in our household without her explicit permission, even at the age of 18.

            I think it’s a bit unfair to blame very young people for what they’ve been taught by their parents (what else is education for?). But of course, at some point in adult life, you have to learn to leave such messages behind. Even if that can be very, very hard work and doesn’t always fully succeed.

      8. fhqwhgads*

        Have you considered telling her if she doesn’t want to be in the position of “making the call”, she doesn’t want to be in her current position?
        Not in a harsh or snarky way, but like…see what happens if that really sinks in. Cuz she’s literally telling you she doesn’t want the job you’re training her for, but I’m not sure if she’s realized she’s saying that.

    5. sweetonsno*

      This is great advice. I work in a field for which precision is very important (not in a life or death way, but in a lots of money way), so I definitely took a while to get comfortable with some processes. Learning about how to validate my work and finding out what could happen in the case of certain mistakes (including what needed to happen to fix them) was really helpful.

      One other thing that might help/make her feel more in control is inviting her to update (or create) some documentation. That can get tricky for some of these tasks, but if she really likes having a process mapped out step by step, it could make her feel more confident.

  3. They Don’t Make Sunday*

    I’m angry on your behalf, LW2. What an uncomfortable position to be put in. Not to mention, what if you want a goddamn chair massage too? Oops, sorry, you need to wfh to make it possible for everyone else to get one.

    1. bieve*

      i feel like this is a fairly simple situation that people needlessly complicate! If there is a nursing mother (or more), they have the room. No other activities in their room. If you want to do something else in that space, move it, or schedule it for when theres no nursing mothers in the office (and not just because you told the nursing mother to stay home that day!!)

      1. LW 2*

        It did not occur to me until a few days after I wrote this in to suggest blinds or covering a door for massages. Hilariously enough this “wellness initiative” I guess comes with a “massagist,” so I’m not even sure if it’s a chair or a full on masseuse.

        1. lost academic*

          I don’t understand why chair massages need a closed door office! All the ones I’ve seen have been wildly public. That’s the easiest answer – move them.

          1. Parakeet*

            I once got a chair massage outside, along the sidewalk of a major road, while doing support for a strike! One of the other people doing strike support was a licensed massage therapist and brought the setup with him. It was amazing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it resulted in a few striking workers and community strike supporters being able to stay at the picket line for longer that day, though his purpose was just to boost morale and provide a service for the picket line.

            The only other time I’ve had a chair massage was at a workplace more than a decade ago, and the chair massages were in the break room. So yeah, not sure why there’s a need for a closed door office. You don’t have to disrobe for them or anything.

          2. Purpleshark*

            I too was wondering about why the massage needed a closed door no window office. My first thought was, what kind of messages are these now? My local mall used to have a massage station right in the middle with chairs that people would straddle and lean forward onto a support. If the goal is to not have clients see this then get some temporary paper shades.

          3. tangerineRose*

            I don’t think a windowless closed door office is a good idea for a massage at work – nothing should be happening that would require this, right?

        2. Gumby*

          I was going to suggest a covering for one of the glass doors. When we first moved into our current office we did not yet have blinds for the windows into the hallway (floor to ceiling next to doors w/o a window) and the one nursing mother that we had was first in line for getting blinds installed but also blocked the window with a tall bookcase and taped paper over the top part in the meantime. Obviously swapping out a door would be the best solution but barring that throwing up a thick sheet or curtain over the door on massage days should do the trick.

        3. goddessoftransitory*

          That was my first thought! Why can’t they just cover one of the other doors and put up signage directing people which door is for the massages?

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        But the problem is LW doesn’t always *know* when she’s going to be in the office — she may have to go in with just a few hours notice.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I think they’re saying that the room can only be used by others at times when nobody working there is a nursing mother. So, it’s off limits for other usage until OP weans the baby.

          1. Pajamas on Bananas*

            Expressing milk at work is only protected for one year after birth in the US, not until the baby is weaned.

            1. Lareesa*

              Worth OP looking into their state laws. Here in Minnesota, we have stronger protections for nursing mothers than the federal law (ours doesn’t have an end date).

        2. Random Dice*

          And since it’s THE LAW THAT THEY HAVE TO PROVIDE LACTATION SPACE, it’s 100% on HR if they tried to break the law and use lactation space for other reasons. HR screwed up, wildly, and needs to fix it. [angry caps are directed at HR, not you]

          You likely don’t want to escalate this legally, but you could, using this form:

      3. learnedthehardway*

        The problem is that if other activities are moved to accommodate the OP, then people are going to (because it’s human nature) blame the OP for the inconvenience. HR really should have anticipated this issue.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          Not only that, but it pretty much makes someone’s breast pumping time *everyone’s* business.

          It doesn’t help that there is so much (willful) ignorance regarding women’s bodies that I was asked on more than one occasion why I can’t just hold my menstrual blood in and “take care of that at a more convenient time.” It’s worse for people breastfeeding.

          We had a pumping room that men were told they could use as a privacy room if no woman needed it. Well, one woman needed it and was told by the guy in there that he was on a phone call and he’d be out as soon as he was done so she could “wait her turn.” When she tried to explain that she could not wait, he told her that she needed to be more patient and, yes, she could just hold in in for a bit longer. Another guy didn’t understand why the woman needed “so long” to pump, thinking the milk just poured out of her like a jug.

          1. Random Dice*

            My friend – the only woman on a team of men – was required to go to her male manager, in front of all the other men, and ask for a key, every single time, she had to pump breast milk.

            It was just a closet, there was nothing in there, but they made her parade her female biological business in front of men, while also making her act like a child having to ask for a hall pass.

            They had no idea why they couldn’t keep females on that contract. (Though… I suspect that was the point.)

            1. Observer*

              They had no idea why they couldn’t keep females on that contract

              I think that “had no idea” belongs in scare quotes. They knew.

      4. Elke*

        Exactly. Is there some requirement that a lactation room be entirely dedicated to nursing, and that it cannot be used for anything else when no one is using it for nursing? It’s unreasonable for LW1 to say, “I’m showing up in the office on five minutes notice, therefore you can’t use the room for anything else!”

        1. Beth*

          As someone who’s never going to be a nursing mother, I do actually think that the whole point of lactation rooms is that they’re entirely dedicated to nursing. It’s an activity that can continue for months after a nursing parent returns to work, needs to happen frequently throughout the day, and can’t really be scheduled strictly (even if the nursing employee can make an estimate of what time they’ll need it, bodies are bodies and sometimes they surprise us). Having a consistently available space is essential for that. Otherwise, what’s the point of them existing?

          1. Bumblebee*

            Absolutely, and thanks for the support! Also, while the OP may be the one known pumping mother at this office, you just never know when there will be another. I’ve had to help accommodate interview candidates before, for example, or other all-day or long-term visitors, so it’s never a good idea to get into the habit of saying, “Well, the person who needs it isn’t here, so go ahead and . . . [do whatever.]” You wouldn’t do that with an accessible parking space just because you know the person who uses a wheelchair is at a conference today, right? Not the same but similar . . .

            1. JustaTech*

              I just got back from a client site visit where I was the first person to use their lactation room for its intended purpose, but it was at least already there when someone needed it. (Granted, it lacked a fridge or sink, but it was better than nothing.)

        2. That Snake Wrangler*

          Here is the law: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to provide ‘a reasonable break time for an employee to express milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk;’ and ‘a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk’ (29 U.S.C. § 207(r)(1)). The Department of Labor refers to this as the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision. So yes, it is absolutely reasonable for the letter writer, and any nursing mother, to say that the lactation room cannot be used for other purposes (especially purposes that take up many hours!) during that time.

          1. Elke*

            I see nothing in that statute that precludes the lactation room from being used for non-lactation purposes when not in use for lactation.

            Indeed, the Department of Labor has produced a FAQ on this issue, which states: “an employer may create or convert a temporary space for expressing milk, or make a space available WHEN NEEDED… If the space is not dedicated to the nursing employees’ use, it must be available when the employee needs it… Employers may ALSO choose to create permanent, dedicated spaces for employees to express breast milk.”

            So the DOL itself says that dual-use spaces are appropriate for lactation rooms, so long as lactation takes precedence.

            1. Observer*

              I see nothing in that statute that precludes the lactation room from being used for non-lactation purposes when not in use for lactation.

              But it DOES, absolutely preclude using the room for something that needs to be scheduled in advance. Because once you commit to the room to that other purpose it’s not available for the mother to use it when she needs. Because it’s just not practical to schedule pumping to a t, for most women.

              So the DOL itself says that dual-use spaces are appropriate for lactation rooms, so long as lactation takes precedence.

              Except that HR has just told the OP that the massages are going to take precedence once a week.

        3. Random Dice*

          Elke, your comment was depressing and offensive.

          No, it’s not unreasonable, it’s the law. The employer HAS to provide dedicated space.

          The reason why is because so many of us had to pump our vulnerable babies’ milk in bathrooms, with particles of shit floating in the air from all the flushing, while sitting on actual toilets.

          Pumping milk is awkward, vulnerable, uncomfortable, tedious, and requires a state of undress and ALSO a level of mental relaxation that’s hard to achieve when one only has so many minutes between meetings. It’s hard enough to do in a dedicated lactation room – which again, is THE LAW – and just awful and terrible to have to do in a closet or a toilet.

        4. Ginger Baker*

          There is, actually, a requirement that there be a dedicated space available upon demand to employees who need to pump. Thanks for asking :-) yes that is the answer.

        5. Disgruntled Pelican*

          Wow. It’s literally called a lactation room. It needs to be available when she needs it, full stop. She is not being unreasonable AT ALL.

        6. AnonyMoose*

          You’re agreeing with someone who said the opposite. There should not be *any* planned activities in the nursing room as long as it might need to be used for nursing (i.e. as long as there are lactating people). Even those activities should be considered carefully, because you don’t want to be in the position of denying a perk to everyone because you placed that perk in the room you’re legally required to offer to lactating people.

        7. MountainAir*

          In the United States, the room used for lactation has to be available for that purpose whenever it is needed. You can use the same room for multiple purposes but those other uses cannot take priority over pumping/expressing milk (the DOL has fact sheets available on this) – otherwise it defeats the point. A pumping mom can’t be in the position of showing up to express milk, her legally protected right, and be told that she needs to wait an hour because someone is doing something else (not pumping) with the room.

          Lactation rooms are a needed health accommodation, not a perk. The business needs to figure out how to make sure a private, appropriate space is available when employees need it, full stop.

        8. fhqwhgads*

          That should be the default position, which is one reason HR sucks here. They also suck because they’re basically saying “if you come in and want to use it for its intended purpose as we’re legally required to permit you to do, you’re the one who ruined the fun of the massages that will be cancelled”. which is extra shitty of them.

          They need to put frickin curtains on some other glass doors because then there’d be more on than usable room for either purpose.

        9. New Senior Mgr*

          I also wondered what the requirements were. Is it possible for them to provide LW with her own office until she discontinues breastfeeding?

        10. Observer*

          Is there some requirement that a lactation room be entirely dedicated to nursing, and that it cannot be used for anything else when no one is using it for nursing?

          Technically, no. Practically, almost certainly yes, in most cases.

          It’s unreasonable for LW1 to say, “I’m showing up in the office on five minutes notice, therefore you can’t use the room for anything else!”

          As long as the sudden appearances are at the behest of her employer, it most definitely is *not* unreasonable at all. The law requires that the room be available to her. Period. It is totally not unreasonable for her to expect that the company actually follow the law.

    2. TooTiredTooThink*

      For the chair massage – can’t they just cover the door?? It’s not like anyone is disrobing (I assume) and people often get chair massages in the middle of the mall. Though, I do agree with Alison – they could just put in a 2nd conference room door without glass in it. I’m sure there’s a number of times people would prefer that. Even thinking of situations with HR; etc…

      1. Sage*

        That was exactly my thought. They could just take another room and cover the glass with newspaper-paper. It’s a bit ugly but it does the trick.

        1. niknik*

          There’s even stick-on frosted glass film the costs like $5. The glass door thing would be such a non-issue if people were really trying to solve it…

          1. Angstrom*

            Exactly. The film is the elegant solution, but Big Piece Of Paper And Tape technology is well-proven and accessible to most businesses.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Some doors have to have glass panels for safety, so any permanent obscuring would fall foul of regulations. Paper temporarily tacked up would not.

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              most office doors do not have that requirement. It would be so easy to have two rooms without glass windows on the door. But instead, they want to shift the issue to the nursing mother.

              Presuming this company has the requisite number of people it IS a requirement that nursing mothers be afforded a private space with a door that locks. Using the room for chair massages that take that room way on a regular basis actually might fall afoul of that regulation.

            2. Be Gneiss*

              I don’t know if we’re talking about the little skinny window in the door, or full glass doors…but our conference rooms have rolling shades for the glass doors. That has to be enough privacy for the kind of chair massage you’d get in the office, right?

            3. Random Dice*

              Well clearly they don’t care about regulations, since they’re illegally using a working lactation room.

          3. I'm just here for the cats!!*

            I was going to suggest this! And if the door is too large, or if there are other windows they can then purchase blinds.

        2. Phryne*

          Yep, that is whet we did when we had a day of chair-massaging. It’s not like people are full naked in that chair anyway, so just tape some flip-over sheets over the middle part of the windows and doors and no one passing by can see anything but legs.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            My old job was in a space where the building management ran a lot of events for tenants and they had chair massages. In the lobby. No privacy is required for these! As others have said, they have these kiosks out in the mall! Just set up in a regular conference room!

            1. Phryne*

              It is not required, but in some circumstances it might be appreciated. In our case, I work at a college in a building full of students. Not all staff can relax into their massage knowing they are in full sight of their class. We love our students but we do not have quite the same relationship towards them as one would have to co-workers.

        3. Lilac*

          I was thinking this too. Even if they can’t or won’t put in a new door for whatever reason, surely they can find some large sheets of paper and tape them up? (Or a curtain, or window clings, or a screen?) I used to work in a space that we couldn’t permanently alter because it technically belonged to another organization—but we figured out plenty of easy and inexpensive ways to adapt the space as needed.

      2. rudster*

        Or install blinds. I’m reminded of that Modern Family episode where Jay very grudgingly accompanies Claire to the mall, and only at the end is it revealed why he hates doing it (spoiler: it’s because she likes to get chair massages in the mall court and her response to the massage is always inappropriately loud and enthusiastic).

      3. GammaGirl1908*

        This! This just doesn’t have to be that complicated. They can get an opaque shower curtain at Walmart for 5 bucks and pin it up over a door and be done with it. Or tape paper over the door. The nursing space always has to be available and private; the massage space does not always have to be private. They can make something temporarily private.

      4. Earlk*

        They probably don’t even need to do that, it’s probably an over-clothes massage and that’s fine to be done in a room with a glass door. There are places where people pay for massages like that that are in the open in shopping centres etc..

      5. JSPA*

        Chair massages are clothed; they do them in some airports. They could do it in a wide hallway or foyer–unless that violates fire code–or move the chair from office to office.

        Heck, they may be comfortable moving the chair into a hallway or foyer (even if doing so does violate fire code) so long as the massages are not SCHEDULED to be in that location.

        Looks like most fire code rules only specify that a fire code official, upon finding obstructions in passageways / means of egress, is authorized to cause an event to be paused until the condition is corrected. Fines would likely be for an intentional or ongoing blockage, not “we moved it here due to a temporary conflict.”

        They’re unlikely to put “eh, hallway, then” in an email, but, “I need to hear that you have a plan B that can go into effect with X minutes notice” may work just fine (where X minutes is how much advance notice you can easily give, that you’ll be in the office, and in need of the room).

      6. Shirley Keeldar*

        Yes, exactly. Massage therapist here. Put the chair massage in one of the other offices! There’s no real need for total privacy. People are fully clothed during a chair massage. The most the therapist might do is ask somebody to take off an outer later (sweatshirt, hoody, blazer, jacket).

      7. kiki*

        Yeah, I feel like there are some really simple solutions here and it’s annoying to me that the people arranging the massages seem not to have any problem-solving skills. Stick-on frosted glass is cheap and simple to apply! And honestly, I think frosted glass for meeting rooms will be a win beyond just massages— it’s nice to have a conference room where outsiders can see that it’s occupied but can’t see every little detail of what’s happening in the room

      8. Lily Rowan*

        Chair massages in my previous offices have been way more public than that, which is a little awkward, but still not a big deal. No one is undressing! A room with a glass door is fine for this.

      9. Cat Tree*

        My guess is that they don’t have any rooms or offices to spare. Which stinks, but taking away the pumping room, even temporarily, isn’t the solution.

    3. LW 2*

      Thank you so much for the honest response. I was gaslighting myself that it wasn’t a big deal and checked in with both my friends to make sure I wasn’t going crazy——as well as a highly respected female exec.

      1. alas rainy again*

        Go home so we can have the perk you should be entitled to too is such an awful answer from the organizers. In a perfect world, the pumping room is dedicated to that function. More pragmatically, the pumping room is shared with other activities (such as doubling up as extra refrigerated storage) with a priority to pumping activities. Would the admin tell you to store your milk elsewhere if the fridge were full of their food? Same for use of the sitting gear, and any occupancy of the room. Or they need to provide another pumping room, fully equiped for that purpose (fridge, locking door, ad hoc furniture). Now, who might you go to to get the situation sorted? Best luck in your endeavour, and I wish the best to you and your family.

      2. Change name for today*

        You are asking for a basic accommodations. There is a reason that room was set up as a pumping room. It’s not because HR or the company was being generous, it’s bc it’s a basic accommodation that workers needs.

          1. Massive Dynamic*

            YES – they are outside of the law here, LW. Also, time to involve your boss. With my 2nd, I had to endure some pumping room BS too and I made sure my boss knew when it started to affect my availability. More than once I had to race home to pump because the stupid bathroom room was overbooked.

        1. Random Dice*

          It’s not an “accommodation”, which they can refuse if it’s not “reasonable”, it’s a legal requirement for which illegal infringement she can report them to the Dept of Labor.

          (Assuming you were using accommodation in the ADA way – if you were just being colloquial my apologies)

          1. LW 2*

            Colloquial but I appreciate how fierce everyone is in this. I really appreciate it. Makes me feel a little less alone. :)

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              You’re not alone. I’ve had to do similar fights for my disability accommodations and it can get so tiring so fast.

              We need to lift each other up, not tear each other down :)

      3. HonorBox*

        You are not at all in the wrong here. While not a female, I have had coworkers and employees who needed pumping accommodations and that activity was a priority for the space being dedicated to that space. You’re being put in a position to determine the use of that space and whether these chair massages are scheduled, which is a crummy position to be put in. Regardless of your schedule and whether you need to be in the office that day or not, there ARE choices the organizer of the chair massages can pick from to provide that space for others to enjoy their massages. As others have suggested, simply covering the glass on the doors with paper or a cheap shower curtain would be sufficient and not force you (and presumably others in the future) to have to take the fall when you indicate that you need the pumping room.

      4. Anecdata*

        Yes, you are in the right – and they are being awful by presenting it as a “fine, we’ll cancel massages for you”. Vibes of my (thankfully former) HR leader who carefully explained that the company will never offer maternity leave because “if the company paid for this special benefit only a very few people would use, we’d have to raise everyone else’s insurance rates”

        On the practical side – they really don’t need a private space for chair massages. The massagee is fully dressed – I see them out in the open, like in a corner of the main hall at professional conferences and such.

      5. 1-800-BrownCow*

        LW 2, nope, this is personally reasonable from your standpoint! I worked at 2 different places while nursing each of my 3 kids and both places acted like accommodating a nursing mother was the end of the world. The first place gave me a storage room and then informed me I couldn’t lock the door because “they needed to be able to get into the room in case an emergency happened”. Yeah, I ignored them and sure enough, several times while I was in there someone tried opening the door. Also, the storage room was located in a department of all men and I had to endure comments about what I was doing every time I went in there and HR had no sympathy, ugh. My second place, when I requested a nursing room, HR’s initial response was “No one has ever requested that before.” Nothing more, just that one sentence in an email. I completely ignored the email and about 2 days later I received another email stating they were working on accommodations and were considering the one single use restroom. I was about to protest that one when I found out our one and only woman director (who never had children, but is a very understanding and supportive woman) got word of the suggested accommodation and immediately had them set up a small locker room that wasn’t used, but had a sink (no toilet!) and space for me to pump.

        LW 2, I’m done having children, my youngest is 9, but when I read letters and stories like yours, it continues to frustrate me that workplaces are still treating working mom’s this way. Good luck and I hope you update us soon with good news!

      6. Random Dice*

        You weren’t gaslighting yourself, they were gaslighting you.

        HR is responsible for knowing employment laws.

        They don’t, so is there a company lawyer you can talk with? At my company, they would deal with this so fast everyone’s heads would spin.
        (Legal gets frustrated by employees who create risk for the company, and would far rather deal with this all quietly rather than have to formally respond to a lawsuit or labor complaint.)

    4. mreasy*

      Chair massages don’t require removal of clothing and aren’t really private? Day spas at the airport give them our in the open… as does every office that has had a masseuse come in that I’ve ever been part of. This is ridiculous of them.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah I think the part were I lost my own temper was when they more or less instructed her to book in advanceany time that she needed to use a basic accommodation for its intended purpose. I think I would have to respond with “I’m sorry but the nature of my role means I cannot always have advance notice of when I am needed on site, therefore I could potentially need it on any given day. The room has to be primarily available for nursing mothers, and I am asking that in keeping with that, I am not put in the position of kicking people out when I need it most urgently.”

      1. AngryOctopus*

        The only time nursing mothers had to sign up for the pumping room at OldJob was when there were like 4 of them, so they scheduled themselves in a stagger fashion. But they were all using it for intended purpose! This is so crazy to me, esp since chair massages require zero privacy, so can be put into any room!

      2. She of Many Hats*

        Malicious Compliance: Booking the Nursing Room for each and every day until you stop nursing. And tell any other woman just back from maternity to book it for everyday until they stop nursing.

      3. SpaceySteph*

        My main worksite was always in a place with a few first come/first served pumping rooms, but I occasionally worked at alternate sites that required booking timeslots and it was such a pain… if your meeting runs over you are late to your slot and then need to move the next session too probably. Just a lot of extra overhead for something that already has too much overhead. But at least that’s for coordination with other pumping people, having to do it around chair massages would be absurd.

    6. ReallyBadPerson*

      And why on earth do chair massages need the same level of privacy as pumping? I have never, and never will, have an office massage, but I am assuming people are not disrobing for these things. Why can’t they have their massages in a regular conference room, then?

    7. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      Seriously! I don’t understand why some HR departments just seem to want to make things more complicated. Surely there’s another room that the massages can be done in, like LITERALLY ANY OTHER ROOM?

    8. LCH*

      Why not suggest additional rooms without glass doors? Or moving the location of this event to one of the conference rooms? Chair massages are clothed.

    9. Shirley You’re Joking*

      #2– Employers of a certain size must provide a nursing room under the law, right? It must have a fridge and it can’t be a bathroom. They seem to be forgetting this.

      They should buy some poster-sized post-notes (it’s a thing) and cover the door of a different room. There must be a conference room or empty office somewhere.

      This should not be on the LW to solve. It’s like the people organizing this forgot that a perk can’t trump someone’s basic rights. Using the nursing room should be easy and barrier free. They’ve needlessly complicated something simple. Appalling.

    10. Beth*

      Right! I’m sorry, it’s the nursing room, it’s not the “miscellaneous use that may or not include nursing” room. It really does sound like HR forgot that OP2 exists. And it’s extra egregious to me that they’re trying to ‘fix’ their mistake by making it her problem, instead of just covering the glass on another room’s door.

      OP2, I like Alison’s script. Please do add on the “I hope you can handle this in a way that doesn’t blame nursing mothers (read: me) for taking away the massage perk.”

  4. Modesty Poncho*

    Oooh, oh no. I feel for Perdita. I have Been There, and I needed real therapy and medication to get past it. She needs help you can’t give her, OP1. It sounds like you’re plenty kind, so continue to be kind as you get more firm. She’ll be upset but if she’s anything like me she knows the issues are with her, and won’t blame you. (Although, that thing about making everyone come in so she can make friends is…less promising.)

    1. Sloanicota*

      I just can’t imagine still being “in training” after … a year!! In my job, you get to be new for maybe two weeks and around three months you’re among the senior staff haha (it’s a weird place). Even companies with probation periods are often less than a year! Unless you’re heart surgeons this seems so funny to me.

      1. Lilo*

        My job has a two year training process (and we absolutely need it). It’s not like people don’t have autonomy in those two years, you just have someone signing off on bigger decisions. It’s not unheard of in government where you have to learn a lot of really complex regulations.

    2. Nelalvai*

      I’m in the middle of getting past it. Lotsa progress, long way to go still. Relying on others to manage your fears for you is not a great solution.

    3. Cat Lady*

      I have also Been There, and I agree. Feeling like a nervous wreck at work all the time absolutely sucks, but no amount of hand-holding from coworkers is going to fix it. I sincerely hope that Perdita is able to overcome this, because a lot of jobs require you to make decisions with minimal oversight. Being this deeply insecure about that could hamper her potential in future jobs as well.

    4. DaniCalifornia*

      I had a serious case of this beginning Covid. I was at a brand new job and had only been in office for 6 weeks before being sent to remote work (something we weren’t even allowed to do at previous toxic job). I was so beaten down by previous toxic job where no one would take into account my ideas or opinions and they were so backwards, “we’re a family”, loaded me with 3 people’s jobs and then complained about my workload that I was scared to do a thing wrong at my new job. Thankfully I got it turned around quickly, but I could see that being a potential factor in Perdita’s way of doing things. But yes it’s also exhausting for the LW.

    5. Observer*

      . She’ll be upset but if she’s anything like me she knows the issues are with her, and won’t blame you. (Although, that thing about making everyone come in so she can make friends is…less promising.)

      Yeah, that bit about making everyone come into the office says that she is totally not like you.

  5. jtr*

    This may be naive or dumb, but…I thought the whole idea of a chair massage was that it was fully clothed, and not really requiring privacy? Why do they need to use the room with the non-glass door?

    I can understand why people are using this room for random other purposes, if there is only one person using it for pumping, and they aren’t in the office on a regular basis. But, I can’t see scheduling a regular activity that doesn’t require privacy. HR’s reaction should have been, oh, that’s right, we’re sorry we forgot! We’ll reschedule those to a different room! And, if the person who uses it for its actual person shows up when you don’t expect it, apologize and move!

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      That was my reaction, too! Chair massages do not require privacy or seclusion, ime.

      I’ve been to Chamber of Commerce business expos where chiropractors were giving free chair massages at their booth, in front of God and everybody. Even had one myself in that kind of setting on more than one occasion.

      There’s no reason these chair massages can’t be held in a room with a glass door. If the glass door bothers anyone that much, tape some freaking paper over it!

      1. Anne Elliot*

        Ditto this reaction. As a lawyer for a government agency, I have heard and seen some crazy things, and IMO there’s no need for a chair massage — or any kind of bodily touching — to take place behind a closed door. If you’re not comfortable having your shoulders kneaded in the public air, just like at an airport or the mall, then no chair massage for you.

        So the massages take place in an office with a glass door, which I think is the perfect place for them — too open for shenanigans (one hopes) but set apart so that there’s some level of comfort for the employee getting the massage. The private office remains available for the breast feeding employee, and the employer avoids violating U.S. federal law. Win/win/win.

    2. misspiggy*

      This is what I also thought! Although it’s probably depressing to reflect on why HR didn’t do as expected.

    3. Lilo*

      They occasionally do chair massages at my work in the hall outside the cafeteria. if anything insisting on private space makes it weirder.

      1. Sparkle Llama*

        We have had them in our large meeting room with a couple of massage chairs set up. The room doesn’t have meaningful windows to the rest of the office but you are in there with 1-2 other people getting massages.

    4. UKDancer*

      Me too. I mean I had one at a major European airport last week in a relaxation spa and shop. The massage chairs were on one side of the shop and the manicure stations were the other with stuff for sale in the middle. None of it was in private because you don’t actually take clothes off (I mean I took my cardigan and watch off but I was wearing trousers and a t-shirt).

      If you wanted the full body massage then that was in a therapy room at the back of the shop and enclosed because you had to get undressed.

      I’d agree HR is over-complicating this. A normal conference room would be fine for this type of treatment. Perhaps the organiser hasn’t had this type of massage and doesn’t realise it’s done fully dressed?

    5. SAS*

      This was my thought too! Unless the masseuse is bringing their own chair, why isn’t it just being five at peoples desks?

      1. kalli*

        There’s a masseuse? I thought it was like the chairs with the massagers in them and you just sit in them for 15 mins. If there’s an actual masseuse involved that becomes a bit different to ‘can’t you just put the chair in the not-pumping-conference-room’.

        1. UKDancer*

          No it’s kind a chair you sit on with a bit at the front you lean forward on and bits at the side you rest your arms on so your back is in the right position. The therapist massages your back and shoulders and arms while you sit there. It’s great. If I’m flying through the airport with a spa I always try and get there in time to have 20 minutes, especially if it’s been a long day of meetings sitting in uncomfortable chairs.

          But you don’t take any clothes off (except for things like jackets). So it’s fine to do in a normal meeting room or any quiet space.

          1. kalli*

            The thing is, the touching makes it a higher level than the $2 mall shiatsu chairs and some people would actually prefer privacy for that, clothed or not.

      2. Shirley Keeldar*

        Massage therapist chiming in—you can’t really do a good chair massage with somebody sitting in a desk chair (mostly because you can’t get good alignment for the therapist’s wrists, hands, and upper body), but you definitely don’t need a completely private room for a chair massage! A quiet space is nice, sure. But the most the therapist will ask you to do is take off an outer later—jacket, blazer, sweatshirt, whatever. Use one of the other offices for the chair massage and give OP back her pumping room!

    6. Antilles*

      The best argument I can imagine is that they bring clients or other outsiders to the office occasionally and think it’d be weird for an outsider to just casually walk by in the tour and see a massage going on?
      Of course, the actual answer is that they spent less time thinking through the logistics than it took you to read this post. “Hey, the nursing room is often empty because OP works from home a lot, we’ll just ask her to let us know when she’s in, easy. Done and done, what’s next on the agenda?”.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it’s the distinction between “in the airport, total strangers might see that I have paid someone to massage my neck” and “in the office, my coworkers might see me getting really super relaxed in response to physical touch.”

      Apropos example, when I was breastfeeding, “in public” felt like a norm, but “in front of men with whom I have previously had a fully clothed relationship” (my father in law and brother in law) felt very weird and I preferred to be in another room.

    8. Dust Bunny*

      Right? They literally have a bank of massage chairs right out in the open at the International Quilt Show. And maybe at the mall? Zero privacy, because everyone is fully dressed.

    9. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I think I’m also not fully clear on what “chair massage” entails here. I think most people are interpreting it as “sitting in a massage chair like at the mall”, but I worked somewhere that *did* have chair massages, but it was literally you sitting at your desk in your chair and the masseuse made the rounds. It was just a shoulder massage, which is about as much as I’d be willing to receive in a workplace and even then I thought it was a bit weird.

    10. Cat Tree*

      I actually don’t think the room should be used for any other purposes, even when there isn’t an employee using it. People get used to having that room available and then when someone needs it for its intended purpose, she has the burden of telling others to leave. It’s also less hygienic depending on the cleaning frequency.

      My company built a new pumping room, which is very private. Unfortunately people were using it for a variety of other things. The only solution was to lock it with keycard access and only grant access to the women who need it.

      1. Manders*

        Also, I think providing space for pumping is a legal requirement, depending on the size of the company. Providing private space for chair massages is not.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yes, this. Trying to use the room for multiple purposes opens up the door to all sorts of conflicts and pits employees against each other.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yes. I’m somewhat lucky in that the only other thing that is supposed to happen in our lactation room is that it is also the phlebotomy room (blood draw), and we haven’t been doing that in ages.
          So there are three employees with keys to the room (the two lactating people and the one blood draw person), and there are curtains up around the chairs so you can still have some privacy if the other person needs to use the space.

          Now, did it take a huge amount of hounding the head of facilities to get the chairs and curtains installed? Yes, yes it did, even though he was given *months* of warning. And should these two activities have their own spaces? Again yes, and they used to, but there was a building renovation and the people in charge decided to just violate the city laws about lactation spaces.

      3. Random Dice*


        Nobody but lactating folks should ever have access to a legal lactation space.

        Nobody else has the right to it, but they will end up feeling entitled to it. It’s not their space and they all need to stay out.

    11. Random Dice*

      No. It’s not acceptable to use a lactation room if one is not lactating. Period full stop!!!

      Women are expected to give up legal rights for the convenience of everyone, and that’s just utter bullshit.

      Keep out, everyone else. IT’S NOT YOUR SPACE.

      My company uses electronic door locks, and nobody gets access except for lactating folks. That’s how it should be.

    12. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Imagine you had to have access to a bathroom but could only use the one and only bathroom if you convinced your coworker to stop practicing the tuba or having a phone call in there? That’s absurd. Lactation room is for lactation. Not lactating? Stay out.

  6. HBJ*

    #2. This doesn’t seem like it should be a huge issue. Why not introduce scheduling? It would be needed if there was more than one pumping mom anyway. I don’t see why the massages can’t be scheduled around OP’s pumping blocks. And if OP needs to come in at random times, I don’t see how that would mess up scheduling. Pumping right before coming in should be sufficient to get her to the next regular time block even if she comes in at a non-standard time.

    For the record, I’m a former pumping mom (and not a long time ago either when “times were different”. Recently, as in the last five years).

    1. Green great dragon*

      LW’s not in every day, so the chair massage people don’t want to keep blocks of time free on days that LW won’t be using them. But it’s an interesting approach, if LW’s schedule is such that she can work around fixed time slots could they just leave time clear whether she’s in or not?

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, I mean, the room *should* definitely be available for her all day. But if she has fixed times for pumping, this might be the most low-conflict solution – “I need the room reserved every day between 8 and 9 and between 15 and 16 h”.
        If she would prefer more flexibility though, I’d say it’s their job to find a different room for the chair massages (and fridge usage, and private calls, etc.)!

        1. anne of mean gables*

          Fixed times for pumping works great until a meeting runs over, or some other unanticipated work-related conflict. My personal work schedule would make ‘fixed pumping times’ darn near impossible. 10a would work one day, I’d need to stretch to 11a the next because of an immovable meeting (and probably pump an additional time before to accommodate that without bursting), and the next day a meeting would run 30 minutes over and I’d need to sprint to the nursing room ASAP. Obviously if the scheduling conflicts are arising because of another pumping person, you gotta make it work, but pumping trumps chair massages every time.

      2. Samwise*

        It’s not that much time, though. 8 am to 5 pm — they can block off an hour or so in the morning and another in the afternoon. It’s not a day spa, they don’t have to schedule in every time slot.

        Or just use one of the glass door rooms –it’s a chair massage, no one is unclothed.

    2. Oysters and Gender Freedoms*

      “Some flexibility is critical for my job. One day I can be working at home and then at 4 pm I could get a last-minute need to go two hours out the next day.”

      I think the problem is it’s the kind of job where she can’t schedule.

      1. Tomato Soup*

        I think the idea is of scheduling in LW’s pumping times and keeping this open.

        In general, you pump at the same time each day because your body follows a consistent internal clock with milk production after 6-8 weeks. Otherwise, supply can go down for a few days (sometimes permanently) or you have to deal with being over full. In addition to being unfortunately, this can lead to leaking and even mastitis.

          1. Anna*

            Well you’re not telling them about leaking or how full you feel. You are just telling them that you plan to use it from 10-10:30, 1-1:30, and 4-4:30 every day, and they can generally expect it will be available in between those times.

        1. Panda (she/her)*

          This was not the case for me. I often had an hour or two wiggle room either way, and would often move my pumping sessions around to accommodate meetings etc. I could schedule time with a couple hours notice, but wouldn’t necessarily find it easy to schedule say a week ahead of time.

          1. Gyne*

            While of course there are people that fall on all sides of the spectrum, the general broad recommendations are to continue to pump every 2-3 hours when away from the baby. My job is not at all flexible (and my supply was always tenuous) so I had rigidly scheduled pump times I had to adhere to and I was unapologetic about making people wait when that time came. As it happened, my times coincided with another mom in the next business over that used the pumping room in my office and she would always get there first and lock me out, so I mostly just pumped in my personal office (with a glass door, and staff coming in and out to ask me questions.)

            But I think it is reasonable when multiple people are sharing the same space to either pumping times if you want privacy. I went to a conference when my baby was four months old and the lactation room was a really empowering, collaborative space where we all pumped together, shared advice on working while breastfeeding, talked shop, etc.

            Not advising this for the OP, but if I was in her place I’d go set up my pump in the chair massage room and pump away while my colleagues were getting their massages. It IS the lactation room, after all.

            1. Random Dice*

              That is only a reasonable solution when using the very expensive wearable pumping cups that can fit inside of clothes.

              The standard issue moo-cow pumps with cones and attached bottles require a level of breast exposure that would be utterly unacceptable – not to mention illegal on multiple fronts – in public at work.

              That’s not a reasonable solution, or legal.

              1. Pajamas on Bananas*

                They make shirts with zippers diagonal over the breast, which you can use traditional pumps with when worn in combination with pumping bras. It’s a very full coverage situation. Those are expensive too, and it’s still not the employees responsibility to provide privacy, it’s the employer’s.

              2. Gyne*

                It’s definitely not illegal to expose one’s nipples in public where I am (in the US.) Nor is it illegal to feed your baby.

          2. 1-800-BrownCow*

            Same here! Between meetings and such, I couldn’t give prescheduled pumping times a week out. I had a 2-3 window of time I tried to hit because otherwise, things got sore. But basically, I usually didn’t block out time on my calendar for the day until that morning. And even then, I occasionally had to adjust my time during the day because something critical came up.

    3. LW 2*

      I was thinking about this, but my job schedule is very random. Like I could be on one opposite end of the state with 12 hours notice. Last month, my boss asked me to come in to handle a time-sensitive project at last minute because both his kids were sick.

      1. Yellow cake*

        I think what is being suggested is that you book the times you could need – and cancel as not required. Eg book 10, 13 and 15 every day for an hour (I have no idea how long you’d need or frequency). If the day before you know you won’t need 10 because you will be with a client then cancel that so others can use the room.

        It’s not really sensible to expect what sounds like a smaller organisation to keep a room free just for you, just in case. I worked for a large org and the official breastfeeding room was also the first aid room. If 2 people needed it at the same time active first aid was the priority. If multiple mothers needed the room to feed then they had to share or wait it out. There was always the risk of conflicts – but until the room got regular use, it made no sense to create multiples. Some preferred to pump in a regular meeting room so they didn’t have to switch floors (the pumping room was in an out of the way corridor so it didn’t see much passing traffic).

        1. Mom of Boys*

          “It’s not really sensible to expect what sounds like a smaller organisation to keep a room free just for you, just in case.”

          I’m assuming LW #2 is in the US where federal laws exist around pumping for nursing mothers at work, in fact, it’s called the PUMP Act. The room must be available “as needed”, that’s non negotiable. They’d be better off leaving that room alone and finding another one for massages. Someone else suggested paper over the glass door, or a set of blinds, and that might be a good compromise for the infrequent (optional) massage clinic.

        2. MountainAir*

          If your organization was large enough to fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the arrangement you’re describing – where the space was shared with other uses (first aid), which took priority over pumping in the event of a conflict – is illegal. The space has to be available for the employee’s pumping use when needed in order to be compliant.

          1. Lizzo*

            My guess is that @Yellow cake is not in the US, since they are spelling organization with an “s”, and using the 24hr clock.

            1. MountainAir*

              Good point. What they are describing is illegal in the US, can’t speak to other countries’ laws. I do also agree with other commenters pointing out that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a business to provide a private place for LW2 to pump regardless, especially when the conflict is literally workplace chair massages.

        3. Mockingjay*

          It’s not really sensible to expect what sounds like a smaller organisation to keep a room free just for you, just in case.

          I disagree. OP has a complicated work schedule; the room has been set aside for pumping so she can continue to work. If OP is in the US: On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 into law. The law includes the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (“PUMP Act”), which extends to more nursing employees the rights to receive break time to pump and a private place to pump at work.

          There are other conference rooms available for external activities, such as chair massages.

        4. Beth*

          Keeping a room free for nursing at whatever time it’s needed is the entire point of having a nursing room, though, isn’t it? Regardless of the size of the organization, it’s big enough that they have a room called “the nursing room”. OP’s been told this is the room dedicated to nursing. I don’t think it’s unreasonable, given that, for OP to expect that it will generally be available for nursing.

          I also think it matters that we’re talking about HR booking it for recurring day-long blocks, not someone ducking in to use it for an hour or two here and there. And we’re talking about HR using it to schedule a nice little perk activity that could honestly happen anywhere–not a conflict where multiple people need privacy for medical treatment or pulling out generally-covered body parts, and those multiple people need to juggle the private space among themselves.

        5. Whomst*

          I’ll reply to this one since it’s higher up the comment chain, but it is Wild to me how many people think that LW 2 and other nursing mothers should be required to schedule their bodily functions to make it easier for other people. It’s not a perfect one-to-one*, but it’s a lot like asking someone to schedule their use of the bathroom. Just because you theoretically “can” schedule it doesn’t mean that you should be requiring someone to.

          * The primary difference being that the hygiene and health concerns between the two are different. The similarity being that both rooms are required for bodily functions that have health and hygiene concerns.

      2. WellRed*

        But does that change your pumping time? If you pump every day at 10 & 2 then does it matter where you are? Still, the obvious answer is for the massage to take place elsewhere.

      3. thelettermegan*

        Maybe you just have to do a little return awkward to sender and book the room ‘just in case’ you need it on Wednesdays for the forseeable future. Make it clear to them that if you need it, you need it, and you’ll choose the nuclear option if you have to.

      4. Momma Bear*

        I would double check the laws and regulations in your area and go back to HR. Say that while you understand the desire to use this room for other activities, it’s the only appropriate space for pumping, and what happens if there are multiple mothers who need it throughout the day? Someone did not think about how that space is used. I would urge them to get curtains for another room and leave you the more private room. A back massage needs less privacy IMO than pumping. This isn’t just about you in the long run. It’s about anyone who needs way more privacy than frosted glass is going to provide. If the company wants to offer this massage service, maybe they need to upgrade another conference room or set aside an office.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      From what I understand from various women in my family it’s not really possible to plan a body’s needs (e.g. to pump) with that kind of laser focus. Some days might have less than others, some need longer on Monday than a Thursday.

      However I’ve never had kids so I have no idea. If someone said ‘hey I need access to the pumping room when I’m in the office’ then it’s my job as a manager to make sure that the access is there.

      1. Calpurrnia*

        This is how I understand it as well. Asking someone to schedule their pumping times would be a bit like asking someone to schedule their bathroom breaks (and then cancel if not needed? Can we see how weird that would be?). Sure, some small number of people might be super regular and fine with this… but for a lot of us, we go to the bathroom when we need it, sometimes it takes longer than we expected, and we would not be able to book the bathroom ahead of time because that’s not how biology works.

        I have never been a nursing mother but I would guess it’s kind of parallel. Sometimes you can be like “hmm I need to go (pump/use the restroom) after this meeting”, sometimes you can be like “I tend to need to (pump/use the restroom) around 3 every day”, but sometimes you go “ummm excuse me I need to go (pump/use the restroom) right now or I’m going to burst”.

      2. IrishGirl*

        My company had 2 rooms for nursing mothers and we had to schedule our time on the calendar just like other meeting rooms. You could only schedule 3 months out. I had my set 3 (9,12,3) times i would schedule in advance and as things came up i would change that day as needed. I just excused myself from meetings and showed up late to them and people were jsut aware that is what i had to do. I left an all day training 3 times and no one said a thing. If there was soemthing i needed to attend and i could push back 30 mins and space was avaliable, i did it but if that was asked on days that the room was almost fully booked, i wouldnt move it. it was hard at first but as my body got use to the schedule it worked.

    5. Emily*

      For both periods where I was pumping, this is what I had to do because there were multiple mothers who were pumping. This is really normal. That there is a room available for pumping doesn’t mean that the room needs to be kept available at every given time for any specific person, because once there’s more than one person, that just doesn’t work. If you reserve a time and you’re not there, that’s fine.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        This is true too. My SIL worked for a huge company and had to schedule all her pumping times in advance. What she described sounded pretty uncomfortable though; if a meeting ran late she might miss her pumping appointment, if another mother went long it cut into her time, if she went long another mother would be knocking at the door.

        1. Emily*

          It’s stressful. But having it scheduled made HR take it more seriously. Like, there was one point HR took someone to the pumping room so they could lie down, and we were able to point to the sign on the door with the slots already taken and say “no”, and it immediately ended that conversation.

    6. Observer*

      Pumping right before coming in should be sufficient to get her to the next regular time block even if she comes in at a non-standard time.

      That’s not necessarily true. Especially if she needs to come in on 5 minutes notice. That doesn’t give her time for a “top up” pumping session.

  7. A million cats walking across a million keyboards*

    LW2 – if your employer doesn’t want to get another non-glass door, they could consider blinds/shades. In the short term, maybe you can get them to shell out the $12 for something like this on one of the doors: — they could leave the blinds open most of the time and close them for massages.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          Or when my old office was offering free flu vaccinations, you went to one of the conference rooms with paper covering the gaps in the frosted glass.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Yep, a room can be adjusted like this with the tape and copier paper already in the building. And they can use that room for the massages and let OP continue to use the pumping room for its intended and needed purpose without interruption.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            Huh, I have never felt the need for privacy while getting a jab in the arm. (If they were doing flu vaccinations in the butt, I’d understand it.)

            1. amoeba*

              Late to the party, but depending on what I was wearing that day (shirt with long sleeves), I’ve definitely been quite exposed for a jab! (Yes, I could dress accordingly, but as there are indeed screens up for our vaccinations at work, I didn’t see the need and also honestly didn’t think about it until I had to basically take half my shirt off in order to bare my upper arm…)

      1. Elke*

        You can also get smart glass that can switch rapidly from opaque to transparent. It can even be installed as film overlaid over existing glass.

    1. Lawyera*

      This is exactly what I was going to recommend. At a former workplace they just literally taped colored paper over the window of an office and that was the pumping room. Really, whichever room is more comfortable for you should become the pumping room and the other one with taped up windows can be the massage room.

  8. Velma Kelly Green*

    For Question 5: How much does it matter whether the cause of the downtime was a supervisor or your own level of productivity/ task management?

    It’s clear to me that if your work depends on being given tasks, and those are not filling your hours, you should still log overtime as described here.

    But what about if your work/ schedule is largely self-determined, but you happen to have a low-productivity day for whatever reason (distractions in the office, chronic illness making you slower that day, PMS or not having breakfast or having a personal worry on your mind– any flavor of just Being An Imperfect Human). If your downtime during the day is your own “fault” (in quotes because being human is not actually a fault, but distinct from your supervisor’s doing), does the same apply if you end up having to work longer or work additional hours on e.g. an event? (Assuming overtime is approved.) Would there be a difference between needing extra hours to finish your work and having to do a concrete assigned task on top of an unproductive day?

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      From the perspective where I don’t get paid for overtime but can use it for time off in lieu, the line I draw is whether I am trying to work. If I give up on the concept of work and e.g. read a book for an hour to have a break, that’s “time off” that I will make up later, but if I’m at my laptop and available to answer emails/IMs/calls that counts.

      Being in the office automatically counts as trying to work, because I’m approachable if needed and even socialising with my work friends often leads to productive work-related decisions.

      If someone always needs overtime to get their work done that’s a higher-level issue to address that we’ve seen in previous letters, and hiding that need by not claiming the overtime wouldn’t be helping anyone.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I think it depends how often you do it and the type of work you do, and is very manager-dependent. If you’ve got the type of job which is half coverage/ interruptions and half tasks to complete, and on a good day you can get the tasks done in the the 15 breaks between interruptions but occasionally your concentration is shot and you stay two hours late to finish them, I think it’s reasonable to ask your manager if you can claim that. But if I was the manager and it was happening regularly, and there wasn’t any overtime budget allocated to this role because it was expected that all the tasks would be completed alongside providing coverage, at some point there’d be a bigger-picture discussion.

      (Disclaimer: I’m not in the US and our overtime laws are different.)

    3. JM60*

      I am not a lawyer or a legal expert of any kind, but I don’t think it really matters so long as either:

      1) You’re doing some work (however slowly)
      2) You’re at least “engaged to wait” (which is different from “waiting to engage”). Something like a receptionist who is reading a book while waiting for customers is “engaged to wait”, whereas being on-call, but mostly able to go about your personal life, is often “waiting to engage”.

      1. Too Many Tabs Open*

        It’s like Dinwar’s have-a-beer metric for billable hours (can’t find post with the original comment right now). If you could crack open a beer right now and it’d be fine, you’re not at work/not billable/”waiting to engage”; if you can’t have a beer because you might have work dropped on your desk at any minute, you’re working/billable/”engaged to wait”.

        1. I Have RBF*

          This. While I am exempt, I still get comp time for overtime.

          I frequently (including right now) am “waiting to engage”. While I type in this reply, If someone messages me to do something, or has a question, I would pause (like I just did), and then return to it. I have left comments unfinished for hours while I do work tasks.

          Essentially, when I’m “on the clock”, work comes first. If I don’t have anything I need to do, I can engage with AAM.

          1. JM60*

            The difference between the two isn’t always clear, but from the limited information in your comment, it sounds like your waiting might be more like “engaged to wait” than “waiting to engage”. I’m imagining you sitting at your computer (the same computer you use for work), reading AAM while you’re waiting for someone to ask for your help.

            I think “waiting to engage” is more like a situation where it would be okay for you to turn off the computer you use for work, and perhaps leave the house for a quick errand while you have your phone off of silenced so that you can notice any message that calls you back to work.

            1. JM60*

              I should add that if it would be okay for you to turn off your work computer and leave for an errand, but you happen to choose to wait at your work computer because that’s how you’d like to spend your free time, then I think that would be more like “waiting to engage”.

              The primary device I use for work is also a device that I own that has an RTX 4090 GPU in it. Consequently, I’m often still on that computer when I’m completely off-duty.

    4. Been There*

      This is a difference my employer makes as to when we can request overtime. If we worked overtime on tasks that could have been done at another time, it’s on us and we can’t request OT. If we have to work outside regular hours because of an event, we can request OT.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Been There, are you saying that the manager must pre-approve the overtime? That’s different than what the LW is asking, I think. I think the LW has been asked to stay on more hours than usual but feels conflicted about it because she had slow time during the early part of the day (or on another day during the week). The LW must get OT in that case (and should never feel bad about it!)

        I had a pre-approval situation when I was in a job with shift work. You couldn’t decide on your own to stay late and finish something without the shift manager’s approval. You’d have to turn the work over to the next shift or get the OK to finish up. You could also ask to stay late and work on non-critical tasks but you’d usually be told those things could wait until a slow time during the next day.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Are you talking about flex time? Because I can schedule my hours for whenever, but if I work more than 40 hrs/week they are still required to pay me overtime. (In the US, but not in California.)

        If I work 10 hours on Thursday, I can get in trouble at work for not getting the overtime pre-approved or be told to go home 2 hours early on Friday, but they can’t just opt out of paying me.

    5. Sloanicota*

      I agree with this. Partly just for selfish reasons: if I was logging overtime, that’s coming out of my department’s budget, and my boss is going to want to understand why I wasn’t able to complete my work in a normal day. If part of the answer was that I just wasn’t being productive in the afternoon, I wouldn’t want to be answering for that. But if it was a genuine need to work late, I’d have no problems defending it.

    6. Lacey*

      Even if you’re not being super productive you’re still engaged in work and need to be paid for that time.

      If you’re like… leaving for a coffee or something that could be considered a break (my employer doesn’t care as long as you’re not taking a long time, but many would)

      But just because I’m spending an hour staring at my screen trying to figure out how to start a project – where most days I know what I need to do and get going – that doesn’t mean I don’t get paid for that time.

      I wouldn’t be spending that time staring at the screen if I weren’t doing this job.

      1. Lacey*

        I suppose I should add though – I’m absolutely expected to get all my work done during normal hours. There’s no overtime budget and it would have to be an absolute crisis before over time would be approved.

        I worked a previous job where overtime was common and some of that could end up being because I just couldn’t figure out a project quickly enough. I think if that was the biggest reason though my boss would have been having a conversation with me.

    7. kiki*

      I think this is an interesting question about how to consider unproductive days. Because I’ve definitely had days where I’m just absolutely not productive at all and need to take a few hours in the evening or next morning to finish something– I’m salaried/exempt, so I’m able to do this. I wouldn’t consider that overtime and would feel weird filing for overtime and using that as my reasoning.

      On the flip side, I sometimes get into dangerous territory where I create a magic “Perfectly Productive Human” and think, “well, PPH would have been able to get this done today and I didn’t, so therefore it’s my fault and this isn’t overtime.” But the truth is nobody is a perfectly productive human– stuff comes up, tasks take longer than you expect, you run into unexpected blockers, you’re not running on all cylinders, you face interruptions, etc.

    8. Dona Florinda*

      My job is mostly creative writing and sometimes I just feel blocked, so I work overtime but don’t log it, since is “my fault” that I didn’t do what I was supposed to do during my regular hours. That being said, I work from home full time, so the lines usually are a little blurried anyway.
      Overall, I agree with Sloanicota: if I have no problem explaining it to my boss, then my reasons are likely legitimate, as opposed to “I just didn’t feel like doing it at the time”.

      1. Dona Florinda*

        Forgot to add: if I didn’t do the writing part, but did other work-related tasks, then I’ll definitely log in the overtime. That’s not the case for when I’m feeling blocked and just go for a walk instead.

    9. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      It matters in the big picture, but doesn’t matter in terms of whether you need to claim the overtime if you’re non-exempt.

      The law around overtime doesn’t include an “unless the employee was spinning around in their chair and thinking about how cool dinosaurs are instead of doing their job” exemption to you being paid for the time you spend at work, let alone a “things were pretty slow because the phone didn’t ring as much as usual” exemption. Your manager may, however, have opinions on how you spend your time, particularly if you are hourly and also getting overtime. the reedy for management here is a PIP/path toward firing rather than free overtime from the worker, though. (They can also actually send you home early if they determine there is not enough work for you to do rather than pay you to stay at work and think about how cool dinosaurs are, but if you’re there and supposed to be working, they need to be paying you.)

      As someone who is exempt, I am certainly less resentful about needing to put in a few hours in the evening if I can clearly connect it to not making good use of my time earlier in the day due to my own choices (and super resentful when it was someone else preventing me from having the information I needed in time), but that’s, in theory, what makes exempt jobs different from hourly ones. Hourly ones, again in this perfectly spherical frictionless workplace, are the ones where your tasks are well-defined things that can have certain amounts of time allocated to them and salaried jobs are “higher-level” ones where you are some kind of expert managing your own task allocation while doing more strategic work so are less structured and can’t be as easily scheduled for a specific time. In practice, things vary.

  9. fluffy*

    Worth considering for LW2 that some states make a pumping/nursing room (that’s exclusively for that purpose) a legal requirement. Definitely check your local laws to see if there’s a way that you can enforce your access to it.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Isn’t that a federal thing in the US?

      Our equivalent would be a prayer room for those who do have religious obligations, and you bet there’s a big stink raised every time someone wants to ‘just borrow it’ because of the importance of people having access at all times. I think in a big office like mine there ought to be a couple of places designated as quiet rooms for people with other, ad hoc needs, but that’s a function of friendly office design — the legal needs have to be adhered to no matter what.

      1. LW 2*

        It is a federal law to provide a room shielded from view available at any time for a nursing worker. President Biden codified it (there apparently were loopholes!) into law last winter.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Available at any time. In other words don’t schedule other stuff for that room.

          The chair massages can go elsewhere.

        2. Observer*

          No, it’s been the law for a long time. Congress passed some much needed expanded coverage. But some states have stricter laws.

    2. Violet Fox*

      Speaking of local laws, having a line of sight into offices/conference rooms might be a fire code thing. I would guess that the pumping room has more privacy/a solid door is a needed exception.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

        Wait, I’m confused. Are you saying that there are fire codes that say that you can’t have an office door without a window? I don’t see how that would be a fire code. In the case of a fire, the doors are kept open (when we are able to for security purposes.) And then the firefighters would have to check rooms anyways, because even with a window, you might not be able to see the entire room. (like there could be someone passed out under the desk that you couldn’t see by just looking from the door.)

        1. DJ Abbott*

          It’s been a while, but I’m pretty sure we were instructed in my office to close doors in case of a fire. None of them have windows. So maybe it varies according to the space or the region.

        2. Violet Fox*

          Yeah, it totally depends on the place, but in some places fire codes require a line of sight into offices to be able to rapidly check to see if there are people still inside. There are usually exceptions, but it is totally a thing.

          These things also vary from place to place, and as a lot of things just because it is fire code does not mean people do it.

    3. NotReservedInMyExperience*

      The last time I regularly worked onsite (admittedly a while ago), the office shower, pumping room, and disabled bathroom shared the same space – that is, they were two shared rooms without doors between them with a single lock. If anyone was showering or pumping I couldn’t use the bathroom. If someone was showering or using the bathroom, no one could use it to pump, etc. And it was a nicer bathroom so a lot of people just used it instead of the normal bathrooms.

      They got away with this from an ADA perspective by having an accessible stall at the far end of the normal bathrooms (but – while I assume it met code – the entryway to the main room had too tight a turn radius for my walker and, I suspect, many wheelchairs). When I raised the issue I got a shrug.

      Once pumping rooms became a thing – which is fairly recent – they have always been first come, first served spaces that could be used for things other than pumping.

      1. AbruptPenguin*

        Once pumping rooms became a thing – which is fairly recent – they have always been first come, first served spaces that could be used for things other than pumping.

        This is not compliant with federal law.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s allowed as long as there’s always space available to pumpers who need it, when they need it. Federal law doesn’t require that the space be used for nothing else.

          1. AbruptPenguin*

            Thank you, this is a good note! It was the “first-come, first-served” that I think would run afoul of the law, as it sounds like it’s not available on an as-needed basis for pumping (and it’s not always possible to schedule specific pumping times each day, depending on your job).

            1. NotReservedInMyExperience*

              I assure you it was a serious problem for the bathroom. I must assume others had a similar experience. Note this predates the most recent laws people have referenced from the Biden era and it was the first pumping room I ever encountered. The other places I’ve seen since also are shared spaces (changing room for the shower was the most frequent alternate purpise)

              I’d also note that unless a company only has one person who needs it on staff having a dedicated room would not guarantee its availability whenever needed.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        The name makes more sense in the book! The Disney adaptation collapsed two separate female dogs (Mrs. Pongo and Perdita) into a single dog, ignoring that the name meaning would no longer make sense as she would not be lost. (This bugged me as a kid, since I knew the name meaning and only knew of the movie at the time.)

  10. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (training anxious coworker) – ideally you would have gone back to management before now, but as it has been just over a year, you now have a natural opportunity to bring this up with them: “it’s been a year of this as we started last September, with no improvement” etc.

    I think there are two issues here feeding into each other. She is anxious about things like the form, but also her style of working needing detailed instructions etc and uncomfortable with working independently. The two are in a cycle – she’s uncomfortable making a judgement call as she would rather have instructions, so she gets worried about the implications of mistakes, which makes her focus even more on details and instructions.

    Fundamentally, I don’t think she is compatible with this job (at this point in time). Management needs to get to the root of whether she is able to change, and if not it is PIP time. Have you been keeping records of all this stuff – if not, write down what you remember and start keeping records.

    1. Cookie Monster*

      She has gone back to management: “though I have raised this with them several times and they have witnessed the behavior for themselves.”

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Yes, but I got the sense the conversation was more like “Perdita is still struggling with the Thing” rather than “this can’t continue”.

    2. el l*

      OP should put her foot down – literally say, “I can’t train her any more – a year is more than enough – and for future requests I will have to direct her to you.”

      As part of that conversation with Perdita’s boss, I would also estimate how much time OP spent on helping Perdita, and say, “I could’ve spent this time instead on my own projects/clients/etc. I can’t keep doing this.”

  11. LadyAmalthea*

    My line manager, who I had to give training to about certain technical aspects of my job so she would have the needed background information is Perdita. She has no sense of proportion or relative urgency/stakes, and her anxieties mean that she cannot remember ANYTHING I’ve taught her.

    You cannot handle Perdita. Perdita cannot handle Perdita. Nothing that anyone says to Perdita in a work environment will make Perdita less lost.

    Best of luck because this is brain destroying and probably won’t get better.

    1. WS*

      Nothing that anyone says to Perdita in *this* work environment will make Perdita less lost. There are lots of jobs with low autonomy that need attention to detail with very specific procedures to follow. Unfortunately, she’s not in one of them.

  12. LobsterPhone*

    LW1…the part that stood out to me is where Perdita is scared to ‘make those kinds of calls’…there are no decisions for her to make in the examples given, the form is doing that work for her. If she can’t determine between a genuine need to make a decision and processing what’s literally in front on her, what more can you do..?

    1. cabbagepants*

      This is a good point. This isn’t being unwilling/unable to resolve ambiguity. This is being unwilling/unable to follow simple directions.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Thank you; I was trying to pinpoint why I thought this was so especially weird, and this is it: The examples don’t even involve much decision-making.

    3. introverted af*

      Ehhhh, in some kinds of admin work there would be decisions to make about how to answer the form that you aren’t qualified to make. IE is this request for one time graphic use or ongoing programmatic use, with variance in the fees between the two? You might be able to say, “I think it would be better to get B instead of A because it’s cheaper in the long run,” but you might not have access to a budget that says in fact, you don’t have money for B this year but might next year.

  13. Anonymoose*

    OP #1: I also work with a Perdita. I had to reread your letter a couple times to make sure you weren’t talking about my Perdita. I don’t have any advice here, just commiseration and sympathy.

    It’s the same thing every day: she panics over minor issues, doesn’t remember things that I teach her, and needs someone to hold her hand and walk her through tasks she’s performed multiple times prior. I feel terrible for her because she’s very anxious and she’s truly doing her best. But as a coworker, it’s very frustrating.

    1. Llama Llama*

      I have worked with many Perditas and it’s exhausting and to the point I don’t feel bad for them anymore. Not everything can be in a job aid.

    2. Lost in Space*

      I was Perdita in my previous job due to some issues with poor communication and a negative work environment. I knew I wasn’t cut out for the job but I was trying my best, hoping it would get better. But it didn’t, and it just made for a horrible situation all around. I don’t have any suggestions- I just know how painful it must be for all sides.

      1. Observer*

        I just know how painful it must be for all sides.

        I think the OP knows that. But it’s still unsustainable. Also, it seems like Perdita may not even realize that she’s a bad fit here. And that makes the situation much more difficult.

  14. StarTrek Nutcase*

    LW1, it’s way past time to turn her over to the manager. Over many years (40), I’ve been required to train many coworkers and always took on too much responsibility to make them successful. I had to learn to accept that if they failed despite my best efforts, it wasn’t on me but on them (regardless of any issues) and the manager.

    In my last job, after extensive training for 2 full days, it was clear S wasn’t capable but I kept trying different ways to train; after 3 weeks I was beyond stressed and again told the manager (M) S wasn’t trainable. I reluctantly tried for 1 more week but S still couldn’t perform the simplest task. M decided to train him on a different simple task. After 1 day, M had HR terminate S with 2 weeks severance. My biggest regret was letting myself be convinced to keep trying for 4 weeks, and it wasn’t fair to S either because he felt tremendous stress to succeed when it was obvious after 2 days he simply couldn’t.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > My biggest regret was letting myself be convinced to keep trying for 4 weeks

      I don’t think that was a mistake, for what it’s worth. The manager will have taken that 4 weeks into account and used the additional 2 days to confirm for themselves what you had been saying. Going to the manager after 2 days and declaring the person untrainable would have got you a response from many managers (including me) to give it more time, try different approaches. Not really because they will be effective but you have to be able to evidence that you’ve given them all the opportunity to improve.

      1. Miette*

        I have to agree. Your manager allowed S the benefit of the doubt twice before deciding they needed to be let go. Don’t beat yourself up over that one–or for being kind and conscientious.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Not your fault (and fellow Trekkie!). You did what you thought was the right thing at the time and goddess knows I’ve done it.

      A few weeks of ‘maybe they’ll get it if I explain it differently’ is very, very normal.

  15. English Rose*

    LW3 unfortunately I do think that the volume of wedding/baby photos you describe could impact the extent to which you’re seen as ‘professional’. It will most likely remind some people negatively of other co-workers past or present who go on about their children all the time. I’m not saying for one minute that you do this, but it’s around perception.

    1. Longtime Lurker*

      I like the wall of photos concept, but agree that it’s a lot of family. Maybe work in some “work-family” pictures too? If there are events related to the fundraisers, great! Some office get together candids, super!

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, I was thinking a fundraiser probably has some event invitations or donor holiday cards, or other work stuff that could be added to this board to make it more of a mix of work and personal.

    2. Varthema*

      Yeah, my feeling is that one baby photo (per child) and one wedding photo is about the limit to still feel professional. Obviously in a workplace with less concern about appearances, you can do what you like! But since she’s writing in, my guess is that she is concerned about appearances, so I’d personally keep it to one photo of each Personal Life Thing rather than two or three.

    3. Jenna Webster*

      Are there people who need the whiteboard? Could you have Facilities staff take it down and repurpose it and then put up some generic office pictures? I have to admit, there were offices where I would have paid good money to have a big whiteboard available, but I do realize that maybe everyone has the same setup there.

    4. lucanus cervus*

      Yeah, I do think a whole board of personal photos is quite a lot. A photo or two is nice, but having loads of them makes me think that this person has spent an awful lot of time creating the LW’s Family Display Wall, and I’ll be a bit worried that they expect the whole office to be emotionally invested in their personal life. I have kids myself, I definitely think people should get to be themselves at work, and I think it’s crucial that employers accommodate their employees and are flexible around things like caring responsibilities. I’m super family friendly, I want to hear about people’s kids, I’ll never look down on anyone for not hiding this stuff. Buuut a whole board’s worth of photos does stand out as significantly more than most people would put up. I think people will notice and probably read various meanings into it, to LW’s detriment.

    5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I think it depends a lot of the office/context. Here, it would be a weird use of a whiteboard just because we have few enough of those that they tend to be used as whiteboards, and if you’re not using yours we will move it somewhere else, but it wouldn’t be strange as a corkboard or one of those fabric-covered boards with the ribbons. If every office has whiteboards and they’re not useful in some of those offices I could see them being similarly decorated. If someone else has their office whiteboard dedicated to Local Sports Team, then no reason why you can’t have one dedicated to Family Life.

      If you want to shrink the space they take without limiting yourself to just one photo of each, you can also do a photo collage of each thing (one for wedding and one for baby) or just one collage, and in either case make the entire collage fit into one 5×7 or 8×10 frame. Mom made my dad one that was some kind of fabric with cut-outs for little pictures and put pictures of me at various ages in, and that’s what he had on his desk for family photos the entire time he worked at that office downtown.

      Although he did occasionally get questions about how many kids he had since it had me at a variety of ages, so I guess maaaybe it was also weird? Probably it was mostly weird because the photos were all of me as a small child through early elementary school, and it was still the only photo on his desk when I’d be visiting him at work once a week as a teenager. (Which as also, in retrospect, a weird thing for me to be doing, but I had doctor’s appointments near his office on a regular basis, so I’d take the bus there from school and then wait reading books in his cubicle until it was time to go to my appointment so I wouldn’t just be a 13 year old loitering downtown left to my own devices for an hour.)

      I can see why you wanted to actually decorate the whiteboard, though, since it’s kind of a big blank space if it’s excess to your needs. If you do decide to donsize the family board, could you maybe put up some kind of big picture goals/funding thermometer (since you’re in fundraising) that needs only occasional updates and can have sections colored in in a variety of colors to brighten up the space a bit while still being clearly Part of the Job?

    6. amoeba*

      I don’t think it would be weird here at all, people have all kinds of personal things up in their offices!

      If you’d like to have a little bit of change from the kids/wedding/family theme (which I can see could be a little… much if a whole whiteboard is filled with it – as in, I wouldn’t want my that to be the only thing coworkers see on there as it’s not my whole personality!), maybe add some postcards/other memoranda/etc.?

      I’m looking at my office corkboard right now and the only “work-related” thing that’s on there is a stupid word art “certificate” we got for a project that I put up as a joke. Otherwise it’s a calendar with cute animals, several postcards, birthday/holiday cards I got from my employer, an old foreign banknote that I found in the archive, and another certificate: for having fed the penguins at the aquarium during my holiday.
      For me, personally, that makes it a bit more… light-hearted and less shrine-y than 30+ photos of my boyfriend and family.

  16. Bluz*

    LW1-I’m sorry that you’re going through this but I’m scratching my head as to how this has been going on for so long. Usually new staff have a probation period and then management reviews their progress to see how the person is doing. Does your company not do that or did someone drop the ball? I can understand staff taking awhile to learn their role in the first few months however after a few months you know if they can handle it or not. I’ve done training in the past and I immediately knew if they were doing well or struggling and let my manager know the details. All in all someone in management wasn’t doing their part. I hope you will update us in the future and wishing you much peace so you can get your work done. “Hand holding” can be exhausting. I feel your pain.

    1. LW #1*

      Thanks! We’re a fairly underfunded public sector organization, so while our managers are aware of the problem to some extent, there have constantly been bigger fish to fry.

      1. Fry that fish*

        I think this is where Alison’s advice comes in. She hasn’t been the “bigger fish” yet because no one is making her the bigger fish and she keeps getting help from her peers. This needs to be a management problem and not a coworker problem.

      2. Chauncy Gardener*

        That’s a tough sector to be in! Although I would agree with Alison that it’s time to make Perdita a big fish to fry for management and not you.

        1. LW #1*

          It is, and indeed, it probably is. It’s not unusual for a lot of things about this org to come as a surprise to people at first, so I’ll admit that for the first few months, I thought she would eventually start to settle in if I made a point of responding to the anxiety as calmy and matter of factly as possible. Then the next thing I knew, a year had gone by, and people we hired months after her were working more or less independently before she was.

  17. Irish Teacher.*

    I’m starting to think “I’m not comfortable with this,” is often a red flag. It seems to come up a lot with people who don’t want to do something for irrational reasons and it is both quite vague and also quite personal, making it harder to push back on as most of us don’t want to make people “uncomfortable.”

    Not that there aren’t valid reasons for feeling uncomfortable, but generally, if you don’t want to do something that is part of your job, you should be giving a reason, like “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with doing this without checking with our legal department about x as I think it may breach such a law”. “I’m not comfortable because I’m scared I’ll do it wrong” isn’t really a great reason.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes. I’m not comfortable with spreadsheets and interpreting data always because I struggle with it. I still have to do it because it’s part of my job. I can’t avoid doing it by saying I’m uncomfortable. One of my team isn’t entirely comfortable with public speaking but it’s part of his job (and he knew it when he took the role)

      I agree there are valid reasons for feeling uncomfortable but not wanting to do a part of the job usually needs a reason not just general discomfort.

    2. Daria grace*

      I have a particular type of complex, very low margin for error transaction to do in my job that sure makes me uncomfortable to an almost day ruining degree. It’s my responsibility to find a plan to deal with how that scares me. Sometimes it means taking extra time to step through the process more carefully than most do. Sometimes it means waiting until someone who’d be able to help me if I had a problem is back from lunch before I start. In worst case scenarios when I absolutely cannot deal that day it may mean holding it off until first thing next morning if I can do that without customer impact.

    3. Also-ADHD*

      I’m not comfortable with this because I might do it wrong is an important thing to be able to say in some contexts. If a surgeon in training needs to see and practice more before they do a procedure, we’d want them to say so for instance (as an extreme example) and we definitely don’t want to go to space where people are afraid to admit they don’t know how to do something yet or need supervision/practice at a thing because they worry they will do it wrong.

      The issue with Perdita is she’s applying that as anxiety to non-critical decisions. (What’s the worst that happens ordering pens wrong on a form? Nothing that bad. Nobody is hurt really.) I don’t know why she is, but she is. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with admitting you can’t do X because you don’t know how and might do it wrong.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I think another difference between Perdita and those scenarios is that in those cases, they are saying “I’m not comfortable doing that yet” or “I’m not comfortable doing it without additional supports, whereas Perdita seems to be saying she should never have to make these decisions.

        I agree that it’s important people are able to say they don’t feel they can do a task without supervision yet, but even if the form was critically important, it would make more sense to say “I’m a bit unsure about this. Would you mind reading through it when I’m done and making sure I haven’t forgotten anything?” rather than “I’m not comfortable doing this. I don’t think I should have to make these calls.”

        There’s definitely nothing wrong with admitting you can’t do something, but the word “comfortable” seems to come up more often when a person just doesn’t want to do something than when they can’t. Generally a person who is stuck on something won’t just say “I’m not comfortable doing this” and expect somebody else to do the task for them. They’ll say something like “could you help me on this?” or “I’m not sure I’m ready to do this task independently yet” or “could you walk me through this?”

        I know it’s not 100% and the use of the word “uncomfortable” on its own doesn’t necessarily mean the reason isn’t valid, but I can think of a whole load of situations both here and elsewhere where I’ve seen that word used to mean “I don’t want to do this and want to phrase it in a way that makes you seem like you are being mean to me if you make me or even ask me why.” Of course, one doesn’t notice wording so much when somebody has a valid complaint so I can’t say for sure whether I’ve often heard it used in those cases, but it’s one of those words where the vagueness can easily be used.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Well, yes, obviously, but the situation here clearly isn’t brain surgery and none of the things the LW described should be derailed by so much discomfort.

        I am terrible and also terribly uncomfortable with tech in general but it’s part of my job and my choices are to deal with it or find another job. I generally really like the job and the tech in question actually does make it better/easier, so for the past 15+ years I’ve been cycling through being really uncomfortable but then progressively less uncomfortable with each new round of tech that comes down the pike. So far, nothing has blown up.

        I’ve seen that word used to mean “I don’t want to do this and want to phrase it in a way that makes you seem like you are being mean to me if you make me or even ask me why.”

        This. So many times.

        1. Sparkle Llama*

          Right, like I am currently training someone and frequently ask are you comfortable doing this on your own or do you want to do it together one more time or she will say I am not comfortable with being the final eyes on this, could you look it over before I approve it or I am not comfortable with this process yet can I tell you want I am planning to do. That all feels very reasonable but if she just said I am uncomfortable with this and stopped talking, that feels very different and does give the impression I am being mean or inappropriate for telling her to do that.

    4. The Prettiest Curse*

      I wouldn’t have the career that I do now if I’d only done stuff with which I felt entirely comfortable. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I first started working big events – and honestly, I found the first few pretty excruciating because I was still learning.

      Being uncomfortable with something can be awful if you’re being asked to do something that really is a terrible idea for legal or ethical reasons. But it can also be a really useful way to learn – even you’re just learning that you’re terrible at something and should never do it again!

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes and I think there’s a difference between different reasons for being uncomfortable. I also think it’s best, if you’re telling your boss you’re uncomfortable to have a plan in mind for how to mitigate it.

        So I’m not comfortable with interpreting spreadsheets myself but I have a go and then I will check my thinking with my colleague Jack who studied statistics for his degree to make sure I’m reading it right and my analysis stacks up. I don’t sit there going “I’m not comfortable so I won’t do it.” I can’t say I ever feel 100% happy with data interpretation but that’s how it goes.

        Or I will say to my boss “for next weeks work trip I would prefer to stay in hotel A rather than hotel B despite it being more expensive. This is because hotel B is a in a dark, not very well lit alley and I’m not very comfortable arriving there late.”

        It’s fine to be uncomfortable with things, and sometimes it does indicate that there’s a bigger problem but the thing is to work out why you’re uncomfortable and what you can do to manage it.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Yeah, if I say “I’m not comfortable with this…”, it means that I have questions about it’s legality or whether it will cause major problems if I even attempt it. That is very rare, and I surface it to the correct people immediately, and get it resolved one way or the other. It doesn’t mean I refuse to have anything to do with it, but it does mean I might get additional buy-in or sign-off so if it blows up I’m not thrown under the bus.

          Perdita is using it to avoid doing her job entirely.

    5. Khatul Madame*

      IME “I am not comfortable with doing X” has become an euphemism for “I just don’t want to do X and don’t want to explain why”

      1. Garblesnark*

        In my personal life, I like being able to say “I am not comfortable” because as a person with a history of complex trauma, I might not know all the details of why something doesn’t feel right – but if I put that on the table, the people in my life who love and care for me can help me investigate the feeling and figure out what needs to happen for me to feel safe & loved.

    6. Bit o' Brit*

      The last time I had to explain that I wasn’t comfortable with something with the implication that I would not be doing it, it was due to a mental health concern that’s legally recognised as a disability that this comment section would adamantly declare I had no obligation to disclose.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        Perdita doesn’t have to disclose the reason she is uncomfortable with an essential function of her job, but if she can’t perform those essential functions (with or without accommodation), she isn’t going to be able to continue in this job.

        In any event, that isn’t LW’s problem to solve. She needs to let this be her manager’s problem. The manager and Perdita can consider whether any accommodations are possible.

    7. ina*

      I agree with the overall sentiment, but this comes off as somewhat “I pulled myself up by my boot-straps, so you should to.” There is no red flag in “I’m not comfortable with this” – it’s an objective statement. I was told to use a statistical technique I’d never even heard of before last week – I am not comfortable with this, I said, but I will do it and I’ll follow-up with questions as needed. Personally, I would not discourage anyone from saying it in any context. I want to hear a direct report is not comfortable doing their basic job functions or a new task, so we can head that off earlier rather than them muddle through it in silence, stress themselves out, and eventually burn themselves out.

      “I’m not comfortable because I’m scared I’ll do it wrong” is a completely valid reason for not being comfortable doing something, particularly if you *want* to do a good job & don’t wanna screw up other people’s projects with your mistake – you should still *try* to do it though, and ask for more experienced eyes to check it. Had Perdita come to LW in that example and said, “Hey, this is my first time filling out a government document and I’m kind of worried I didn’t do it correctly. Could you let me know if I filled this out correctly? Should I be using multiple forms if I want to request multiple dates?” However, she didn’t do that – she came to LW to basically have LW do her work for her. THIS reaction to discomfort is the issue, not her discomfort itself.

      Perdita is a poor fit for this job. The hiring process failed Perdita and LW and everyone who has to work with Perdita. LW’s manager isn’t managing (after a YEAR of knowing because Perdita isn’t subtle), and unfortunately, LW’s willingness to hold Perdita’s hand allows her to fester. Perdita doesn’t need to help herself because the system is literally working around her. Her weeping willow personality concerns me that she might also have something else going on because *who* is overwhelmed by filling out a form?

  18. bamcheeks*

    LW1, I gasped when I got to A YEAR. Two to three months is IMO the max amount of time that anyone should be thinking of themselves as “training” a new peer at the same level without it being a formal part of your job requirement. And even that should be max 2-3 weeks where it’s intense and having an impact on your own workload, before it switches into “the occasional catch-up” or “feel free to come to me with any queries about something you haven’t encountered before” stage.

    I do think you need to shift your thinking from “there must be some way I can fix Perdita” to “letting management see clearly that Perdita isn’t suitable for this role”. I think you must be a super helpful and conscientious person to have kept trying for this long to minimise the impact on Perdita and on the rest of the team, but at some point you’re actually camouflaging and enabling her inability to do the job from your managers (and possibly even from Perdita herself.)

    This bit: I’m concerned this situation will keep snowballing if I “give up” on training her makes me think that you’ll find this haaaaard, and in the short-term it’ll probably be extremely stressful for you to withdraw your support and let her fail. To make it as a smooth and careful as possible, I would recommend planning it out: as Alison says, speak to your manager first and make sure they’re aware that you’re going to stop helping her so much, and then let Perdita know that your workload is changing / getting more intense / that management have said you won’t have so much time to help her etc (a white lie is OK!) so she knows too. And then let the chips fall: it might well get worse for a bit, but the status quo is untenable and it’s not something you can fix.

    Good luck!

  19. SAS*

    LW3, I’m a similar aged woman in social work (family-based) so also v “touchy feely” workplace and 5 family photos would seem excessive to me. Is there truly nothing work-related you could use the second whiteboard for?

    1. Storm in a teacup*

      Agree totally.
      Are there some work photos or inspirational quotes you could put up?
      Or even just an art print?

      1. YesImTheAskewPolice*

        I’d be very cautious with inspirational quotes, especially if it’s not just one. Many of these quotes have become very common and/or are often associated with a social (think ig) or even dating context, so that they don’t read very professional either, to me at least.

  20. Clare*

    I had a time when I was a bit like Perdita when I started my current job. My problem was that I’m an exceptional wick maker and a pretty average wax melter. But everyone else found wax melting to be the easy part of making candlesticks, and wick making has a reputation for being very advanced. So they would get frustrated with me for taking so long to melt wax and generally wrote me off as not very intelligent, whilst simultaneously ‘doing me a favour’ by ‘saving’ me from having to make wicks by doing it themselves. Eventually I had a little outburst and called a meeting involving a PowerPoint showing how our current wicks are too short and the industry standard is to use cotton, not alpaca hair. After that my boss developed a lot more respect for me and understood what I bring to the team a lot better. My Perdita-like behaviour was caused by a combination of being unnecessarily forced to do tasks that I was no good at (and some physical health issues), and was solved by my boss allocating tasks differently. If LW1’s job requires every candlestick maker to do 100% of the role, it’ll probably be best for her mental health to move on.

    1. LW #1*

      I agree with that. I think the strength mismatch here is less around specific tasks and more that Perdita is a very conscientious person who, for whatever reason, has a lot of trouble tolerating ambiguity. If we could boil candlestick making down to a checklist for her, I’m sure we’d be able to count on her to follow it to the letter every single time without error. The rub has been getting her to accept that some situations call for a brass candlestick, while others might call for a pewter one, and it’s been an issue across the board, not just with paperwork.

      I can see how what I wrote sort of reads like I’m dismissing her ability to do higher-level work based on difficulties with clerical work, and I really hope I didn’t just make her too terribly internet famous as Lady Who Can’t Even Fill Out a Form. That just happened to be the most jargon-free example available to me (that I hope also conveys how she sees ambiguities even where I don’t).

      1. bamcheeks*

        The rub has been getting her to accept that some situations call for a brass candlestick, while others might call for a pewter one, and it’s been an issue across the board, not just with paperwork.

        Oh LW, such a missed opportunity for “the rub (a-dub-dub) has been…”

        (I am enjoying this work metaphor.)

      2. Lady_Lessa*

        Sounds like she would be very good at Quality Control where you do have to follow procedures to a T.

        I hope that you LW#1 and Perdita both find a working situation, even if or especially if she moves to another position.

      3. trust me I'm a PhD*

        So, I see a lot of myself in Perdita –– I do really high-level work, really well; but I see ambiguities everywhere, and they typically feel much more high stakes to me than they feel to other people.

        What I needed was to hit a crisis point, where I had to decide whether I was going to stay in my job and do it fully, or leave; and I had to decide I was going to trust my mentors who said I was doing okay. (Personally, I tried therapy, but didn’t find it very helpful, since it was a bunch of other people further removed from the situation doubling down on “gee, wow, that thing you think is high stakes is not high stakes.”) I’m still not great, but I’m much better than I was previously.

        All that to say –– as clearly as possible, lay out to her, or get her manager to lay out to her, “Here’s the job. You either decide you want to do it or you decide to leave. No shade either way, but that’s the choice.”

        1. i like hound dogs*

          I identify with Perdita. (And I also feel sorry for you, LW #1 — that sounds exhausting!)

          I have a PhD in English and am, in some senses, a very accomplished person. But I struggle with situations where I have to make new decisions/judgment calls, and I *always* want to know what the process is (so I can follow it!) only to be told that sometimes there is no process. I suck at troubleshooting anything, and I am also a hot mess at/have anxiety surrounding paperwork that I can’t really explain.

          I am now a corporate proofreader, where I do the same thing every day, and it’s (mostly) great! Sounds like Perdita needs a different job. I agree that making it the manager’s problem will be a kindness to all involved in the end. Hopefully.

      4. Clare*

        Don’t worry LW1, I didn’t mean to imply that you had no faith in Perdita’s intelligence! I just needed the context to explain why my skills weren’t being used to begin with, to give credence to my opinion that I think that’s Perdita’s problem. Her skills aren’t being used (and I’m sure she has many) because they’re just not needed for this role at all!

        The fundamental similarity I can see here is that she’s not able to do the work required of her and it’s stressing her out. If the role requires improvisation and there’s no way out of that, then I’d like to reiterate that it’s probably best for her stress levels to move on. I couldn’t improve until what I was doing fundamentally changed. Not everyone is a improviser in the same way that not everyone is an Olympic swimmer, and there’s no crime in either.

        The kindest thing to do might be for her boss to tell her to job hunt and give her a good reference for everything she’s good at other than improvising. Help her by giving her the chance to find a job that doesn’t raise her anxiety levels to maximum. People change jobs! None of you were psychic to be able to foresee this problem. She can move on, chalk this job up to experience and everyone can continue on with no hard feelings. That’s just life sometimes!

  21. Nina Bee*

    LW1 as a new manager who’s already had to deal with some ‘helpless’ employee issues, best thing to do is some tough love and boundaries. Give her minimal help and let her know she has to be a bit more proactive in her work given it’s been a year.

  22. But he never caused them nothing but shame.*

    LW2. So the whole situation has come about because they don’t want to do the massages in rooms with glass doors. When a roll of ‘frosted window’ sticky back plastic costs under a tenner and is easily applied and removed?
    Would be tempted to buy it myself and put it up one weekedn, it’s not a permanent fixture at all.

  23. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I’m sure it says something able that running “naked through a meadow” sounds less whimsically romantic and more potentially painful. Thorns, thistles, nettles, wasps…

    1. Too Many Tabs Open*

      That’s my reaction when someone waxes rhapsodic about walking barefoot in the dewy grass — sure, sounds like a lovely experience until you step on the sandbur or the fire ants.

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I had the exact same thought, haha. There’s a lot of things in meadows that aren’t fun to run on.

    3. Safety First*

      I was just thinking that Allison’s downtime must be a lot more interesting than mine.

      “What do you want to do today? Movie? Run naked through a meadow?”

      Also, does one wear shoes while doing this, being otherwise nude? Or barefoot too? What was the letter about?

  24. Pierrot*

    #1 is timely for me, because I have a new coworker and I am concerned that she is heading in a Perdita direction. I think it’s too soon to tell, as she has only been here for 6 weeks and is genuinely still learning how to do her job (unlike Perdita who has been in her position for a year). That said, I do NOT supervise this colleague and I’ve been in my position for less than 6 months. I spent a lot of time compiling resources for my new coworker and met with her multiple times to explain everything and answer her questions. Her supervisor and I have both told her to contact the supervisor with day to day questions, but she was exclusively contacting me last week. She wants instant answers regardless of the urgency of the situation (none of the situations have been urgent).

    The nature of the job involves learning by doing. We work with the public and aren’t able to anticipate every situation that can possibly arise, but the supervisor is prepared to answer questions and make decisions as they come up.

    I really hope that as time goes on, she becomes more comfortable with the job as she gains more experience. She’s still brand new, so I’m trying to cut her some slack and be patient. It’s just taking up a lot of time that I do not have (because I am not a trainer and she is my peer) and the anxiety is wearing me down.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      “Her supervisor and I have both told her to contact the supervisor with day to day questions, but she was exclusively contacting me last week.”

      So long as you keep answering the questions, you’re training her to go to you.
      She probably doesn’t want the supervisor to realise how much she’s struggling.

      Refer her back to the supervisor every time, which sounds like what the supervisor wants, probably to keep a closer eye on her progress:
      “sorry, I’m busy atm, but supervisor name says she’ll always have time for you”
      “at this stage of your training, supervisor name says she wants you to ask her “

      1. TiredAdmin*

        I agree. I had a Perdita a little while ago, who was in training and unfortunately her supervisors weren’t always available. I used to work on her team several years ago but have since moved teams, so she knew in a pinch she could ask me because I “know everything”. Well, we’ve been moving to a new system, so all my information about their process is outdated. My supervisor instructed me to say “I’m not sure, but (Perdita’s supervisor) would know.” Every time, even if I did know the answer. It’s helped a lot and she only asks me questions that actually pertain to my team.

  25. Delta Delta*

    #2 – Perhaps HR might like to be reminded that unlike pumping, chair massages aren’t protected under federal law.

  26. That_guy*

    “… go do your own thing (like go see a movie or run nude through a meadow)”
    – ALISON GREEN on SEPTEMBER 18, 2023

    I love this

  27. I should really pick a name*


    As I read your letter, every time I thought “have you tried X?”, your next sentence was basically “I tried X”.

    You’ve done a good job of providing support to Perdita, if she doesn’t work out, it’s not your fault. It’s time to step back and see what happens.
    Sometimes, when people are forced to act on their own, they’re actually successful. They were leaning on others as if they were a crutch they didn’t need.
    But even if that’s not the case, it’s not on you if she can’t do the job on her own at this point.

  28. Dog momma*

    And the other thing, with all this excessive hand holding at this point (LW not blaming you bc your manager doesn’t want to be involved); how in the world are you getting YOUR OWN work done? Coming in early/ staying late? Skipping lunch?

    2 of my own examples come to mind. Worked for a very large, well known company where everything was very time sensitive, you needed to work independently and work well with others, take on responsibility and everyone was your customer. I trained 1 woman , who constantly came to me after her probation period was over with her questions. That was fine ,to a point. You’re supposed to learn to use critical thinking and be more independent as time goes on. I always gave new people a list of common outside phone numbers, codes, emails, tips I’d learned ( trying to be vague here lol); that I came up with that helped me. and several senior staff always helped the group this way. But when I was involved in a rush project, this person came to me with a basic question that I’d taught her months ago. Meanwhile, I was typing furiously, my phone was ringing off the hook ( must answer by 3rd ring) etc. When I told her what to look in her packet for the info, she said..its easier to ask you! Argh!

    2nd one, I had to train people in my area ( different employer but basically same type of company & same expectations) a task that I had experience in & they had outsourced for years. Got a phone call with a request, told the last person I was training that I was set up for her and ready to go when she had completed the task she was currently doing when she said, I know how to do it…she wasn’t trained for that particular task by me or anyone else bc I had to train our department…she said.. just let me see & have a copy of the end result! This, after making a HUGE error that cost the company a significant amount of money bc she didn’t follow procedure. And I found the error and had to let the manager know. So I told the manager..dt this error and this woman says she is trained and knows what she’s doing; I’m DONE, and won’t be responsible for any of her errors going forward…she refuses to sit with me and be trained for this customer request. She’s the only one in the department to act like this..and walked back to my desk. I left that job not long after, management didn’t manage. And my direct boss , who was a micro manager to the nth degree, followed me from another job where our division was previously laid off! ugh!
    imo, this is pure laziness on the part of the employee and they get out of doing something everyone else is REQUIRED to do.

    Stop helping Perdita and push it back on the manager. Keep detailed records of all this nonsense.. date and time that Perdita come crying to you..bc she’s looking to get out of the work at this point.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      “I’m too busy to explain it to you again–go look in the packet.” Make it easier to do it herself. Stonewalling is your friend (sometimes).

      I have a coworker who likes to come to me for things that she should either be able to figure out on her own, or that she should take to our shared supervisor. I’ll explain a few things but beyond a certain point, I send her to Supervisor. One, supervisor implemented the procedure, two, I don’t get paid enough for this much distraction, and three, supervisor needs to know what coworker isn’t remembering.

  29. mlem*

    LW5: I am curious how you’re defining “downtime”. If that means no work is ready for you, *or* if it means you’re adding up normal small breaks like going to the bathroom, standing and stretching, taking a few minutes to check headlines … those are all part of the job. If something then comes in past your hours (or didn’t get completed during your hours), if you can’t defer it to fill that “downtime” in your next day, certainly charge overtime for staying and doing it.

    If you didn’t get your day’s work done because you decided to watch an entire hour-long episode of some show (or more than one!) while signed in, that would be different, but that doesn’t sound like what you’re posing.

  30. HonorBox*

    OP1 – I’m sorry this has become such an exhausting exercise for you. It sounds awful, to be honest. You’ve given Perdita the same training others have received, and she’s clearly not picking up what you’re putting down. It has to land back on management’s desk at this point. When you go speak to your manager, have specific information that you can cite to help convey this message. Include what you’ve included in your letter, along with the amount of time you’re spending answering these inane questions. I’d like to think your manager would think like me and determine both that your time is more valuably spent doing your job and that Perdita is not capable of doing the work that she’s been hired to do. While there can be a lot in play, if someone is moved to tears by what sounds like a pretty straightforward form, that’s something that needs to be looked at from a level higher.

  31. Czhorat*

    This doesn’t help LW4 (screen-sharing), but almost all platforms (Teams, Zoom, Webex, etc) let you share a window or application rather than your screen. This is almost always the better choice. (In Teams, for example, if you can select a window rather than a screen when you hit the share button). It also avoids having popups for message alerts appear in the meeting.

    I don’t know if you can share this tip with your manager or if he’d listen, but it’s something we should all think about when we use soft conferencing tools.

    1. Still*

      That’s a good point and I think in this case everyone is already aware of it (“As a team we are always reminded to only share windows/files rather than our entire screens.”), the boss just… chooses to ignore it, apparently? Baffling.

    2. Random Dice*

      I’m wondering what this ominous statement even meant:

      “Even though I’m famously nosy when people are sharing their screens,”

      Whatever that means, OP4, stop doing it.

  32. LW 2*

    I have to say, I’m really surprised my letter was chosen. I basically wrote it when I was pissed off- then edited it down- and sent it on a lark.

    First to the points:
    -The office was designed by Big Boss to have glass doors on offices because it’s a new hybrid set up- and since the offices are small, the thought was the glass doors were to keep them from feeling like coffins. However, Big Boss did make a point to have a “wellness room” for nursing mothers while designing it- they also made a point of taking me aside while pregnant and informing me about it.

    -Since I was pretty shocked in the moment and had immediate projects to get to, I didn’t think of blinds or clings (which would also be an obvious solution lol). But also something worth pointing out!

    -In terms of “who to address this to,” would be HR and Director (being vague here) so after having my immediate (and regrettable) outburst in person to a female exec (who is cool and I trust,) I did loop in my male manager to keep him informed of what was happening in case I needed to escalate. Male manager was sympathetic but not very helpful with advice. If it didn’t work (see below) I would go to Big Boss who again designed the office.

    While I personally love drama and gossip to hear about, I don’t exactly want to have it in my work life. I wanted to solve it without causing a dust up, and as many years of reading AAM taught me, direct communication is the best solution.

    The solution:
    I waited until Friday to email back HR one last time. I wish the letter was published before that because my email was long (LOL) because I felt like the company just didn’t understand my role, which was unique compared to everyone else (trying to be vague). So I used many words and examples to explain why I would need a space on the fly, and I didn’t have set office hours. I was polite and said I didn’t want to be put in the position of canceling massage day and maybe there was space somewhere else in the building or in the office. Oh and I pointed out the federal law requires a private place available as needed. (Politely!)
    HR emailed me back, saying they understood a little a little better. After consulting with the Director, the solution is this: massage day will be in that room when I’m not there. And when I am or come in later, it will be moved to one of the (many) conference rooms we have.
    Maybe they’ll also think about blinds…..

      1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

        “When she feels like it” is not nice to the LW. She specifically has stated that she gets last minute notice. This was NOT her fault but poor management. You don’t set up massages without having a dedicated space for them. Being this is an ongoing thing, what would they have done if another employee needed that room, and they were in the office full time??

        The problem has nothing to do with work from home, since it sounds like sometimes she has to work other places (such as being required to go across the state with 12 hours notice.)

      2. Vintage Lydia*

        It’s not when she feels like it. It’s when her job requires it, and it’s not her fault the nature of her job has this set at very short notice. It sounds like she does a lot of travel to other sites as well and having her home base be her actual home makes since. I’ve had multiple family members well before the pandemic have similar set ups. WFH plus frequent travel plus some time spent at the main office isn’t a terribly unusual work dynamic for many jobs spanning decades.

      3. JustaTech*

        I think you might have missed part of the letter where LW2 said that she “occasional travel throughout the state and last-minute assignments” – so it is not always her choice to not plan her in-office days in advance.

        Also, the lactation room is a federal requirement now, so how often LW2 comes in isn’t really relevant. The room needs to be there and a lactating person has priority for use of the room, so other stuff shouldn’t be scheduled for in there.

      4. LW 2*

        “When I feel like it” isn’t the case. I’m not getting into details about my job for privacy reasons.

        I guess I could just pump in the car wherever I am, even tho I could just be in the office within five minutes and be more comfortable and you know, not struggle to produce breast milk. Because stress is a reasons why breast milk can’t be expressed

  33. Yellow cake*

    LW2 I think you need to honestly review how often you feasibly might use this room. I’m not arguing that you should not have access to a private space to pump, but I’m wondering if your in office time is frequent enough to say I shouldn’t have to participate in any sort of schedule (unless your office has lots of free spaces and these chairs could go anywhere).

    In my office a lot of people have embraced flexibility and WFH. The issue is that many resources are technically unavailable to others but not being used for the purpose/people they are booked to – because those people rarely come into the office. So we have staff doing without – just in case. And it is wearing very thin.

    I’d be annoyed if we lost a meeting room that was fully subscribed – just in case – you happened to pop in on a Wednesday and need the room at some point. Especially if I’m there every Wednesday and I only see you for a few hours every month. If you are only occasionally using it on a Wednesday, and only briefly – it does not make sense to me that the room be held permanently for your personal usage even when you have no intention of using it.

    What certainty can you fit to your schedule? You mention finding out at 4 the day before – is it typical that you know the day before? I thing you should talk to HR about a scheduling that works. Maybe not opening up bookings until the morning of when you know you won’t be there, permanently blocking out your pumping times and releasing when you don’t need them, or even making them drop ins and room needs to be vacated if required for intended use.

    You might be there a lot more than I’m imagining. But I’m thinking right now of a few colleagues of mine who I see once or twice every few months. But still we block out resources just for them – because they are entitled to them, and it just doesn’t make sense to me.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      It doesn’t have to make sense to you – it’s a legal requirement in the US that a private space for pumping is available to employees who need it.

        1. Czhorat*

          Yep. Consider it an accommodation for the physical issues that come with motherhood. We wouldn’t suggest this with other accommodations.

          ie, “the person with the wheelchair only comes in every other week, so we can set up picnic tables on the ramp”.

          Also, an accommodation is only welcoming if you minimize barriers to its use. Having to schedule around massage day or ask the massage people to leave is an additional barrier, and makes it a less welcoming space for those who need it.

          Alison hinted at the bigger issue in her reply: architects who design corporate interiors LOVE glass walls. This gives an illusion of space and a feeling of openness, but is absolutely terrible for acoustics and for privacy. If one of the conference rooms had solid walls they could set up the massage chairs in there and everything would be fine.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            As a disabled woman I love this analogy! I don’t have kids but I prefer to believe that people who have been pregnant and nursing know a LOT more about their needs than I do. Therefore I don’t contradict them.

            1. Czhorat*

              I do audiovisual technology design; one thing I often recommend is inductive loop and/or WiFi systems in addition to radio frequency/infrared assistive listening systems because that lets people use their personal devices and not have to ask someone at the venue to give them a receiver.

              It’s the kind of thing which, to be honest, should be given more thought in space design.

          2. Remote work, remote minds*

            It’s an “accommodation” that Congress intended to give to nursing mothers working in the office. Surely Congress never intended companies to dedicate nursing space for employees who rarely, or only haphazardly, show up in the office. This is a loophole that ought to be corrected to incentivize companies to implement return-to-office and for employees to show up.

            1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

              Why do you keep pestering on about requiring comapanies to implement return to the office? For many, MANY companies WFH has been great. You are missing the point

              1. Parakeet*

                Given the username, this person is clearly some troll with an axe to grind about remote work. And the username makes it clear that their axe to grind doesn’t really have anything to do with efficient use of space, or cost, and they’re just using LW2’s situation as a platform for their misguided hobby-horse.

            2. Someone Online*

              I mean, it was signed by the President in 2022 when hybrid and remote work were still going strong, so perhaps your initial premise is incorrect.

            3. I Have RBF*

              Look, if you want to cheerlead for RTO in spite of the fact that we are still at risk for Covid, fine. But don’t act like everyone should agree with you, because we DON’T.

              So don’t try to use the fact that a pumping room is LEGALLY REQUIRED as an excuse that everyone should mandate RTO. It is not in any way related. The law is clear: If you might have people who need to pump in your office, you need to have a pumping space. The law doesn’t say that they have to be 100% of the time in the office.

            4. edda ed*

              I get that you have your pet cause, but it’s entirely irrelevant. Returning to office en masse won’t help the LW in the slightest. You’d just have even more onsite employees using the pumping room for massages.

    2. MountainAir*

      This is the employer’s problem to solve, not LW2’s. It is a legal requirement (not to mention the right thing to do) to make sure that an employee, even one who isn’t on site most of the time, has a place to express milk – which is necessary for nursing babies and for nursing moms’ health. The DOL even goes out of its way in its fact sheets to clarify that employees working outside a traditional 40 hour work week on one site are entitled to the same protections as anyone else. How the employer figures balancing things out is up to them, but LW2 should not be in a position where she’s trying to get access to a basic legal and biologically necessary accommodation without ruffling anyone’s feathers.

      1. Remote work, remote minds*

        The DOL even goes out of its way in its fact sheets to clarify that employees working outside a traditional 40 hour work week on one site are entitled to the same protections as anyone else.

        No one is denying this point, but equally, the DOL is of course not saying that employers are required to offer work from home, part time, or similar arrangements. They do so because they believe that, to a point, those arrangements were in the company’s interest. Clearly in 2023, companies have reevaluated that stance, at least insofar as full WFH arrangements are concerned. This letter is but one of many examples of reasons for that reevaluation.

    3. SarahKay*

      I think HR needs to stop booking – for a full DAY! – a room that is designed for use by pumping mothers, when the HR activity doesn’t need that sort of privacy.
      LW2 has told us that her schedule is unpredictable and she can need to be on site at very short notice; it’s not reasonable for HR or anyone else to make her feel guilty for needing to use what is literally the only available room on her site for an activity that actually *does* need that sort of privacy. Oh – and her need to use it has been backed up by the US gov’t who says it legally has to be available.

    4. My Brain is Exploding*

      It’s on the company – legally – to have a room that’s always available. It’s a requirement. It doesn’t have to be that particular room…they just MUST have a place.

    5. Shirley Keeldar*

      It’s not that nobody can ever use that room because OP might sometimes need it—it’s that the company is booking that room for the whole day with somebody who can’t easily transfer over to another space. OP’s not saying nobody can ever have a meeting there. She saying it the space should not be completely, inflexibly booked up.

      Also, as has been pointed out above, the chair massages can easily go in another room. But OP has a real need for the privacy of this particular room.

    6. lucanus cervus*

      Having other people help themselves to use of the pumping room will very likely result in a nursing employee not being able to access it when they need it. And that employee needs to be able to pump without having to fight for the space to do so. Legally and otherwise. It’s that simple.

      1. HonorBox*

        This entirely. Because once it is used for a different reason, you can absolutely bet it will be used for different reasons going forward. While the LW isn’t in all the time and can be in at unpredictable times, going forward there will be others who need it, and it isn’t on the LW or any future nursing mother to have to fight for the space.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        There’s a letter on AAM that had the company wanting to turn the pumping room into a ‘mask free room’. If I recall the comments section lit up about the absurdity of it.

    7. Someone Online*

      This is a pumping room that is occasionally used as a meeting space. This isn’t losing meeting space – this is losing pumping space.

    8. Jello Stapler*

      Um not her personal usage- any pumping mother. It’s mandatory. It’s required. She does not control when she has to come in and not.

      There are other available rooms that would work for massages but not pumping. It’s not a meeting and it’s not her being difficult. Sorry you have space issues at your work, but the implication is that SHE is being difficult for wanting to be able to pump vs HR wanting chair massages in a designated pumping room= ridiculous.

    9. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Probably bad analogy but: there’s a disabled parking bay at all of our regional offices and depots. I’m the only one who uses it. I can’t predict when I need to go to a site. Should I need to book it in advance since the able bodied people on site might use it more?

      No. Because it’s a legal accommodation that I have access to.

      Pumping rooms are a legal accommodation.

      1. UKDancer*

        Also you may be the only person using it now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t recruit other people with disabilities at some future point. Having the bay available means that when people with disabilities look at the company, they can see that some thought has been given to accommodating their needs and so increase the chance of them applying for jobs.

    10. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      The room is reserved for LW and anyone else, now or in the future, who needs or wants to pump. As Ginger Baker pointed out, it doesn’t have to make sense to you that the company is following federal law by reserving the room for that purpose.

      If your company is also, or instead, reserving a lot of space for other people to use for things other than pumping, and if that’s interfering with getting your work done, that’s something to take up with your management. But please don’t frame it as “it’s unfair that I can’t expect to use the pumping room, because I can’t be sure Tangerina won’t be in the office on any given Wednesday.” (I’m assuming here that the situation isn’t that you’re there every Wednesday and Friday, and Tangerina is there every Tuesday, and occasionally on Wednesday and Friday.)

    11. Lily Potter*

      I figured that people would pile on you, Yellow Cake. Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

      YC not saying “OP, figure it out on your own!” S/he is saying “Maybe there’s another way here, other than holding a private space available 24/7 for an employee that may only be in the office once a month.” My thought is to use HR’s office as needed – you can’t tell me that HR doesn’t have a door!

      1. Random Dice*

        They deserve to be piled on, for chastising a woman for using her legal right.

        Entitlement to others’ legal rights is what deserves chastisement, not expecting one’s company to follow the law.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          There is however legal rights to such accommodations. Should I forgo my special chair at the office when I work from home for a few days?

      2. SarahKay*

        Yellow Cake took the time to write out not one, but two (lengthy), comments telling OP2 that she was being unreasonable.
        OP2 is not being unreasonable, she is requesting her legal rights, and to have those rights without being made to look like the spoiler-of-fun for the rest of the office.
        Bad enough that OP2’s HR is making her feel bad; she doesn’t need commenters wrongly adding to it.

      3. lucanus cervus*

        There isn’t, though, for all the reasons people have stated in the ‘pile on’. There are extremely good reasons why this right is laid out in law.

    12. Random Dice*

      Good thing that your “annoyance” doesn’t trump Federal law.

      I mean, honestly, what’s wrong with all of you??? Women have so few, stop trying to steal the few legal rights we still have.

      1. LW 2*

        I really appreciate all of you.

        Someone below pointed out that if I wasn’t hybrid, this wouldn’t be an issue at all – because I would be using the room every day. Which is exactly the point!

        There are two other flex offices for calls or whatever and a conference room. All exec staff have their own private rooms. So really….there is plenty of other space here for both the lactation room and massage day.

        I am not asking to reserve the room in perpetuity. I’m asking for availability when I do need it, which MAY be on a Wednesday!

    13. Bumblebee*

      It’s not a meeting room, nor is it the OP’s personal pumping room. She just happens to be the only pumping person right now. At any point another one might be hired, or be in the office and need it. Perhaps people who object to meeting the needs of nursing moms, or any moms, or any other group with any kind of needs outside of what you yourself have, should spend some time considering why you mind so much.

    14. Prefer my pets*

      I’ve heard a lot of stupid arguments for not allowing hybrid work, but this may possibly be the most illogical so far.
      “There is a space I can’t use now because someone else uses it some of the time, so I think they should use it ALL the time so I still won’t be able to use it, but now I will also have more traffic, more crowded breakrooms, more noise/distractions in the office, more competition for printers & conference rooms, etc”

  34. Smilingswan*

    I have to disagree on #4. I would actually take this to HR or his manager. She saw someone else’s PIP. Who knows what personal information about her that her manager has inadvertently shown to someone else. This needs to be addressed by someone above him.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      It sounds like boss has a habit of this, it sounds like LW has made numerous reminders of it in the past, and I don’t think tattling to a higher-up is necessarily going to be the thing to build a strong team.

      Yes, it’s concerning that boss is clueless, but I don’t thinking going over his head is the solution here. Maybe address LW’s information with him, as in “Hey boss, sometimes you’re showing confidential information about other employees on your screen. I’m a little concerned that other people might see my personal information….” and see where it goes from there.

  35. Thatoneoverthere*

    #1- There were times in my career where I was a Perdita. I don’t think I ever got to her level of outwardly expressing to other co-workers, how worried I was about processes. Or challenging them like Perdita is doing. For me I had alot of anxiety and I came off a very awful and toxic job. I would spend hours being terrified I did something wrong and obsess over it. It wasn’t healthy for me. I got alot of therapy to work through my work based anxieties and it helped so much.

    I agree that this isn’t your issue OP. It needs to go to management. Sometimes people like Perdita need a push from someone like management to get help. I am not sure what that means for Perdita. It could be a different job, therapy or whatever. I really suggest escalating this not only for your sake but Perdita’s too! I am sorry this is happening.

  36. The Person from the Resume*

    LW1, I think the answer is to stop training Perdita. If she comes to you with questions that she should know the answer to tell her that

    “You’ve been here for a year, you can figure that out by now.” Or “you need to figure that out on your own now.”

    “I’m busy and can’t keep helping you since you’ve been here for a year by now you shouldbe able to do it.”

    “Sorry, can’t help now.” … and turn away.

    I know that seems harsh, but she just needs the truth. Doing her job on her own after a year is not mean, even if Perdita may thnk it is.

  37. Be Gneiss*

    LW3, I think it all depends on the vibe in your organization. I have been in nonprofit fundraising where 5 family photos would not have looked out of place at all.
    Honestly, now I’m in a private-sector cube farm, and the vibe of the office is that your space should reflect that you’re a real person with a life outside the office.
    If you feel like it’s too much, based on the offices of other people you work with, maybe mix it up with some nicely printed inspirational quotes, or post cards, or snapshots of scenery from places you’ve gone, or something?

    1. lilsheba*

      Frankly I think they should just do what THEY want, it’s their space and don’t spend time worrying about what anyone else thinks, it’s really not their business.

  38. JS*

    Isn’t access to a private pumping room (that is not a bathroom) mandatory now? Seems very shortsighted and outright dumb of HR to not use all the other options available to them and brush off nursing mothers.

  39. Tommy Girl*

    My dingbat boss actually accidently EMAILED me a PIP for one of my coworkers. I exercised great restraint and did not open the attachment. But the damage was done, because then I knew he was on a PIP, which is very rare in our company! He was pretty terrible at his job, so I do get it. I’m also about 80% sure the PIP employee was the one that told our management about our boss’s erratic work schedule, which lead to her firing maybe a year after the PIP. So I learned some things – don’t cross the PIP employee.

    1. funkytown*

      Oof. I don’t know that I would have had your restraint to control my own curiosity, so kudos! I once learned a coworker was on a PIP accidentally before via screenshare but no details. I didn’t say anything to the coworker or to the manager (they both did had something related visible separately in meetings with me!) just continued doing my own job as normal. That coworker was eventually fired 8 months later and I still don’t know more than the fact that at one point a PIP existed, which is of course reasonable.

  40. JaneDough(not)*

    LW2 (nursing mother): Perhaps ask HR to install blinds on conference-room doors, so that those rooms can be used for chair massages? It’s a relatively cheap solution.

    Good luck with this (sincerely, not snarkily). I don’t have kids, but even so I’m disgusted by how hard this country, and corp. Murka, makes it for families to get off to a good start (long paid leave for both parents, subsidized child care, in your case a firm understanding that the pumping room should NOT be used as a catch-all, and more).

  41. Keymaster of Gozer*

    1: I’ve been perdita and worked with a few as well.

    Ultimately all the soft words, the attempts to help and different ways of doing hugs prolong the issue; they do not help it.

    Sounds harsh but a ‘I don’t think you’re suited for this career if you’ve not learnt the ropes by now’ can be a good thing. It’s a clear solid boundary and it doesn’t always have to come from the boss.

    In my case it was a coworker who was (understandably) pissed off that I was still asking questions about the basics of the job 10 months in. It turns out I’m not suited for software development at all. I simply don’t work well with long deadlines and project work.

    In the case of having coworkers like that I remembered that and did hit a point of ‘I’ve told you this 50 times, I do not have the resources to be your job Wikipedia any longer’.

  42. Someone Else's Boss*

    I used to work at a school that taught massage therapy. We offered chair massages in a large, very open room, every day for two hours. I’m sure a dark room with music would have been even more relaxing, but privacy is not necessary for a chair massage. They can move that to a room with a glass door. This argument is absurd.

  43. Evie K*

    LW 3 – maybe fill up that second whiteboard with your company’s milestones and successes? Covers the space but is more about everyone which makes more sense to me for something tanking up the space of wall art.

  44. Keymaster of Gozer*

    3: I’d say tone it down. It’s fine to have a picture or two of your family at work (there’s one of me and the husband unit on my desk) but my general stance is ‘would this look professional in the doctors office?’

    A framed photo of his family on his desk? Heck yeah. A whiteboard of his family vacations? Err no.

    We’re in IT here, so action figures and toy spaceships can sometimes accumulate but generally we still try to keep it to a minimum.

  45. YearOfTraining?*

    OP1, is it was normal to still be in training after a year at your company? That, more than anything else, raised red flags to me. Even at companies that say they don’t expect employees to be fully up to speed/contributing at 100% for a year or more (which is unusually long), I’ve never seen a training period last more than a month or so. A week is more common, and no training is not unusual. This is across several industries for office/technical work.

  46. LW 2*

    Wow, I wasn’t expecting my letter to be published. Thanks for all the advice! I have reached a resolution, which I will include in a bit.

    To the points raised:

    -It is federal law to create space that is “shielded from view and available as needed that is not a bathroom.”

    -My office was recently designed for a hybrid set up- but all other offices have glass doors to avoid people feeling claustrophobic. The Big Boss specifically designated one room for a “wellness room” and took me aside when I was pregnant to point out its use.

    -There is a conference room and two other small conference rooms available as flex space. These rooms again have glass doors. One, and only one, room in the office does not have a glass door.

    -I am on a schedule for breast pumping, but I do forget on occasion/work through to meet immediate deadlines.

    -I am not asking to permanently block the room even if I am not there. I am asking them to find accommodations for me, WHEN I AM THERE, because again….there is literally one room in the office that does not have a glass door. I should not have to be deemed the “massage day ruinier” because my boss’s child is sick and I have to come in last minute to handle something for him!

    -Blinds and wall clings are a great idea and honestly I didn’t think of that until after the resolution.

    -Again….. It is federal law to create space that is “shielded from view and available as needed that is not a bathroom.”

    1. LW 2*

      As for the resolution:

      After I pushed back on HR’s “don’t come in between the four hour block on this day,” they told me to check in with them when I planned to come in. As detailed above, sometimes I don’t know until 12 hours or less notice I am coming to the office.

      I wish I saw Allison’s advice because I ended up sending a long email back to HR (LOL) that explained my concerns. My boss and I are in a unique division of the company so I assume people don’t understand I don’t have a planned schedule- like I have last minute assignments in the city. So I explained that with a detailed, real life example. I also explained that I don’t want to be the one to force massage day to another day (Imagine you come in for that perk and find out that it randomly was canceled, that would be aggravating) but I also wanted a place to pump safely. I asked if there was a way we could move the massage set up or find me a safe place in the building —oh yeah, and it’s the law to provide a space that is not a bathroom and shielded from view.

      HR said that on the days I happen to be there on massage day, they would move the set up. Happy ending! And like I said, I just think it was out of sight, out of mind. Though wall clings are an excellent idea…..

  47. Lily Potter*

    LW3, your letter reads female to me. Apologies if that’s not the case. But assuming that it IS the case, your second white board does read as a “bit much” to me. It reads really “girly”/Pinterest to me. Of course, I don’t know how that will play at your organization. Ask yourself two questions: 1) would a male employee at your level in the organization use a white board this way and 2) would ANY employee two rungs up on the ladder at your organization use a white board in this way? My guess is that the answer to both questions is “no”. Frame your wedding photo and one or two pictures of your kids for your desk. Use the white board in a professional manner.

    1. LW 2*

      After I pushed back on HR’s “don’t come in between the four hour block on this day,” they told me to check in with them when I planned to come in. As detailed above, sometimes I don’t know until 12 hours or less notice I am coming to the office.

      I wish I saw Allison’s advice because I ended up sending a long email back to HR (LOL) that explained my concerns. My boss and I are in a unique division of the company so I assume people don’t understand I don’t have a planned schedule- like I have last minute assignments in the city.

    2. LW 2*

      To be clear: the office was designed so all offices and flex offices – except one for the wellness room- would have glass doors. There is one large conference room and two other flex offices, not including the pumping room, available to staff. Massages would be booked, back to back, between 10 and 2.

      1. Ranon*

        My office has definitely done chair massages in our very much extremely glass conference rooms. It’s fine. They should use another room.

  48. Unfortunate Admin*

    #1 Are you me? I had a very similar situation with more than a year of me still training this person and hand holding every project. It got to a point where colleagues were going to me for everything because they didn’t trust our Perdita, and sometimes that included management. In my case, I don’t know that management would have actually done much to help her get where she needed to be (because I ended up finding another job and quitting), but I do wish I would have pushed them more on it. I hope you can find a resolution with management or another job!

  49. H.Regalis*

    Ugh, Perdita. I feel for you, LW. That would drive me up a wall.

    Perdita clearly has some major problems. What they are, or what they’re caused by, who can say. In the end, it doesn’t matter as far as you’re concerned. She is expecting way too much emotional labor from you. The best thing you for yourself and others can do is make this your manager’s problem.

    Perdita will likely sulk and/or pitch a fit when you do this, but in the long run, at least you won’t end up going off on her one day due to years of pent-up frustration.

    I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to Perdita: I’m sure her mind is not a happy place to be, but I’ve been the person pouring endless time and energy into trying to help people who end up just being bottomless pits of need. It doesn’t end well.

  50. Lobsterman*

    LW1, if your management won’t fire her, then your choices are get a new job or rubber room her.

    The person you are describing is not a functioning adult and could not do any job. Stop wasting time trying to fix the unfixable, and either have your managers do their jobs or get somewhere else.

  51. Immortal for a limited time*

    #1 – that’s exhausting. Once I was hired onto a specialized team that had two experienced staff. One of them was getting ready to retire, so I would essentially be their replacement after a training period. She told me that part of my role after her departure would be to boost the ego of the other team member because she was a bit fragile. She gave me examples of what I could say, which included (I kid you not!) to tell her she had pretty hair or nails. Uh, no — not my job! But I appreciated the knowledge that she was sensitive and I kept that in mind in future interactions. Later in my career there, she left on maternity leave and I took over several tasks, including a time-sensitive project she had started. She didn’t like the decisions I made (in good faith, and for what I believed were good reasons) to meet the deadline, but she didn’t say anything to me directly; instead, she waited several days to blindside me with an angry rant in a meeting with several other staff present. So she wasn’t so fragile after all. I ended up looking like the more rational person in that room, though. Stop hand-holding and babysitting your coworker, like Alison said. She probably needs a different job that makes her and everyone else less miserable.

    #5 – the LW didn’t say whether the downtime was due to the nature of the job and that it couldn’t be helped, or whether it was due to the LW having a lot of personal conversations or otherwise wasting time that could be spent working. Some mental-break time and non-work-related interaction is expected (although, in my current job, it’s frowned on), but everyone in a professional setting should ask themselves if they’re hindering their own ability to get work done in normal working hours.

  52. BellyButton*

    #2 has an easy solution, give the room back to the people who actually needs it- pumping mothers. And get some foldable medical screens to put up in one of the glass conference rooms – those people aren’t exposing their body parts so they don’t need a fully private room. The screens are enough.

  53. SadieMae*

    As a person with anxiety, I have always found that it wants to take up as much space as possible. It’s not about the thing you’re anxious about – it’s about this free-floating feeling of “something is very wrong” that worms its way in everywhere. So if I’m relying on someone else to reassure me about something that makes me anxious, no amount of reassurance will really help because the anxiety will just manifest somewhere else, like the world’s most frustrating game of Whack-a-Mole. Even if the person manages to assure me that I did remember to turn the oven off, I will just start worrying about whether I remembered to lock the front door. Or I’ll think “But wait, it’s a gas oven, not electric! I don’t remember if I told her that! It might change her answer. I’d better ask again…”

    The only solution is not to rely on others to alleviate my anxieties but, rather, to tough out that unpleasant feeling (with the help of an SSRI, in my case!). Assuming the Terrible Thing doesn’t happen (which it usually doesn’t), that breaks the anxiety feedback loop and helps me manage future anxiety issues too. You can’t go around it – you have to go through it. At least I do, and I think that’s common.

    All of this is to say that by continuing to hold Perdita’s hand, not only is LW having to deal with frustration and lost work time/efficiency, but she’s not helping Perdita in the long run. Knowing that might help LW move forward in a positive way for everyone, knowing that by stopping the handholding she is in fact doing something that may actually help Perdita break through this anxiety cycle and others (including possibly seeking out some mental health support that will be more useful than being told for the umpteenth time that she can in fact use the extra lines on the form).

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      the thing that used to help most when my bc was making me constantly anxious (before I figured out the cause) was horror movies. Spending a couple of hours feeling really intensely anxious and knowing exactly why usually gave me a few hours respite afterwards!

      (this is not helpful with the Perdita thing, since I doubt many office would let you play BBC’s Ghostwatch on a loop, but just throwing it out in general for people trying to manage anxiety outside of the office)

  54. Michelle Smith*

    LW3: Do the photos make you feel happier in your space? If so, keep them. If not, consider removing a couple.

    For what it’s worth, I probably had a combined 7 or 8 personal photos on my desk in my last job – pictures of my family (parents and grandparents) and a picture with a friend who is closer to me than family. My photos were decidedly “younger” coded than yours even though I’m also mid-30s. No one ever said anything negative to me about them or treated me differently for having them around my office and I wouldn’t have gotten rid of them even if they did. Having those photos around brought me joy and made difficult days just slightly easier to manage. I don’t regret my choice.

    That being said, at my current office I have zero personal pictures up of any kind. Why? It took me getting help from a friend to “move out” of my last office when I quit that job because I also had personal tchotchkes people at that job gave me, personal office supplies I’d bought (everything from my tape dispenser to my pens were my personal property), training materials, several suits, a personal lamp, etc. etc. It was just…too much. It was nice to have everything I needed when I was spending 8-10 hours a day there 5 days a week, but I’m not in that kind of situation anymore. I’ve decided this time around that if it’s too much for me to put in the trunk of an Uber in under 10 seconds, it’s too much stuff to have at the office – so no framed photos this time around.

    1. Lily Potter*

      I understand where you’re coming from…….I got laid off during Covid. We’d been allowed into the office several months before the layoffs to grab essential work items. I’m glad that I grabbed more than the essentials; something in the back of my mind told me that I wouldn’t be working there long term so I took home a LOT of stuff. When the layoff happened, I did have the opportunity to go back in again but it was a much quicker trip given my earlier clear-out. I was grateful for this since the clear-out had to be done after hours while someone was watching me (thankfully, a friendly face). The job prior, I knew I’d be leaving about a month before I turned in my notice and was able to quietly take things home over time without raising alarms.

  55. ina*

    #2: Why can’t they have they massages in a room with a glass door? Or cover the glass door with paper or something on Wednesdays? Seems like less of a need for absolute privacy is needed for a voluntary massage than a pumping room.

    #3: There is a balance between too much and too little. A whole whiteboard would make me think you want to talk about personal stuff a lot off the bat (my office isn’t the type where people decorate their desks extensively, just a picture here and there or some knick-knacks) and I’d likely be wary, but it sounds like your work culture is for this, so I don’t think you should think too hard about it.

  56. K*

    It seems like an inefficient use of space for that room to be used only for pumping and only occasionally. Otherwise it just sits there. Using the room for something else while OP doesn’t need it, but allowing her to use it whenever she does, seems like a good compromise.

    1. Lily Potter*

      This was my conclusion as well. My read is that this is a small to mid sized company. It makes zero sense to dedicate an space 24/7/365 for lactation when the nursing mom isn’t regularly in the office. The federal law doesn’t require a 24/7/365 dedicated space, just that there be A private space when needed. If the company wants to use the lactation room for other purposes, it’s not unreasonable for the LW to let HR know the night before that they’ll be in the office the next day so that HR can figure out another appropriate solution.

      I worked in small office (50 people) that had what we called a Quiet Room. It was very small but had a comfy chair inside. Everyone without a private office used the Quiet Room for quick personal calls and when we had nursing mothers, they used it for lactation. Nursing moms got priority – if someone was inside on a call when she needed the room, the caller just quickly wrapped things up. No sign up sheets necessary; we just all acted like adults.

      1. HannahS*

        I wonder if you find it inefficient that parking lots have disabled parking spots–designated so 24/7/265–even when there aren’t people with disabilities on site that day? Should abled employees be able to use it, and then with the employee who needs it comes, they can politely ask the other person to wrap up what they’re doing and move their car?

        Sometimes the rights of other people are inconvenient or inefficient. The solution found at your company follows the letter of the law, but it places nursing mothers in the position of not even being able to reserve time to pump, and putting them in the position of appearing to inconvenience others to attend to a private bodily need.

        1. Space Lasers*

          Yes, thank you! Pumping can be such a fraught topic at work and already a challenge (aka PITA) to juggle on top of regular work that adding barriers like having to kick a coworker out of a room in order to pump is definitely one step too many. And also *right now* that one employee is the only one pumping and isn’t in the office all the time, but other employees could well be in that position in the future, not to mention guests/clients who might need to pump while at the office

          1. JustaTech*

            Yes to this! Also, I think a lot of people (understandably) aren’t aware that not being able to pump when you need for as long as you need can cause not only pain but things like clogged ducts which can lead to mastitis which is a pretty serious medical condition (nasty fever, need antibiotics, etc).
            It’s one thing for me to negotiate with the other pumping mom for use of the room. But what if I had to kick out my VP or Director who was using the room for a personal phone call?
            And honestly, it’s not like any pumping room I’ve been to has been *nice*. Yes, it has a comfy chair. But other than that they’re pretty much universally very small, cramped spaces.

        2. Lily Potter*

          It is not the same as handicapped parking, and I think you know that.

          There is a continuum here. There’s the “nursing mothers can use the toilet” end and there’s the “there should be a dedicated lactation room in every business, beautifully furnished, and available for nursing mothers 24/7/365, even if there are no lactating employees on staff” end. The federal law requires A private place that’s not a restroom for employees. A decent business will offer more, but it simply doesn’t make logistical or practical sense for most small businesses to offer the dedicated 24/7/365 space. So – sometimes people have to be grown ups and do the best that they can with what they’ve got.

          By the way – here’s the typical Quiet Room handoff:
          LYDIA knocks at locked Quiet Room door with pump bag on her shoulder
          BRYANT answers the door, sees Lydia, says “Hang on a sec, going to another room”, and leaves Lydia to do her thing. Very not dramatic. Bryant knew Lydia had priority for the space. Lydia knew her option for a dedicated 24/7/365 space was a partitioned off corner of the warehouse, which would meet federal law but not be anywhere near as nice as the Quiet Room. Everyone just acted like a grown up and carried on.

          1. LW 2*

            For the record Lily Potter, I understand and mostly agree with what you’re saying. My problem is people have already gotten into the headspace that it’s not a pumping too (they store snacks in the fridge, someone is trying to use it as a private office). I do feel weird kicking someone out, but I did do it. They didn’t seem to get why I would need the room at all.

            I never asked for a fridge. It’s nice to have, but since it’s constantly filled with other people’s food I use my own cooler. All I want is a private space where I can pump in peace and where I don’t have to be “the girl who canceled massage day.”

            And HR has reached that compromise with me.

            1. Lily Potter*

              LW2, I’m glad to hear that compromise has happened! I’m guessing that you and your HR person came to some sort of a sane solution, even if it’s not the “ideal world” solution for both of you. In other words – you’re each doing the best you can with the resources available.

              This is a much better approach than to immediately assume that the employer is anti-woman, is trampling on federally protcted rights, and must immediately be treated with suspicion and disdain (LW2 did not do this in their comments, but some in the commentariat came close in theirs)

      2. fhqwhgads*

        The problem here seems to be HR’s “other appropriate solution” seems to be “tell OP not to come in then”, which isn’t reasonable or appropriate.

  57. MrsFillmore*

    To the LW who needs a reliable pumping space – I’m sorry this is happening to you! Alison’s script is good. For an addition/compromise, you might propose adding a curtain to one of the glass front offices to create a second private space for pumping (and/or massages???). My employer started doing this for some private offices and it made pumping easier after my second child in comparison to experience with my first. It’s likely cheaper and less permanent than other changes they could make to the office set up. Good luck!

  58. Space Lasers*

    RE: LW3 (the pumping mom). My office switched to a new building while I was on leave with my first and excitedly announced our new offices with… glass walls! (well 3/4 regular walls and one glass wall). First they said the glass walls would be frosted and then changed their minds. One concern that was raised was about people needing privacy, including to pump. They said not to worry because they’d have “mothers rooms” on each floor. They neglected to mention that they’d be accessed through the bathrooms (so fun to grab your laptop and lunch to work and pump and then have to go into the bathroom). They are also single-use, so when three people on my floor were pumping at the same time, we’d have to coordinate elaborate schedules to figure out when we each could pump. Finally, we sent a memo to mgmt saying that we needed to be able to pump in our offices and they installed tension rods and curtains and mini fridges in our offices. Now it’s protocol to offer this setup to parents coming back from leave. Long story to say that even with glass offices, easy adjustments can be made to accomdate pumping if the workplace is sufficiently motivated.
    Ps. Since I was sending my memo to male mgmt, I made sure to use as much formal sounding language citing AAP guidelines and “scary” female medical terms like mastitis in the hopes of them just making me want to go away :)

  59. ijustworkhere*

    I think Perdita used to work for me! It sounds so much like a woman who worked in my office for about 3 months. It was exhausting to say the least, and finally I had to sit down with her and have a long talk about whether this job was a good fit for her.

    As we spoke, it was very clear to me that a lot more was behind her difficulties and that she simply wasn’t ready for or capable of a professional job at this time of her life. I had a lot of compassion for her, but I was clear that this job could not provide her with the certainty and predictability she needed to feel safe and successful. I explained that I needed someone who could work more independently and creatively without needing constant feedback or affirmation. She tearfully agreed and gave me her notice.

    I cut her a check for two weeks pay right then and told her just to go on home (I know, the days of dinosaurs!) . I really hope she got some help. She was smart and talented, but her behavior was way beyond normal jitters.

  60. someone*


    I can’t imagine pumping more than twice a day at work. Ask them not to schedule any chair massages from 10-11 and 2-3 (or something). Surely they can fit enough chair massages into the rest of the day.

    1. Anna*

      Imagine it- plenty of people do it. It’s common to pump every 2-3 hours. I used to feed the baby at the breast just before leaving the house, then pump at the office at 10 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm. I do agree that for many people, it is at least on a predictable schedule every day (where your breasts are full and need to be pumped) so it should be workable to let the rest of the office know when the room is expected to be free. But this writer also mentioned that her schedule varies a lot from day to day and that doesn’t always work for her. I think it makes sense to set a standard schedule, and then also have the ability to shift the schedule as needed (e.g. I couldn’t pump at 10 this morning because of other factors, so now I NEED the room at 10:30, and if anyone else was hoping to use it for massages or phone calls, they need to change their plan)

  61. Nicole*

    It sounds like Perdita is terrfied of making a mistake. Is this because she has been chastised for making simple errors before (maybe in a previous job)? Maybe if someone could help her understand the consequences of making a mistake (or even doing something differently than others) is not that big a deal – if that’s true – would help her to move toward working independently.

  62. someone*

    Now I can’t stop remembering the hell that is pumping at work. My workplace has really nice lactation rooms. Comfy chairs, sinks, hospital grade pumps so you only need to bring the attachments. I thought it was going to be so easy.

    But there’s only one room per each 10+ story building, so every room is filled with unofficial sign up sheets where you’d better be there a week before the start of the next month to claim your little 15 minute spot or I guess you won’t be pumping in October.

  63. Candi*

    Alison, thanks for the answer to number five. It perfectly answers a discussion that was going on on Not Always Right’s Not Always Working comment section a few days go, on the story “We Sure Do Love Happy Endings.”

    (Short version: Several years ago, a smaller-sized company CEO decided he wasn’t going to pay his WFH phone people for downtime, since during downtime they “weren’t actually working” by interacting with customers. The submitter of that story and their Department of Labor disagreed.)

  64. BridgetJones*

    I’m fascinated by the responses to LW3, as it shows the varying cultures and norms in different workplaces. I read the letter and thought – wow, no no no, Way Too Much – I have no wish to see my coworkers wedding photos displayed on a wall, and very visible baby photos also would not endear them to me. It seems highly unprofessional to me, and also a bit Smug Married – Look at Me! Look at my happy heteronormative life! Then I read Alison’s response and the comments, and I am clearly in a minority, but I certainly wouldn’t be in my workplace, or anywhere I’ve ever worked.

    1. edda ed*

      “Look at my happy heteronormative life!” Would you feel that a queer person should likewise not bring any aspect of their personal life into work, no matter how passive or indirect the manifestation? If your answer is “yes,” I’d advise you to stop now. Queer people may have strong safety and social concerns for hiding things like their marital status or children, but it’s not a good thing that they face this kind of pressure and risk. “Don’t you acknowledge anything about your spouse/domestic partner/children/nontraditional family” is the same old same old invalidating crap that queer people have faced for years on years on years. I’d hoped things were easing up. And yet.

  65. Halla*

    What should Perdita’s manager do when this gets sent to her? Especially if Perdita isn’t so bad that she’s not hopeless.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Investigate. Ask Perdita why she’s not able to do her job without constantly asking questions and see if the answer is something that can be worked around or not.

      It may come down to ‘well, you simply can’t do this job since we can’t spare the time to keep training you’

  66. SB*

    LW2 – the fact the HR hasn’t considered replacing the door or adding a curtain to one of the other rooms for the massages is interesting. It could even be temporary curtain & only in situ when the massages are taking place. It takes all of 5 minutes to install a short curtain rod above a doorway & some doors are built in a way they could utilise one of those tension style rods that can be removed completely between massage days.

  67. Former Gremlin Herder*

    Not the point of this letter at all, but as someone who recently made a career shift and feels insecure in her role, reading about Perdita makes me feel better about the amount I “bug” my boss (who is lovely and supportive and amazing.) There’s “getting used to a new role and decision making” and then there’s……whatever is going on there. OP, I hope you’re able to direct this headache to Perdita’s manager, which is where it belongs!

  68. Fritz*

    LW#1, I’ve been in your shoes, and you have my sympathy. It is very difficult, and you do need to gently and compassionately get management and/or HR involved.

    I’ve been in Perdita’s shoes, too, thanks to a run of bad workplaces and managers, including a truly toxic ex-boss who nearly destroyed me. And Perdita had my sympathy, too, until her absurd demand that everyone be pulled back into the office so she can be social…with the exception being if she is being unfairly forced into the office and no one else is.

    1. LW #1*

      She moved in across the street from our office very shortly after she started with us and has had a hard time grasping that the in-office vs. WFH calculus is different for folks with longer commutes. I do think her wording about this was more off-base than the larger point – I’ve been part of a longer back and forth with management about their need to recognize that new hires have a steeper path to building relationships than they did pre-pandemic, and about how we can restructure our role in a way that organically brings us into contact with people in other roles more often. But her tone (I was in the room during this exchange) was alarming enough to me in the moment that I reminded her about our EAP afterward.

  69. Teapot Wrangler*

    It seems to me that the chair massage could be anywhere – my office does them completely open plan – so they should just move rooms to one with a glass door!

  70. UrsulaD*

    Ohhh, I have something similar to 5. I have to work 32 hours a week, but the way holidays shook out I need to put in really long days this week and next. No patients come in after office hours and there’s only so much paperwork to do. So I work comp time (basically, not US, it’s a different system) while doing nothing productive. It’s a bummer and I feel guilty.

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