when an employee struggles with a task, cell phones at lunch, and more

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

1. Should I accept my employee just isn’t well suited to a task?

We are a small team of very silo-ed job types. Twice a year, for about a week each time, we have a meeting with lots of external stakeholders to review content for a textbook. The stakeholders are all subject matter experts (SMEs) and are focused on accuracy, completeness, etc. One of the roles in the review sessions is to serve as the note taker, capturing every edit the group of SMEs comes up with. This note taker is not an SME. There are a couple internal staff roles to whom this note taking has typically fallen. These are individuals who are not intimately involved with the crafting of content; they basically just come in and serve as the note taker these few times of year. I was one such person when I started in the role 10 years ago and I continue to do so now (although I am now in a leadership role).

We hired someone in late 2021 (Callie) to step into my previous role and now, based on tradition, she serves in the note taker role when needed. The problem is Callie is not good at this task. She has a hard time following along with the conversation, often needs one of the SMEs in the room to explain to her where the edit is to be made, requires a lot of time to ensure she gets the change correct, misses edits, etc. I have coached her on how to do this task better. Various SMEs have coached her on how to be better. SMEs’ patience often starts to run thin with her as a review session proceeds, most of all from the book’s managing editor, Paul.

Because this falls firmly in the “other duties as assigned” realm of her job description, how much can or should I focus on fixing this with Callie? Part of me feels like I should cut my losses and figure out an alternative for this task (for what it’s worth, an alternative will not be easy to come by for reasons that aren’t worth getting into here). The other part of me feels like it’s not unreasonable to hold her feet to the fire because the fact is this is a critical task and completing it doesn’t require anything that falls outside the realm of reasonable expectations.

A complicating factor that I know I need to ignore but just can’t — Paul (whose patience with Callie runs thin very quickly) is desperate for Callie to be better, as the clean-up work of things she misses/gets wrong often falls to him, but he also feels strongly that Callie isn’t putting in the effort to get better and that taking the task from her would reward her for poor performance. I don’t fully disagree with Paul, but also know that not every person is suited to every task. Help?

If she struggles to follow the conversation, she’s not going to be an effective note-taker, no matter how much you coach her on taking notes. If these meetings were more frequent, she might be able to get better over time, but twice a year? It’s unlikely to happen.

The big question I had reading your letters was: how’s the rest of Callie’s work? The issues you described — struggling to follow the conversation, missing edits, needing a lot of hand-holding on how to make changes — sound like they might speak to problems with her regular work too, unless it’s wildly different from what’s expected of her on these meeting days, so I’d want you to take a look at that. But if the rest of her work is great, stop making her struggle with something she’s bad at — and which isn’t working anyway, and which is taking up lots of time from other people to fix things for her, and where her work is frustrating everyone else — and find another solution. That’s not “rewarding her for poor performance” (and that’s a weirdly punitive way for Paul to look at it); it’s recognizing that she’s not the right person for this specific task.

2. Talking on a cell phone at lunch

Cell phone etiquette has obviously changed over the years, but I have always operated under the general understanding that if your phone call can be heard by others, then you shouldn’t be having it. (When I dissect that belief, I’m not entirely sure I can precisely pinpoint why it’s there, to be honest, but it’s there!)

I work in a very small office with, on most days, only three-five people working in the same space. I have a coworker who almost always eats alone after everyone else has finished and always talks on her cell phone while she’s eating. She is not particularly loud, but because the office is small, it is possible to hear the entire conversation. This is no different than when we all sit down to eat lunch together: people talk loudly and others can hear. But I’m having trouble not being annoyed at the situation involving a cell phone! Am I holding on to an old belief here for no reason?

Yes, I think so! It’s true that it’s rude to have a loud cell phone conversation in an otherwise quiet space, and sometimes it’s rude to have one at all in a space where people don’t expect phone conversations to be happening at all. But an office is usually a place where people will periodically be on the phone; there’s no expectation that it will be a phone-free zone (usually the opposite, in fact). I’m guessing you wouldn’t be as bothered if it were a work-related call; it’s something about it being personal that’s feeling off. But unless the norm of your office is “we all work in silence and we’re expected to go into a private space for calls,” I wouldn’t call this particularly rude.

3. Internship’s dress code is painfully vague

I just received the full dress code for my internship that starts in a week, and I’m thinking through how to navigate it.

It reads as follows: “The firm has adopted ‘business casual’ and ‘client appropriate’ as the everyday minimum dress standard, including Fridays. The term ‘business casual’ is not clearly defined in the community, nor is there general agreement regarding its meaning. The operative goal is to choose attire that will promote, rather than detract from, the firm’s image of professionalism, sophistication, and dedication to our clients.”

I’m struggling with the lack of a “not allowed” list. At past business casual jobs, most employers have include a “not allowed” list in their dress codes, e.g no open-toed shoes, no visible tattoos, etc. Would it be gauche to follow up and just ask point blank for such a list? The reason I ask is that I do have visible (not offensive) tattoos, and I’m game to cover them with makeup and/or longer clothing, but would prefer not to if I don’t have to. Do you have thoughts/advice on how to approach this?

That is a confusing dress code, although you’ll probably have a much better sense once you start and can see how most people dress. Meanwhile, though, since what you’re wondering about is tattoos specifically, why not ask them about tattoos specifically? They may not have a “not allowed” list anyway — in fact, it sounds like they don’t, although someone would probably talk you through the do’s and don’ts if you asked. But it sounds like you have one specific thing you’re really wondering about, so ask about that one specific thing! It’s fine to say, “I wasn’t sure from what I read about the dress code if visible tattoos are okay. I have tattoos on my arms (or wherever). Should I plan to cover them?”

Alternately, you can cover them your first day and get more of the lay of the land then, or just ask someone in person at that point.

4. Should we be able to see how much PTO my boss really has?

I am new to the world of PTO and can’t seem to keep enough to do anything with my life. I work in a remote office, not the corporate headquarters, so we get forgotten about often. It seems like my manager always has ample PTO to take three-week vacations in addition to monthly requested days off while us little people are nickled and dimed for everything. As her director is not on site, it makes for an easy scam situation and I (and the rest of the team) are suspicious of her actions. I have no proof, but is submission of PTO a private matter? Or is there a record that should be available to us to ensure the PTO time she tells us matches her approved requests with her director? It’s pretty uncomfy.

No, you don’t typically have access to your boss’s PTO records. It’s also possible she has more PTO than you and your coworkers do (it’s not uncommon for people to get more PTO if they’ve been there longer or are in more senior positions). Or she could be scamming your company, who knows. One way to bring it to her boss’s attention is to have a plausible need to contact her boss about a work problem where you can mention, “Since Jane has been out for the last two weeks, we didn’t know who to go to about this…”

5. Can my resume say “Mage’s Guild” if I am a non-player character?

If my job was NPC who only says “They say there have been unearthly noises coming from the mage’s guild on nights when the moon is full,” can I just put “Mage’s Guild” on my resume?

I needed Twitter to give me context for this, but now that they have, the answer is no. You don’t work for the Mage’s Guild! You’re just a person saying you’ve heard there are problems there.

{ 559 comments… read them below }

  1. Pink Sprite*

    For OP 1: Please do everyone a solid here and replace Callie from this current duty.
    Then, as it seems to be happening, you and her other managers can coach her (or do a PIP) and her more regular duties and responsibilities.
    Not everyone is well-suited and/or capable/trained to handle such intense note-taking.

    1. I've got the shrimp!*

      I am falling somewhere between completely agree and hold Callie’s feet to the fire and it totally depends on how often these meetings occur.
      If it was a weekly meeting and they’re adding 1-2 hours for reviews/adjustments then it would be worth putting them on a PIP, but if it’s like 3-4 times a year and purely an ad hoc requirement give it to someone else!

      1. I've got the shrimp!*

        I had missed the first line, it’s twice a year, give it to someone else!

      2. Grenelda Thurber*

        There’s a company that edits textbooks for accuracy and completeness, primarily based on the written notes from twice-a-year, week-long meetings taken by someone who isn’t an SME? And the problem is the note-taker? Seriously??
        The problem is they’re using office technology from 1957, maybe not even that (I’m pretty sure people used shorthand in 1957).

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Can we at least consider the possibility that Callie might be doing OK under the circumstances? Are the meetings run in ways that help the process of documenting things or that make it harder? Like, are the meetings organized and structured, or are people talking over each other and bouncing around all over the place? Is input captured in writing in advance anywhere or does the whole process revolve around what people say in person?

          1. Grenelda Thurber*

            Exactly! I’m thinking her manager should be incredibly grateful to have someone who is really trying to get it right, despite having no knowledge of the subject matter. She’s not telling jokes, showing her vacation pictures, or otherwise slacking off from her duties. She’s trying so hard that she’s irritating her coworkers, which she likely realizes but thinks getting it right is more important than anyone’s ruffled feathers. Unless we’re missing some vital details, this is a business process problem, not a performance problem.

        2. The cubes are scary*

          Yes. Yes they were. I was using it in the early 60’s and the Gregg method was invented in 1888.

      3. Dyslexic_Debbie_Downer*

        I’m feeling really bad for Callie, because it seems like she’s being seen as being a poor worker just because she isnt a skilled stenographer.

        I am fantastic at my job doing labor cost analysis, which involves a lot of data entry, writing, and observation while taking notes *for my own use.* I’m also dyslexic, and I can’t write, read, or type while trying to hold a conversation or follow a lecture. I had the hardest time in school when teachers expected us to copy their projector notes, in addition to adding onto those notes what the teacher was saying. I would not copy the notes from the projector fast enough before they’d move on to the next set of notes, and I missed almost everything the teacher would say. I’m by no means stupid or incompetent, but that’s how I’ve been treated when I can’t keep up with a random note-taker assignment in a meeting. Like Callie, I wasn’t hired to be a note-taker, and my dyslexia can’t be coached away, even with my feet held to the fire.

    2. Steve for Work Purposes*

      Yeah or they’re good at note taking for themselves but not for others, those seem to be 2 different skills (at least for me). Me writing notes that refresh my brain is easier, writing notes such that other people can grok them is a lot slower for me.

      Also curious re gender here – might sexism have played a part in Callie being picked? Because some places assume that people who aren’t cis dudes just will naturally do stuff like that, or it will just ‘default’ to the people who aren’t cis dudes. It’s possible that plays a role in Paul’s views too.

      1. Myrin*

        Re: your second paragraph: OP says that her own former role was one of “a couple internal staff roles to whom this note taking has typically fallen” and that Callie is her successor in that role, so naturally, the note-taking fell to her (among others).

        1. Claire*

          It’s possible those roles tend to be filled by women, and that’s part of why the note-taking fell to them. There is lots of research documenting how women more frequently get saddled with note-taking and other kinds of “office housework” or “non-promotable work.”

          1. Myrin*

            Sure, but Steve specifically asked “might sexism have played a part in Callie being picked?” and we can clearly answer that with “No”, because we know exactly why Callie was picked: she’s in OP’s former role now and the person in OP’s role is one of the several who take notes.

            Now, there might certainly a broarder, more underlying gender aspect just like you say, like that those roles only ever got picked as the ones to do the note-taking in the first place because they were primarily filled with women. But that doesn’t have any bearing on this situation right now/Callie in particular (it might spur people to think about whether those specific roles taking the notes still makes sense, though). Both things can be true at the same time.

            1. bmorepm*

              your comment seems to be contradicting itself. as you said, two things can be true. we know that callie replaces the op’s role, who was also doing the same task but knowing that does not itself rule out that the reason she (and others) have been chosen for this task is their gender.

              1. Lydia*

                I just volunteered to take notes at a monthly meeting and was literally thanked and then reminded we don’t want notetaking to fall along gendered lines, so while the team appreciates me volunteering, I shouldn’t feel obligated to do it.

              2. Myrin*

                I’m not seeing the contradiction and in fact I feel like we’re saying almost the same thing, you just worded it more concisely!

                1. SpaceySteph*

                  Quote from your reply: Steve specifically asked “might sexism have played a part in Callie being picked?” and we can clearly answer that with “No”

                  …is contradicted by everything else discussed.

            2. SpaceySteph*

              It doesn’t have to be immediate sexism against Callie to be sexism.

              Might sexism have played a part in why the person in the role before Callie, or the person before her, or the person before her was chosen as note taker if it has traditionally been staffed by women?

              Might sexism have played a part in why Callie was chosen for a role which includes note taking in its description, because it is seen as women’s work?

              Might sexism have played a part in what degree/career experience Callie has that led her to this particular role?

              All of the above could be yes.

              1. Myrin*

                Yes, and I acknowledged that. I still think it’s much beyond the scope of OP’s particular question in this letter and doesn’t really matter here.
                But it would still be worth for the organisation as a whole – or for whoever is in charge of assigning roles – to ask themselves the questions you pose here.

              2. constant_craving*

                And I’m guessing sexism plays a role in Paul wanting to “not reward” her for being bad at note-taking. Sounds a little like he thinks it’s feigned incompetence because of course a woman can actually take good notes.

          2. Cis male notetaker*

            There is no evidence that this is the case here.

            Why would you even raise it?

      2. Rainy*

        Yup–my notes for myself are an aide-memoire, not a comprehensive record, and as a result they’re often not any use to anyone but me.

        1. Audiophile*

          Exactly this! I can take notes for myself, but I’m not good at doing it for others, and I genuinely dislike the task with an intense passion.

          1. Rainy*

            When I was a grad student, occasionally I’d have a TA assignment where I really was just a marker. I’d attend lectures and “take notes”, but it was just anything I needed to take note of for marking purposes, so my notes would be a list of what we covered and then scrawled notes like “Bill follows Smith on 3.27-48!” or “Interp for students: carpt == foreign ideas”.

            I remember students asking for my notes (don’t do this!) and pouting or complaining when I wouldn’t share them, but sometimes if I was particularly irritated, I’d show the student that page from my notes and they’d stare at it and then say never mind.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Agree, just accept Callie isn’t very good at this, note-taking isn’t part of her core duties otherwise, and find an alternative. OP says Callie gets given this task based on “tradition”, which I find to be a poor way of allocating job duties.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I take the “tradition” part to mean that everyone hates the job, so they foist it on the most junior person. Which yeah, is a poor way to allocate a job that some people are good at and others not. Give the job to someone who is good at it, and find some way to compensate them for taking one for the team.

        1. MsM*

          In this case, it sounds like “the person in this role has always done it, and it’s less work on the front end to just keep it this way instead of acknowledging that the new person has different competencies and we should maybe shuffle some stuff that isn’t inherently part of their actual job function around.”

      2. Ms. Elaneous*

        Yes Sir, Captain.
        Tradition is a bad way to assign tasks.
        If my predecessor had been a gourmet cook, or great at calligraphy, or anything else, it would have made great sense for him to do it. Me, not so much.

        1. JSPA*

          exactly. this is the sort of thing that merely requires attention, dedication and effort…IF your brain works that way… and is dauntingly uncrackable, if it does not.

          LW: Tell Paul that you suspect that training Callie to the job is like training someone who’s half tone-deaf to transcribe music. And that you need to apply your time, her time, and her strengths to tasks that suit her.

          That, or, y’know, LW could RECORD the meeting, and have Callie (or someone else) work from the slowed-down, rewindable recording. Or use some level of voice recognition or captioning.

          But if Callie isn’t up to speed on the subject matter, that still won’t help / will still introduce errors.

          Also, unless Paul far outranks the LW, if the LW still does occasional note-taking, there may be no reason (besides tradition and ego) that Paul can’t do a larger share.

        2. Rainy*

          I pity the person who replaces me in my current role. I sit on a couple of committees specifically because I have some very unusual skillsets, and any assumption that someone will be able to do that stuff simply because they’ve been hired into my role is going to have very disappointing results.

          1. Lydia*

            And honestly, it should be the role of two people to take notes. Something is going to get missed and there is a higher likelihood that you’ll catch each other’s misses if two people are doing it. OP said this was for edits to textbooks and that all the edits have to be caught. That’s less likely to happen if only one person has to track what’s being discussed and decided.

            1. Quill*

              Also, I feel like an oral agreement being transcribed to a separate notes document is potentially the most cumbersome way to record edits. Speaking from some experience writing technically, having someone take notes who has no background info and who isn’t in the loop the rest of the year sounds like a disaster.

              1. Hannah Lee*


                It’s kind of like releasing a feature film with the audio track replaced by a visual of auto-closed captioning: Homonyms, jargon replaced with similar sounding common words and phrases, jumbling of two different speakers’ words into one statement and other errors. Even if 60-70% of it is correct if you understand the context, flow of discussion, can watch as things play out, out of context it’s going to be useless, and frustrating both for the person doing the capture and the people trying to use the output for the next step of the process.

              2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                YUP. If it was me, I’d suggest something like projecting the textbook page for the group and having someone do the notes on the projected page or on a table in another file that is also projected. Everyone could see it, make sure it was done accurately, and it would prevent people from jumping around from section to section. Any issues get flagged during the week-long session, not afterwards.

                1. Quill*

                  This is more or less how I used to do a technical editing segment – everyone can see the document, edits are made TO the document in real time, we do the math live with 2-4 people checking it on separate calculations.

                  I imagine it’s a bit different if the edits are not “we need the exact phrasing of X is good up to eight weeks, not for eight weeks” and someone needs to, say, rewrite a large segment… but even then, the note could just be in the master document [Waukeen needs to rewrite the intro to include A, Y and 5]

              3. Who Me?*

                Agree. I’ve been in a marketing department for years, I’ve never heard of doing copy edits this way unless it’s a word or two. Poor Callie.

    4. AcademiaNut*

      It sounds like a fairly complex task – paying attention to what people are saying while, following along with the printed material, making detailed step-by notes in a very specific way, and doing so with material she’s not an expert at (so, for example, unfamiliar vocabulary and subjets). It might be a general work issue, but I could easily see someone being very good at the other 98% of her job, but struggling with this specific thing.

      If this task is quite different from the day to day work of the people it’s assigned to, you probably need to add it to the requirements when hiring for the positions, or hire and outside expert for the two weeks a year you need it. That, or accept that some of your employees are going to be naturally talented at it, but others may not be able to get up to speed, even with coaching and practice.

      FWIW, I work in a very technical field, and a non subject matter expert would get lost very fast if they were asked to take detailed notes at the meeting – it’s jargon heavy and specialized enough that it would be like taking notes when 1/3 of the conversation was in a foreign language.

      1. WoodswomanWrites*

        I’m concurring with the third paragraph. As someone who previously took notes in a setting like this, I just didn’t understand the jargon and topics. It seems a subject matter expert would be best for the note-taking role.

        And if Callie is in this role “by tradition” and not by qualifications, it seems like you could pull her out of this twice a year task.

        1. Beany*

          ITA. Why ask anyone to take technical notes for a meeting if they’re not familiar with the subject matter? You *might* get a word-perfect record of what was said, but that can be achieved with an audio recording + auto-transcription anyway (… well, mostly). If you want any useful summary of the discussion, the note-taker has to understand enough to summarize. You can’t just drop in a fast typist and expect meaningful results. I think LW1 just happened to be more familiar with the subject matter when it was their role, and this expectation got pushed onto Callie when she took over.

          1. Smithy*

            All of this.

            I was hired for a role once where I met about 75% of the qualifications in the JD. The most significant skill I did not have was speaking other languages used by the organization. Based on the talent pool and the other skills I did bring, that was the hiring choice that was made. But it also meant skills I could not bring to the job that my predecessor had. It meant certain staff were assigned new duties to support me or to take on those old duties I couldn’t do.

            In my case it was a more obvious of the skill I didn’t have – but in some ways it may be more similar to where Callie is coming from. A learning plan wasn’t going to get me to a professional language place – and for a task twice a year, that may be a similar learning ask of Callie that just won’t happen. And if it’s a true must-have for the position vs a nice to have, then the hiring needs to be done more intentionally.

          2. Miette*

            EXACTLY! Plus, she’s expected to also keep up with edits as they’re going along in addition to taking notes? WTF, I’m surprised this has only now been ID’d as a problem task (not for Callie, mind you, but generally).

            Can no one just slap the document up on a screen with track changes going to capture edits as they’re being discussed, or is that impossible? I consult in too rather tech jargony-fields (financial services and software), and this is what I would recommend.

            And why can’t the SMEs make edits in a master document ahead of this meeting, so then the meeting can be about discussion of the edits rather than capturing them? Seems loads more efficient to me…

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Made basically the same comment elsewhere before I saw yours. It sounds like this task is being made much more difficult than it needs to be.

          3. MigraineMonth*

            I’m a technical SME, and watching someone else try to write down what I say without understanding the technical jargon is one of the circles of hell. Every time I’m in a meeting where the project manager tries to record a technical issue, I end up needing to nit-pick half of the words just to make sure we’re describing the right problem. (“Cache” and “cash” sound the same, but only one of them needs to be cleared on session startup. Um, it has to be “startup”; “begin” is actually the name of a different function.)

            It would make me *so much happier* to write it myself, particularly before or after the meeting.

            1. Georgia Carolyn Mason*

              It sounds like they need a record-keeping note taker (to record what was said) and a SME note taker (to place the edits). This might not be reasonable, and if OP was doing both without difficulty this might not be the role for Callie. But if possible, it would probably be helpful.

            2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              I’ve been the PM in this type of situation and agree with you. It was a challenge to make sure that things were accurate, and involved a lot of checking wording with the tech and infrastructure folks to make sure that I wasn’t accidentally recording the wrong thing. They definitely had to explain stuff to me that it would have been ideal if I had known, though it was SMEs in several different areas. I like to think I made up for it in other ways, though :)

              1. MigraineMonth*

                I love my project managers. A good (or even halfway-decent) project manager is worth their weight in gold, in my opinion. It’s just this one specific thing where I say a sentence and someone else tries to transcribe it that drives me up the wall. Share the document! Let me email you the description after the meeting! Don’t make me try to explain why two sentences that seem to mean the same thing to you mean very different things to me.

                I really don’t mind if the project manager knows nothing about my area, as long as they trust my expertise. I was hired to worry about the weird technical stuff, and one of my best skills is being able to convey the necessary level of technical detail to different audiences.

            3. Underrated Pear*

              Exactly. I don’t write textbooks, but I work in a job where we produce pretty similar content. All of the writers and external SME consultants have PhDs in the field. Our meeting notetakers are usually our project managers, who are excellent but don’t necessarily have a background in this field. It can be tough when wording needs to be precise or there are a lot of technical terms/acronyms being thrown around. I do not envy them having to take notes on all that! I don’t think it’s Callie’s fault that she can’t do the job well enough, but I think management should acknowledge it’s a job that requires more specific knowledge.

              I also agree with other commenters in that this seems like a REALLY bonkers way to edit a textbook. We certainly have periodic Zoom meetings in which we review and discuss *broad* revisions, but almost all actual revisions and edits are done offline. Very strange.

          4. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            One of my pet peeves is that non-lawyers/paralegals/legal secretaries do things like capitalize words at will or “rephrase” things so as to “not use the same words” when we literally need to use “magic words”–both of which are huge problems when writing contracts. So I have long since stopped ever asking anyone without legal training/experience to summarize contracts–no matter how many people insist that someone is “smart” and will understand the contract and do a good job. I will still have to go back in and check if the term used is “deliverable” or “Deliverable” or if that “must” is really a “shall”. It’s just not worth it because it wastes someone else’s time and mine.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            I was an SME on a couple textbooks years ago and yeah, they just sent me the nearly completed proofs and I sent back a document with comments…

          1. Annony*

            Also the best way to introduce errors. The SMEs need to take turns being note taker/master editor. This is not a job for someone unfamiliar with the topic.

            1. Deuce of Gears*

              This. I was at a conference for undergraduates in math once, and while this isn’t note-taking as such, one of the attendees was Deaf and the conference hired two sign language (ASL) interpreters for her. I chatted to one during a dinner to ask her about the job, and learned that (a) this is legit pretty specialized (finding someone who does *research mathematics* ASL) and was sufficiently intensive that the interpreters were switching off *every 15 minutes*. Depending on the fields, I could see something similar being a serious challenge for a non-SME note-taker (or non-polymath!).

            2. Impending Heat Dome*

              That’s what I was thinking. If the notes are that critical, then one of the SMEs should be doing it.

          2. Quill*

            That’s what I thought too! Last job had some internal document review and revision stuff that was poorly organized in my opinion but it was less of a circle of hell than this. We used Track Changes, at least.

        1. Stopped Using My Name*

          I always take into account being anonymous on the website is very important thus people may or may not come up with the perfect scenario(s) to address their situation.

          LW may or may not be editing a textbook, but the “problem” is the person assigned to take notes on this matter does not do it well for whatever reason.

          Commenters can be very literal here.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Well, it’s very difficult to give advice without understanding the context. It’s one of the reasons Alison encourages letter writers to share their actual field/job, rather than relying on llama grooming and chocolate teapot substitutes. When letter writers do share their field, job and processes, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume they’re telling the truth.

            If the problem can be sidestepped by changing the way the process is done so that no one needs to take notes, that seems like a better solution than giving the job to someone else who doesn’t want it.

          2. JustaTech*

            It doesn’t have to be a textbook, it could be any kind of technical writing in any field.

            I once spend half a day working with a team who had flown across the country to edit a single document (before Zoom and sharing screens). We went through it line by line and I swear it was one of the most tedious, painful and unproductive wastes of time in my professional life.

            To have a non-expert both take notes and do the edits at talking speed? That sounds just about impossible. I know I couldn’t do it, even as the SME (and it’s not just the ADHD making it hard).

            I think the argument most folks are trying to make is 1) this seems like a very hard thing to do well so Callie might be perfectly good at the rest of her job and 2) the LW and Paul might want to consider looking at alternative ways of doing this process rather than just getting upset at Callie.

      2. Antilles*

        I’m also in a technical field and the last paragraph is where my mind went. Taking notes on edits suggested by a group of SMEs is not a task for a non-technical person because she doesn’t know what’s important. Especially since in many of these conversations, it might not even be clear when someone is suggesting an edit.

        Even something as simple as a one-off “and remember ASTM C 1234-23” could have a very significant meaning in the context to someone who understands the discussion (“this doesn’t appear to be in compliance with last year’s update of the international standard”) but come off as just a random jumble of numbers to someone without that background.

        1. B*

          100%. A similar thing happens in the legal field. Note-taking gets treated as a menial task and delegated to the most junior person, who lacks the experience to know what parts of the discussion are critical. Then senior folks get upset when the note-taker didn’t capture some extremely subtle nuance of the discussion.

          Either the task is critical enough for senior people to get their hands dirty with it, or it’s minor enough that you can tolerate mistakes when inexperienced people do it. It can’t be both!

        2. Annie*

          Exactly. I’m in engineering and we throw around acronyms and specs all the time in our discussions, and if there was a non-SME trying to take notes and not familiar with those acronyms or specs, they would be lost. They wouldn’t know to what we were referring half the time and not know which comments were applicable to which documents or projects.
          I don’t think you can blame Callie if she is just unfamiliar with the jargon that goes on in a week long discussion of SMEs, and to have her take notes and keep track of all the edits seems like a very tough task even for someone more familiar with the topics.

      3. Sloanicota*

        I said in another thread that my side hustle is technical notetaking, and people pay me well for it because it’s extremely difficult and if you really care about the notes, it’s worth it (so not just for some regular staff meeting, but if the whole point of the meeting is to produce some sort of document and capture all the discussion …). People always tease me that AI is going to take this role from me – especially as some of the meetings are via zoom, which offers transcripts – but I say, good luck, people. I know how much human brainpower goes into this. If Callie isn’t the right person for the job, give it to someone else.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          There is a vast gulf between a transcript (even assuming it’s miraculously accurate) and usable notes.

          I remember a while back someone was pitching ChatGPT for doctor’s notes that would listen to a discussion between the doctor and patient and summarize it. Even assuming ChatGPT didn’t decide to hallucinate something that didn’t happen, I have trouble believing it’s up to any kind of nuance.

          1. Antilles*

            Agreed. The whole point of having a dedicated note-taker is being able to synthesize the information. If I wanted a full transcript to relive the entire 60 minute meeting, I would have just recorded the thing. No, what I want a 1-2 page bulleted list of notes for action items, key decisions, and the other important stuff.
            But ChatGPT is a long way away from being able to actually understand what’s important, when someone is making a joke/being sarcastic, or when a throwaway comment might imply something deeper.

            1. Quill*

              Also from my understanding, it never will – a “learning” model has no way to QUIT learning / standardize responses, and a pure statistics model will always give you statistics on “most people use the word shoot to mean to aim or hit with a projectile, your industry that calls shoot to aim a camera or the stem of a plant is not relevant.”

      4. Starlike*

        Agreed with all, especially the third paragraph. It sounds like Callie is being asked semi-annually to provide detailed transcription of content she has no reason to have knowledge of otherwise.

      5. Ama*

        Yeah, I take notes in a meeting twice a year, too, and am in charge of writing up the minutes. It is not easy! The conversation can move very quickly and if you aren’t at least somewhat familiar with the discussion topics it can be hard to follow. During the shutdown, when our meetings were virtual, I asked a colleague to handle the notetaking because I needed to keep an eye on the chat for questions/comments there (not something I have to do when it’s an in person meeting). On a very important issue the group was voting on, she wrote down the exact opposite of what they had decided — thankfully because it was virtual we had been recording it as a backup so I could go back and confirm the correct decision.

        I later realized this colleague often asked for clarification on issues multiple times in meetings and seemed to have trouble following conversations that involved multiple people in general so she was not the best choice for the meeting notes task. But we hadn’t worked together long at that point and she had actually volunteered to help with the notetaking, so I assumed she knew what she was getting into. Suffice to say I found other things for her to do during our meetings after that.

      6. Typity*

        Yes. This is difficult and nitpicky work — and only twice a year. So the work is a huge deal when it comes around, but there’s no chance to learn and practice when the stakes aren’t so high. I’m surprised Callie is the only one who’s struggled with it (or is she?).

        Some people like this kind of work, or at least wouldn’t mind it. Find one of those people, and let Callie off the hook.

      7. Greg*

        I work in a very untechnical field that is still full of jargon and people who have worked here for two years still lean over and ask what certain acronyms are.

    5. Cherub Cobbler*

      I wonder if Callie is having difficulty following the discussions, given that various SMEs are involved.

      1. Lady Lessa*

        I can appreciate all of Callie’s issues. I work closely with our field techs, but they know far more and rattle off the info about the applications of our materials, while I know the chemistry of the materials. I could get them lost in a detailed conversation with the other chemist. And I do better reading/seeing something than just hearing it as well.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          And the acronyms. There are so. Many. Acronyms. In a previous job, our organization and a sister organization used a couple of the same acronyms, but for different things.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I was at a software job for a couple of months when I said that I thought they were using AI for too many routine things. It seemed like every meeting we just added AI to more and more processes!

            Which is when someone explained that in this case, “AI” stood for “Action Item”, a.k.a. something from the meeting to follow up on. *blush*

          2. JustaTech*

            I’m currently working with something called PBS.

            Do you know how many things in science are called PBS?
            And that’s not even counting all the things in the rest of the world called PBS.

      2. Sloanicota*

        When experts are talking to other experts on a technical subject, you would need to be very knowledgeable about the subject to follow the discussion. Acronyms and jargon are so difficult to parse as an outsider / entry level person. People in my meetings are notorious for saying something like “Go ask Nick about the SMEs for CeeTPS” in half a breath and then rattling off about seven other similar clauses. My notes will have Nick’s full name and title and a bulleted list of steps translated from the acronym. (I changed the acronyms for anonymity). It takes me about two hours to edit for every one hour of meeting, and that’s actually fast.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      My first thought is that if this note taking during the meeting is one of the minor tasks that wasn’t even listed in the job description, then – since it is NOT in Callie’s skill set – the responsibility should be reallocated.

      Lots of people are lousy at one thing that’s at best tangentially related to their core job function, while still being great performers in other areas that ARE their main role.

      If there’s nobody who is available to take the notes, is there a reason that Callie herself has to take notes during the meeting – could the meeting not be recorded for Callie to summarize later. Heck, you can use AI to take notes in meetings now, and have it summarize the notes as well. One of my clients does this all the time.

      1. BatManDan*

        The task is notes on editing the core document / book, so I doubt AI would do a sufficient job. But then again, I have doubts about AI when it comes to just about anything, given it’s current reported shortcomings.

    7. MK*

      If Callie isn’t performing well in her more regular duties, this isn’t a case of her not being suited to a specific task, it’s her not doing great at her job overall.

      If she is great at her regular duties, yes, excusing her from note-taking would be best, but, since someone else will now have to do part of her job, OP needs to have her pick something else up from that person’s workload, or reallocate duties to make it fair. Where supervisors often drop the ball, is that they excuse a worker from a task they aren’t suited for, give it to someone else and think “problem solved”. Except now you have a worker who has had an extra task added to their workload because a colleague couldn’t do it, while the person who underperformed has a lighter workload (and that does boil down to “rewarded for poor performance”).

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yeah, this. I caused an actual flood at one point. This just got me more training on the specific task (flushing low use outlets to ensure legionella doesn’t build up in stagnant water, and during the height of the pandemic when it happened that meant doing all the taps in the building) rather than being excused from it. It was also lapse in focus on a hot day rather than a systematic problem, so it was an easy mistake not to make again.

        I totally agree with this — if Callie has to do this /ex officio/, then it would definitely be unfair to remove it. However, I think this needs more of a problem-solving sit down than Paul is allowing for, and to that end he’s being a grade-A wally.

      2. Colette*

        It’s twice a year, it shouldn’t be a big imposition on someone else (or free up a lot of Callie’s time).

        1. MK*

          It’s twice a year for one of more people who are tasked with it, which might mean that someone who also only did it twice a year will now have to do it more. And it’s a critical task, per what OP says. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t the most time consuming task, it’s still a chore that someone else will have to do because Callie can’t. The solution shouldn’t be “Callie won’t do it because she isn’t suited and the person who is competent will do her share on top of their other work”.

          1. JellyDawn*

            Maybe instead of calling it a “reward for poor performance” we call it “compensation for being set up to fail”. If that sounds ridiculous to you, that’s how “rewarded for poor performance” sounds to me in this scenario.

            This isn’t Callie’s actual job, it doesn’t appear to be anyone’s actual job, and yet it demands a very specific skillset and domain knowledge that Callie is not otherwise required to have. How is it in anyone’s best interest to make her keep doing it?

            1. Miette*

              ding ding ding we have a winner! This whole thing is massively unfair to Callie, particularly if she lacks the background in the subject matter to even follow the conversation much less parse what bits will be important, or even which discussions will supersede a prior edit.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                It kind of sounds like Paul should be the one to take the notes, since he’s the one who cares the most about them and is most directly impacted if they are of low quality. Could Callie cover any of his duties while he is taking the notes twice a year?

            2. MK*

              I didn’t suggest she should keep on doing it, but that she should be given another task. Call it compensation to the person who will have to do this task now.
              And this is in fact part of her job, in the sense that all jobs involve some tasks that aren’t core duties. Also, being set up to fail isn’t when you are assigned a task that people on your role “traditionally” have done, successfully, presumably while it also not being “their job”.

              1. Smithy*

                If this is a transactional trade-off where someone with a coverage job, such as at a receptionist’s desk or answering phones is now taking notes during this meeting – then this type of duty swap makes sense.

                But I think going out of your way to give someone an extra task that covers just two days still feels punitive. Collaborative workplaces would ultimately expect someone like Callie to support other team members to the best of her ability and with additional time that she has anyways. And if that’s not happening, that’s something else to direct her on.

                To dig up an extra task feels unnecessarily punitive because this is ultimately about making a business choice. These notes need to be done well, so someone who can do them well will be chosen. With that extra time, Callie may be able to support onboarding someone on another team. Provide extra data entry support during tax season. Or might just be a good colleague in other ways such as providing coverage around holidays when they’re typically desired days off. All of this ultimately comes together for better business functioning as opposed to digging up a random two day task.

            3. Turquoisecow*

              This. Her job isn’t note taker. If she does the rest of her job reasonably competently, find someone else to take notes.

              The only exception to that would be if Callie wants to advance into a new role, and promotions DO require more note taking skills or knowledge of what the SMEs are talking about, then maybe get her some training. But this is a task that’s done once or twice a year and isn’t really related to her job, so, while it’s critical, it seems like Paul is overreacting. Either hire a note taker (someone up thread mentioned that they have a side gig doing this specific task) or give it to someone else in the organization who is better at it.

          2. Smithy*

            I think that mindset only works when it’s seeing work as labor vs work as skills. And the reality is that jobs that are looking for people to bring a broad administrative skill set will have to select the most important while missing out on others. Or spending more money and perhaps more time recruiting someone who hits 100% of your wish list.

            Obviously there are lots of once/twice a year tasks for some jobs that are very important. An accountant that performs poorly around tax filing is a bad accountant. But with any generalist/coordinator role – over time you will inevitably hire people with different strengths and weaknesses. This doesn’t mean you can’t prioritize your “must haves” – but if every desire is a must have, you need to also be prepared to pay.

          3. Woodswoman*

            Keep in mind, the OP stated that the role of twice-yearly note taker has been held by several different positions over the years and that Callie ended up with it by “tradition.” It doesn’t sound like this task is specifically part of the job for Callie’s role, but rather that Callie’s role is one of several that may be asked to do it, so this is not a case of shifting Callie’s specific work to someone else.

            Also, the OP did not say that several people rotate the responsibility, so they are all doing twice a year note-taking. OP said that the meetings happen twice a year only. There are only two meetings per year, and OP is having Callie take notes both times. Taking this off Callie’s plate does not mean that someone else will have to do it more frequently- they aren’t currently doing it to begin with simply because Callie was arbitrarily assigned to do it.

            If the other roles that may be asked to do it push back, they could always do a rotating schedule. That way, Callie would still have to do it but only once every two or three years. That won’t make her better at it, for sure, but it will limit when the SMEs have to use her for note-taking and it will feel more equally divided rather than thrust on Callie alone.

          4. Annony*

            Callie can’t do the task well. She doesn’t have the background needed to understand the jargon and it doesn’t sound like anyone is willing to take the time to teach her. The solution is to give the task to someone who can do it. In return, another task that is considered a chore should be reassigned from that person to Callie. That is perfectly fair and equitable.

    8. LingNerd*

      I’m a bad note taker in part *because* I am otherwise extremely capable. I never learned to take notes when I was in school because I didn’t really needed to until college/grad school, and by then everyone expects you to already know so nobody taught me.

      Combine that with ADHD, which makes it difficult to discern what’s relevant and what’s not without taking extra time to think through it, and I wasn’t able to just figure it out like I can with most other skills.

      It’s actually gotten easier with work because when I do take notes for myself, I don’t really need to worry about content, just writing down action items! But if I had to take notes on content, I’d struggle

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Same! I never learned to study or take notes because, until college, I just remembered stuff.
        In meetings for work, I write down what I need to do after the meeting and the specifics because otherwise I will forget and then have to ask for clarification and look like an idiot. But I don’t write down the meeting discussion, and if someone else had to rely on my notes we’d be in trouble.

        1. Lydia*

          I became a really good notetaker in school and it’s served me well in other settings, but I also don’t want to be the default notetaker because I’m good at it. Why make someone who is NOT good at it do it because that’s just the way it’s been assigned? It makes no sense.

          I’d also point out that even if Callie isn’t doing well overall, that doesn’t change how the notetaking situation needs to be handled. Address the overall pattern, but OP still needs to reassign the notetaking.

    9. Database Developer Dude*

      From the letter OP1 wrote, it sounds to me like Callie is just fine in all her other duties. It would be a serious disservice to put her on a PIP for struggling with a 2x/year task.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        It’s also *extremely difficult* to get better at a task you only do twice a year. No one practices the piano twice a year, or learns a language for a couple of days twice a year. It takes regular practice!

        Are you really willing to have her dedicate an hour each week to practice? To learn the acronyms, to practice taking notes from discussions, to get her typing speed faster, etc.?

        Does that seem like a ridiculous waste of time for a task that only happens twice a year and isn’t actually directly related to Callie’s main job, just tacked on because of tradition? I agree. Give it to someone who can already do a decent job and stop torturing everyone involved.

    10. used to be a tester*

      It can also be really difficult to take detailed, highly precise notes for a subject you know nothing about. I’m picturing something like this:

      SME: So the bzzrt was immediately preceded by 4 years of flafflegleb.
      Note taker: The bzzzzzzzrt? And gabbleflab?
      SME: No, you fool!

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Haha my husband works in tech and I don’t understand half of the meetings he’s on that I end up hearing while he’s on zoom. If I had to take notes for him it would be a disaster

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

      I am generally competent at my job, and if I was assigned this Other Duty, I would fail at it just as badly as Callie. It’s quite possible that Callie is good at the rest of her job but just not cut out for this one, infrequent task. Nobody is being well served by continuing to beat your collective heads against this wall. And losing a good employee 50 weeks of the year over something that only happens two weeks of the year would be bone-headed.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yes! I was once asked if I would train as a scribe for Agency audits. I could not say no fast enough – there is exactly and precisely no way that I can transcribe what people are saying as they say it, let alone *also* identify important body language and themes and nuances that also need to be recorded to help the team prepare for what the auditor might ask next.

        The person who asked me seemed very surprised, but when I explained that I can’t take notes like that at all, they were happy to give me a different assignment because it is very important that the scribe do an excellent job.
        I was in no way “rewarded for poor performance” – I was assigned a different task that better suited my existing skill set that also filled a need.

    12. BW*

      If Callie is not a SME, the SMEs that are talking through very technical changes to a textbook, are probably talking gibberish as far as Callie is concerned. I bet she’s stressed out trying to figure out what they are saying, let alone fix it in the text. Just because the LW was good at the task 10 years ago doesn’t mean that Callie is now just because she was hired into LW’s role. LW has obviously been promoted, and probably was overqualified for Callie’s role.

    13. Diana*

      In my pre-retirement job, one of our major committees had monthly meetings where important decisions were made. The admin person who was my main support for this committee had hearing issues and wasn’t able to take notes. I tried doing it but taking notes while being heavily involved in the meeting didn’t work. Our solution was to have another admin attend the meetings to take notes and write up draft minutes that the committee chair and I would review before distributing them. The main admin was able to contribute to the meetings whenever relevant issues were discussed. It worked well for everyone.

    14. Mockingjay*

      As someone who has much, much experience with note taking and minutes taking: there is a difference.

      Minutes are high-level and brief: “1) Discussed purchase of new printers. Fred has an action item to get two quotes from vendors. 2) Discussed sales from last quarter; sales were 5% better than forecast.” Callie is probably fine doing minutes.

      Technical notes are entirely different. You need an experienced SME, sometimes two, who understands the technical topics being discussed and can capture details that would elude most non-technical or admin staff. Without working on these kinds of documents or attending meetings year-round, there’s no way Callie can come in twice per year and pick up these details.

      OP1, please find someone else to take notes.

    15. Observer*

      For OP 1: Please do everyone a solid here and replace Callie from this current duty.

      Yes. And please ignore Paul. If he were really just worried about the work being done correctly, he would not be hung up on having *Callie* be the one to do it. Also, it’s really not his business how you manage her – all he needs to be concerned about is whether the notes get properly taken.

      This is a task that happens twice a year. The reality is that a LOT of people would not be able to to this work well, especially if they have no real knowledge of the subject matter. So, while it makes a lot of sense to look at her over all performance, it really is possible that this is one task that she cannot do.

      So, put someone else on it and then do the wider review.

    16. LaurCha*

      I am a superb note taker when one person is speaking. But cross-talk? Can’t do it. I cannot process any speech when two or more people are speaking at once, so trying to take notes in a meeting is fruitless. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I think a lot of people have a hard time following a lot of cross-talk well enough to take notes. I say take that duty off of her plate.

      1. how do you pronounce van gogh*

        And I’d also have problems doing this, because while I can process cross-talk, that doesn’t mean I know who is speaking at any point or who these people are, since they only show up twice a year, I never met any of them before, and which of these people has final say on the topic? While they’re all talking over each other?

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Seriously. And if you’re not someone with power or authority, you can’t necessarily ask in the moment.

    17. Coffee Protein Drink*

      I think a PIP is an extreme measure for one task that’s done a couple times a year. I do agree with finding someone else or using an app for the task.

      1. how do you pronounce van gogh*

        A PIP is ridiculous. This is a twice yearly task that belonged to her predecessor in these roles and got shoved onto her because the person who had the role did this task, not because the task has anything to do with the role.

        Give the job to someone who is suited to the job, and leave Callie alone.

    18. Lucia Pacciola*

      What I want to know is why there’s a note-taker at all.

      The SMEs should be logging their proposed edits in a ticketing system, and then reviewing each ticket in these meetings. The tickets they review and approve then become the written record of what edits are to be made.

      The process described in this letter is positively medieval.

      1. LaurCha*

        I would really like an update from LW about this. Surely she (he?) will realize the problem isn’t Callie, the problem is the system.

    19. Lex Talionis*

      re # 1 – Can’t each SME run a section of the meeting with their part of the document displayed to the group and as comments/edits are agreed upon insert them as redlines?

    20. Butterfly Counter*

      To disagree with a lot of people on this one, and to back up Paul, this seems to be hitting a lot of weaponized incompetence indicators to me.

      It’s possible that it’s tradition for the person in X role to be the note-taker because it’s not a particularly specialized skill that needs an expert to complete. Paul seems to think that Callie just doesn’t like doing it, so is flubbing things on purpose so that she won’t have to do it in the future. I can see where he doesn’t want to set a precedent with this for her or anyone.

      Say that the break area in the office gets cleaned by each department on a monthly basis and every time it’s Research’s turn to clean, they leave an absolute mess. Should another department just be chosen to do the task because Research, no matter how much you tell them where the cleaning products are and how to wipe down shelves, just won’t do it?

      I guess what I’m saying is that this breaks down to how much skill this task actually takes. Paul seems to think that it’s not much and that Callie is deliberately messing up. OP wonders if note-taking might take more skill that Callie just doesn’t have.

      If it is a particular skill, reassign it. If it’s something almost anyone can be dropped in and expected to figure out relatively easily, hold Callie responsible.

      1. JellyDawn*

        Paul may think it’s simple, but Paul is a subject matter expert and, to paraphrase xkcd comic 2501, experts tend to overestimate the average person’s familiarity with their field.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          Paul isn’t a SME, he’s an editor.

          Here’s my take:

          Let me guess that this is a textbook company. Paul is responsible for making sure everything is accurate and right for publication. He’s not an expert in psychology or biology or geology or medieval metallurgy or whatever.

          Callie also works on the textbooks. Whether she’s the person who lays out the page formatting or another type of editor, she and Paul seem to be coworkers in that they both work on the textbook production.

          The textbook content is coming from the SMEs who are experts in psychology or biology, etc.

          It seems to come down to Callie not making the corrections needed. The SME might say on page 74, the text says “Freud’s psychiatric theory” instead of “Freud’s psychoanalytic theory” and needs that edit and Callie isn’t noting the correction correctly.

          Neither Paul nor Callie need to be experts to make these edits.

          Again, if I am way off base and the task is specialized, find a specialized person who isn’t Callie. But my take is that it isn’t, that Callie may find the work dull and tedious enough that she’s not giving it the attention she needs to so that someone else will be asked to do the job instead.

          1. scholarly editor*

            as someone who works in academic (but not textbook) publishing: to be an editor on specialized books does require specialized knowledge. I don’t consider myself a SME, I’m not as knowledgeable as my authors, but I have to have a certain level of comfort with the material to be able to evaluate it and work with the authors. I need to speak their language – even if, say, I’m only conversational while they’re fully fluent.

            Someone who is not working regularly with this subject matter cannot be expected to take detailed notes on complex conversations. My press has an editorial board that discusses projects, and those discussions can range from generalist to very specific. And the editors always review the notes after meetings because even a very good, very experienced admin or executive assistant can miss things because they are not as involved in the specifics of the field and the project as the editor.

            Also, I cannot imagine working through edits in this particular way.

          2. sparkle emoji*

            It really isn’t clear from the letter that Callie works with the textbooks in any way that would give her enough knowledge for this type of note-taking. Maybe she does, or maybe she’s an admin or receptionist who does a job that requires different knowledge and skills for the entire rest of the year. Even in your example, familiarity would be needed to spell everything correctly, which requires knowledge of the subject. The weaponized competence angle could be how Paul sees it but he’s in BEC territory with Callie.

      2. DisgruntledPelican*

        In your scenario, you should hire a proper cleaning service.

        And in the case of Callie, this task that has nothing to do with Callie’s job other than “tradition” should be given to someone with the skills to do it.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          Again, this feels a lot like rewarding weaponized incompetence.

          Is hiring a cleaning crew going to eat into money that could have gone to raises that year? All because Research couldn’t be arsed to do a simple job correctly?

          I mean, that’s a decision.

      3. Kella*

        While Paul seems to think this task is simple enough, just from reading OP’s summary, a bunch of people in the comments have said “I would not be able to do that.” I’m among those people, despite the fact that I’m a decent note-taker. We may not know all the details but it seems not at all unreasonable to guess that this is a skillset that not everyone has, and is unlikely to develop based on two practice sessions a year.

        Cleaning the breakroom is a poor comparison for three reasons.

        1. While cleaning is also a skillset, it’s one that the majority of people can acquire with a little info and training if they don’t already have it. For an entire department to all claim that they both lack this training and refuse to get it is ludicrous.

        2. In your example, Research’s team is simply not doing the work they were assigned. Refusing to do the work is a very different performance problem than not doing work efficiently. If one team always took twice as long to clean, you’d want to investigate why, and incompetence is not the only potential reason.

        3. Cleaning the breakroom is a shared responsibility because it benefits everyone who uses it. For one team to refuse to contribute to that shared responsibility means they are benefitting from other people’s work without doing anything to earn that benefit. Callie is not reaping the rewards of working inefficiently, nor would she be disproportionately benefitted if someone else was assigned the job. Paul’s idea that switching her off the task is rewarding incompetence is 100% dependent on the idea that Callie is intentionally doing a bad job. In any other scenario, she’s not being rewarded by dropping the task, she’s no longer being tortured by a task she struggles to do.

    21. dackquiri*

      Poor Callie; this is such a small percentage of her work but it’s definitely something where her inadequacies at this task are on display. I hope she gets opportunity to display her competencies at her core duties to everyone who sees her struggling with this; otherwise they might think it’s a representative sample of her work and that might turn into a hard reputation to get rid of.

    22. Matth3w2*

      My partner got a job several years ago and after he started, he too discovered that a small but crucial part of the “other duties as assigned” involved taking detailed notes during highly technical (and also emotionally fraught) meetings. He WAS NOT GOOD at this part of the job and it made the whole experience a nightmare. Fortunately or unfortunately, the pandemic happened about 6 months in and he got laid off, and now he is in a much better place.

  2. Bruce*

    For #1 I’m surprised that revisions in a technical or specialist document are being tracked by separate notes being taken by someone who is not an expert. Have you considered making the edits in real time on the screen in the meeting? If they are too extensive to do during the meeting, then one of the “subject matter experts” can type some notes into the comment fields, including who will make the full edits. Sorry to be telling you how to do your job, but I’ve been reviewing and editing technical docs for decades, and I would not trust a non-expert to take notes. If you have been successful at it personally then I think you are a paragon and deserve your promotion, but you may not be able to count on people being able to emulate your success.

    1. FormerGremlinHerder*

      This was my first thought. Being expected to follow a conversation by experts, take detailed notes, and track changes on a subject that you are not an expert in sounds like a hellish task for anyone. If the employee is having issues in her day-to-day work, then by all means address that, but this feels like everyone is clinging to tradition for the sake of tradition.

      1. anonymousfornow*

        My first thoughts as well. Additionally, why can’t a recording of the meeting be made and then used to transcribe technical details that may be missed during taking notes of a fast-paced in person conversation? Recordings of the meeting combined with software that can pause, fast-forward, repeat, etc. the conversation are used prolifically by municipalities across the country to transcribe required public minutes of the meeting/committees etc. Such a simple solution!

  3. RedinSC*

    Letter 5,

    I still don’t know what this means. The Twitter link just had the quote, so all I’ll say is, Get off my lawn!

    1. Roland*

      I also can’t see any replies or retweets since I don’t have an account! If someone could summarize that would be great.

      1. annsy*

        An NPC is a non-playable character, usually in a video game. In this scenario, this character is someone that the player can encounter, and when spoken to, the NPC tells the player “I’ve heard there’s weird stuff going on at the Mage’s Guild” or whatever, so that the player knows that there’s a quest available at the Mage’s Guild.

      2. An Honest Nudibranch*

        Honestly, this is a prime example of Twitter being near unusable, now.

        (I can’t read the replies either – my brain went to Skyrim, but I don’t recall if that was an actual quote.)

        Either way, the question appears to be “is the videogame character who just stands there and tells players Something Weird Is Happening At Mage’s Guild, and has no other lines, considered to have work experience at Mage’s Guild?”

        To which I would answer: “Not unless there’s an unnecessarily convoluted subplot involving the Mage’s Guild paying them to direct adventurers over.” (And even then I would not just put “Mage’s Guild” on the resume, you need to be clear about what you were hired to do).

        . . . Okay, now I’m curious what the theoretical job title for “paid to tell adventures about things” would be

        1. Kenelm*

          exclamation-mark-above-head-bearer. Or punctuation manager, if you want to also include the question mark for when the player has accepted the quest, but hasn’t finished it yet.

        2. DogsInPJsAreMyFavorite*

          communications consultant and headhunter available for short and long term projects in the Mages Guild neighborhood who can optimize your firm’s relations with visiting businessmen who provide a wide range of subject matter expertise.

        3. a clockwork lemon*

          “Paid to tell adventures about things” is a freelance journalist/writer. That NPC owns their own small business!

          1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            Or they work for the local tourist bureau! Some people want beaches or museums, adventurers want adventures.

          1. ferrina*

            Now I need to see Epic NPC Man write a resume and cover letter.

            “Greetings, Adventurer and Hiring Manager…”

          2. JB*

            They just dropped another one in that series, spawning queue. Alison doing a post about Rowan in the Bored series would be awesome!

        4. Simon (he/him)*

          Assistant to the Quest Giver? (Found my new career goal!)

          I’m involved in my local Renaissance Festival and this absolutely sounds like something on a resume- I’ve met people IRL with the job title of NPC, lol.

        5. Student*

          There are several. Some examples:

          IRL, it is “human directionals” – the people who hold giant signs outside businesses. AKA: sign spinners.

          In games:
          Town crier. Barkeep. Gossip. Intelligence agent. Guild manager. Mayor. Advertiser. Quest-giver. Or, more generally, just NPC.

        6. Willow Sunstar*

          Maybe it’s an acting job in a video game or TV program/movie based on a video game? Or perhaps something in the tourism industry and it’s all just an allegory? Not sure.

        7. Persephone Mulberry*

          Honestly, this is a prime example of Twitter being near unusable, now.

          This, so much this.

          I mean, I guess blocking non-account holders from seeing any content except individual tweets is one way to “encourage” people to sign up, but I don’t care enough about anything anyone says on Twitter to do that.

    2. riverofmolecules*

      NPC = Non-Player Character

      Any character in a game that is not controlled by the player or players. In a video game, these are often all the scripted characters that the player interacts with. In a tabletop game like Dungeons and Dragons, these are all the characters that the gamemaster plays for the players to interact with.

      The question is describing a computer-operated, scripted character who stands around to occasionally comment about noises at the Mage’s Guild to prompt the player to investigate the building. Unless the Mage’s Guild is secretly employing this person as an indirect marketing ploy (like a carnival plant in the crowd), the person would not be an employee anymore than a local gossip is an employee of the person they’re gossiping about or a Yelp reviewer is an employee of the restaurant.

    3. Martin Blackwood*

      I think the real world equivilancy would be like “If i didn’t shut up about this band’s concert, could i say I worked for them as a promoter?”

      A good reply from @0xMatt on twitter said that “town gossip” was an independant contractor position

      1. learnedthehardway*

        I’m equating it to people who I have interviewed, who have a wildly inflated belief in their contributions or experience. It’s one of the reasons you really need to have someone good at interviewing to assess candidates for a role – whether that’s a recruitment professional or a hiring manager who is trained/experienced in evaluating candidates.

        In fact, this kind of delusion of competence almost completely accurately describes someone who used to report to me, who routinely believed that he was doing my job, when he was only doing about 1/4 of the same things I did. He didn’t know everything my job entailed – only the bits that overlapped. This became very clear to me when he took credit for a major conference another department was organizing, when, in fact, he had been responsible only for booking the rooms within the calendaring system. When I pointed out that OTHER dept was actually organizing the conference, and that our team was only doing the administrivia (every dept. was pitching in in some way), and that it was going to be taken very badly if he claimed credit for the other team’s work, he insisted that he was indeed the person planning the conference. He really didn’t see that planning the event was orders of magnitude bigger than his contribution. At that point, I realized he was suffering from “NPC as hero syndrome” and gave up. Sure enough, other people were really ticked off to find that he had claimed credit for their roles.

      2. DJ Abbott*

        Thanks! Since I’m not a gamer or Twitter user, yours was the only comment I understood. :)

      3. WellRed*

        Thank you. All I git from any of is it must be some sort of gamer thing. I guess it’s supposed to be a joke?

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I immediately thought of yesterday’s thread of the wildest things you’ve seen on resumes. This is someone who thought “… But what if I stand out in a bad way?” rather than gumptioning forward without asking AAM.

          1. Jean (just Jean)*

            Love, love, love your transformation of “gumption” into a word–which sounds every bit as awkward/tone-deaf as the actual activity!

        2. MigraineMonth*

          The joke is that these types of characters are basically set dressing, only intended to move the story along for the main characters/players. It’s funny to think about such a character needing a resume and writing to Alison for career advice.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      Get off my lawn!
      That’s exactly what the mage’s guild wants you to do. It’s a trap!

  4. I've got the shrimp!*

    I am equally confused by OP5’s question. Are they a participant in a DnD campaign and are making a resume for their character, are they trying to claim a DnD’s characters professional developments as their own, or am I totally off base?

    1. periwinkle*

      I assumed this was the latest question about fictional characters. I’ll put links to other such questions in a reply…

      1. Varthema*

        Ahh, that helps a bit. I understood the reference but still thought there had to be more backstory because it was SO random?

        A much better question is, can Gale put down Withers as a manager reference? Or does it not count since it was volunteer work?

        1. Anon anon*

          Gale’s reference situation must be absolutely dire. His longest (only?) boss is also his ex. I guess he could use Elminster…

          1. Varthema*

            1000% to both! This delightful little intersection of BG3 and AAM nerdery has absolutely made my day, thanks for that!

        2. An Honest Nudibranch*

          Hmmm. Ya, I don’t see any plausible way Withers could be considered Gale’s manager, here – he doesn’t have hiring or firing power, he’s not responsible for any task delegation or goal setting, they don’t even do basic check-ins. Withers functions more like a vendor.

          Gale might be able to more plausibly list Tav/Durge as a manager in a pinch, though. Though really I suspect Gale will mostly be relying on academic references.

    2. Myrin*

      It’s fictional. I can’t open the link so IDK if there’s a reference specifically to DnD but NPCs are generally more prominent in video games. I understood OP to mean “If I were an NPC in a video game and said [thing], could I then claim, during my job search in the video game world where I live, that I worked for the Mage’s Guild?”. Which, obviously not, unless you were indeed hired by the Mage’s Guild specifically to tell adventurers about the noises (which could be what OP meant since she says “if my job was NPC”, but it’s not clear).

        1. anon24*

          Forgive me for being pedantic, and not trying come across as rude, but its actually a reference to Oblivion, the game before Skyrim. Skyrim has the College of Winterhold, Oblivion has the Mages Guild :)

          Source – about 1000 hours into Skyrim, about 200 into Oblivion

          1. Em*

            god I can’t WAIT for Elder Scrolls VI… didn’t think AAM would bring this up for me lol

      1. AGD*

        Yeah, probably video games, but small chance of LARPing (live-action role-playing), which is basically video games but with players dressed as characters running around in a large field or patch of forest, actors portraying NPCs, and prearranged systems of “magic” and “combat” rules, etc.

    3. GrumpyPenguin*

      It’s from a video game. The NPC (non-player character) is just telling the player some rumors about the Magic Guild. The NPC doesn’t become a member of the Magic Guild just by gossiping.
      In the real world it would be like a stranger at a job fair telling you “Hey, I heard Company X is struggling to complete task Y. so they might be looking for somebody to hire. Maybe it’s a good time to apply there for a job.”

      1. Someguy*

        Even if they were a member of the Mages’ Guild, that would be a professional affiliation/association, rather than an employee, no?

        Although I suppose one could be a Guild Certified Mage standing out front directing potential adventurers in (no payment, just “exposure and networking opportunities!”)

    4. Phony Genius*

      Clearly, they have misread the name of this advice column as “Ask a Mage.”

  5. Happily Retired*

    (Off with a bang with a nesting fail)

    I have auditory processing problems, and I am AWFUL at taking notes. It’s not for lack of trying.

    1. SE*

      YES, same! I haven’t read the other letters yet, but I had to jump down here to say that, as someone with auditory processing issues, this sounds like an actual nightmare.

      1. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

        My brother has auditory processing issues and it has no effect on his intelligence/comprehension — I’m not sure Callie’s problem is an auditory one but more one of fundamental capability. I really, really doubt that her lack of understanding on such a basic level is siloed into this one area.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I don’t think that’s a fair statement – auditory processing (or hearing loss/being hard of hearing) manifests in different ways for different people. You cannot tell from a single task whether ANYONE is lacking “fundamental capacity.”

          1. WellRed*

            It doesn’t say she has auditory processing, you guys are assuming facts not stated in the letter and you’ve let your personal stuff take you way off track.

            1. Michelle Smith*

              People aren’t diagnosing her with that but saying there are other plausible reasons for her failure to complete this task satisfactorily that don’t reflect poorly on her capabilities as an employee more generally or her intelligence. LW seems like they are considering disciplinary action over this and commenters are suggesting reasons that might not be warranted. It merits mentioning so that LW can provide an opportunity for this employee to speak up if this is in fact what’s going on and not just an unwillingness to do this task.

              1. Student*

                Callie has non-zero responsibility here. She’s been in this job since 2021. She’s been coached multiple times by many people on this responsibility. If she has a disability that is impacting her ability to do this task, and is otherwise a competent adult, she needs to put the pieces together to actually explain that to her manager. Her manager is not responsible for playing some bizarre guessing game about this. It doesn’t make sense to assume, without any other proof, that failure to do a specific work task is due to disability.

                Most especially, this kind of assume-it’s-a-disability-thing-by-default attitude towards problems does not help disabled people at all. This is infantilizing towards us.

                I have a hearing disability. I use hearing aides and other measures to compensate.

                I absolutely don’t want my boss to treat me like I’m just less capable than my co-workers without disabilities. I don’t want non-disabled people to play guessing games about my disability’s impact. I don’t want people to act like my disability is some unmentionable taboo. If I think it’s impacting my ability to do a task, I am capable of bringing it up, just like any other work issue. I’ve lived with my hearing disability for decades and I have a pretty good idea of where it impacts my life and how to work around it when necessary! If my boss has a good reason to think it’s impacting my ability to do a specific task, I want them to bring up what they’re seeing in terms of me struggling with a task, why they think it may be connected to my disability, and then ask me if it might be a factor.

            2. What_the_What*

              I kind of agree with you on this. I’ve noticed in this forum that almost EVERY letter, someone is going to bring up some sort of social anxiety, being on the spectrum, audiotry processing, executive function issues, ADHD, etc… When a lot of the time, it’s either 1) the person is just bad at their job or 2) they’re inexperienced and aren’t getting the support they need, etc… The LW said that Callie needs SMEs to give her explanations, context, etc… around some of the notes/edits. It sounds like she just … doesn’t understand the topic, which is understandable if she’s only exposed to it twice a year. And if they’re moving through the information quickly, her notes are going to be incomplete and inprecise. That isn’t about her having a problem with auditory processing–it’s about not understanding a topic and being expected to distill a convo about it into short bursts of notes!

              1. Jackalope*

                I think some of that is in response to someone higher up in the thread saying that the fact Callie can’t do this means that she’s stupid. It’s entirely possible that it’s unrelated to a disability at all; people have different skills and abilities, and this may just not be one of hers. But jumping to the idea that she’s stupid because she can’t take these notes is both insulting and unlikely to be correct, and I think that’s what people are responding to.

    2. allathian*

      At best I can manage an outline of the decisions taken, but there’s no way I could both take detailed notes and expect to understand anything that’s happening around me at the same time. Given that the meetings happen twice a year, maybe this task could be taken off Callie’s plate altogether if she’s otherwise good at her job.

    3. Simon (he/him)*

      Yeah, having to take detailed, real-time notes on textbook edits from SMEs sounds like a specific circle of personal hell. If Callie really needs to take notes on these meetings, maybe having meeting recordings that she can take notes on after would help? That’s how I tend to take notes for classes- being able to pause, rewind, etc, makes my life much easier as someone with ADHD & auditory processing issues.

  6. nodramalama*

    yeah LW4 you really have no right to know how your boss deals with their PTO. They may have more leave, depending on the options they may purchase it or take it at half pay, they may have an arrangement in place.

    I really don’t think this is any of your business. If your boss isn’t around or don’t put in place proper leave arrangements deal with that.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Interesting – my gut feeling is that in the interests of transparency and fairness, OP may not have a “right” to know what the boss’s PTO situation is as such, but the boss should be conscious of how it looks. Obviously this assumes the boss is a manager in a company with a hierarchy, rather than the boss being the owner etc. In most places managers are just employees like individual contributors, we just have additional (or different) roles relating to leading people and outcomes rather than being “doers”, but we are all employees, just the nature of the work is different. As such managers may get more PTO than the people they manage due to job gradings (bandings) or whatever, but I think they should still be transparent about it.

      Having said that, is it possible that this additional PTO is payback for extra hours/days (weekends etc) manager has worked, and they just take it in a block rather than the usual way with comp days of taking it shortly after?

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        “but I think they should still be transparent about it.”

        I am not sure what you mean by transparent?

        Even with coworkers I don’t know/have access to their PTO balance, that is between them and manager/HR.

        I think it would be weird to expect a monthly/quarterly update on the bosses PTO balance.

        Even the boss announcing as a manager they get X days of PTO a year seems weird.

        now the company as a whole might be better about publishing their PTO system. Like x rank get 2 weeks, y rank get 4, and z rank get 6, but that should be general not individual.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Transparent – as an example (I’m not sure if it is the case here, but it may well be) – many companies have a policy that time off in a block of more than 2 weeks is subject to special approval and only for exceptional situations (eg honeymoon, family reunion in a distant place, etc) – so if the boss seems to be doing this multiple times for a 3-week vacation, but the “little” people (as OP puts it) would never get this approved – I think the onus of transparency is for the boss to… not “justify” exactly, but give an explanation for how that comes to be.

          I agree a regular update on the PTO balance would be weird, but if it is all booked through a centralised HR recording system, one way is having a “calendar” that shows that person x is absent due to reason y (PTO, special reasons, etc) on any given day. And that way when you know the boss is away, you know that time is (or perhaps isnt) recorded officially.

          Mainly it is on the boss to be aware of perceptions of what they’re doing and how that affects morale. The boss may be paid more and “above” OP in an organisation chart but that doesn’t make them superior in any meaningful way. If they are employed (the same way OP is) with a given amount of PTO and subject to the same policies and handbook etc – being a manager doesn’t exempt them from it applying to them, and they need to avoid the perception that it does (by doing things above board, and communicating about anything that seems unusual).

          1. Archi-detect*

            I think the issue is more that the little people don’t have anywhere near enough PTO to take 3 weeks off, not the approval process for it. Personally I figure the boss gets more as a more senior role or has some banked up somehow- I have no idea how use or lose works with them.

            1. Allonge*

              Yes, I don’t know why we (or OP) needs to go into wild guessing beyond ‘higher ranking people with seniority in the organisation get more PTO days, just as they get more money’.

              You can debate the fairness of this but I would bet it explains a lot of what OP is seeing.

              Now if different rules apply to management on what they need to be taking PTO for and what they can just make up in hours worked later, that is a little different, and that part may warrant transparency (but mostly so people know what rules apply to them).

            2. BatManDan*

              LW, presumably, has no idea with the manager’s time off is paid or unpaid, right? The job / role may have been negotiated with a higher-than-the-rest PTO benefit, or a higher tolerance for unpaid absences, as well.

          2. Cmdrshprd*

            “The boss may be paid more and “above” OP in an organisation chart but that doesn’t make them superior in any meaningful way.”

            Maybe I’m. it understanding your use of meaningful, but generally the higher a position in an org chart the more superior/valuable that position and in turn the person occupying that position is. That in no way related to a persons general value, but a VP/c-suite is generally more valuable than an entry level data entry person. A VP/c-suite not following some of the policies makes sense is okay. They can’t not work for 7/9 months. but them taking 3 week vacations when others can’t seems fine.

            the data entry manager the hires/fires/supervises the. is more valuable than them. so it would be reasonable if a company wanted to give managers more perks/pto.

            or even say because manger (exempt) might work 3 weeks of 50/60 hrs or regularly works 46/48 hrs a week that occasionally taking a day off without PTO is okay.

            I will say this is assuming more of an exempt/salary manager vs an nonexempt/hourly employees.

            if the employees are also exempt/salary yes I agree they should have similar leeway.

          3. Just a question*

            How does the LW know that their managers absences are PTO

            Maybe some of these absences are meetings off site , conferences etc

            Also the LW should spend their time doing their work and not worrying about what their manager is doing

          4. Not your monkeys*

            Perhaps (I disagree about the specifics but can see your main point), but the boss isn’t the person asking the question, and this isn’t helpful for the person who is asking, and who already seems alarmingly over-invested and antagonistic about this issue.

          5. Observer*

            but if it is all booked through a centralised HR recording system, one way is having a “calendar” that shows that person x is absent due to reason y (PTO, special reasons, etc) on any given day. And that way when you know the boss is away, you know that time is (or perhaps isnt) recorded officially.

            That’s ridiculous on many counts. Not the least of which is that it is REALLY not the LW’s place to worry about whether their manager is recording / reporting their time off correctly. This goes waaaay beyond reasonable transparency.

            1. House On The Rock*

              Yeah, plus I think many people would be uncomfortable with this system, including other “little people” and it could lead to so much drama.

              LW suspects that their manager is “scamming” the company – if this is true (and there’s no indication it is except that manager seems to take more time off than others), a “justify your time off calendar” won’t address or fix that.

          6. Cmdrshprd**

            “not “justify” exactly, but give an explanation for how that comes to be.”

            I guess the explanation/reason to me seems easy/simple enough: “rank has its privileges.”

            In that the higher you go, yes you don’t have to adhere to the same policies and procedures as others. I don’t mean that you can steal from the company, but things like a higher up getting an expense approved that would not be approved for a lower level individual, or getting a company car, getting to travel business class when everyone else is coach etc…..

            Boss getting to take two 3 week vacations in a year when everyone else only gets 2 weeks total of PTO, or can only get one 3 week vacation approved in an extraordinary circumstance, seems pretty basic/routine.

            I think OP would come off as naive if they questioned why boss gets to do things that they cant.

            This is all assuming boss being out is not causing any undue hardships, in getting work approved. Having to wait for approval on items that are not time sensitive is fine, not everything has to proceed as normal.

            1. Yadah*

              “In that the higher you go, yes you don’t have to adhere to the same policies and procedures as others.”

              And it’s often not even just about perks, at the company I work for, once there’s a degree of trust established we have a lot of control over our schedule. Did you work super late Mon, Tues and Wed and want to unofficially take next Monday off to compensate? Sure, as long as you’re ready to jump in if something urgent arises and give folks a heads up it’s all good.

      2. Nodramalama*

        I disagree. This sub consistently talks about how people’s leave are their business and to keep your eyes on your own work. That applies for bosses as much as it does for coworkers. You wouldnt expect to have access to your coworkers’ leave so you can check up on them. That shouldn’t change if your coworker gets promoted.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          The “eyes on your own work” only applies to a limited extent and up to the point where it has an impact on others (concrete, like unavailability of someone when they are needed for a key thing, or more abstract but still real, like group morale).

          On some level each person’s relationship is with the company / their own boss and is independent of everyone else’s own relationship with the company/boss, but also (and I think this gets overlooked a lot when we have these kinds of discussions) the workplace is also a little society in its own right. For a society to function properly people need to be able to have faith that others are subject to broadly the same (or equitable) rules and expectations as they are. If you are part of a society where no one is held to the same standards and there’s no obligation for anyone to know anything – that society will break down very quickly.

          1. Nodramalama*

            I’m sorry but I am not following this. No, society will not break down because you can’t keep account of someone else’s leave.

            The only person whose job it is to keep account of someones leave is the person who is responsible for approving it. Not the whole workplace.

            1. Testing*

              Agree entirely!

              If the boss being away affects OP’s actual work, for example by not having someone to ask or approve things, then that’s a problem that should be addressed. OP’s boss’s time off is not a problem in itself.

              1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

                The time off in itself isn’t the problem, but OP and their colleagues currently don’t have faith that the system is being applied fairly, due to lack of transparency – and that is a bigger problem. That is different from “some things just aren’t fair”.

                1. DisgruntledPelican*

                  No, it’s not. There are going to be people who don’t have faith the system is being applied fairly no matter what they see. There are going to be people who define “fairness” differently no matter what they see. Sometimes systems aren’t “fair” but that doesn’t make them bad systems.

                  OP doesn’t need to know how their boss’s compensation package was negotiated. They just need to know how to get their work done.

                2. Yadah*

                  Not to be callous, but those people need to learn that their perception of fairness (or lack thereof) doesn’t entitle them to information that isn’t their business. There are a million valid reasons why OPs boss might have more PTO or is taking more leave (could be unpaid) and none of those are OPs business.

                  OPs first line of their letter lays out their issue – they don’t feel like they have a reasonable amount of PTO. Instead of OP and their coworkers advocating for a revised PTO policy that gives them more days, or talking to their boss about the possibility of banking hours for “unofficial” PTO or any other solution, they’ve got a total ‘crab in the bucket’ mentality. Why try to punish their manager instead of working to improve their own situation?

                3. kjinsea*

                  The system isn’t fair. People with unique skills, or seniority, get more time off. That isn’t 100% fair, but it is real and people don’t get to be upset about it. I’ve been junior and I’m now a senior employee and I have easily 3-4x the leave I had earlier in my career.

          2. bamcheeks*

            I think there’s a couple of different definitions of transparency bouncing around here.

            – LW should definitely know *when* her manager is going to be OOO
            – it would probably be helpful to make it known that whilst junior or new employees get three weeks a year, long-term employees or senior employees can have five to six weeks, or negotiate PTO as part of their compensation package (not least as a way of encouraging people to aspire to more senior roles)
            – LW isn’t entitled to know precisely how many days off her manager has banked at any time
            – but equally, this isn’t wildly sensitive information, there’d be nothing weird about the manager saying, “yeah, I’ve still got three weeks to take before Christmas or I lose it”
            – equally, it probably wouldn’t be weird for LW to ask as a general principle how PTO works, and whether they could get expect to get more if they stay with the company for a few years or move up into more senior roles.

            1. MsSolo (UK)*

              Also, if there’s an expectation that senior staff, or staff in certain positions, have to take at least one longer block of time off each year for fraud prevention reasons. Something that might not occur to lower down and new starters, but it’s one of the most efficient ways of uncovering embezzlement etc.

                1. Smurfette*

                  At the banks I’ve worked at, it’s been 2 weeks. The idea is that you can possibly cover your fraudulent activities for a shorter period of leave, but 2 weeks is long enough for any discrepancies to become obvious.

            2. Cmdrshprd*

              “but equally, this isn’t wildly sensitive information, there’d be nothing weird about the manager saying, “yeah, I’ve still got three weeks to take before Christmas or I lose it””

              Yes there is nothing weird about it if boss chooses to share that info. I think I have heard coworkers say similar things. But what I found weird is that boss should be expected to share/public post that information, as in OP is not entitled to that info.

              “– equally, it probably wouldn’t be weird for LW to ask as a general principle how PTO works, and whether they could get expect to get more if they stay with the company for a few years or move up into more senior roles.”

              This I agree with, but would add that generally in most medium to large sized companies (even some small ones) the PTO allotment/polices are usually in the handbook, if they are not OP should ask about it and the company should publish it.

          3. Malarkey01*

            That’s simply not how this works and is wildly outside the norms of the working world.

            I think it’s important to remember a lot of people read this blog (including LW who is “new to PTO”) to learn about working norms and what you’re suggesting over multiple comments is not how businesses work.

          4. Person Person*

            Employees are constantly held to different standards. A high school employee at a retail store should be held to a different standard than their manager, than their regional manager, than their CEO. Obviously some of those standards are consistent, but they aren’t the same.

          5. Observer*

            has an impact on others (concrete, like unavailability of someone when they are needed for a key thing, or more abstract but still real, like group morale).

            Nope. In the case of morale, the person whose morale is supposedly being affect should *definitely* be keeping their eyes on their own work.

            In the case where the boss is unavailable, and there is no backup, it’s just not relevant what the policies are and whether the boss is following them. All that is relevant is that the LW doesn’t have the information / process flow they need to get their job done. That is what they should be addressing, rather than the boss’ schedule.

      3. I should really pick a name*

        What transparency is needed here?

        If the boss is taking their allocated vacation, there’s no reason for them to think it would be perceived as odd.
        Are you suggesting that they, unprompted, tell all their direct reports how much vacation they have?

        1. Pescadero*

          I’d say folks should understand the vacation allotment policies.

          Things like “hourly employees with less than 5 years experience get X days a year, hourly employees with more than 5 years experience get Y days per year, salaried employees get Z days per year”, etc.

          1. Yadah*

            A basic policy like that doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of an individual’s situation though.

            Many people negotiate for more PTO during reviews and hiring, some roles have flexibility of “well you worked 55 hours last week so feel free to take an extra day at your convenience” or some people take unpaid time off for a variety of reasons – and other employees aren’t entitled to a detailed breakdown of this info.

      4. StressedButOkay*

        I’m also confused by how or why the boss should be more transparent. Since we don’t know what their handbook says about taking blocks of time, it sounds more like OP is frustrated that they have less PTO than their manager. There are SO many reasons OP’s boss could have tons of PTO.

        For example, a few years ago I was doing the work of a senior program manager but with no title bump or pay. I got the title bump but the company was tight on funds – so I negotiated X more PTO days based on number of years. I’m earning more PTO than most people at my level or under because of that negotiation. And that’s just one example!

      5. Observer*

        my gut feeling is that in the interests of transparency and fairness, OP may not have a “right” to know what the boss’s PTO situation is as such, but the boss should be conscious of how it looks.

        That’s a position that would be worth discussing if the manager wrote it. But ultimately, it really is none of the LW’s business.

      6. M2*

        I’m a executive leader in my role and so is my spouse. In our roles we both get more PTO than others and I also get comp time as I work nights and weekends and travel frequently (including over weekends). My extra PTO was part of my retention package and comp time I’m allowed to use at my discretion. I never take even close to what I have worked extra for comp days.

        I also basically banked PTO for years that I never used. I saved 2 or more weeks of vacation every year and I have been here a long time. My organization will only pay out 30 days and I have WAY more than 30 days of vacation banked… think 3 +times that even though I took a few weeks off last year.

        Now I’m looking for a new job and am going to use up a huge chunk of that PTO so I don’t loose it. At my organization if you go away more than 2 weeks in a row you need to check with your manager (I have never seen anyone say no to a longer request). I have never been away more than 2 weeks because stuff piles up but I’m taking 3 weeks in a row this summer and then another 2 weeks at the end of the summer.

        Most people on my teams know I barely went on vacation for years and a new staff member made a point when I took a few days off one week and I had to say hey I worked here years and years and hardly took vacation. Now I have been able to build out my teams and have more team members so when I come back it isn’t a mess (took years to get HR to allow us to grow).

        One person thought I was on vacation when I was traveling for work! It said on my calendar but they didn’t understand why I was in Asia for 10 days… I work nights and weekends and travel a lot so I’m not always in the office.

        It isn’t anyones business how much PTO I have. My boss and HR know and don’t have an issue especially since I’m excellent at my job and work a lot more than 40 hours a week.

        I also banked up my PTO because even though we get 6 month paid parental leave my spouse and I were trying for another child so I wanted to have more time banked for parental leave or to have if there were any issues. We weren’t so lucky so now I’m also using it up. Why do I need to explain this to people on my team? I don’t. I have kids in school so only take off random days to get stuff done but take off weeks during the summer and breaks when they are off.

        So you don’t really know what’s going on or what this persons package is. You also don’t know if they received the ok you work elsewhere which many people get as retention. As long as you have good HR it should be fine.

      7. Starbuck*

        If LW4 is having coverage issues, that’s what they should bring up. The exact balance of boss’ PTO bank is not their business, no matter how “uncomfy” it makes them. What I was getting from LW4 seems lack of workplace norm experience, maybe they are new to the work world. Because in my experience it’s unheard of to know how much PTO exactly your boss has at any given time. Their total cap, sure, if it’s step-based, but not their active balance.

    2. Cmdrshprd*

      “in addition to monthly requested days off ”

      I also want to point out that depending on the level and type of work, boss might be working working longer hours, weekends/holidays etc…. So if the boss does take a day off here and there, not using PTO for it would be fine/understandable.

      Or I have had bosses who would be out on PTO for a day or two, but still end up doing some work when fires/emergencies popped up that needed their input, but would not work on other routine tasks. So to the majority of the people in the office they were out on PTO (idk if they actually used a day or not) but they ended up doing 2-3 hours of work.

      It seems like the general issue is low PTO, and feeling sickle and dimed. But if they are hourly that is how it should be. OP should be paid for all time worked and use PTO for time off. if OP is exempt/salary that is a different story.

      1. M2*

        This. For years I worked every single vacation and day off I had. For years. I am finally not doing that and it throws people off!

      2. sometimeswhy*

        Yep. I’m in a position that is a single point of failure for my org (I know, I’m trying to address it but TPTB aren’t on board yet) so I work way, WAY more than my on paper hours including regularly checking in when I’m meant to be out on leave.

        I’ve also been at my organization long enough that I accrue an absurd amount of leave. I sell back leave every year and still have to take some or I stop accruing.

        I have colleagues who’ve burnt through FMLA and taken leave without pay. They’re not “on vacation,” they’re unable to work and that’s none of anyone’s business.

        I have colleagues who’ve been out for family emergencies and then turned right around and taken their planned, booked and paid for actual vacation. As they should. They weren’t “taking two vacations.”

        If this is about coverage, have that conversation.
        If this is about “fairness,” realize there’s stuff you don’t know and that it wouldn’t be appropriate for you to know.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      More senior people routinely have greater PTO allowances than more junior people. And they may very well have more flexibility with their work schedules – in part because they work on weekends or have to travel, or have other responsibilities that don’t coincide with a strict 8-5 work day.

      I think the OP should tread quite carefully. If they have a genuine need for guidance and their manager is not available or responding, they can ask their grand-boss for advice on the work issue. I’d leave commentary about their manager being possibly AWOL out of the equation, though. The grand-boss will figure it out, if there is an issue.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        +1 to this. I don’t want to judge something that we don’t know, but the LW seems quite young / new to the professional world. I would advise them not to get caught up in drama over things that are really very normal at work. If your supervisor’s repeated lengthy absences are causing a workflow problem, then you need to have a conversation with her or her boss about how to keep things moving when she’s away, but this type and amount of PTO use is so, so normal for a senior person.

        1. Michigander*

          I’m not sure my original comment posted, but it was very similar. LW4 needs to think about whether this is actually affecting her work or if just feels unfair. If it’s the former then she should talk to her boss and get clarity on what to do when the boss is out and she needs certain things, ie, “Who can sign off on these forms while you’re on vacation? We really need to submit them by the end of the month.” If it’s just that it feels unfair, well…a lot of things in life are going to feel unfair, and there isn’t always something you can do about it. It’s very common for people in more senior positions or who have been at the company longer to get more vacation time, so it may be something she’ll just have to learn to live with.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            Definitely agree. One thing that I find helps is when a company is transparent about the vacation accrual bands (our employee handbook spells this out for exactly this reason), but even if the LW’s company doesn’t do that, they should still find a way to put perceptions of unfairness to one side.

          2. Dog momma*

            Just like anyone else, someone covers for the boss when they ate out. And usually grandboss signs off on lets say payroll/ other forms if necessary to keep the work flowing. . On occasion, something may come up unexpectedly, but you would go to the covering person & ask about it.

            Who knows this ” extra PTO ” could very well be for medical treatment or family issues that nobody but the grand boss needs to be aware of.

            1. Student*

              I wish! I sympathize with the LW on this one. My boss just does her own thing. She doesn’t notify us when she’s out on PTO in any substantive way, and doesn’t take any measures to have someone cover for her when she is out. She vehemently denies that there is any impact on us, especially when you try to talk to her directly about the impacts.

              It’s funny because she requires us to notify her in about 5 different places/systems when we are out on PTO.

              Bosses like this just suck. You ask them what to do in their absence. If they don’t tell you or pretend they’re more accessible than they actually are, then you guess – and you try your best to document yourself to give yourself CYA on it. Ask somebody more senior to sign off on things that seem genuinely urgent. Make sure you can document that you handed it off to the absentee boss and try to make sure any consequences of being late fall back to the boss, instead of on you. If the consequences just fall on you regardless, do whatever makes your life least difficult and start job searching.

              1. ABC*

                There is no indication in the letter that anything remotely like this is happening with the LW’s manager. This is pure projection.

            2. Brain the Brian*

              Not in all cases. My boss is junior only to our CEO, who is relatively new, knows very little of the details of specific projects, and certainly wouldn’t be in a position to issue approvals or provide guidance when my boss is out despite having the theoretical ability to do so. My boss rarely delegates responsibilities when she takes leave, which means things just get stuck in her inbox for weeks (sometimes months) at a time. There’s seemingly nothing I can say to convince her to adopt a different approach.

              And still, none of that means I think she should take or earn less leave (she should probably take more, actually) or that she shouldn’t earn more than a junior-level person. She’s been with the same company since the 1980s and is a veritable expert in our work; some extra consideration is worth it to recognize her immense contributions. “Fairness” does not mean everyone gets exact the same thing; “fairness” means being compensated according to the value each person brings.

    4. Lacey*

      Yes, the boss almost certainly has more leave. And/or is salaried and can take off random days each month.

    5. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      The boss’ PTO is a red herring. OP rather than trying to figure out why the boss has so much PTO while you are nickeled and dimed, concentrate on getting the PTO for non-bosses fixed. That’s the real problem. If you had decent PTO and didn’t get nicked for every doctor’s appointment you take, you would probably care less about how much PTO the boss has.

      1. Lily Potter*

        Agree with this if the OP is salaried and has to take PTO for doctor’s appointments. That’s asinine, especially if when an employee regularly works beyond a 40 hour workweek.

        Disagree with this if the OP is paid hourly. With that setup, you get paid more when you work more and less when you work less. If you take time off, you use PTO or you don’t get paid. Nickel-and-diming is kind of built into the pay structure for hourly employees. If an hourly employee works 40.5 hours in a week, no one should call the request for 0.5 hours of overtime “nickel-and-diming”.

      2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        Yeah, I think it’s the disparity where boss can take three-week vacations, while OP is struggling to make their scanty PTO last long enough that they can manage to go home for Christmas, or whatever the particular pain point is. That isn’t inherently the boss’s fault, but if the boss is being a hard-ass about an appointment here and there, they’re definitely contributing.

        1. umami*

          Sometimes it’s helpful to keep in mind that the boss likely started with scanty PTO as well and has worked up to this. OP will get there too in time! I would actually prefer not having the boss around all the time, so try to look at the positive aspects rather than being peeved at them being out (when you really don’t know their circumstances at all and don’t have a right to that information).

      3. Smithy*

        Absolutely this.

        When you have enough, the issues are often easier to untangle. I have plenty of PTO, and so when my boss or boss’ boss take their vacation – my pain point is they’re both unlikely to appoint coverage. If questions or urgent issues arise, you’re stuck reaching out to them on vacation, going on a scavenger hunt to figure out who else to ask, or doing nothing and hoping it can keep.

        All of those are pain points worth addressing, but my issue has nothing to do with their PTO banks because I’m not pained by mine. And the fact I’m not pained by mine, also makes the problem easier to identify as opposed to being frustrated with many things all at once.

      4. N C Kiddle*

        I wouldn’t say a red herring, but a proxy for another issue definitely. Does LW feel the boss is unavailable when needed, suspect the boss is untrustworthy in some way, is LW just resentful about her own scant PTO? Figuring out what the underlying issue is and whether there’s a solution is much more helpful than fixating on the boss’s time off.

    6. Sloanicota*

      OP needs to focus on their own leave, how it’s being spent, lost or docked (and pushing back in a group if inappropriate) or looking for a job with better/more flexible leave – and stop worrying about their bosses leave, which is not their job to monitor.

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

      I will say that some places have the amount of PTO earned as part of the handbook or on the HR website. Not for each individual but like 1-3 years gets X days; 3-5 years Y Days; and so on.

      So if the OP knows how long the boss has been at this company they may be able to find out a rough idea of what their PTO looks like.

      However, OP should remember that there could be things going on that they are not aware of. It may not be PTO but the boss may have FMLA type of things where they are either going to their own medical appointments or they could be caring for a family member. I wish the OP gave info about why they feel like the boss is scamming the company and what the problems are for them.

      1. umami*

        Absolutely! And it’s entirely possible they have gone long stretches without taking time off and now have hours to burn (I need to take 3 weeks off this year in order to not lose hours because our accrual is capped, last year I lost 92 hours).

      2. Doreen*

        And not just FMLA type things – it was not uncommon at all for me to end up working a few unscheduled hours , and since I was exempt , if I worked three extra hours on Monday, I would try to leave three hours early on Wednesday. But the people I supervised didn’t necessarily see those unscheduled hours I worked and might have thought that I was taking time off without using leave. But I’m really not sure why transparency should obligate me to explain that situation to people who approve neither my work schedule nor my time off.

    8. el l*

      Bosses don’t have to sync/justify PTO volumes, how they take it, or when they take it with the people they manage. Not a thing. Certainly not in regular offices.

      If OP’s real question is, “Why can’t I get/keep more PTO?” then that’s a compensation issue that needs to be raised with their management.

      If OP’s real question is, “Why can’t Boss be available when I need input?” then that’s an operational issue that has to be raised with their management.

      1. Bast*

        Maybe not, but it certainly hits morale when you are nickel and diming employees for things like a medical appointment when you are cutting out whenever and for whatever. At Old Job, upper management *supposedly* only took the same 15 days as everyone else, but it was really a lot more, because we timed it. It became a huge point of contention and really got a lot of people PO’ed, because Big Boss would make a big deal of “15 days is enough, because I only take 15 days and it’s enough for me” when in reality it was more than that (about 25 ish days and that’s not counting all of the days she’d take off early). Asserting that she was working with the same 15 days off that everyone else had while she clearly was not really did not help morale around PTO. We had a shared team calendar where you were expected to put your name and reason for any time off, (ie: Jane Off– Doctor’s Appt, Bast Off — Vacation, etc) so it was pretty easy to pull up a report with the number of days she took off that said Big Boss- Vacation. She’d also tend to come back with tons of pictures and stories to tell the staff about her latest trip to Miami or Jamaica while at the same time yelling at the receptionist for daring to get (and take time off for) Covid.

        This can also effect others. She also made a rule that either myself (middle management) or herself had to be in the office at all times to “monitor” everyone, which definitely cut into the time I could take off as well. Basically, every Friday she’d take off, and the day after most holidays she’d be gone. There were certain things that only she could approve/access as well, that would get backed up and that the team would get yelled at for even though it was beyond their control as only Big Boss could access/approve the item. Add in a holiday or work long Miami vacation and now the item is sitting for nearly two weeks.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Maybe not, but it certainly hits morale when you are nickel and diming employees for things like a medical appointment when you are cutting out whenever and for whatever.

          The LW’s boss likely has no direct control over the PTO for the LW and their colleagues, so the boss isn’t the one “nickle and diming” them. Have they mentioned to anyone that their PTO is an issue?

      2. Observer*

        Exactly. Both issues are potentially legitimate. Neither issue merits the LW knowing about their Boss’ PTO. But each one could merit a discussion with their Boss or GandBoss.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is a great breakdown, and I totally agree. The issue is not how much PTO the boss does/doesn’t have, it’s the operational impact.

        I have been with my current organization a while and have a fairly large bank of PTO that exceeds what I’d bet many of my newer employees have. (Everyone has the same accrual rate, so I do not receive more PTO than they do, I just have extra days I didn’t use that rolled over up to a certain amount.) I would think that anyone who wanted to know/track my PTO balance was weirdly focused on the wrong things.

        I also do night/weekend coverage and have worked quite a few holidays because I prioritize my team could having prime times of the year off. Part of being exempt is having some flexibility – so, I was able to leave an hour early yesterday for a personal errand but I also had to hop back online late in the evening meet a deadline. I don’t feel the least bit bad about using my PTO or flexibility as allowed.

      4. Cmdrshprd*

        “We had a shared team calendar where you were expected to put your name and reason for any time off, (ie: Jane Off– Doctor’s Appt, Bast Off — Vacation, etc) so it was pretty easy to pull up a report with the number of days she took off that said Big Boss- Vacation. She’d also tend to come back with tons of pictures and stories to tell the staff about her latest trip to Miami or Jamaica”

        @Bast* But do you know if she was 100% off or partially working during that time? She might not have been responsive to your questions/issues, but she might have still been working taking calls/emails with other higher up people/issues. So she might be working a reduced schedule and only focusing on super important stuff.

        I mentioned in another comment I worked for a boss who tried/intended to take PTO would let everyone know/mark it off. But when the time came issues/emergencies came up that would need her attention, so they would often end up working 2-4 hours that day on/off. They didn’t respond to most things, so to the majority of the people at the office it seemed like she was just off on PTO, when they actually worked.
        Now I don’t know if the ended up having PTO deducted from their bank, I certainly hope not, because if they worked 2-4 hours that is not a PTO day. Our policy was for salaried employees PTO had to be taken in full day increments, if a salaried employee worked at all it was not PTO.

    9. Robert C*

      It is their business.

      First, the LW has written out factors that show it is plausible the boss is committing a scam. This is an ethical issue, which a lot of workplaces hammer in as being everyone’s business (“do the right thing, even if no one looking”; “don’t look away when people are doing something you know or suspect is wrong”).

      Second, the widely disparate treatment of PTO (nickel-and-diming and nitpicking vs generosity and no scrutiny) is much like what Allison said about about a company that had widely disparate treatment of punctuality: it is a good way to create a culture where people are cynical about the leadership and don’t see integrity as a particularly high organizational value. Bad things come from that.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        No, it is not their business. It may be the business of their boss’s boss, but it’s not the LW’s business. There is no proof that the boss is scamming anyone, they simply are taking more PTO, which isn’t uncommon. The LW may have a legitimate gripe about their own PTO, but that’s a separate issue from the boss’s PTO and should be approached as separate.

      2. Cmdrshprd*

        “First, the LW has written out factors that show it is plausible the boss is committing a scam.”

        I don’t think that is true. All that OP wrote is that their boss/manager, takes 3 week vacations (the way OP wrote it is not clear if “vacations” means plural in a single year, or plural in one 3 week vacation a year over multiple years) and still has days to take off every month.

        But the “taking” days off every month can easily be flex time because they work extra hours/weekends etc…

        A boss/manager getting more PTO/flexibility than the people under them is so very common that “scam” is not the first thought in my head. Boss might still be working on these “days off” just not on things that are visible to OP.

        I wonder if OP is hourly in that case nickle/diming PTO makes sense it is how it should work, or if OP is salary/exempt and does not get similar flexibility to boss. Even in the second case a boss/manager getting more flexibility makes sense.

        The only slight reason is that the grand boss is not in the same location.

      3. kjinsea*

        At my workplace, I get 6 weeks a year+holidays+sick time+comp time forwhen I work a lot in one week. And I have banked leave from other years. My employees get 2 weeks (yes, I’ve advocated for them to get more, but it is hard to make happen). There is a HUGE difference in the time a senior person can take than a junior one, especially if the senior person has been at that work place for a long time. That isn’t evidence of a scam. It is evidence of senority.

    10. Gretta Swathmore*

      I’ve had two bosses I know for a fact were scamming on their PTO. One was fired for it. Seems plausible to me!

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        How is knowing two people who were scamming the system proof that the LW is correct here? I’ve been in my position for six years and could theoretically take the same amount of time as the LW’s boss if I chose to. Guess I’m scamming on my PTO!

  7. MassMatt*

    #5, not only do you not work for the Mages’ Guild, you are basically a gossip with a very limited topic.

    1. Katy*

      Not only that, you don’t even hang around close enough to the Mages’ Guild to know for yourself whether there are unearthly noises. You’re just passing on secondhand gossip.

      1. Jill Swinburne*

        So a real world equivalent of someone hanging out on Reddit and sharing the royal family gossip du jour?

      2. GythaOgden*

        Well, people calling reception always thought I had a magic wand I could wave to make things better. Does that qualify for the Mage’s Guild?

        (To be fair, being in public healthcare, a lot of callers were in such distress and just trying every number they could get ahold of to get seen to that I wish I //did// have a magic wand. That and a Raise Dead spell would make public healthcare trivial to offer everywhere and not incidentally bring back my beloved husband and a few unfortunate colleagues and friends lost before their time. Also…if we opened an office in Rivendell, we could also establish a National Elf Service to fulfil people’s wishes for Quenya lessons and lembas…

        (I’m here all week, don’t worry…)

    2. HailRobonia*

      Unless you are a paid promoter who is doing a “stealth campaign” to advertise the mage’s guild. But then again, in that situation, you would likely be a hired contractor not an actual employee.

  8. Bruce*

    I tried posting this once, but for some reason the comment did not show up… Anyhow for OP 1 I wonder about the process. For technical documents or documents that are written by “subject matter experts” I’d suggest making the edits live in in the meeting… if they are too extensive then the responsible “SME” should type comments into the commenting fields of the document to say what is needed and who will do it. Pass the keyboard and the mouse around, or use a collaborative editing system that lets everyone view the doc live and make edits and comments in real time. OP1 you have been successful as the note taker, but you sound like a pretty high skill person and it may be hard to pass that success on…

    1. Bruce*

      OK, this time my comment appeared right away. My first attempt I used the “hash-tag” symbol to indicate number 1, I suspect that the special character got the comment filtered out. One time previously I used left angle bracket and right angle bracket to emphasize something and it also got filtered out, so now I know to avoid hash symbols too! :-)

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Just a side note, this site uses angle brackets for html formatting (to bold, italicize, etc.) so that’s why anything between angle brackets in a comment disappears when the comment is posted.

          1. Lady_Blerd*

            Finally! I’ve been trying for years but didn’t know it was HTML. My old days on forums will be useful :)

          2. Hlao-roo*

            For anyone else who wants to know how formatting works here, above the box where you type in comments is a link to “commenting rules.” At the bottom of the rules, there are examples of how to use HTML.


            and block quotes

            are all supported on this site.

            1. Bruce*

              Oh, cool! I probably won’t use these features, but thanks for the info, it will explain a lot!

    2. Dina*

      This reminds me of when I used to have to do technical reviews at a technical writing job. It usually fell to the author to take those notes, as we were the most familiar with the document.

    3. WellRed*

      I posted above that I thought this editing process is odd (and invites just this sort of problem).

    4. LaurCha*

      This is how we worked in an accreditation committee I was on. We each had the google doc open and edited on the fly. The language had to be very particular, it would have been near-impossible to take written notes on the conversation since we kept returning to the top of the section for a re-read.

      1. Bruce*

        Exactly! This is where modern editing tools + people who know what they are doing and are really engaged really shine :-)

    5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      So I think we’re overlooking a key word in OP’s question — these are **external** stakeholders. So like a technical advisory board, or peer reviewers. It’s unlikely that they have access to the live document – they were probably sent PDFs or hard-copy proofs in advance, and then they meet to synthesize their individual suggestions for changes.

      And then consider the nature of the changes:
      “On page 184, the accepted taxonomy for that subspecies is no longer Llama llama fergusia – it’s L. llama wakeenia now.” That can be done during the discussion.

      “In chapter 5, change the subsections on llamas and alpacas to make them more parallel, and also move illustration 5-10 up to the third page of the section, and scale it proportionately with the 2 photos on the opposite page.” That’s nearly impossible to do on-the-fly.

  9. Sleepy Unicorn*

    LW 1: I’m frequently given above-average performance reviews in my job and am generally a fairly intelligent person…but I also have ADHD and relatively slow cognitive processing speed (yes, that is actually what it says in the results of my neuropsych testing), and therefore I would struggle enormously with this note-taking task. If Callie has any sort of similar struggles, she will never get better at this no matter how much she’s coached or how much practice she gets. As you yourself said, not everyone is suited to every task. If the only reason she’s doing it is because in the past this task has “typically fallen” to her role and it’s not related to her stated responsibilities, just find someone else to do it. Also, Paul sounds like a jerk.

    1. Alan*

      Well said. FWIW, I was sort of a Paul when my daughter was in high school. She struggled with math, to a degree that I had never encountered in anyone ever, and sometimes I thought she needed to try harder. At some point though I realized that her brain just doesn’t math. I still can’t say that I really understand this, but I recognize that it’s part of her. So yes, Paul sounds like a jerk, but he’s perhaps pretty underinformed as well.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      One of my children has the same (diagnosed) combination of ADHD and below-average processing speed and would not be well-suited for this task at all. They are very smart and are good at a number of things, but would crash and burn spectacularly in this situation.

      I wonder if LW1’s team has looked into some of the new meeting tools that will transcribe and summarize meetings? I know these are built into MS Teams and other platforms, and it seems that using a recording, transcript, and possible AI-assisted to-dos would make this process easier for everyone rather than relying on a single note-taker for detailed, unfamiliar information.

    3. samwise*

      And it’s not really Paul’s place to say anything — not only is he not Callie’s or OP’s manager, he’s not even an employee! (external stakeholder)

      Paul needs to zip it, and unless it’s really necessary to smooth him down, I’d wish OP would say something like, Oh Paul, being bad at taking notes is not a fireable offense, let’s just move on, shall we?

    4. Tupac Coachella*

      I agree. If I’m actively involved in the meeting, my notes are useless to anyone but me. If my only job is to take the notes, though, they’re extremely thorough and organized (and legible, which is important because I need to handwrite if I want good notes). My “good” note taking is a mechanism I developed to be a really good student while managing what I strongly suspect is undiagnosed ADD. I had to learn that being a good note taker in the sense that I am doesn’t translate to a collaborative work environment, and now I don’t volunteer to take notes, ever.

      If Callie has a similar learning/thinking style, she may be held back from making important contributions because she’s too busy trying to capture what’s happening in a way that’s useful to others later. When I’m responsible for taking notes for the group, I’m essentially cut out of the actual conversation because I can’t do both well. OP, just give it to someone else, even if it will be a hassle to find someone. You’re trading a long term hassle for a short term one, which sounds like a win to me.

  10. AnotherSarah*

    LW1: I’m curious about the role of these notes. In my department, we also have a note-taker who doesn’t really know the ins and outs of what she’s taking notes on. But for us, it’s ok if the meeting minutes are sparse—and we all take our own notes if there’s something important to us. It sounds like Paul really relies on these notes, but does everyone? Can Paul take his own notes?

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Disagree very strongly. If Paul is heavily involved in the discussion, he needs to be thinking, talking, and listening. You do not want someone heavily involved in meeting discussions taking notes. The notetaker is just there to take notes and focus on taking notes. They do not have to think about the discussion topic, considering a response or be involved in the discussions at all. That is how they are able to take thorough and comprehensive notes.

        Transcription can help, but you also need someone to distill the decision from the discussion leading up to the decision.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Agreed! I am a project manager and recently had to explicitly ask the account lead to be the designated client-meeting leader because my job is to take notes and I was really struggling to both lead the meeting and take notes. They had sort of defaulted both roles to me because (as a result of my taking notes) I was the most up-to-date on items the client was prioritizing. I felt like I was taking crazy pills until I realized I needed to make an adjustment to the team dynamic.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          At least with transcription/recording, Callie (or someone better-suited to the task) would be able to review the discussion to distill the decision rather than hoping to catch it in a single pass.

          It’s kind of wild that in the current day and age of technology that they’re still relying on a human being catching highly technical information they’re unfamiliar with in a single pass.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            It’s wild all right. I hope LW1 and the rest of the team can find a better and more up to date solution.

    1. GrumpyPenguin*

      It doesn’t even make sense to have Callie take these notes since she doesn’t have the background to understand the topics. Let one of the experts take notes or hire someone (maybe a temp) with the needed background.

  11. Sabrina*

    OP1: I am the worst note taker in meetings. For me it’s part of my dyslexia, I cannot spell words correctly fast enough to keep up with a conversation. One thing that has helped is putting the document being edited on a shared screen so the entire room can see me making edits and correct me as I type them, but it’s still much more work than having someone who has that skill do it in the first place.

    1. Zelda*

      Heavens, who’s making you take perfect notes in real time? I’m quite a good speller, and I would still not require this of myself. Abbreviate and telegraph and draw little pictures for quick reminders of whole paragraphs, whatever you gotta do to keep pace, and then expand them into “human-readable” form *later*, after the meeting is over.

      1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

        Well, it kind of seems such perfect note taking is what’s required of Callie. Which is not an easy task, even though the LW apparently doesn’t struggle with it.
        Maybe that clouds the LW’s and Paul’s view on the matter – it does/would not pose much of a struggle for them, so they figure Callie simply needs more training and just has to work harder at it, and she’ll get there quickly. And that might simply be an unrealistic expectation.

        1. Allonge*

          I don’t think it’s perfect note-taking required in the sense of no typos or whatever.

          What seems to be complicated here – if I am reading OP right – is that ‘note-taking’ is in a specific format: introducing changes real-time to technical documentation that the note-taker is not in-depth familiar with.

          Let’s say there is a handbook on llama grooming and updates happen twice a year in a week-long collaborative exercise where people are sitting there and saying ‘new regulation on alpacas has an impact on llama housing, so chapter 5 needs some adjustments’ and then discuss what those should be, and the note-taker needs to introduce this to the appropriate place in the existing document.

          So in addition to listening to what people are talking about, the note-taker needs to identify (or at least keep track of) what chapter / section they are discussing and what is changing. It can be a hard one for sure, and probably not a question of teaching Callie – at this stage it’s better to have someone else try while Callie takes some other task on from that person.

          Because on the other end, it must be frustrating to have a discussion and in the meanwhile see Callie still looking at chapter 9 on alpaca relations, as the points are not recorded (and cleaning this up after the fact must also be very tricky).

  12. Gemma*

    #2 — I think there’s a reason for your perception that these cell conversations are more intrusive! It’s actually more distracting to hear half a conversation than a whole conversation, and this, feels more intrusive. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/halfalogue-overheard-cell-phone-conversations-are-not-only-annoying-but-reduce-our-attention-html.html

    This doesn’t solve the etiquette question; I don’t think you can get others on board with considering it rude. But hopefully you appreciate the validation.

    1. ag*

      If someone is going to natter through lunch while other people are working — and yes hearing one side of a conversation is more distracting than hearing a full conversation — then there needs to be someplace away from the desk where people can eat lunch. It is not reasonable to be subjected to this every day.

    2. ItsAllFunAndGamesUntil*

      I think others might think “why is it any different than if I am on my desk phone vs my cell phone that I am having my conversation?”.

    3. Doreen*

      I 100% agree that hearing one side of cell phone calls is more annoying than in-person conversations – but I don’t agree that they are more annoying than the same call over a landline. Before cell phones , I never heard any complaints about coworkers talking on the phone during lunch , even though they are one-sided. And no one complains about co-workers talking on work-related calls at their desks. I think that some people feel that since you can take your cell phone to the stairwell or outside, you should do that.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Before cell phones, we weren’t used to hearing half-a-conversation all around us, only in specific places where there were phones, which were both highly visible and often attached to the wall. (And “before cell phones” is over 25 years ago, ain’t that a hoot.)

        1. Doreen*

          Yes, but offices are one of the places you expected to hear half a conversation even thirty or forty years ago ( or in the places I worked, half of multiple conversations)

  13. Overthinking it*

    That “rule” about not taking cell phone calls – a rule never really caught hold – is from the 1980s, when it was considered “showing off” to take a cell phone call in public. People would write to advice columns about how “inconsiderate” these calls were. But somewhere, buried in each of thise letters, was a comment about how self-important and affluent the callers were, and that’s what people really found obnoxious. Because,of course, the callers weren’t making any more noise than an in-person conversation would have made (less even, since it was one sided). Adults have all learned to tune out both in person and phone conversations – as long as no one is raising their voices. Time to let go of this non-existant rule.

    1. Overthinking it*

      Guess what I am saying is: what people who tried to establish this rule really objected to was the cell phone a status symbol. Pretending the calls themselves were the problem was just a red herring.

    2. Anonymous cat*

      Re: noise not being worse:
      Not entirely. People often pitch their voices differently on cell phones than in in-person conversations, and that can get really annoying to listen to. And sometimes they even raise their volume, like they’re trying to make their call carry long distances even better. Awful to be stuck near this!

      And the detail that drove me banana pants was that convos are usually A-B-A-B, but a cellphone convo was A—A—A—-A, and even if I was trying not to listen, I’d always be waiting for B to talk, and that was frustrating. Like spending a long time waiting for the other show to drop—and it never did!

      I’d really want people to take their calls outside and I wasn’t at all jealous. I used to wish places had “cellphone rooms” the way airports used to have smoking rooms.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Long distance trains in the UK have quiet carriages. They can be quite useful.

      2. Lacey*

        Yes, it’s a pretty well known think that people tend to talk louder on a cell phone than in person – because it’s harder to hear over the cell.

        So, I do think it’s more annoying and that people should try and remember that when they take calls. Not that the OP’s coworker needs to leave the room necessarily, just… it’s not the same as two people having a convo nearby.

      3. HailRobonia*

        Because of lack of privacy in our office (it was impossible for most of us to take a personal call without everyone overhearing… I like my coworkers but they don’t need to hear my latest dental appointment drama) they finally brought in some sound-proof “phone booth” things.

        This is especially helpful for those of us using online therapy and need to schedule sessions during work hours.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      I find phone calls more annoying to hear than in-person conversations. It’s something about being able to ignore continuous noise more easily than stop-and-start, plus people tend to talk louder on the phone.

      I don’t seem to be the only one, as in trains here, one is officially asked to take phone calls on the platforms between carriages, but can hold a quiet conversation in the carriage.

      That’s not to say that people can never take personal calls at work, sometimes they need to do what they need to do. I personally try to go out of earshot of others because that’s the considerate thing to do (and I’m too young to remember the 80s).

      1. bamcheeks*

        I definitely find them more intrusive, but since I LOVE listening to other people’s conversations and how they use language I’m fine with that. :D

      2. Allonge*

        It’s objectively (there is science!) more difficult to ignore as the listeners’ brain is trying to make up for the missing half of the conversation – part of the distraction is trying to figure out what the other person must be saying.

        1. Audrey Puffins*

          Is this also why I find it easier to filter out phone conversations I do understand than phone conversations I don’t understand? Because my brain is trying to process the info it doesn’t have?

      3. Karo*

        Yes! Studies have shown that phone conversations are more distracting to bystanders than in-person conversations. I agree with AAM’s main takeaway of trying to get over it, but it’s not like the OP is being unreasonable by saying that it’s distracting.

    4. Sean*

      Were similar objections made in the days before cell phones, when the same conversation would have been had, word-for-word, on a traditional desk phone?

      1. Allonge*

        Not in the 80s – by then there was decades of hard-line phone etiquette, but that was designed mostly for offices where you could close a door and phone boxes.

        The cell phone brought the new element of phone conversations everywhere – lunch, the street, every meeting etc.

        1. Mangled Metaphor*

          Which circles back to does LW4 have a problem if their coworker is taking a business call on a business landline (assuming those still exist – we’re on VOIP in our office now and haven’t seen a traditional handset in nearly 5 years), or a business call on a business cell, or is it literally the personal nature that is the niggle? Because if that is what it boils down to, let it go!

          1. Allonge*

            It could be a lot of things. Indeed the personal nature of the calls, the fact that this person does calls while eating, that otherwise it would be a quiet period and there is just this one person talking about their kids’s school or whatever and everyone is ‘listening in’… All this compounded by the fact that LW4 feels that the correct action would be for this person to go talk somewhere else.

            None of which is to say that LW4 is correct – I agree it’s a let it go situation. But I also see why there would be some annoyance that is not there for business calls.

        2. Some Words*

          “The cell phone brought the new element of phone conversations everywhere – lunch, the street, every meeting etc.”

          The bathroom stall next to us. Now that employers are hauling people back to the office we’re having to put up with that again.

          That’s the big difference. When phones are stationary they can be avoided.

      2. Snow Globe*

        One thing I remember when cell phones first took off – land line phones had the ability to reflect the speaker’s voice softly into the earpiece, so you could hear yourself talk. Cell phones didn’t have this. People who grew up using landlines unconsciously raised their voices because they were used to hearing themselves and couldn’t on the cell phone. This is why people complained that cell phone talkers were loud.

        I think we’ve all gotten used to how cell phones work now, and that isn’t as much of a problem.

        1. münchner kindl*

          I read a study some time ago where they found that because cell phone reception is often bad, people raise their voices (until almost-shouting) to make sure that the other person can hear them, though it’s some technical quirk that the low-quality of the connection can be one-sided (that is: A can hear B clearly, but B hears A only weakly/ broken up).

          But since B has no way of knowing how good A’s reception is, cell phone conversations can get much louder than land-line calls.

        2. Gray Lady*

          It took my dear husband ~15 years of using a cell phone to adjust to not getting the audio feedback through the handset so he could talk in a normal tone. And we were in our 30s when cell phones became widespread, so it was more a habit thing than an age thing with him.

          He still tends to yell a bit when he’s speaking into a microphone, though he’s gotten better. His brain just does not want to believe that his voice is being adequately transmitted if he’s not hearing what he thinks the output should sound like.

          1. Allonge*

            To be honest with a microphone (like in a meeting room) so many people don’t speak loud enough, so usually the opposite is less of an issue… although I had bad experiences with that too.

        3. Bee*

          Now the problem is that people put their cell phones on speaker mode and hold it out in front of themselves, so they still have to shout into it but you’re also getting the tinny disjointed other end of the conversation, cranked up because it’s too far away from their ears.

          1. inksmith*

            And people who hold their phone horizontal with the mouth end against their ear – like, do you just not understand how your phone works at all? Have you never seen another soul using one? Seriously!

    5. Nodramalama*

      I agree with the others who find phone calls more annoying than a conversation. Something about only hearing one side of a conversation picks my ears more than a two sided conversation

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Especially when the human on my audible end of the conversation is highly aggravated. That’s fun.

    6. Awkwardness*

      Few things get my back up as easily as people taking calls everywhere anytime without paying attention to their surroundings, be it calls in the silent zone of the train or in a quiet café.
      People could take a few steps to move to a different zone, but they decide not to. In case of LW2, it feels different to me, as the colleague only has lunchtime to conduct her personal business.

      1. GythaOgden*

        She probably still needs to go elsewhere to do that though. Other people also have lunch hours and sensible people probably would find the least disruptive places.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This oldtimer disagrees – it’s not a class issue.
      Before cell phones it was considered rude to have a loud conversation in a quiet area.

      I used to sit next to an empty space that people would use for break. There was at first a series of co-workers who had speaker phone conversations.

      Happily for me – and unhappily for him – someone finally chose to have a speakerphone divorce argument within earshot of a customer. That finally got through to management and inappropriate loud calls stopped.

    8. Falling Diphthong*

      I would offer the following timeline:
      ’92: An incoming Peace Corps volunteer tells me about how her very wealthy friend’s family has this new toy that is like a cordless phone, but you can carry it farther. The dad called her from the pool and is very excited, in the way of dads with a new tech thing that actually worked.
      ’94: Back in US, biked past someone in a volleyball game who answered a ringing suitcase, only to firmly tell the person calling the suitcase that they were busy and didn’t want to be interrupted like this.

      • Becomes an expectation that parents will always be reachable by daycare, and so spouse and I each get a phone as the expectation for “all good parents” expands.
      • Brother-in-law observes that when he travels in Asia, people speak on their cell phones very quietly, covering the mouthpiece and whispering. (Whereas in the US, the people speaking loudly to themselves as they walked down the street abruptly became much better dressed.)

      • Asia has a lot more people talking at normal volume on the call, as they become more ubiquitous.

      1. SarahKay*

        Love your timeline, and the “Whereas in the US, the people speaking loudly to themselves as they walked down the street abruptly became much better dressed” definitely made me laugh.

    9. Falling Diphthong*

      The distinction between phone calls and in-person conversations is that it is much more distracting to hear only one side. If you hear only one side, then your brain figures they are talking to you and so keeps pulling your attention to it.

      Two people having a loud in-person conversation next to you can also be annoying and distracting–but if one of them suddenly vanished and so you only heard one side, it would become more distracting and annoying even though it was half as much sound. (At least–per auditory processing differences upthread–that’s how it works for a lot of people.)

    10. Sloanicota*

      I dunno, I hate listening to people’s loud, one-sided conversations when I’m trapped in a space (like on the train, sitting in the break room eating lunch, or while a plane is trapped on the tarmac). Of course a quick, low conversation is fine, but most people yak on at full volume just to fill time. It’s just as rude as listening to music/having your kids play annoying noisy games without headphones.

    11. RFlaum*

      When cell phones were first coming in people did tend to talk much louder on them than they did in normal conversations. I’m not sure if this was because the sound quality was bad or if they just weren’t used to them yet and hadn’t internalized that you could use a normal speaking voice (there’s an instinctive tendency to talk louder when speaking to someone you can’t see).

    12. ag*

      I agree that this was the case then, BUT cell calls ARE more annoying than conversations for several reasons.

      People talk louder on cell phones. Hearing one side of a conversation is harder to ignore than a full conversation. The brain automatically struggles to make sense of partial data. It is how we are wired.

  14. Martin Blackwood*

    WAIT is number 5 the guy who does the unemployment rate in [insert video game town] videos on youtube. he talks to everyone he can to figure out if they have a job or not. are we trying to figure out if a specific npc that will only talk about the mages guild counts as employed by the mages guild or counts as unemployed.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Well, the Corrupted Blood incident in World of Warcraft actually modelled what happens during a pandemic ~15 years before it was actually necessary. The players of the game acted incredibly predictably in response to a situation that was not actually life-threatening, and researchers got an idea of how people behave in such situations without compromising real world ethics.

        Meanwhile EVE online is a business simulator where the players create the content and have set up space enterprises that eclipse Elon Musk’s ability to do the same in the real life. Video games are serious business.

        The best sandboxes are, of course, massively multiplayer online games, because player interaction in real time helps promote the ‘world within a world’ aspect of it. Equally, people write what they know, so building an immersive world or story can bring aspects of human interaction into fantastical situations very easily, even inadvertently like the WoW example above.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Ooooh I’ve never heard of this before, can you share the channel name? I kinda love random deep dives into things that don’t really matter. :-)

  15. Despachito*

    OP4- I think it may be worthwhile to be more specific (to yourself) what exactly is the problem.

    Is it the fact you are nickeled and dimed while the manager seems to get a much more generous deal? In this case I think it’s a management problem and knowing your manager’s PTO won’t help much because it runs deeper.

    Or does the manager’s absence affect your work? I think here you do have a leg to stand on, and what Alison suggests is good (to check with the boss casually what you should do if Manager is absent, although I’d check with Manager first).

    Overall, I read resentment in your letter which is understandable (I’ve been there) but misdirected. I think no employee has the right to check whether his coworker’s, let alone boss’s, PTO has been approved by the higher ups.

    1. Orange You Glad*

      I agree. I think #4 needs to evaluate what their actual issue is and figure out how to address that.

      If they are upset about not having enough PTO, that might be something they can talk to their manager about. If OP is spending a lot of PTO on routine things like doctor appointments, they may be able to work out a flex schedule to avoid burning through the PTO.

      I also think it’s a good thing when managers use all of their PTO as long as they are also encouraging their direct reports to use theirs.

    2. Smurfette*

      Usually Alison tells the LW to focus on the impact on them and their work, and I think that’s the right advice here.

      OP, you should not be trying to check whether your manager is entitled to the leave they’re taking. Or gossiping with your coworkers about whether your manager is defrauding the company.

      If your manager’s leave impacts your ability to get your work done (because you don’t know when they’ll be away, or because they are away too often), bring this up with your manager and find a solution.

      I get more leave than most of my colleagues. My work situation would also make it reasonably easy to “cheat” and take leave I’mnit entitled to. I don’t do that, and I’d be pissed off to hear my coworkers suggesting this, especially my direct reports.

      At the same I understand the pressure caused by not enough leave days. In future, make this a priority when you’re evaluating companies and job offers. I currently get 50% more leave than most of my coworkers because it’s something I prioritise in salary / offer negotiations.

  16. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    Of all the futuristic things we anticipated but didn’t actually get, now we are living in the future, I want the Cone of Silence the most.

      1. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

        But not as visually appealing as a cone that would drop down over the noisy person’s head!

        1. Ms. Elaneous*

          Get Smart. Mel Brooks.

          I want everyone to have a cone of silence.

          Or an old phone booth you can go into to make your calls.

  17. Michigander*

    For LW4, I think the question to ask yourself is: Is this actually affecting my ability to do my job, or does it just feel unfair? If it’s the former then you should talk to your boss about any concerns you have about getting your job done while she’s away, ie, “When you’re on vacation, who can approve these forms? We really need to be able to submit them before the end of the month so we need a plan in place.” If it’s just that it feels unfair, well…there’s not much you can do about that. It’s pretty common for people to get more time off the higher up in the organisation they are and the longer they work at a company. Is it fair? Maybe, maybe not. But it is pretty common, and you’ll either need to accept that it happens or next time, look for a job where the vacation policy is more equitable.

  18. Clover*

    LW1, could you consider recording the meeting and using AI to transcribe it and then using the transcript to make the edits?

    I conduct phone interviews for my freelance work and record the speakerphone. I used to transcribe the recordings myself, a pretty laborious process I dreaded, but now I use AI for the same task.

    It does a fantastic job. I have literally never found an error, even when the recording gets hard to hear for me or when unusual names come up.

    I use the free version of a program called Descript, but there’s a more robust paid version. It’s been an absolute godsend.

    1. Harper the Other One*

      I haven’t had such good experiences with AI transcription, but a caution that should be added is that there are a lot of data privacy concerns related to AI applications. LW1 should keep that in mind while considering options.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yup. There are practical issues with AI transcription that make it useful to record meetings for a minute-taker or note-taker to extract information from, but the output is way too raw to be useful without a human moulding it into shape afterwards.

        I think Paul and Callie should sit down together and collaborate on a way forward, but Paul sounds like he’s fixated on punishing Callie and Callie has more work to do for other people, and if I were her I’d be looking for a new job because Paul is potentially going to get her fired before he sees sense and works with her to make her life easier :(.

      2. HailRobonia*

        So much this. Luckily my organization has very clear and explicit rules on what AI services/tools can be used (and a review process for ones that haven’t been approved yet). They understand there is a very real danger of sensitive/privileged information being leaked or stolen.

    2. Sloanicota*

      For a very technical meeting with lots of acronyms I predict this would be something you’d need to monitor closely as you went – don’t leave it till the end and then try to make sense of it. Its hard even for humans to distinguish acronyms spoken aloud, along with other highly technical terms that aren’t used in other circumstances.

    3. EchoGirl*

      Even if AI transcription isn’t feasible, just having a recording for someone to make the notes from (where you can pause, go back, etc) is a major difference. I can transcribe a recording with the best of them but the skill doesn’t translate to live transcription.

  19. Long-time reader, first-time commenter*

    With regard to question 1, I need more information here as to why updates to a textbook are being done in this way. I am a writer and editor of 25+ years’ experience in legal and academic publishing, and this is a new method to me. I am not at all surprised that someone new to this task is struggling with it.
    Why is the manuscript not available in a Word document and on a Sharepoint where the SMEs can all make their own edits?! Why is it Callie’s (or anyone’s, for that matter) job to sit and listen to verbal amendments to a written document and then make sure they’re incorporated accurately? Forgive my saying so, but this bizarre system seemed designed to fall apart the second you handed it over to someone else.

    1. MyStars*

      I also find myself wondering if Paul and the SMEs are avoidant of adopting current technology or changing from “how we (I) have always done it.”

      1. Joy Prescott*

        Yes, when I first read the letter, I thought the issue was that they were live-editing the document together in a proof-read / page-turn scenario. And so that was the primary activity and notes were on the side (“next year, let’s consider history of why this teapot is unpainted”). I’m familiar with this task and people definitely have different levels of fluency and efficiency.

        But it sounds like I misunderstood and the activity is to take notes on edits to be incorporated later? Wow, I can imagine that most people could struggle w that activity. Unless your primary role is editing and you do it most of your time, that would be so hard!

        1. Cazaril*

          Yes, and as a SME, I’ve seen meeting minutes taken by a non-SME miss important points due to lack of comprehension. The SMEs should be taking their own notes and making their own technical edits!

          1. münchner kindl*

            This has often been reported in the medical field, where doctors dictate their observations into a handheld recorder during the day, then the nurse transcribes it into the file later. Big hospitals apparently had their own writing pool.
            But those were still nurses, so familiar with medical vocabulary.

            Then the Brits decided to “save money for the NHS” and outsourced to India (because they all speak English – Indian English is different from BE), and a bunch of errors appeared (simply due to the volume, but a higher percentage error than before), which lead to a few bad calls (medication levels etc.)

            I also remember back in the late 1980s, computer fairs had companies developing and selling voice recognition technology – and many focused not on phone trees for call centers, but on … transcribing doctors notes: stressing the extensive specialized vocabulary and that the accuracy of the program would increase the longer the same person used it, because the software would get better at recognizing how *this* person spoke. Which only makes sense for a small doctor’s office, not a call center…

            1. bamcheeks*

              I don’t know where this comes from but I was a medical secretary in the UK fifteen years ago and I never heard of it being a nurse’s job to take dictation! Doctors wrote straight into patients’ clinical notes using shorthand and abbreviations, then after surgery dictated full letters into a recorder. Medical secretaries type up those letters and send them to patients’ GPs, and any other specialists as relevant, and put a copy into their notes. We referred to the notes written in the surgery if the dictation wasn’t clear, or asked the doctor. But nurses or anyone else administering treatment would be looking directly at the patients’ clinical notes and charts, not dictation.

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’m also having a bit of a hard time imagining what exactly this looks like. It sounds like this:

      SME 1: “So, on the third page, the fifth paragraph needs to be changed. Let’s start with ‘The llama is’…”
      Callie starts writing: “The llama is”
      SME 2: “No, wait, it should be ‘The llama does‘…”
      Callie erases “is” and changes it to “does”
      SME 1: “No, no, it needs to be ‘The llama IS'”

      … and that seems hardly efficient. Like you say, I was also wondering “Why is the manuscript not available in a Word document and on a Sharepoint where the SMEs can all make their own edits?!”.

      Because if “capturing every edit the group of SMEs comes up with” means the group of SMEs discusses while Callie just listens and at the end, when a consensus was reached, one of the SMEs says “Callie, please go to page 3, paragraph 5, and write down ‘The llama is round and fluffy and…'”, as such basically dictating the edits, then 1. Callie shouldn’t be having the problems she has because that seems pretty straightforward and 2. even then it would seem much more logical for the SMEs to writer down their edits themselves.

      1. Cassielfsw*

        I’m guessing they’re not bothering to dictate anything to Callie and just expecting her to know when a consensus has been reached, what it was, which part of the document it pertains to, what the precise edit is, what other context is needed, what other sidebar notes need to be added, etc… Without actually directing any explicit instructions to Callie. Personally, this would drive me absolutely bonkers.

      2. bad note taker*

        As someone with auditory processing disorder, I would not be able to quote specific words like that. No matter how much you held my feet to the fire, I can’t retain the words if I can’t see them and can’t remember random syllables. There’s nothing straightforward about the system you’re describing, which would inherently increase human error even if she doesn’t have any kind of learning disability.

        1. Myrin*

          I’m not sure I’m understanding your point although it’s quite possible I missed something.

          What I called “straightforward” is the “Callie, please go to page 3, paragraph 5, and write down ‘The llama is round and fluffy and…’” part because that’s literally just an instruction of what to do and write, which seems like the most straightforward thing imaginable to me and I don’t see how it inherently increases human error.

          I can totally see someone having problems with that – you say that you do and there’s no reason for me to not believe you! – but I also feel like that’s a very unusual thing, so much so that I’ve never personally encountered it IRL.

          1. bad note taker*

            Because it introduces the chance for the speaker to misspeak and Callie to hear incorrectly. Also, instead of the speaker simply changing the text where they already were in the document, now Callie has to find it and then do it, adding another step.

            1. Myrin*

              Ah, I got you now, but I’m still not seeing how Callie would be more likely to mishear or the speaker would be more likely to misspeak one way or the other.

              I feel like if the speaker said “Callie, please write down the following:” that would actually DEcrease that likelihood because Callie would know that something important was about to be said so she could concentrate and be alert (instead of frantically trying to catch everything being said, trying to hear people talking over each other, etc.), while the speaker would be more careful to word things clearly because they know it’s going to be written down (instead of just throwing ideas around in a rambly manner, for example).

              But none of that really matters; it was all just musings around how this might possibly go down on my end. I feel like we definitely all agree that this whole thing sounds pretty inefficient and could be done better in a multitude of ways.

        2. Allonge*

          Ok – at the same time though, not every task will be suited for all of us.

          The solution is sometimes to change the task and sometimes to assign it to someone else. Based on what OP describes, reassigning it seems like the best option.

    3. Blue Pen*

      I commented late, but this is exactly my question. Not to be snarky, but is this the 1950s? From a process/logistical standpoint alone, there are way better ways to get this work done.

    4. münchner kindl*

      It sounds like a process deliberatley designed to produce typos by having the non-SME doing the writing.

    5. I edit everythin*

      I used to work in academic publishing, and this whole process just sounds like torture! I’m an editor, and I would be terrible at this job. Live edits coming from every which way doesn’t sound a lot better, tbh, but live text comments would work.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      Also in textbook writing and have never seen this before.

      It does sound like a legacy system that arose from the days of doing things in meetings, and survives after a bad experience where two people were electronically editing a document at the same time with dueling revisions creating two different clone armies, and their solution was to do it this way going forward.

    7. BananaSam*

      Yup, I’m a technical writer and this seems a bit bonkers. If I didn’t know the topic, I wouldn’t even be able to take notes like this. I usually lead the meeting if I don’t know the subject matter so I can ask any questions, and I may have access to the github repo or other supplemental info. I can also do asynchronous follow-ups if there were gaps.
      Were I expected to listen quietly to a jargon-heavy meeting, keep questions to a minimum, and produce meaningful documentation on the spot, I would fail miserably, and I’m a writer by trade who has a technical background.

    8. Allonge*

      Ok, but OP and apparently Paul manage to do the edits this way.

      It’s also very unlikely that there is not a good reason to do it like this – it’s been happening twice a year for several years now, they must have considered alternatives.

      I would guess that there are too many contributors and their consensus is important? That can be tough to achieve in a shared doc. Or getting these people together for a week is the best way to ensure the edits are done on time. Or whatever.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        OP and Paul are both SME’s on this project. Callie is not an SME and is tasked with notating all their back and forth, it seems. Clearly easier if you’re an SME, not so much if you do this twice a year because “tradition” says the person in your job does it.

        1. Allonge*

          Agreed, but that is a reason for someone else to take the notes, not for rearranging the whole entire process.

      2. Observer*

        Ok, but OP and apparently Paul manage to do the edits this way.

        Because they actually happen to be SME’s. And also They actually are not doing the edits this way – they are putting in on Callie, who is not an SME.

        Sure, officially the process doesn’t call for an SME, but clearly the LW has to have some expertise, or they would not be now in a leadership position.

        it’s been happening twice a year for several years now, they must have considered alternatives.

        It doesn’t sound like they have. The fact that they are having such a hard time even considering the possibility that this may not be a task that everyone can easily do and that they see this as something SO simple, that the most likely reason that Callie is failing is because she can’t be bothered, tells me that they have almost certainly NOT thought this through. Because “we’ve always done it this way.”

    9. Artemesia*

      I am surprised that the text is not up on the screen and the edits being done right then if doing them in a group is a thing.

    10. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      As a training manager–YES. I cannot imagine tracking updates to training materials in this way–and without a SME themselves making the notes. Is a non-SME is being asked to take notes on a topic they don’t understand, I… just… what? It makes no sense to me. lol

  20. not like a regular teacher*

    LW3, when I was more junior in my career I used to cover them up for the first week or two until I got the lay of the land on whether or not showing tattoos would be ok/whether I saw other people showing their tattoos. This strategy still might be the easiest thing to do.

    However, tattoos were more stigmatized then, and if I was working for a tattoo-unfriendly place back then I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted them to know I had tattoos at all. With that not being a concern now, it’s totally fine to ask if, there’s a logical person to ask before you start!

    Between being more senior/the culture having shifted on this/being in a less conservative area of my field, I can’t say I’ve thought about hiding my tattoos in the past decade. I hope that is in your future too LW!

    1. Scorpio Szn*

      LW here—thanks for the kind words! I love hearing about people that are more senior in their careers and have their tattoos out :). Gives me hope for my own future! Covering up until i know the lay of the land at the office is also a great suggestion.

      1. Full sleeves*

        I’m a woman in my forties and my arms are fully covered in tattoos. I live in a place where being so covered in tattoos is unusual-with the exception of people who have served in the military. (Which has led me to bond with a lot of vets-a clientele I often work with).

        I’d say 98% of t my clients are fine with my tattoos being visible. I don’t wear sleeveless tops or dresses because of a family history of skin cancer-so I tend have my tattoos covered anyway. Whenever I meet a new client I make sure to wear or have a layer that covers my tattoos completely. Lots of people I work with have no idea that I’m covered in tattoos. I’ve found even the people who are little taken aback don’t care if they find out after they’ve known me awhile. So that’s the route I usually go. But you may live somewhere it’s more common and I’m sure most people wouldn’t bat an eye.

      2. sorabird*

        This is close enough to my workplace’s dress code that I wonder if you’re one of our new interns. what it functionally means is everyone dresses however they want as long as there’s no profanity, nudity, or other NSFW topics and no unexpected skin showing (ie no crop tops, shorts above the knee, etc.) The guys mostly default to a polo or button down with jeans, though some wear t-shirts or athletic shirts. The women tend to dress a little more typically business casual with a nice blouse or pants but still often wearing jeans. The recent grads also show more shoulder than I’m typically used to seeing. a few folks have visible tattoos and it’s not a problem, but generally the workforce skews a bit older and either doesn’t have them or covers them up.

        If I were you I would go for classic business casual on day one as the above commenter suggested.

    2. Spero*

      I agree – I had some very conservative employers earlier in my career and was used to covering them up, but it’s been about 10 years since that was the case in my area. I recently got something larger and more colorful on a part of my arm that usually uncovered, and my CEO did make a remark about ‘I remember when tattoos like that weren’t in dress code’ and my response was ‘oh, since [ex military coworker with visible arm tats who is also CEO’s age and male] has some in a similar location I didn’t think it was an issue’
      Nothing more has been said besides compliments!

    3. Artemesia*

      If I were the OP I would dress on the high end of business casual but not cover the tattoos and then observe. The fact that you are dressed for business will mitigate the idea that you are sloppy and ‘how could you not know to cover the tattoos’. And then adjust if you sense it isn’t okay, if anyone comments, or if you note that others with tattoos are covering (that is tricky because you may not know they are covering.)

    1. Dandylions*

      Nah. Their manager abusing PTO directly impacts the LW.

      Also IME managers who crack down and nickel and dime employees’ PTO often are abusing PTO on their end. It’s the old addage that no one is more afraid of being stolen from them a thief.

      1. Managing While Female*

        There is no evidence in the letter that the manager is abusing PTO, or that it is the manager who is ‘nickel and diming’. Based on the letter, it sounds like their manager is somewhere within middle-management, so not a policy-maker.

        They don’t actually mention any impact to them that their boss is taking PTO – just that they don’t have as much (likely because they just started and are pretty junior since they say they’re ‘new to PTO’). It’s highly likely that the reason their manager has more PTO is simply because of more time with the company and/or seniority, and the fact that they’re in office while their employee is remote (since some companies now provide extra benefits to those who are in office instead of remote).

  21. Irish Teacher.*

    LW4, do you just have one “bucket” of PTO? If not, it’s possible your manager just falls into different categories from you. I have some coworkers who seem to be taking large amounts of time off, but they have young children (under 2) and are therefore entitled to, I think 7 weeks of paid leave and if their child is now nearly 2 and they haven’t needed it for when the child is sick or they are unable to find a childminder, it is perfectly in order for them to just use it up (this is in Ireland). That’s just one example but I can well imagine somebody starting a job when a colleague has an 18 month old and that colleague realising they have 5 weeks of their parent’s leave left and using some of that for a family holiday or something and it looking pretty bad to the new employee who might not even know they had a child that age.

    Also do you know your manager is even using PTO? It is possible she has unpaid leaves available and is using those.

    Not that it really matters anyway. My point is just that you might not have the full story and there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation. On the other hand, there might not, but even then, it’s not your problem to deal with.

    The real issue here, that I see, is your own lack of PTO. It sounds like part of the reason employees are annoyed is because of being nickled and dimed themselves.

    1. Goldie*

      On behalf of all Americans I don’t know whether to cry or crack open a Guinness. Go Ireland.

  22. Justin*

    I know everyone is going to point out possible ADHD etc. (and I have ADHD and am terrible at taking notes), but the key is the second part of Alison’s comments. Is she good at other things in the job? I am very good at a lot of things my co-workers’ aren’t so my job (which knows my Dx) doesn’t ask me to take notes after I explained.

    So if she’s got other strengths you can lean on more, I’d try that. If she’s just not doing well overall, it’s a different conversation (and it could still be a condition but she’d still have to address it in some way).

  23. F P*

    Honestly I think it is time to cut your losses here and remove Callie from note taking duties. Not everyone is a good note taker. Find someone who can follow conversation and take good notes. Let Callie focus on improving the responsibilities of her overall job. Also she may have a hidden learning disability, which is auditory processing which leaves her not able to follow conversations and take notes. It may make her unable to follow multi step instructions. Maybe for every duty she has she can get written instructions so that eventually with repetition she will be able to do her duties. Even if she doesn’t have this disability maybe written instructions are best for her. Not everyone is forthcoming with their disability.

    1. Artemesia*

      Take it as the moment to ask ‘why are we doing edits this way?’ — The answer seems to be ‘well we have always done it this way.’ BUT it sounds incredibly inefficient given all that modern technology has to offer.

  24. DJ Abbott*

    Well, I need to remember not to bother looking at Twitter links because I can’t see anything beyond the original post. I don’t have an account and don’t intend to get one just for random links.
    I also wonder if trying to look at a Twitter link is the reason my phone was below 50% at lunch yesterday, even though I hadn’t used it since breakfast. I made sure to close the tab and make a fresh window this time.

    1. Friday Person*

      I also wonder if trying to look at a Twitter link is the reason my phone was below 50% at lunch yesterday

      Probably not.

  25. Anonymous Again*

    LW4 – There’s a reason a letter about telling an employee to stay in their lane showed up in the suggested articles section. Your boss’s PTO is absolutely none of your business. Being in management usually comes with certain perks, like more PTO, flexibility, etc. The only thing your boss owes you is letting you know when they will be gone and who to report to in their absence.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      This. You have no idea how the boss has structured their employment. If you’re finding that things are delayed because you can’t get approvals, etc., you can bring that up, as the boss absolutely needs to make sure that’s covered. But if it’s just “they have a lot of vacation and I don’t and that can’t be right”, well, welcome to different benefits for different levels/tenures within a company.

    2. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      The only thing your boss owes you is letting you know when they will be gone and who to report to in their absence.

      I disagree slightly – as a boss. I’d be distressed to find out my direct reports were seething and stewing about a perceived unfair situation and think it is good practice to make sure people are well informed about the PTO system and how time gets allocated. The LW doesn’t seem to have ever gotten an explanation as to the policy at their company – it’s important to know basics like “all employees start with 10 days/yr upon hire, at 3 years tenure you get 15 days/yr, at 10 years tenure you get 20 days/yr. All employees are eligible to purchase more vacation days at their manager’s discretion.”

      It is also important if there is a comp-time type situation at play. If the LW works a straight, hourly 40 but their boss is exempt and working long hours, they might be taking random days off to compensate for that throughout the year. I typically tell my DRs “hey, because I put in a lot of overtime last week I’ll be taking next Friday off.”

      Are people owed this? I guess not. But having some transparency can really help stave off resentment.

    3. Gretta Swathmore*

      I’ve had two bosses who abused their PTO because our groups were siloed and they didn’t have direct oversight from their managers. We all knew it, it pissed us worker bees off because we had to cover for them and do extra work. One got fired for it (I’m pretty sure one of my coworkers went to my boss’s boss, he was pretty sneaky at getting what he wanted).

  26. Blue Pen*

    LW #1: I know I’m only seeing a small slice of your workplace, but in Callie’s defense, is there another way this work could be done? I’m not sure how many SMEs there are, how the conversation is conducted, how many pages there are to go through, etc., but instead of an outsider taking notes, is there any way the SMEs could make their own in-line text edits or margin comments, which could then be collated? Having been a notetaker for publishing meetings in the past, for a medical group no less, I know these can be tricky to follow. I did fine, but it was easily my least favorite part of the job.

    1. Scorpio Szn*

      THIS. Detailed notetaking like that is a thankless task, even if you’re good at it.

  27. Cats and Bats Rule*

    Is LW3’s vague dress code throwing up red flags for anyone else? It seems like a good way to use “dress code violations” to push out an intern one of the partners doesn’t want, as in “I’m sorry, your sweater (or hair, or jewelry, etc) don’t fit our idea of business casual. You need to change this or leave.” If you just point to vague ideas of “business casual” or “professionalism,” you don’t have to get specific and have more leway to cut someone loose for reasons other than their work.

    1. Colette*

      That’s a stretch.

      First of all, they can just fire someone they don’t want – they don’t need to manufacture an excuse – and with interns, they can just wait out their internship, which is usually short.

      But also, if they use the dress code to get rid of people for protected reasons (such as race), they’re still liable.

      I suspect it comes down to not wanting to have debates about specific items and expecting their employees to dress appropriately based on their business.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yup. Ironically it’s harder to police something where the rules are more granular and it’s not something like uniform or PPE that’s often more central to the business. (There’s been a discussion over allowing shorts in the summer for our maintenance guys but with some jobs, the legs are vulnerable to e.g. scratches in gardening or splashes in the kitchen, those can’t be done without some protection for vulnerable parts of the body in a maintenance environment.)

        For people who are acting unreasonably they’re going to be unreasonable whatever the case. Meanwhile the people who can be trusted to dress appropriately shouldn’t be micromanaged. I am a fan of clear rules that apply across a team so everyone knows where they stand and a manager can get on with the actual job at hand rather than juggling a team’s worth of specific needs and just make exceptions when necessary, but in this case the work to police a highly detailed dress code will outweigh any benefit of having one.

      2. Expelliarmus*

        I don’t think it’s a stretch; haven’t we heard on this very site about women getting discriminated against disproportionately on dress code matters?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s “We’ll know business casual when we see it” with more words.

        I suspect this is what tumbled out after a few contentious “What even is a violation of the above business casual dresscode” meetings, from someone who was not going to decide between Jane’s and Fergus’s positions, but just rule out debate and people should wear what they thought looked sophisticated.

    2. HannahS*

      No, it’s just lazy. They don’t want to go to the trouble of defining it, because they’re probably caught between the following statements:
      -If you give very detailed dress code rules, you’re micromanaging the clothing of other adults which is weird and often sexist
      -If you don’t give detailed dress code rules, you’re assuming that everyone is from the same white collar background
      -“Business Casual” used to mean one specific thing (men in separates with no tie) but never had a well-defined women’s equivalent, and anyway now it’s kind of an amorphous term.

      1. JustaTech*

        “Business casual” is a yawning chasm between “suit” and “sweats” that is highly dependent on region and industry.
        For example, in my region and industry, business casual includes “nice” jeans (ie, not filthy), but there are plenty of places where jeans are most assuredly *not* part of business casual.
        I’m not even sure it’s “lazy” so much as the people who were tasked with writing the guidelines didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what is and is not “business casual” beyond what a quick internet search would bring up, so decided that “read the room” would be more useful/ closer to what actually happens in their workplace.

    3. xylocopa*

      Eh. It’s possible, but I think there’s often a well-intentioned impulse to “treat people like adults” by not spelling out the minutiae of a dress code. It’s not necessarily meant as a gotcha–though the end result can often be that people who don’t examine their assumptions end up deciding that styles different from their own are not acceptable.

      On another end of the spectrum you could have them specify to the millimeter how long women’s skirts should be and what brands of suits people can wear: and then you have another problem.

      1. Scorpio Szn*

        LW here! This is part of the reason why I loathe these types of dress codes. I totally get folks’ points that this dresscode is likely just rooted in not wanting to have to litigate/micromanage outfits, but I (irrationally) dislike the vagueness. Especially for interns who are on the earlier ends of their careers, it always comes across to me as a little bit crappy to just say “use your best judgement.” As someone who doesn’t have parents/family that worked office jobs and had to figure out the white collar world without much help, these types of dress codes just feel like another way to exclude/alienate people that didn’t grow up around white collar culture (as silly as that sounds).

        1. xylocopa*

          Yeah, I rejoined the workforce after being at home with kids for a while, and my previous jobs hadn’t been office jobs, and I was so stressed at first trying to guess what I should be wearing. “Business casual” means so many different things that it ends up not meaning anything!

          But asking about tattoos should be totally fine, it’s a very valid question!

        2. leeapeea*

          Hi LW! My company doesn’t have a formal written dress code AT ALL! And for many reasons, I’m glad we don’t have one. I do, however, have guiding language for interns and emerging professionals as they come onboard (after reading AAM and the comments like this one!). Depending on how your internship goes, you may want to suggest they add such language to their onboarding communications. We’re a consulting firm in the STEM sector and I was surprised at how casual our office is, which I think makes it harder for interns and new professionals to “toe the line” between work casual and lounge casual. My language goes like this:
          “(Company) doesn’t have a formal, written dress code, however folks dress from office-casual to casual clothes, and jeans/sneakers in clean and good condition are common. Avoid things like PJ’s or t-shirts with inappropriate slogans or images. If you’ll be prepping for site or field work, closed-toed shoes are required, but sandals are acceptable for day-to-day desk work. Certain site and field work may have its own, specific, dress codes for safety purposes.”

          1. I Have RBF*

            This is a good primer for an intern or non-white collar person coming into a business casual office. Because until you’ve been in offices, your mind doesn’t know what office people wear. Sure, you can try to use TV shows, but they have wardrobe budgets for costumes.

        3. Jennifer*

          If you’re a woman, a lightweight cardigan or other loosely structured top layer is your friend. It doesn’t look too formal, but can dress up an outfit if “business casual” means something actually a little more “business” than “casual.” Also, if the AC is cranked up, it keeps you from freezing. If you’re a man, until you can figure out what “business casual” means in your particular office, a button-down oxford cloth shirt can be dressed up or down (roll the sleeves up or down, etc.). For either, wear slacks until you can determine whether “business casual” just means “no blue jeans.”

          1. GythaOgden*

            The advent of cardigans and the idea that a blazer or jacket can be a different colour to the skirt is pretty great. When I started work twenty years ago, my mother, embedded in the suit concept of twenty years before that, made me dress up like cabin crew. Even when it was clear things were relaxing it was hard to convince her to let me go out in less stuffy clothes. When I was 25 and I wanted to go out to a political event in Jo Whiley (90s Radio One DJ; see here: https://www.nme.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/2014JoWhiley_SteveLamacq_Press2_170314-696×464.jpg ) style pigtails and she made me take them out. (My mum is wonderful and, as the mother of someone with autism she has had to parent me a bit longer than she’d have liked. However, she has a complete blind spot for boundaries and it’s been a bit awkward to show her how much my sense of what’s appropriate when has improved over the years. I’m dreading telling her I’m hoping to get my hair dyed over the summer now I can afford it… and I’m 45 in October.)

        4. azvlr*

          I think your instinct about the culture is on point, or at least you are wise to recognize that does indeed put people at a disadvantage who may not have been exposed to those expectation.
          Alison’s advice was fine for an internship situation, especially if you don’t intend to seek a full-time job there, since navigating office culture is one of the many things you’ll be learning in addition to job-specific skills.
          However, I feel like the guidance should be different for a new-hire: Do you want to work in a place where you can’t bring your true self every day? Presumably, they would have met you in person, and if they didn’t say something about your tattoos before bringing you on board, that’s their problem.
          At my previous workplace, the dress code said hair had to be a “professional color”. Like WFT does that even mean?! I was a non-customer-facing employee who my boss never bothered to meet in person. I made the mistake of asking permission to get dark blue streaks that would only show if I moved a certain way. The color wouldn’t even show during virtual meetings. My boss said to ask HR and HR just kicked it back to them. Finally, the grandboss ruled NO.
          There were other issues with this job and management but the way this was handled was a morale killer for me. Again, I should have gone with forgiveness rather than permission, but I had a lot of insecurity about just keeping my job that I was too afraid to rock the boat. Fortunately, I’m in a much better culture now.

          1. ArtsNerd*

            I used to have a section of blue in my hair that was extremely easy to hide, so when I interviewed for jobs I made a point of ensuring it was visible. I was in a stage in my career where I had options and I didn’t want to dress down who I was. The executive director was apparently scandalized, but the hiring manager (my direct boss) didn’t blink an eye. I loved that boss, but I also have to say, the executive director being scandalized should have given me a warning as to how conservatively that organization was run.

        5. Attractive Nuisance*

          My job involves a wide range of activities – some formal, some messy – so none of my employers have even attempted to establish a dress code. I’ve found it helpful to come up with my own dress code by looking at guidance for professions with similar requirements (for me, “high school teacher” is a good fit with a much more defined dress code).

    4. H.Regalis*

      I’m not getting read flags, I just think it’s a stupidly written rule.

      I’m guessing the author was trying to write it in a such a way as to get people to think about whether or not their outfit meets business needs vs. saying “wear but but not y,” but their execution of it went quite poorly.

  28. Camellia*

    For #2, is the conversation being held on speaker or is the phone held up to the ear so that only one side of the conversation can be heard?

    If it’s on speaker, I think you could certainly ask for that to be changed. If it’s not on speaker, then I think you just need to find a way to let this go.

  29. Mouse named Anon*

    #3- For your first few days, I would wear dress pants, a blouse or button up shirt and dress shoes. That should fall under business casual for most dress codes. See what others are wearing in the first few days. You maybe able to show visible tattoos (dependent on the industry). I have 2 and haven’t covered them in over 10 years and its never been an issue.

    1. Gabs*

      This is definitely some perspective that someone will gain the more experience they have but also as an intern I think it’s important to err on the side of conservative (especially for the first week or so while you can gauge what others are wearing).
      Take a look at the industry you’ll be in; what type of clients the company has (types of products people buy should give you a sliding scale of how casual that “business casual” should be) or what are the usual social norms for that industry ei are you in banking or are you in a trades based industry? Business casual as a rule is no jeans, no shorts, no open toes, no tank tops, if you wear skirts/dresses they should fall around/below your knees, no tshirts (unless it’s a formal, structured style and you wear something fancy to balance it out).
      Again, erring on the side of conservative specifically because you’re an intern/starting out, but just because Alan in Accounting, who has worked there for 10+ years wears sandals to the office, doesn’t mean that you *should*.

      1. Scorpio Szn*

        LW here! Thank you both for your advice. My husband and I have spent a silly amount of time talking through the dress code, and came to a similar conclusion. Based on what employees wore during the interview process (and what I wore), my plan at this point is just wear clothes that are one step below suit until I get a better sense of what other junior staff wear.

        1. Mouse named Anon*

          This is a great plan. For the tattoos, def take a look around and see if anyone shows them. My tattoos are smaller and on my foot/wrist. So for 80% of the year (winter, spring and fall) mine are covered. I sometimes wear nice sandals in the summer (totally fine in my office) and have short sleeves. No one has ever said a word. I knew it was ok when I saw some people with full or partial arm sleeves. I also have my noise pierced its a small diamond stud and no one has said a word.

          Again it could be company and industry dependent. I don’t think tattoos, sandals and a nose stud would be ok in law, finance and some other places.

        2. Gabs*

          Good luck in your internship! Also remember to bring a layering piece (sweater or blazer) for the summer AC!

        3. Agent Diane*

          Long term tattooed and business casual workplaces here, with a UK slant. A long sleeve white shirt, and a long sleeve t-shirt are your friends. If you lean to the smart side in the first week but realise tats are fine, pop those cover-ups in a drawer for the occasions when work then says “we’ve a client coming in – bit smarter on Monday please”. I went from covering up to showing my tats, but I always have a few neutral items that I can use if I need to cover up for some reason.

  30. Jam Today*

    OP1 – I am a reasonably successful mid-late career person and also horrendous at note taking. I can do one of two things: take dictation and write word for word what everyone is saying, or engage in the meeting, there is no in-between for me. I cannot listen to what is going on in a meeting, and I definitely can’t participate in any way, if I am also taking notes for the whole room (little notes for myself as reminders of tasks or keywords are different, they don’t have to be understood by anyone else.) Not being able to take meeting minutes is not indicative of being bad at your job, unless your only job is to take meeting minutes. Nobody is good at everything, and this is a skill not everyone has.

    This is one area where “AI” can come in very handy. Can you record the meetings and have them transcribed by the the in-application transcription widget? There are now also plug-in that attempt to summarize the transcribed notes, that might be a better solution.

  31. Insert Pun Here*

    LW1, you are going about this task in a really inefficient way. If you’re open to a different process, this is what I (professional editor, including of really niche topics) would do:
    -designate one of your SMEs as lead editor (this responsibility can rotate, if you’d like)
    -lead editor generates a list of general things that will need to be changed/updated (“anything that pertains to the use of abc substance due to change in regulation xyz”)
    -take the text of the previous edition, put it into a platform that allows for collaborative editing. All your SMEs make suggested changes and comments using track changes. Give them…two weeks? to do this.
    -Lead editor goes through and accepts all common-sense changes, and anything that needs to be discussed with the bigger group gets tabled temporarily
    -NOW you have a meeting with everyone to discuss the remaining proposed changes. Your goal here is to resolve all of these and generate final or close to final text IN THIS MEETING, live, onscreen. But you should have a note taker taking notes about anything that still needs follow up. Hopefully by this point, that should be a short list of issues.

    This is more or less the process I recommend to authors I work with. The goal is to get the easy, obvious stuff done quickly so you can focus on tricky problems.

    1. I edit everything*

      Knowing SMEs, they’d never do it on their own time. I once had to threaten to break a contributor’s kneecaps to get him to put his butt in his chair and do the requested work.

      1. Jellyfish Catcher*

        Well, that’s too bad.
        The SMEs want this to magically be perfect by sitting on their posteriors, expecting a non trained person to do this as competently, then blame her for a less than professional result.
        This is very unfair to Callie. The SME’s sound incompetent to manage a solution.
        Do they have a manager / boss, to actually delegate a rotating responsibility, possibly each doing 1-2 days of taking notes?

        1. I edit everything*

          It is incredibly unfair the Callie. The SMEs are probably teachers/professors working the the field, not employees, and they’re most likely being paid some kind of consulting fee or honorarium. They turn up a couple times a year, put in their time, then go back to their normal jobs. Giving them homework probably wouldn’t fly.

          1. how do you pronounce van gogh*

            I’m having flashbacks now to the time a few years ago I had to wrangle SMEs who were so happy to work on this project! Glad to be involved! Loved the stuff we were doing!

            It took months to schedule a meeting with them, because while they wanted to be involved, it was not any kind of priority for them, but they were still “involved” so we couldn’t try to replace them with those who would actually be involved, and then they’d join the meetings from their phones while they were driving somewhere, which is unsafe, and they couldn’t see the screen or participate. Or they’d join from the airport and we couldn’t hear them.

            And they wouldn’t do any work before the meetings, so what we’d do was essentially have them do all the pre-work on the calls themselves. Yeah. Sit there and read this thing, or have someone explain to them all the things that were in the emails they didn’t read.

            It was all so very very very pointless. If your SMEs aren’t actually willing to be involved and do any prework, get other SMEs or accept that all your meetings will need to be actively managed working meetings, and for god’s sake, have all the edits done live by someone who knows what’s going on. This time is valuable and it’s, apparently, the only time you have with them.

          2. In the provinces*

            If it’s a textbook, the SMEs are probably getting royalties from sales.

        2. Sneaky Squirrel*

          It sounds like the SMEs don’t actually work for the company. They’re external stakeholders who are likely being asked to consult for the company on top of their full time careers.

  32. Camellia*

    For #3, please google ‘business casual’ as a start. It typically means no denim, no sweats, no shorts, no tee shirts, no bare arms (although some offices do allow this), no cleavage, no sneakers or other athletic shoes, nothing extremely baggy/oversized or saggy (waist of the pants not worn at the waist). The search will provide photos. Then, as Alison said, either cover your tatts for your first couple of days or ask specifically about being required to cover them. Once you’re in the office you will quickly see what others wear.

    Also, please remember that you don’t need a large wardrobe with a different outfit every day for two weeks. A couple pair of black and/or navy pants and a few generic tops are all you need at the start.

    1. xylocopa*

      There’s so much variation in “business casual” that a google search is going to be kind of useless for a specific question like the LW’s. Alison is right, LW should just ask about tattoos.

      (Sorry, it’s just that the phrase “business casual” is my bugbear.)

      1. Camellia*

        The term certainly has changed meaning over the years. When I first started work at a large insurance company 40 years ago, business casual meant that men could remove their suit jackets but still had to wear ties, and women had to wear hosiery/stockings and no open toed shoes. And a popular book for women like me who wanted to succeed in the corporate culture was “Dress for Success”.

    2. Scorpio Szn*

      Lw here—thank you! I also appreciate the reminder that I don’t need a huge wardrobe to get me through the workweek while still looking professional :)

    3. Ginger Cat Lady*

      No bare arms? So long sleeves year round? Never in my life heard this as part of business casual. For safety in a factory or shop? Sure. But for business casual in an office? Are elbows distractingly sexy now?

      1. Camellia*

        Sorry, that wasn’t clear. I was thinking of sleeveless tops, not ‘no amount of arm should show’.

  33. Over Analyst*

    I really feel for #3 and wish companies were less vague about dress codes. My first office job I interviewed in a suit, and when I got hired the person I interviewed with told me “what you’re wearing will be fine” but I knew people didn’t wear suits all day and I didn’t want to wear a suit everyday! I ended up wearing dressy pants and a blouse my first day and was fine and got the lay of the land after that, but the first few days can be tough when you’re given nothing to work with. Especially for an internship or entry level: these people don’t necessarily have a set of norms to work with.
    Good luck OP!

    1. Emily (Not a Bot)*

      Yes!!! Just tell them what to wear. It is not a kindness to be vague like this.

      1. Scorpio Szn*

        LW here—yes I totally agree. This dress code is definitely kinder/easier to navigate for more senior folks (who might actually appreciate how vague it is). Definitely will just be playing it safe by dressing a little nicer than I think I need to for the first few days.

  34. Orbital Exhaustion*

    “But an office is usually a place where people will periodically be on the office”

    omg spitting facts!

  35. blah*

    LW1, how different are these note-taking sessions (which kind of sound like a mess, to be honest – how difficult is the subject matter, how much experience does Callie have with it, how quickly are the SMEs talking??) from Callie’s normal duties? If it’s completely different from her typical work, then I don’t think it’s fair to throw up your hands and say “other duties as assigned!” And these errors are definitely not egregious enough to put Callie on a PIP!

  36. MollyGodiva*

    1. If these twice a year meetings are so important, then record them. Putting the burden on a note taker for such a critical part of your business seems odd.

  37. Nancy*

    LW1: it’s twice a year, get someone else to do it, preferably a SME who understands what is actually going on in the meetings.

    LW3: Just ask.

    LW4: None of your business.

  38. I should really pick a name*

    he also feels strongly that Callie isn’t putting in the effort to get better and that taking the task from her would reward her for poor performance. I don’t fully disagree with Paul

    It’s not rewarding her for poor performance. It’s recognizing that she doesn’t have a skill that wasn’t screened for when she was hired. Note-taking is a skill. It’s not trivial.

    It sounds like the associating of note-taking with this role is arbitrary. If this is a critical task, treat it as one. Screen for it when hiring, or bring in a contractor twice a year.

    If the SMEs are trying to coach her on it, does that mean that they could do it properly? Maybe this task should belong to them.

    1. umami*

      Exactly. If this was a core requirement, it would have been listed s such, not just slotted under a catchall! it’s also the weirdest way I have heard of to edit something; if you aren’t an expert on the topic, it’s going to be REALLY difficult to take appropriate notes. It’s unfair to ding someone for performing poorly on a task you gave them only out of tradition.

  39. Gaia Madre*

    I’ve developed a nice note-taking hack. I start with the agenda and drop it into a word document. That’s right, people running meetings should provide an agenda. I use this as an outline and digitally (so, clacking away on my keyboard) fill in the relevant information under each section as the meeting moves forward. Then I just save and email the document after the meeting. This won’t help someone without the technical background, but it’s a neat trick.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      that won’t work in this situation (I did the same thing when I was both President and Secretary of my philanthropic organization). They are doing edits, so the agenda would be Edit Book. But all the edits are finicky things like Llamas is should be changed to Lllamas are.

      1. Student*

        Strong disagree. Agendas make everything better and you can tune an agenda to be a lot more detailed than that, when appropriate.

        The agenda can help narrow what kinds of edits we are working on, what sections we are editing, whether we are reviewing major points of feedback we’ve gotten and discussing it to come consensus on specific questions people have brought up, can help close out items you left open in a prior session because you didn’t reach consensus/decision.

        For example, if you set the agenda to be Chapter 2: Llamas on Teapots, only substantive edits. That means no looking at Chapter 1 or 3 or otherwise jumping around the document to where ever somebody pleases. “Substantive” changes (for my org) means that we aren’t going to chat about typos, grammar, spelling – we call those “administrative” changes and try to save those for later in the editing process – we will instead talk about whether the chapter flows correctly, whether the facts are correct, whether we need more citations, whether we should add or remove subsections within Chapter 2, etc.

        We could break the agenda down to talk through some of those concepts specifically with the SMEs, or ask the SMEs to submit supporting agenda items regarding that topic before the meeting starts.

  40. Daryush*

    LW 4: In addition to what everyone else said about this not being any of your business, it’s possible your boss has a lot of PTO saved up now because she wasn’t using it prior years. A lot of people who worked through 2020 didn’t take vacations for a few years, and if their PTO rolls over, they have a lot of time saved up.

    1. STG*

      This was my first thought. I’m a manager and in government so our PTO policy is very transparent. I get an extra 1-2 weeks than my reports but only because of how long I’ve been here, not because of my position. However, my saved bucket is very large because I arrange my time off for most appointments in such a way that it won’t require using PTO. I pretty much only use on sick days/full vacation weeks.

      Either way, it’s really just not your business. If it’s affecting your job, then THAT is the way you should approach it.

    2. ABC*

      It’s also possible that the manager purchased additional PTO. At our org, we can purchase between 5 and 10 additional PTO days, depending on length of service and title.

    3. Albatross*

      Yeah, my boss is on a two-month vacation right now. He apparently hasn’t taken any vacation since about 2019 and had to do something with it because he was going to hit rollover cap at the end of this year. (Our rollover cap is three solid months of PTO.) So he’s spending two months visiting family in Korea.

  41. mango chiffon*

    I’m tired of people treating note taking like it’s beneath them while simultaneously demanding that someone else do it to their standards. Note taking is an incredibly difficult thing to do, especially when you are not an expert in the topic. You need to be able to understand what’s going on in the conversation AND be able to synthesize it down fast enough. If you don’t understand the language people are speaking in, how are you supposed to take notes? I also don’t understand how LW1 and the SMEs are “coaching” this person when this only happens twice a year. What does their coaching even entail?

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Coaching: Probably standing over her with multiple voices giving her contradictory advice.

      I often work with our SME’s and find it challenging to translate their language into something I can a)understand and b) decide what I need to do to address the issue.

      This is 1 on 1.

      1. mango chiffon*

        It’s very frustrating! I once got tapped to note take for a group because the admin who normally took notes was out of the office. I had never even attended this meeting with extremely senior members of our org so I had no context for prior meetings that had already taken place. Add in the fact that our org loves to create acronyms for things and talk about them with the assumption that everyone already knows what it is, it makes me panicked!

        1. 40 Years In the Hole*

          Context and familiarity is everything. Back in the mid-80s I was the Admin/Adjutant Officer of our Squadron- think HR support.
          The HQ staff called in all the SME: COs, maintainers and industry reps, to address an ongoing tech issue with the aircraft – probably 20+ in the room. No computers then, just OHP and acetate slides!
          It was the secretary’s job – who’d been there for years- to take all meeting minutes, but at the very last minute she decides she “couldn’t handle being in a crowded room” and I was “volunteered.”
          I have always been an excellent note taker (yrs with police services), with subjects I know, but a 6 hour, tech-oriented session did me in; absolutely no idea what they were on about or who they were. The boss would tap my wrist to indicate what was to be noted. At least it was recorded. So much cross-talk.
          I left the tape and my notes with the secretary as no way was I going to transcribes this. Took her weeks to sort it.
          Why yes, it was the Friday heading into a long weekend and I had a 4 hr drive ahead of me…

      2. MsM*

        +1 on B in particular. Maybe it’s obvious to you what the next step is once you’ve determined that this is more of a whangjangle issue than a flippityfloppity, but it’s not to me!

        1. BananaSam*

          Reminds me of a previous job where someone said “This is table stakes.” I guess I should have written down what she said, since it was our MVP, but I’d just learned MVP meant something completely different in a technical context, so I was expecting her to say that instead.

    2. Just Thinkin' Here*

      Agree – and often a task that falls to women disproportionately because, you know, they are all born trained secretaries.

      An SME should not be coaching – if they need to provide additional information it’s because the SME’s are forgetting their audience. If it’s known that the note taker is not an SME themselves, then the SMEs in the meeting need to adjust their expectations. If the SME’s want the notetaker to be an SME themselves, then that’s on the manager for failing to find the right person for this project.

  42. SansaStark*

    I’ve been the notetaker in almost the exact situation described by LW1 and in a lot of ways it’s more challenging than just regular notetaking (which I also have extensive experience doing) because you not only need to follow the conversation, but you need to understand the exact wording/punctuation changes decided by the group, often when multiple people have differing opinions throughout the discussion. It’s usually a small but incredibly important technical change. The SMEs can argue for 10 minutes about the capitalization of a word and suddenly they’ve moved on and you’re not sure if they landed on capitalizing the A in architect in this particular instance. I can’t tell if Callie’s just not suited to this or if they maybe need to change the format of the meeting where the SMEs clearly spell out the agreed changes after every discussion before moving on to the next topic.

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

      This is a good point. Especially if Callie is unfamiliar with the actual work. There could be a lot of jargon spewed by the SME’s and she’s trying to figure out if they LEED or LEAD.

      From my (admittedly limited) experience with SME’s they can be a bit full of themselves and feel like others should have the same level of understanding that they do.

      I do wonder why the OP hasn’t spoken with Callie to see what she thinks the problem is and maybe together they could trouble shoot. Would it be helpful if they could record the meeting and then she could replay it later? Would there be someone she could talk to about questions later instead of interrupting the SME’s. Or maybe someone (either OP or someone above) Could tell the SME’s to lay off and explain that there’s going to be questions to make sure that the info is correct!

  43. Bast*

    LW 3 — In almost all of my office jobs, the dress code has been “business casual” and it meant different things in all of the offices. Some places were, shall we say, leaning a lot more heavily into the “casual” side and some others more to the “business” side. I typically have a few conservative outfits that would be fine in either environment, which I wear the first few days until I can assess what others are wearing. That way, I know if I need to dress up or down or if I am fine where I am. Throwing a blazer on can transform a more casual outfit into a more business outfit miraculously well.

    FWIW, I also have tattoos on my upper arms that are visible with a sleeveless blouse, or one with particularly short sleeves. Tattoos have not been a problem in any of the offices I have worked in, providing you don’t have something like profanity or nudity in it. Obviously, this is not everywhere, but I think more offices are becoming accepting of what was once taboo. You will be able to get a pretty good idea in the first few days as to what the feel on tattoos is and whether the office has a more old school approach approach or doesn’t care.

    1. Scorpio Szn*

      Lw here—yes, will definitely be taking the approach of dressing closer to “business” than “casual” for the first few days

  44. Ms VanSquigglebottoms*

    LW4 – In a previous job, I had a boss who “worked from home” every Friday (and whose digital calendar was littered with non-work appointments those days) and took the entire month of August off. Meanwhile, she clearly communicated her expectation that people would remain at their desks at lunchtime to get extra work in. Hmph.

    (Also, I think Alison may need a copy editor based on today’s responses! I bet about a hundred of us would raise our hands for the job!)

  45. Crencestre*

    LW1: Paul feels that relieving Callie of the note-taking assignment would be “rewarding” her because HE’S the one stuck cleaning up her poorly-taken notes; he may well suspect her of using weaponized incompetence to get out of doing a disliked task, which then results in more work for HIM.

    This isn’t really odd – most people would resent being put in Paul’s position! And if they WERE in his position, well, it wouldn’t be odd for them to wonder if Callie was indeed trying to do so badly at note-taking that her manager(s) would throw up their hands and simply relieve her of the task…and dump it all onto Paul.

  46. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    # 2. It seems that the rest of the team has gone into another space to eat lunch then returned to the office, only to have someone eating and making personal calls in the workplace. I am a fan of the occasional staggered lunch because I can proceed with work while the gang is out of my area, and then have a quiet lunch to boot. However, it’s the personal call thing that would get to me. I don’t mind business calls at all, but long involved conversations of a personal nature are very distracting.
    I think the answer in this case is to gently say after a call, “would you mind taking your personal calls to another space next time? It’s distracting.”

  47. Lily Potter*

    I’m wondering what OP4 would do with the information about their managers’ PTO balance if they had access to it? It’s not as though reporting their alleged misdeeds gets the OP any more time off.

    OP4, please stick to your own knitting and keep your thoughts about your boss inside your head. Complaining aloud about this kind of thing turns into pure gossip and speculation. You don’t want to be known as that person in your office.

  48. Ms. Elaneous*

    LW 1
    Is there a reason why the sessions aren’t being recorded?
    Then whoever has the note taking task can check back to confirm notes accuracy.

    I think it should be Paul who does all the note taking. No slam to Callie.
    People have different skills. It’s only 2-4 weeks out of 52..

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

    With number one, if the issue is just lack of being able to practice, would there be other meetings that Callie would be able to practice note taking? But as others have mentioned there can be processing issues or even hearing issues that she has not made you aware of.
    If she is good at everything else but this one task I think it is unfair to put her on a PIP especially being that this happens so rarely.

    I also feel like if this was an important part of the role then it should have been written into the job description and not as other duties assigned.

    1. Just Thinkin' Here*

      I agree – this is a job requirement, it shouldn’t fall under “all other tasks”. It should be specifically spelled out so a job applicant understands what they are getting into for several weeks twice a year – so a month of their time?

    2. Lurker*

      +1 I think practice with videos or other meetings might help her, so that by the time she needs to take notes for these meetings again she’ll have some tools in her belt.

    3. Ginger Cat Lady*

      Exactly. If it’s important enough to the role to be worth a PIP and potentially firing her for, it damn well better be in the job description.
      “Other duties as assigned” is not an expectation that everyone will be amazing at any task that comes up along the way. If someone is a software developer with no graphic design background, and you decide they need to design the company’s new logo/rebrand as part of “other duties as assigned” you shouldn’t be put out when what they come up with stinks. Because they never signed up to be a graphic designer and don’t have those skills!

      1. penny dreadful analyzer*

        I am a technical editor and the number of people who think that because the technical editing team’s duties do include some real basic layout/formatting/branding stuff as it affects document readability and functionality, that means we are also full-blown graphic designers… it drives me nuts. Sorry but just because I can notice that you’re using the branding materials from five years ago, which is super obvious because we had a major rebranding four years ago, that doesn’t mean I can actually make you original graphics in a timely manner in a dedicated graphic design program. Graphic design is a whole other career.

  50. umami*

    For #4, being new to accruing PTO means that it will take some time for you to have meaningful leave time available. Your director likely has accrued a lot of PTO and accrues it at a faster rate due to their seniority, and I am sure they spend plenty of their own time on work tasks due to the nature of the job. And often those jobs make it difficult to take time off consistently – I can say that because of staffing issues over a few years (and COVID), I have more than 400 hours accrued, and this year I am finally taking about 3 weeks of it. I have new staff who have very few hours, just like I did when I first started, but if they bank hours instead of burning them, they will end up with a chunk of hours to do something meaningful too! Just give it time, and don’t worry about your boss unless it is preventing you from being productive (there are worse things than not having your boss hovering around all the time!)

    1. Just Thinkin' Here*

      I was wondering about this. Large companies often have written PTO policies based on pay grade, salary vs hourly, years at the company, etc, where you could easily estimate someone’s PTO bucket size. I’m guessing this is a smaller company with no written policy?

      A new employee is often given very little leave and can run through it quickly, especially if they are given a paltry sick leave like 1 or 2 days. I’ve also seen places, especially in healthcare, where employees start off with 1 week of vacation. If you have any caretaking duties, that essentially means you have no vacation.

      If the issue is that your manager is micromanaging your time while they are there and then disappear without informing you of their calendar, then that’s poor management regardless of PTO policy. Time to spend a few minutes looking around for a better team to join – internal transfers help keep your tenure. Or, next job, negotiate at least 3 weeks vacation.

  51. ConstantlyComic*

    Did anyone else have a moment remembering things when they read “internship dress code”?

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      YES! Although this is the opposite problem, where the intern wants to have more guidance so she doesn’t trip over something she didn’t anticipate.

  52. HailRobonia*

    #3: When I was job hunting one of the things I would check for is if an organization had a social media feed or other source where you could see employees “in action” – one job I applied for was at an investment firm and I assumed it was going to be all suits and ties for men, but looking at their site, aside from formal events or formal photos, men were generally in button up shirts (no ties) or polos, and many were wearing jeans. Far more casual than I was expecting.

    I did notice, however, there were few pictures of women other than some of the VPs and their pictures were their formal profile pics.

    1. Jo*

      I think that’s a good idea but just be aware that it may only depict a more formal view. My organization’s social media feed mostly included pictures of staff at external meetings, hosting presentations, speaking at conferences, accepting awards – situations where they’d be on the more dressed up end of the spectrum. Still, every clue helps!

      1. HailRobonia*

        Luckily after lockdown it’s an easy thing to bring up in an interview. “After lockdown ended, how has the culture in your organization changed?” was a very helpful question for me, not only about dress codes, but WFH info (if it wasn’t explicit), space changes (one organization said they changed to hot-desking, which isn’t a deal breaker for me but definitely something to be aware of).

        One organization gave me exactly the info I was hoping for: “before COVID it was all suits and ties. Now it’s slacks and dress shirts.” (presumably if I were a woman they would have mentioned female-coded attire.)

  53. Just Thinkin' Here*

    OP 1 : In the year 2024, why is there a meeting to have one person tell another person to enter an edit? Shouldn’t the editor just.. do it? Or is this meeting to discuss edits? And if it is a meeting to discuss highly technical edits, why are you having someone with no background on the topic being the official keeper of the record? This whole situation sounds like you are setting someone up to fail. From what you describe, the 90% of the rest of the year is work unrelated to this function. Certainly not a task for a new hire.. and not a task for someone who isn’t into editing long, complicated documents.

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, there may be more to LW1’s situation than was conveyed in the letter, but it just seems like a really inefficient and confusing way to do edits when technology has so many options for making comments and suggesting edits. I understand there may need to be a meeting to discuss, review, and approve edits across stakeholders, but perhaps the suggested edits should all be in place from all stakeholders before the meeting starts so all Callie has to do is approve.

      I also want to say that it is *really* hard to be a good notetaker when you don’t have enough context. If a conversation is deeply technical, having the least technical person there taking notes means you’re likely to get a broad overview, not a detailed review of everything said.

      Another point I want to bring up is that it sounds like LW could handle the note taking but they also ended up moving up into a senior/ leadership role with some SME knowledge. Is it possible that LW1 is pretty exceptional and it might be unreasonable to expect all future occupants of the role to be able to fulfill that duty with the pay/training/experience they’re being hired with? I’ve seen this happen before where everyone is surprised that a new person is struggling with things that seemed to come easily to the last person in the role. But the last person in the role was overqualified or went on to be a superstar in the field.

  54. Some guy with an opinion*

    #2 – I had to reread and it’s less annoying that the coworker is on the phone after everyone is done, but it would be annoying to me that they’re on the phone the WHOLE lunch break EVERY day. I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with it though, maybe put on some headphones for those few minutes?

    1. A. Noni Mouse*

      This was what got to me as well. I agree that it can be annoying to listen to someone else’s conversations regardless of whether they’re work or business, but in a shared office, it’s expected to hear business calls and occasional personal calls. However, if this person is talking on the phone their whole lunch break every day? To me, that’s rude to the rest of the office. It’s different than business calls, which are a part of their role. And occasional personal calls to deal with things that have to be taken care of during business hours (or just the occasional call that for whatever reason needs to happen during business hours) is completely understandable. But just calling to chat with someone for 30 minutes every day strikes me as more entertainment for this person’s lunch break than something that needs to happen. To me, that’s closer compared to someone watching a video on their phone without headphones during lunch than it is to a business call. You’re subjecting your officemates to noise that isn’t necessary for them to hear and isn’t necessary for you, but is for your entertainment. I could be reading the situation wrong, but based on the letter, that’s how I interpret it and I would absolutely be annoyed about it! All that being said, I agree with Some Guy with an Opinion above that there may not be much you can do about it and headphones might be the best option.

  55. ialwaysforgetmyname*

    I think the description “business casual” needs to be removed from all dress codes. I’ve worked at places over the years where those words meant everything (for guys) from khakis and a polo to a dress slacks with tie but no jacket. That’s a huge range.

    My current employer’s dress code says that employees must “dress appropriate to their job.” Which means what exactly? What is “appropriate” for an accountant, a doctor, an HR coordinator?

  56. Jo*

    #1 I think the advice to look at the staff member’s other work is spot on. Also, how niche is this meeting material? Is her being able to understand and keep up a reasonable expectation?

    I worked in an IT strategy field that could get very technical. I was considered an excellent employee. But I vividly remember one meeting where they discussed a topic so far out of my wheelhouse they might as well have been speaking a foreign language. I only took notes for myself, not the group. But there were words/phrases I didn’t understand, didn’t even know how to spell. Entire concepts flying over my head Thank heavens no one else needed what I wrote.

  57. EA*

    I disagree about the phone. If you’re going to have personal phone conversations, I think you should go outside or to another room.

    I don’t see it as comparable to a work conversation. I see it as comparable to scrolling videos without headphones – it’s annoying to have to hear that for an entire lunch break.

  58. Kate*

    In Letter #2, I think Alison glossed over the fact that the phone user is eating lunch at a different time than everyone else. If she’s effectively having daily personal phone conversations in the work space during others’ work hours, it seems legit to be annoyed about that. Many have said that it’s harder to tune out only one end of a conversation; it’s also easier to tune out work stuff, when you know the context, than someone else’s personal life. If there’s a break room she can use, she should be using it; if not, yeah, you’re probably stuck.

  59. BikeWalkBarb*

    LW1: Many others have commented on the inefficiency of the method and I couldn’t agree more, as someone who wrangles a lot of shared editing documents. Live group wordsmithing is my idea of torture–give me the keyboard!

    My question is whether the skills needed for this were part of the selection process for the job. Saying it’s okay because it falls under other duties as assigned doesn’t mean you took it seriously enough to screen for this. If you emphasized things that are 95% of the job and she’s good at those, that’s what she expected to be doing–not to have some new and different competency assumed to be available. Having her PIP’d seems really unfair.

  60. NYC Man*

    Lots of thoughts on the entire post- I feel it’s unfair to expect Callie, who is not an SME to match the knowldge of the SMEs. If the content is something Callie or any person would reasonably have at least a working knowledge of, that’s one thing, but since it’s a textbook, my thought is that it’s probably a lot of shorthand technical jargon that she’s rapidly trying to learn as she goes. And if this was every week or even every month, there’s a lot of exposure to it to start to get the hang of the lingo… but twice a year? It seems unlikely that she’s is going to retain that knowledge from meeting to meeting. It goes back to that meme that says if you expect a goldfish to climb a tree, you’ll think its stupid. And, I understand that the JD says “other duties as assigned” but that doesn’t mean that she can be assigned, I dunno, a task like putting an engine together and expect her to be able to do that. At least in that case, she’d have a You Tube video to teach her. I don’t know, I think the original poster is being unfair to Callie and I think there’s more going on there than we are being told.

    As for the tattoos – I have some on my arms and wear long sleeves even in the summer as I am middle aged and still have a mindset that they are not OK in an office. I am SO happy to hear that that’s changing. It’s actually one of the reasons I prefer remote work. Easy to keep my arms off screen and/or easy to wear a long sleeve only when I am on camera.

    Ugh phones in the office – I was working at a place last year where the 20somethings were always on speaker phone. As someone who is admittedly high strung and has a stressful job, the last thing I need to hear when I’m reviewing a contract is ‘bro this’ and ‘bro that’. When I need to make a client or customer call, I duck into a conference room. This is primarily why I hate the open office plan. Ironically, I’m a very social person but I also have a large volume of detail oriented work to do. Again, easier to do some of that when remote but that wasn’t really an option in that role.

    re: the PTO – it’s 100% none of the posters business how their boss handles their time out of the office.

    finally: dress code – yes, I agree with many others who said to look at the company’s social media – that may give you a general direction but I follow this rule: I dress up in a suit on the first day and then scope out the general vibe and adjust. The general vibe might also change depending on the day of the week (ie some places allow nice jeans on Fridays). I am a firm believer that it’s better to err on the side of over dressing than underdressing. There is also a reason why the button down shirt and khakis is a classic dress model – it’s in the middle of being dressy and casual. I also like to keep a blazer in a closet at the office for times when an unexpected meeting comes up that I need to up my game. I’ve even gone so far as to keep a pressed dress shirt and a couple ties at the office. This has saved me on more than one occasion from having to run to an overpriced men’s clothing store to buy something on the fly. (I once had to run out and a plain white shirt in midtown NYC cost me $75 – yeah, they saw me coming but it was for a last minute meeting where I absolutely had to look my best).

  61. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #2 Whether cell phone, desk phone, or face to face, if you want a non-work conversation of more than a couple of minutes, please leave the office / working space so that you don’t disturb your captive coworkers – e.g. go into the break room, cafeteria, empty conference room, or outdoors.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I wonder if they even have a break room, since the person LW2 is complaining about eats after everyone else eats.

      I know that I can be in our breakroom and hear conversations from the office right next to it. We tend to keep the door from the kitchen(breakroom) to the office area open during the day.

    2. Kay Tee*

      I assumed from the letter that the coworker was in a break room/kitchen, since it’s a space where the other employees “sit down to each lunch together”? Sounds like the issue is that it’s a physically small office where that space is within earshot of working areas.

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      From the OP, sounds like the coworker is using her phone in a small shared office:

      “I work in a very small office with, on most days, only three-five people working in the same space. I have a coworker who almost always eats alone after everyone else has finished and always talks on her cell phone while she’s eating. She is not particularly loud, but because the office is small, it is possible to hear the entire conversation”

  62. Three Owls in a Trench Coat*

    OP1 – I am the official note-taker/record maker for an organization. Here are some suggestions that might help Callie (or whoever takes on the duty).
    – Record the meeting. Makes it easier to rewind and listen again.
    – Make a meeting agenda. The note-taker copies it into a new document and expands the space between topics to have plenty of room to write notes on a printed copy. Perhaps 1-2 topics per page. If there are any reports/documents/presentations as part of the meeting, the note-taker should have printed copies to write additional notes on.
    – Remind all participants to speak 1 at a time and avoid talking over each other.
    – If there’s any sort of decision/call for action/motion, the meeting host should repeat it. “John Smith moved to adjourn and Jane Doe seconded.” “For the notes – we have decided to prioritize teapot spouts in 3rd quarter. Mary Jones’ team will lead that initiative.”
    – Discuss topics in order agenda. It makes it much easier to keep the note flow going when one doesn’t need to shuffle pages (or jump around on a computer screen).
    Encourage other participants to keep notes on their projects/subjects, which they can reference if the note-taker needs clarification.
    – Send a draft of the official notes to the participants and ask them to submit any needed corrections.

    Hope all that helps!

  63. Alan*

    For LW #4, tread carefully. There is no way to poke at this, even using Alison’s suggestion, without major risk. How much leave other people get shouldn’t concern you. If you feel like you need more, address that, not how much other people get. FWIW, I’m retired but my last couple years I was so burned out that I sometimes took leave without pay for a couple weeks. HR didn’t like it, but they deferred to my supervisor. We were just waiting until my project was delivered and I could leave. You don’t have the full context here and you run a real risk of being seen as way outside your lane.

    1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Yes. Three weeks plus a couple days a month is nothing crazy for a manager with a decent tenure with the company, anyway, so without the proof LW admits they don’t have, there’s nothing to go on. Anyone suggesting that LW continue to focus on this is not being realistic about how likely that is to help vs. hurt their workplace credibility – there is limited upside in making an issue of this, and a lot of potential downside.

  64. Immortal for a limited time*

    I feel like a PSA is needed for letter writers (or bots, or whatever) who think gaming is like a job and potential employers will be impressed by their involvement. It is not and they are not.

    1. HailRobonia*

      I am ok at taking notes… as long as that is my only duty in the meeting. If I am expected to contribute/converse then it’s really hard for me to take meaningful notes.

      1. Quill*

        which is probably why they don’t have an SME taking notes – they have to pay attention to what they have to contribute to the conversation! It’s still a meeting format that seems to need to change in order to be better organized and allow for editing / changes tracking to be captured directly.

      2. Justin D*

        Yeah same. Or I can take notes but not understand anything being said. Funny thing too that my coworkers who take EXTENSIVE notes (for themselves) also never seem to really understand the topic and have to ask me 100 questions about the meeting later. So maybe it’s not just me.

  65. Liz the Snackbrarian*

    LW #3: I’m of the opinion that tattoos should be accepted in the workplace, but I think asking outright is your best bet. I mean really, millenials grew up with Doodle Bears as a toy, no wonder we all have tattoos! I think it can also depend what the tattoo is of–simple text might be more widely accepte din professional settings than, say, something inspired by a horror movie.

    Also, open-toed shoes might fly in some offices if the they’re dressy. Dress codes are weird and at times silly.

    1. Mouse named Anon*

      Yes, I have almost always worn a dressy sandal in the summer at work. Sometimes if my work was super casual I wore a more casual sandal too. No one ever said a word.

  66. Observer*

    This note taker is not an SME. There are a couple internal staff roles to whom this note taking has typically fallen. These are individuals who are not intimately involved with the crafting of content; they basically just come in and serve as the note taker these few times of year.

    I’m pretty much repeating what others have said. But I keep on coming back to this. This is a a *ridiculous* set up. Having someone who is not an SME and has nothing to do with any part of the work take detailed notes and correctly capture every technical edit that gets made is not reasonable in the least bit. Sure, you did ok, but let us be honest here – you clearly had the knowledge base, or you would not be in a leadership position at this point.

    SME’s are often not good managers, and this is a perfect example of this.

    Also, I’m going to say that Paul is being a jerk. And he’s not being honest about what he wants. He’s not primarily looking to be relieved of the burden of cleanup. Because if that’s what he was after (reasonably!), he would not insist that it HAS TO BE CALLIE, much less trying to “punish” her. And, to be honest, if we’re going to judge someone’s intelligence by their ability in ONE area, I would have to say that he’s also a very stupid person. Because with any sense, he should realize she could in fact be putting in the effort. His assumption that she’s just not trying is not only unfair, it’s stupid. Should I conclude that because he’s stupid about people’s capacities he’s also stupid in general?

    Lastly, you say “ completing it doesn’t require anything that falls outside the realm of reasonable expectations.“. I’m going to disagree with you here. This task sounds like it could easily be outside reasonable expectations for many support roles.

  67. DramaQ*

    #1 when Callie was interviewed and hired was she told it was expected that she would have to take detailed editing notes 2x a year and asked what her level of expertise/knowledge was on the subject? Taking notes IS a skill. Taking notes during a highly technical discussion is yet another skill. I can converse fairly well about immunology but if you asked me to sit there in a meeting full of SMEs and take highly detailed notes I’d be lost because I’m not at that level. Then you should also ask yourself is she failing or is this SMEs making mountains of molehills? I got in trouble for not putting a sticky note inside a doctor’s folder so it was sticking out exactly 2 inches. You could see the dang note stuck to the slides, which is what was required of me, but THIS particular doctor wanted it done her way. If she has to take notes in a highly specific and exact manner there should have been a template provided so she has something to follow, especially if this is something she only does 2x a year. I also wonder if the LW was more knowledgeable than they realize about the subject matter compared to Callie so they are seeing it through that lens. I’d look like Einstein compared to my husband if he had to take notes in a meeting on my field. Doesn’t mean DH is incompetent. I would also look into how does this meeting function. Are the notes “Jane noted that on page 2 of Textbook C that it said “sperm” instead of “egg” which requires corrections” or do the SMEs get on long technical lectures that require someone to not only be able to write/type extremely fast but understand everything they say so it can be read back verbatim? If it is the latter perhaps recording the session on Teams or Zoom would be preferable so people can pause and replay as needed. Or suck it up and hire an actual technical assistant to take notes instead of making the poor new people do it because you’ve rationalized it being “tradition”. Honestly it was only a matter of time before you hired someone who would hit a road block if that is your criteria for the note taker. It doesn’t mean that employee is a poor performer. If you want a technical note taker then that should be part of your screening process and made clear up front so the candidate can decide if that is something they are a good fit for instead of what sounds like it being sprung on them because they are the new guy.

    1. kiki*

      o the SMEs get on long technical lectures that require someone to not only be able to write/type extremely fast but understand everything they say so it can be read back verbatim

      I was also wondering about this. I’ve definitely been in meetings where a lot of deeply technical SMEs walk away and are like, “Wow, glad we were all able to quickly get that figured out.” But the actual conversation was ten minutes of back and forth nitpicking the wording of a single sentence with a 20 minute additional discussion of a recent news article everyone read about quantum computing or something tangentially related. They’d be surprised when the notes don’t reflect exactly what they think should be conveyed, but it was actually a really confusing conversation for anyone not an SME. They might think it would be clear that the tangential conversation about quantum computing should not be included but nobody else in the room was able to keep up and fully understand why we got on that subject in the first place.

  68. Zipperhead*

    LW1: There’s absolutely no reason to make an outsider take notes for this. Get the SMEs to take notes! Callie doesn’t know what the Subject Matter Experts are talking about, and her notes are going to suffer as a result — and that’s not really her fault! If the SMEs really care about accuracy, they need to be taking their own notes.

    LW2: If she’s on her lunch break, I feel like she’s allowed to talk on her cell phone. It might be different if she was being loud, but if she’s just quietly using her phone, don’t be a bear and quash this minor pleasure she gets during her break.

  69. CzechMate*

    LW 1 – For something that mission critical, it sounds like you’d want someone with more expertise and subject knowledge taking notes, no? Or perhaps to record calls and then have someone with subject expertise review them for edits? This seems like a pretty big thing to have someone with little subject knowledge taking notes on.

  70. H.Regalis*

    LW2 – I think for some of the perception on this, at least outside of work, it also makes a difference if you live in an urban area vs. a rural or suburban area.

    If I’m on the bus/train/subway, I know I’m going to hear other people’s conversations, and that’s just part of living in a densely populated area; whereas I’ve had coworkers who’ve only ever lived in rural or suburban areas who thought it was abominably rude for people to be talking on their phones at the airport because “Why can’t they go somewhere private?!” but there was nowhere private to go.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      That’s a very different situation to a small shared office like the OP has, where there is a reasonable expectation of quiet, at least wrt non-work conversations.

      In an airport, I’ve no expectation of quiet, whereas a quick call in a train or bus (or plane) is fine, but I’d find a long phone conversation in the next seat to be irritating, rather like physically spreading themself into my space.

  71. FluffskyMom*

    To #1: With the influx of AI note-taking software, especially for clinicians, why not use one of those existing programs to listen to meetings and generate the notes/summary? It’s like $20 a month for a business and seems like it would solve a LOT of problems. These things exist to help with the deficits. Like it, or not, no amount of coaching, etc, is going to make a poor note-taker take better notes, and only lead to more problems, and more resentment. Focus on the core components of a job—with the amount of unnecessary meetings, I feel like this technology can only make this a non-issue.

  72. MP*

    #2 — I think exposing other people to your private phone conversations is one of the rudest things you can do and I am completely baffled as to why so many people think it’s fine. It’s incredibly distracting and not unlike making any other kind of unwanted noise in a work setting without asking. I also despise this behavior on elevators, buses, and other small spaces. No one else wants to hear your conversation. If it’s an emergency or a quick call, it makes sense. If it’s to chat, find a private space.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I thought that an empty or nearly empty break room was private. Not everyone has a monastic cell to retreat to, nor the ability to find the time when both of you were available and had good connections.

  73. Student*

    #3: I have good news and bad news for you.

    The bad news is that all dress codes are going to give you insufficient guidance on how to dress for your job.

    The further bad news is that someone, somewhere, will always judge you negatively for what you wear, regardless of how you dress. With some exceptions for the people who genuinely do completely flop or ignore the dress code, these complaints are usually not really about what you’re wearing. It’s usually about the other person.

    The good news is: there are usually only 1-3 people at any given job who have the power to impact you over your outfit. So your real audience is actually quite small – there may be hecklers who are outside the target audience, but they can be safely ignored if they have no authority over you. Your line manager is #1. Other people to consider are usually your boss’s boss, potentially other managers you report to regularly for tasks or projects, and potentially really senior people – especially senior people who are Difficult.

    So, talk to your line manager. Be upfront that you’re trying to make sure you meet the dress expectations, but aren’t sure what’s expected. It may help to have a couple examples to show them – photos or examples out of shopping catalogues. Gauge their engagement in the conversation; if they wave it off, then they probably really don’t care and aren’t likely to talk to you about it, and you can just aim to dress within the range of the rest of your manager’s department. If they sit and talk to you in detail, then great! If they seem extremely picky and arbitrary, then just get them to approve a couple of outfits and stick to those at work, because it’ll be really hard for the manager to then go back and complain about outfits they already approved.

  74. how do you pronounce van gogh*

    #1: I was on a team once where we had a contractor come in and take notes and action items on our meetings and then send them out.

    Excellent, right? Well, sort of. She was fantastic at the non-technical stuff. But she just didn’t know the jargon or the terms we were throwing around, no one had apparently at any point given her a deep dive into what we did.

    Sometimes it was just “sequel problems” instead of “SQL problems”, which is easy enough. But sometimes what she heard and tried to figure out what we were saying had nothing to do with the actual terms.

    Whose fault in this? Probably nobody’s, really. We shouldn’t expect the contractor to come in to our meetings (where her only job is to take notes at vastly different meetings) and know all our words.

    Whose problem is this to solve? We didn’t solve it. The notes were “good enough” in that we could read them over and interpret them to figure out what happened. Mostly. Sometimes.

    The actual best way to take notes in these meetings is to have someone sharing their screen, either in Word or OneNote, and take notes live, and people all dictate what action items directly, and have the person typing actually know what all these acronyms are.

    If you want the notes to be readable and you’re tossing around acronyms and jargon, to someone who doesn’t know them… yeah, you’re not gonna get readable notes if the note taker isn’t an SME or the SME’s don’t dictate exactly what the notes should be.

  75. lost academic*

    There’s a big focus on some of these comment threads about how it must be impossible for Callie to take notes appropriately and an SME should do it. I’ve done these kinds of things before (for what it’s worth) but also largely based on what the OP wrote, I have these thoughts instead:
    * You don’t need to be an SME by a long shot for this kind of thing but it does really help to be conversant with the terminology and area so you can follow better. OP didn’t say this was a jargon heavy field, either.
    * It may be that the previous people handling this knew enough, or were just better at making notes for edits. I think we have all seen plenty of cases where experts were very bad at this sort of thing and people outside the area were quite good, so it’s not helpful to hang one’s hat on either edge case as being the best or obviously unsuitable.
    * None of these quibbles actually matter – the job isn’t that often, this person clearly can’t do it for whatever reason and the lack of improvement and low level of competency at the task is creating problems with others. In terms of the big picture the answer is very clear – rotate someone else better into the job.
    * If it turns out that this person really really needs to be able to do THIS particular semiannual task, and for whatever reason no one else can do it, then a conversation about how to fill that responsibility will have to happen and Callie may or may not need to make an adjustment to do this task, or some other task to free up someone else, but that’s a separate discussion largely to be made at the management level.

    There are a lot of ancillary potential concerns that might be important to follow up on, but are pretty much are handled by adjusting the person responsible for the task.

  76. Cinnamon Stick*

    This note-taking situation is ludicrous. If Callie is not an SME and doesn’t work with the content to improve her understanding, of course she’s going to miss some important points in the conversation! It’s much harder to take notes about things you don’t understand, and when you’re trying to parse what you should write down, it’s natural to lose the thread of the conversation.

    Record the meetings and have someone who has some understanding of the content make the notes or use one of the apps that are out there to do it now. The latter may be a good solution this is a task that nobody wants to do.

  77. spcepickle*

    For #3 – My office has no dress code because we do such a wide variety of work it would not be possible. Some days I am on construction sites (at which point we clearly define safety gear) and some days I am presenting to local elected officials.

    I would start by googling your company name and location – can you find their facebook or twitter feed, do they post pictures of events or youtube videos. Often those will show people in the background who show what “standard dress” is for them. Also see if you can connect to last year’s intern, sometimes your hiring manager will give you their name.

    Also as an intern you will be given more leeway (unless you in big law, finance, or fashion – but those come with stricter dress codes) we know you are still learning professional norms, and we know you don’t have a huge clothing budget. The only time I have ever told an intern what they were wearing was not great was – a see through shirt over a brightly colored bra. This goes to the idea that you want people talking about your work and not what you are wearing. And even then it was more a professional tip then a get in trouble for not following a rule.

    My go-to for business casual is a dress (I love the Aster dress by Eddie Bauer, lots of sizes and pockets), with a cardigan, and flats. You can mix and match and wear the dress several times in a week (I wear a cami under it to help keep them clean longer).

    For tattoos I think this really depends on where you are located and what kind of business you are going into. I am in the Pacific Northwest and at least 30% of my team has visible tattoos – nobody would blink an eye at one. You could wear sleeves your first day and look around or you could just show it off. If a place is willing to fire an intern over an exposed tattoo they suck and you dodged a bullet.

    Good luck!

  78. Note takers R Us*

    This is a bit of a tangent. I’m curious about what LW and the SMEs consider good notes. I mention this because one person I worked for wanted notes that were essentially the meeting transcript. Another insisted that notes had to fit on one page. Callie seems to be getting a lot of conflicting information about what’s needed.

  79. spcepickle*

    #4 – I would seem like your boss. I take at least two – two week vacations a year and am often gone for the day. Half the time I am not in the office I am at some off-site training or meeting that you might not know about. The other half of the time I am working from home, which yes I am allowed to do even if people on my team or not. There are parts of my job that require focus I can’t get in the office or a private space to take a call. I am also salaried and don’t get the overtime my team does – so when I end up working overtime I do get to flex time in a different way. I also earn more vacation time because I have been with the company longer.

    For the days off – I could be using FMLA or other unpaid leave for medical appointments that you would have no need to know about.

    That is all to say – yes there are things happening in the background you might not know about and that is okay. Your job is to tell me if there is an issue, if you can’t get ahold of me and it is creating issues with your work. Or if I am not planing well enough for my extended vacations and you are not sure what to do.

    If me being gone creates issue for you – raise the specific issues. If you just feel like you are not treated fairly – take your talents elsewhere. This is not a flippant responses, you have a skill set and you should sell it to whomever gives you the best outcome. If you don’t like where you are – change it.

  80. anonny*

    For OP# 1-
    Think about this a little bit… a group is highly specialized, had a note taker that was also highly specialized, then hired a new non-highly specialized person to take notes. Now, everyone is frustrated that the non-highly specialized person’s notes aren’t as good as the highly specialized person/group and that, even with private training, they’re not becoming a proxy for the SMEs…do you see the issue?

    When you mentioned you couldn’t do replacements because “an alternative will not be easy to come by for reasons that aren’t worth getting into here”- I’m assuming you mean you would need another SME to accurately takes notes, as non-SMEs cannot comprehend the discussion, even with additional training?
    Why not hire someone temporarily or seasonally/1099 status to takes notes that’s already a SME? It doesn’t need to be the same person every year and they’ll have the nomenclature for all the edits the grouped SMEs point out in a text book.

    1. Coin_Operated*

      The entire process kind of feels like they don’t have the budget to use a professional editor for this textbook, so it’s landed on this team who have been relying on a nonprofessional staff person to take all their notes when in reality it should be a professional in their field, who is also an experienced editor for these textbooks.

      1. Dawn*

        I’ve had to purchase textbooks before, they have the budget. And probably a fleet of gold-plated yachts.

  81. Smurfette*

    OP1, I’m sure someone has already said this – but the task you’re describing is that not easy. If you’re not an SME it’s challenging just to understand the jargon and the nuances of the conversation.
    Especially if the expectation is that the note taker can stay on top of what everyone is saying as well as the decisions that are made. I’ve been in a similar situation and it’s very stressful.

  82. Betsy S*

    OP#1 – I would never be able to do this task as described. I have some mild hearing or auditory processing issues – don’t need a hearing aid, it’s subtle – my hearing is just MUDDY. I haven’t qualified for a hearing aid or gotten a formal label, but I have a terrible time following if multiple people are talking at once. Even in meetings where I am completely familiar with the material, I end up asking people to repeat themselves, or using a backchannel like slack to check with my teammates. I had one boss who would get very upset with me when I missed things in meetings, and another boss who conveyed the message that I either needed to put in for formal accommodations for a disability, or just deal. None of my other managers had a problem – and I developed good habits around things like sending followup emails after a meeting to confirm I had all my action items correct.

    So I can empathize with someone who struggles with this particular task – ESPECIALLY since she’s not so familiar with the technical material – and wouldn’t necessarily assume that she’s bad at everything else.

    As others have noted, if this is a core requirement of the job, you may have to screen for this skill. (Is it possible to hire a temp? There are many people who could be very good at this task)

  83. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    And OP #4.

    Most companies have set, published policies on PTO. That being said, it often is negotiable.

    Example = Fergus is a superstar at Acme Company, where his tenure has given him five weeks’ PTO annually. Now, Beta Company wants to lure him away. So they talk. Beta has a written policy of three weeks.

    Fergus will jump to Beta, but he wants to keep his five weeks. That’s often negotiable.

  84. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    OP4 – unless their PTO is interfering with your ability to do your job, let it go. It sounds like it is coming more from a place of irritation with how they nickel and dime you rather than an actual problem that is yours to solve. What do you want as an outcome? If there are other things wrong with them as a boss that you need to have addressed, focus on that, but you will not get more PTO by calling out your boss’s use of theirs.

    There could be so many things at play that you do not see. My husband used to be a middle manager and he had 5 weeks of vacation per year – not PTO, vacation. But what you didn’t see is that he was essentially on-call 24/7/365. We would be on vacation and he would have to miss a day of family activity to work. We would get calls at 3 am regularly. He would come home from work and then work. Half the time when he booked 5 days of vacation he would end up working 3 of them and then attempt to take 2 days off some other time.

  85. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    I’m an exceptionally high performer – like make exceptions to the 12 month waiting period for promitions high perfomer. I also serve on the board of a nonprofit, and for one year I was talked into filling the Secretary role when we needed it filled. NEVER AGAIN.

    I am the world’s worst note taker and recod keeper for a varity of reasons–chefly that I’m paying too much attention to things to remember to write them down. This was almost 15 years ago, and whenever we can’t find something in previous notes, the go-to joke is that it must’ve happened the year Jack Straw was Secretary.

    I am really, really good at other things but completley awful at that specific task. Let her stop doing it, please.

  86. El*

    For OP1: I’d also consider whether Callie has any medical issues that could be causing her to struggle. I’m not a great notetaker for large meetings because I have an auditory related disability that causes me to struggle to keep up with multiple people speaking.

    also: why on earth would you expect a lay person to understand enough to take good notes? just because you managed to do it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

    1. I Have RBF*

      Seriously. A person may not have a disclosed disability in that area, because it has never come up before. Or, they could just not have the special talent to do what is a specialized, difficult task.

      Let me say it louder for those in the back: Taking notes in a subject you are not versed in with a bunch of SMEs wrangling about edits all at once is a very specialized skill, not an every person skill. It’s the difference between walking and figure skating or roller derby. The motions are similar, but the complexity is much, much more.

  87. LLama Doc*

    Is there not an AI program that can take notes? I use something called Scribble Vet to generate medical records, it removes extraneous conversation and generates medical notes that may be edited as needed.

    I’m lucky in that I can take verbatim notes (even when I know nothing about the topic) for hours and turn them into a functional document but would definitely try to find an easier way to get this done. Although, holding her feet to the fire would not be unreasonable either. We have lots of inept/immature/unable to concentrate people in the workplace right now and learning to pay attention for long periods of time is a life skill.

  88. Sylvia*

    Is there an AI utility or software that can help the Callies of the world take better notes? I struggle with note-taking too.

  89. Dawn*

    I know that this has been beat to death in this discussion already but I’d just like to add my voice to the chorus of “even under the best of circumstances, which these clearly aren’t (I have spent time in a room full of academics before,) note-taking is both a skill and a talent and, no, it actually isn’t reasonable of you to expect just anyone to be able to do it.

    There is a reason the average salary for court stenographers is in excess of $100k.

  90. pocket sized polly*

    I’m not any of the OPs and they know their fields best but here are my thoughts:

    Letter 1: maybe the subject matter experts should be doing the note-taking if accuracy is this important, the people in OP’s team aren’t the SMEs themselves, and this is only happening twice a year?

    Letter 2: Unfortunately, your way of thinking isn’t really in step with society’s way of thinking (I’m not saying you’re in the wrong here). Invest in some ear plugs :-/

    Letter 3: Err on the side of “more” business casual until you can get a better lay of the land.

    Letter 4: No, you can’t like, snoop into why your boss might have more PTO than you. Have they been at the company longer than you? Then they probably have more PTO than you. Are they salaried while you’re non-exempt? Then they may have more flexibility with their hours because maybe they did 60 hours last week. Either way, you need to stop snooping on them like a weirdo.

    Letter 5: I guess the inbox isn’t swamped anymore.

  91. All Outrage, All The Time*

    OP#1 As a very senior admin with 35 years experience, I cannot see how having someone who doesn’t work closely with the SMEs on an ongoing will work when it comes to editing textbooks. Working on a project team editing a text book is a specialised job, even if it’s note taking. I think your expectation is unreasonable and you were an anomaly.

    Just for a start, most people can’t take notes on what was just said while listening to what is being said now. It’s a skill and not everyone has it. Recording meetings for later transcription or making sure all the key decisions and actions were captured is common.

    I think you’re all seeing it as a basic admin task any admin person should be able to do, but it’s not. It’s a skill.

    Professional note takers exist. There are firms that provide minute/note takers for high level meetings, recruitment interviews etc because it is a skilled job.

  92. OP1*

    OP1 here. Sorry I haven’t been active in comments…busy day at work. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts (even the ones that didn’t feel very good to read ).

    To clear up just a couple things that I saw floating around — putting Callie on a PIP for this was never on the table. Paul used to be a note-taker himself, but over the years we’ve discovered that having the SMEs actively participate in the discussion is a better use of their time and talent than note-taking (as one commenter correctly guessed). The note-taking itself is rarely jargon heavy or overly technical… as another commenter suggested, it’s typically more being able to follow along that on page 37, second paragraph, we need to add a sentence to the end/replace one word with another/etc. Occasionally an SME will suggest a reshuffling of content or adding a paragraph. And finally, we do have an official editorial process. The nature of the subject matter means that many items are open to interpretation (“here’s how we approach complicated item #1 in my practice” or “wait, I read that code to mean X but you’re saying it means Y? Let’s discuss which interpretation is correct to ensure that the content in the book is accurate and teachable”). So while an SME writes the content and it’s given a full technical review by a 2nd SME and then is edited, this twice-a-year meeting brings together many additional SMEs who are reviewing with an eye towards accuracy, completeness, teachability, understandability, etc.

    I can see, based on a number of comments, that this process feels a little archaic and honestly I’m intrigued by some of the suggestions for ways to improve it. I definitely plan to explore if there’s a better way to approach this!

    All of that being said, I do not plan to have Callie be a note-taker going forward. Thanks, Alison, and thank you to all of you for your assistance!!

    1. Observer*

      Thanks for jumping in. And I’m glad you are taking the advice.

      I suggest that you ignore Paul. He’s simply wrong. And if he really wants to stop having to deal with the aftermath, he needs to let you focus on solutions, not on “punishing” people (or even just making sure to “not reward” people 0 in his mind – for poor performance.)

      Keep in mind that to you and Paul, it’s not jargon heavy or overly technical, but I’d be willing to bet that it does require a fair bit of subject matter and format knowledge. And that’s just not going to be something she’s going to pick up all that easily. I remember many, many years ago I was talking to my father – who was one of the brightest people I know – about my work (technology). And he said to me “I can have conversations with all sort of professionals – doctors, lawyers, engineers, you name it. But somehow, you’re the one person I’m finding myself lost with in conversation.” And I knew he was telling the truth about the conversations, because I’d seen him in action! But it was an extremely valuable lesson, and has served me very well over the years. A “simple”, non-tech heavy conversation with other technical people will often be very hard to follow for non-technical people. I am am very careful to keep that in mind – simple means different things to different people.

      And that’s on top of the other potential issues that others have brought up.

      So, it’s something to keep in mind when looking for a different solution. It’s a shame that finding an alternative is not going to be easy, but ultimately it’s probably going to be a lot less frustrating.

    2. van gogh*

      So while an SME writes the content and it’s given a full technical review by a 2nd SME and then is edited, this twice-a-year meeting brings together many additional SMEs who are reviewing with an eye towards accuracy, completeness, teachability, understandability, etc.

      I think you need to strongly consider that you’re coming to this from a perspective of expertise bias. You know all of this, so it’s easy for you and not jargon, but someone who doesn’t know all the ins and outs thinks this is very jargony and overly technical.

      I also don’t suggest, as some have, using AI or auto-transcription. I have watched them work in real time. I also have an accent where the following words sound exactly the same: our, are, R.

      I pity anyone who has to transcribe me saying “are our R projects working?”

  93. HushedGalaxy*

    LW5 makes me think of a youtube series from AnyAustin on youtube: He’s going to cities in Skyrim and doing surveys of all the NPCs to determine the unemployment rates in the cities in the game

  94. MAW*

    RE: #1
    I have to wonder if a) maybe Callie’s a great employee but has poor audio processing skills or b) never learned good note-taking? Also, maybe it’s harder than the folks doing the work remember to parse out nuance in corrections without sufficient background? I can think of a number of subject matter areas where I could imagine being so vastly out of my subject matter depth that I wouldn’t know up from down…..

  95. Croeso*

    If you didn’t give her this job as a reward for good performance, then it doesn’t follow that taking it away is a punishment for bad performance.

Comments are closed.