my employee puts on a show of being busy, but they shouldn’t be

A reader writes:

I manage an employee who’s in a job that I used to do myself, so I have a pretty good idea of the work required and the amount of time it takes.

This person does a good job on the tasks and is competent and well liked. However, they put on a big show of being busy, often announcing that they will be working late, coming in on the weekend, cancelling vacation days, and working when sick. I admire their commitment to the job, but that level of time and emotional commitment is simply not required and, to be honest, I find the complaints about staying late really annoying, particularly as it’s not required to complete the actual tasks.

I’ve encouraged them to take days off, hand off tasks to me if they need to be out, go home at the end of the day, and not come in on the weekends. Is there anything else I can do? Or should I just decide it’s none of my business if this person has no desire for a personal life or leisure time and listening to them complain is just something I need to get used to?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My boss wants me to hire his daughter
  • Candidates research me and bring up their findings awkwardly

{ 185 comments… read them below }

  1. grizzled*

    My old boss used to say that we got paid to work 40 hours a week and if you were regularly working over that, either you didn’t know what you were doing or he didn’t know what you were doing and both of those we needed to fix. I try to keep that philosophy when managing my own employees and their work loads. I’ve caught quite a few of both types of ‘not knowing’ over the years.

    1. Lea*

      I had a coworker who stayed late to type some stuff in a spreadsheet so I offered to pull data for her so she didn’t have to and she waved me off and then sabotaged me to my boss for ‘not being helpful’ so I think some people just want to look busy and important and have a dim view of them!

      Then again I
      Occasionally do work after work just because it’s easier when no one is interrupting me too

    2. londonedit*

      Yep. Pay in publishing is notoriously low, but that generally means – with a few exceptions, of course – that the prevailing attitude tends to be ‘no one is paying you enough to work late, if you can’t get your work done in 35 hours then we need to have a serious look at your workload’. Of course there’s the odd situation where you have to put in an extra hour here and there, but generally I make sure I’m working my contracted hours and no more if I can help it.

  2. Audogs*

    This gave me a flashback to someone I worked with long ago. She was an admin for the large Engineering group and was always martyring about how busy she was (she wasn’t). She wasn’t as busy as she should have been because all the fellas were snookered by her and would ask me if I could help them because “she’s so busy.” I think I laugh snorted a few times.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      We had one of those in our office, too. She had a table in her office piled a foot deep with probably 5 years’ worth of papers she was just too busy to file… she was a fella snooker-er as well.

      I think it took her replacement and one guy a couple weeks to clear the backlog, and the replacement used to go around asking if we had anything she could help with because she wasn’t busy enough.

    2. anon for this*

      I worked with someone, several, at different jobs, who spent so much time complaining that they were sooo busy, that if they stopped complaining and did their work they would be done on time.

      They also looked down on people who finished on time, didn’t take overtime, and were suspicious of people who were efficient. (The last one was bad, and made a ton of errors, but if you were efficient she would fixate on one minor error to prove you were working too fast)

      1. 1-800-BrownCow*

        Huh, that person must be at my company now. You described one of my colleagues to a T.

    3. Some People’s Children*

      Many years ago I had a coworker who was hired to help clear up what several people were describing as a two year back up of filing work. She was told it was a temp job but to expect it to take at least a year. It took four months. Turned out the ladies who had worked together in that office had a methodology to doing the work so it would take as long as the men in the office would let them get by with. She got laid off but had already found a more permanent job anyway.

  3. WellRed*

    Ooohhh, the “I’m so busy!” Employee. It’s not unusual to run into this person. My experience has been they have the lightest workloads or are just incredibly disorganized. Love Alison’s advice.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      They’re also the ones who monitor others and complain that people are chatting or away from their desks or were late that one day.

      1. Midwest Manager*

        All I could think of was Heidi Gardner’s character on SNL who shows up on Weekend Update sometimes, in a maelstrom of sticky notes saying how screwed she is due to overwork.

    2. fidget spinner*

      This is honestly a bad habit for me because of a previous job. It was a graduate assistantship, and my boss was always acting like she had to “justify” the position and that it may go away if I don’t have enough to do–which would put me a year into a 3-year program without a way to pay for it. I would take double time to do tasks because I was afraid of running out of stuff to do.

      It’s been years, but even now, I start to feel anxious when I “catch up” on work. I definitely don’t have the lightest work load at my job, but I have this subconscious fear that my boss is going to be like “oh, fidget has already finished this. Maybe we don’t need her after all since she’s doing so little.” Which is honestly absolutely absurd, but it’s engrained!

      1. fidget spinner*

        Now that I think about it, I guess there is a little more to it than just that anxiety. I already do things that go above and beyond what I was originally hired for (which I am well-compensated for), but a lot of my coworkers just do the bare minimum. I’m also afraid that if I’m too efficient, I’ll end up with more in my plate than I want!

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I’m not capable of doing quality, focused work 8 hours in a row; I need to take long breaks to recharge and refocus. Fortunately, I can do my job in a lot less than 8 hours a day. Unfortunately, a lot of my early jobs focused on presenteeism: I *had* to log 8 hours a day, even though I was exempt and non-billing.

        I ended up working a lot of evenings to make up for my recharge breaks, even though that just made it harder to focus the next day. It sucked.

      3. Quill*

        Same ish, but I’ve had one too many jobs actively disappear not because I ran out of things to do, but because someone who didn’t understand the work didn’t understand that we would have some (daily or weekly) downtime built in.

    3. Goldenrod*

      Yes, WellRed, 100% agree!

      In my experience, sometimes these people *do* have to work late or overtime, but it’s not because they have too much work – it’s because they spend all day socializing. I had a boss like this once. She claimed (and got paid for) a ton of overtime, but I could hear her on the phone all day long, just taking personal calls.

      I believe these types of people sometimes really do believe it themselves. I have found it to be absolutely axiomatic that the people in offices who complain the most about workload are often the lowest performers. Similarly, many people who are highly skilled contributors tend to work quietly and make it look easy. This can be a problem in offices where performative work is valued because they can actually make it look *too* easy.

      1. Jam on Toast*

        This rings absolutely true. Too often performative work trumps efficient, quiet expertise and it’s infuriating.

      2. Lexi Vipond*

        To an extent that’s natural – the poorer performers will take longer to do the same thing, and someone has to be the slowest person on even a very good team. Like going for a walk where you never get a rest because the quicker people move on as soon as you catch up.

        But I worked with someone who regularly spent more time complaining about what she had to do than it would have taken to do it, and that did annoy me!

      3. I Have RBF*

        Yep. Been there. I would crank out work quickly and efficiently, people would start to think it was easy, and hire a less experienced, cheaper person, have me train them, and wonder why they couldn’t get the same work out of them after they laid me off.

    4. Anon Y Mouse*

      I used to be the “incredibly disorganised” version. I was also struggling with task paralysis (mostly caused by undiagnosed ADHD). I was in a job that was a little beyond me, and I just couldn’t do the work in the time because I spent too much time overthinking everything. Eventually I resigned and pivoted to a different role that was less demanding.
      I now do much the same job as then, but I’m older and manage it better.

    5. Frankie Bergstein*

      I totally agree! I cynically feel like they are just trying not to get asked to do anything; it works!

    6. Artemesia*

      My observation is that the busy busy buy people who stay late late late are usually avoiding family responsibilities. Maybe more of a guy thing. but I know lots who goof around all day then have to be in the office weekends or evenings but are not very productive. I have not encountered as many women doing this, but have a few busy busy admins who do little work and let things stack up.

    7. Reading Rainbow*

      I once covered for the resident Busy Game Champion at an old job while she was on leave and discovered that I could handle the core responsibility she/our bosses said took over 60% of her working hours in an average of 4 hours per week.

      It wasn’t disorganization, either. Relevant to that other letter from today, I was also able to gradually tease out that she was inviting herself to meetings and inquiring about all my work so that she could pretend she was actually doing a big chunk of my work whenever she spoke with our supervisors.

  4. Brekekekex Koax Koax*

    We have this weird idea that important people are busy and un-busy people must be unimportant. In reality, not being too busy usually yields better work and a better life.

    Now I want to read “Great Frogs in Literature.”

    1. Six for the truth over solace in lies*

      As Bridget Jones said, “Shut up, please. I’m very busy and important.”

      (Nota bene: do not take workplace advice from Bridget Jones.)

          1. Shellfish Constable*

            “Vodka and Chaka Khan” is the title of one of my personal Spotify playlists. It is composed almost entirely of a musical genre we might call “women who are DONE with this bulls#¡t.”

    2. HailRobonia*

      I’d read it too! Great Frogs in Literature sounds like a book that Turanga Leela would be seen reading (do an internet search for “Futurama Leela Books” and you’ll see she’s read “Worlds Bravest Hamsters”, “Courageous Horses of the 18th Century”, “True Stories of Courageous Animals”, and, non-animal related (I hope) “Great Machete Battles.”

      1. Beth*

        Greatest Wombats in Science

        The Golden Age of Meerkat Poetry

        The Great Speeches of Our Axolotl Advocates

        Groundbreaking Galapagos Tortoise Inventors

      2. Smurfette*

        I’d also read it, but in the hope that toads are also included, and that Toad of Toad Hall was featured.

        And now I’m off to search up Turanga Leela.

    3. Six for the truth over solace in lies*

      Also, I didn’t notice before, but A++ Aristophanes username—especially in this context!

    4. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Eh, there is a saying I’ve heard, “If you want something done, give it to the woman who is already juggling 6 different responsibilities, not the one who has lots of free time.” The person who is busy all the time often is busy because they make a habit of actually doing stuff. Is it healthy or fair or good management? No. Is always true? Definitely not! But it is a fairly common pattern. Everyone asks Darlene in the back office for help when they have a problem, because Darlene is really good at solving problems and is willing to stay late.

      And OP’s employee pretends to be Darlene, because everybody loves Darlene and thinks she’s awesome at her job, and who doesn’t want that for themselves? Especially if management’s approval comes with extra money.

      Like I said, it’s bad management (and also Darlene maybe needs therapy) but it happens quite frequently. OP’s employee is just faking it.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Tasks also expand to fill the time allotted to them. If you need it done quickly, give it to Darlene; she’ll probably do it in 15 minutes just to get it out of the way and back to her other tasks. If you give it to Jeremy, who has tons of time, he might decide to do a really good job and get it back to you two days later with a lot more thought and polish than the task needed.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Then again Jeremy might just half-ass it in a couple of hours when you follow up with “have you made any headway? I mean I asked you because Darlene was too busy, but she just told me she could fit it in this afternoon if you hadn’t started on it”

    5. metadata minion*

      Some options:

      The Image of Faithful Frogs and Titillated Toads: The Human and Animal Hierarchy in Victorian Fairy Tale Adaptations
      Tedeschi, Victoria
      Bookbird, 2015-01, Vol.53 (4), p.20-29

      The Lost ‘Boku’ in Post-Disaster Literature:Haruki Murakami’s “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo”
      DOI: 10.22628/bcjjl.2023.17.1.233

      Planet of the Frogs: Thoreau, Anderson, and Murakami
      Tatsumi, Takayuki
      Narrative (Columbus, Ohio), 2013, Vol.21 (3), p.346-356

      And yes, there is a Library of Congress subject heading for “frogs in literature”. :-)

      1. MassMatt*

        And the soundtrack can be Handel’s Israel in Egypt:

        “And the land brought forth frogs



    6. Nightengale*

      So you know the croaking chorus from the frogs of Aristophanes?

      I would argue no collection would be complete without “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I knew someone who staged the Aristophanes in a swimming pool. I no longer accept dry staging.

    7. Justin*

      I get a lot of work done in a short period of time. Thankfully my current job supports this.

    8. Lenora Rose*

      Your username has me flashing back to university – we actually presented the frog scene for an event once… (in the translation which manages to turn their song into limerick-tempo)

      1. Lenora Rose*

        (we did present it in the, ah, friendly version, where Dionysus is out shouting them not drowning them out with farts. We also identified the frogs just by giving everyone a Kermit collar. Our lead frog could do a passable Kermit voice.)

  5. Sweet City Woman*

    If someone had said to me in an interview that they saw I wrote an article x but “didn’t read it”, not only do they not get the brownie points they think they’re getting, I’d be annoyed they only brought it up to get credit for the research and it would have the opposite effect because it looks like they’re either lazy or uninterested. But maybe that’s just me.

    1. Sled Dog Mama*

      I would feel the same. It’s an obvious attempt at brownie points not good research on the company you are interviewing with.

    2. Dido*

      yep, if they told me they couldn’t bother to read it, I’d reply with something dry like “oh, it didn’t interest you?”

      1. anotherfan*

        heavens, does this bring back a nightmare. I was sent to cover a science fiction con and while I’m a huge fan, my reading is fairly selective. One of the organizers dragged me over to Gene Wolfe and gushed how I was just such a fan! when his work wasn’t anything I’d read. And we’re standing there and I blurt out, “uh, I haven’t read your stuff but I hear you’re a terrific writer!” and retired in humiliation to interview some fans. I later read some of his stuff and while it was well written, wasn’t my cup of tea.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          That was a really weird thing for the organizer to do; they ought to know the field is HUGE and there’s nobody who’s read everything.

          (I haven’t read Wolfe; it’s on my “I should read them sometime” list — which is probably longer than my lifespan.)

    3. MM*

      It’s amazing how common this is. When I was applying to PhD programs and emailing professors about whether we might work together, one of them actually thanked me for reading his work because many prospective students don’t and try to bullshit through pretending like they did. This is your potential PhD supervisor and a major gatekeeper to your admission! You are applying to be allowed to read for several years! What are you doing!

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, and also – those papers tell you what kind of thing *you’d* be working on if you get in, so I mean, shouldn’t you be interested for your own sake?

  6. Carol*

    When I was interviewing people most candidates had looked me up on LinkedIn and asked about it – but usually they did do so in a way that made sense. Either they thought that a particular experience was cool, and asked about it, or brought up something in common like that Chicago art museum thing.

    1. El*

      I had someone tell me in an interview: “I tried to look you up on Google but I didn’t find anything.”

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Well with only two letters, that form a definite article in a very commonly spoken language, I’m not surprised! ^^

  7. happyhoodies*

    I agree with this advice for LW. The more seriously someone takes this they can identify if 1) someone doesn’t have the skills to do this work in a timely fashion 2) is trying to set up a reputation of being a hard worker so they can slack off later 3) is angling for a raise in a very weird way.

    This is why it’s so valuable to have a manager that knows how to do their managee’s jobs so they can fact-check and level-set how long things should take and how stressful a job should be.

    1. Orv*

      I’ll add 4) had a previous boss who would berate or threaten people who didn’t seem to be working hard enough. There are jobs where you’re expected to “look busy” regardless of your workload.

      1. Exit Persued by a Bear*

        Yes! I’ve previously worked for people like that. Even when they didn’t actually have any work that they needed doing, they felt like you were somehow scamming them if you weren’t frantically working away at something!

      2. Resentful Oreos*

        I was thinking the same thing. This person could have had a boss who thought that everyone should be constantly busy. “Don’t you have anything to do?” Retail environments are notorious for “if you can lean you can clean,” but, there are office environments with micro-managing bosses who expect all their underlings to be in a constant whirlwind of activity.

        Sometimes it really is just leftover bad habits from a dysfunctional/toxic/ “churn and burn” type workplace, not any nefarious brown-nosing.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      5) is working hard but not efficiently, so it takes them much longer than it should or
      6) is working late / cancelling vacations because they don’t want to be at home.

  8. CubeFarmer*

    I used to have a boss who made a great show about being busy and working late. No one understood why, because we also didn’t understand what, exactly, she did.

    The director of my current organization makes it a policy to log off at 5pm. No one is expected to work late unless they feel like they want to (like, sometimes I’m on a roll with finishing something and just want to get ‘er done before I leave.)

    1. Good Enough For Government Work*

      I’m a late starter/late leaver (whenever possible, I start between 10:00 and 10:30 and finish between 6 and 7. I don’t like a uniform ‘pens down’ approach for this reason!

      But at the same time, it’s absolutely right to model a working day of maximum 8 hours unless there’s a VERY good/extenuating reason for it.

  9. Event Planner in NYC*

    I used to work with someone who would routinely trumpet how late they worked every evening. I figured that they had more duties than I was aware of. Eventually I found out that they spent most of the work day either on the phone with friends, with co-workers holding court in their cube, or off on some errand outside the office. Their “I’m so busy” was all performative to impress the higher ups. But this is the office culture, is it not? There is more focus on the performance aspects of “being busy” than actually getting things done (which is part of the gas lighting behind the WFH debate – “if I can’t see you being busy, then you’re goofing off”)

    1. Anon for This*

      Had an employee like that. I once asked her what was she working on that kept her in the office so late. She was waiting for input from Department X. Was Department X still in? No. Then why were you? After than she stopped bragging about how late she stayed (t0 me at least). If you have time to tell people you are busy, you aren’t.

  10. HSE Compliance*

    I had this recently with one of my employees, however, he was also performing poorly. This is a role I used to have and I’m very familiar with the time requirements. Once I took over the team and started looking more into why compliance reports were consistently late (!!), it became obvious that he was taking pretty significantly long breaks, spent a lot of time generally doing nothing, and then was panic completing reports very last minute for submittal, generally during off hours.

    He also refused to give me a very basic estimation (as in, I told him I didn’t want him spending more than 15 minutes on it) of what workload he generally had during the week (i.e. I’m spending about 40% of my time on reports, 20% audits, etc.). The “very busy, heavy heavy workload” was used as an explanation constantly. We had multiple, multiple discussions on managing time, notifying me if he was buried so I could help, etc., but even after a PIP there were no improvements and actually got worse. He was very verbal about both not needing/wanting help and being “very busy”. I’m pretty sure he thought appearing busy meant he was doing well and that’s why he was *so* offended by being put on a PIP.

    1. Life-aquatic*

      Oh goodness. This resonates so much with me, as I have only one staff to manage, and they are superb at continually stating how busy they are, but not providing any evidence to support it. I’ve received emails stating the overly heavy workload – and when I took over one task that seemed to pop up frequently in their accounts of work activities, I found it only took me about one to 3 hours per month. I keep composing AAM posts in my head, then not following through.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      That was my thought, also. Maybe check the computer for things like surfing the internet on work time?

  11. Midwest Manager*

    I once had an employee who did this because she thrived on being the office martyr. During the workday she would loudly describe all the work she was doing, and used every opportunity she could to point out to people exactly how much work they were giving her. It was exhausting. After 2 years of this nonsense I was finally able to remove her (performance mgt wasn’t working, so I used a budget cut as the excuse). I took on her entire workload, and discovered that she spent her entire day TALKING about her work, and not actually doing anything. Most of the time she was talking to me. Her work added about 2 hours/day to my workload, but without her talking my ear off 3-4h/day I suddenly found I had time to do the rest of my job.

    Some people think this type of martyrdom makes them look indispensable or irreplaceable. Newsflash: everyone is replaceable.

    1. soontoberetired*

      I have worked with people who are all talk and no performance, too. One of them would insist they worked every weekend – and I know what they did was come in for 30 minutes and read mail. (they never could figure out how to read mail from home). Being “busy” was weaponized to keep them off more challenging things. That was problematic.

  12. Dadjokesareforeveryone*

    LW 3, I personally recommend one small change to Alison’s script:

    Candidate: “I saw you wrote a paper titled ‘Great Frogs in Literature,’ but I didn’t read it.”
    You: “I did write that! I’ve always had an interest in frogs. You should read it, it’s a very ribbiting read”
    (awkward silence)
    You: “Well, let’s dive in! Tell me what led you to apply for this position.”

    1. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Nah, don’t say “dive in”. I suggest “Let’s hop right to it!”

  13. Peach Parfaits Pls*

    Literally the Beetle Bailey strip where he walks briskly with a clipboard all day so no one gives him any work to do

    1. Midwest Manager*

      when my daughter was about 2-3 y.o., the daycare teacher told us that during cleanup time my child would pick up a single toy, then wander about the room until the work was nearly done, then put that single toy away as one of the last items to get put away. All the other kids in the room were doing all the work. I had a laugh about it at the time, but we did get it corrected in short order.

      1. Midwest Manager*

        Apparently the system will allow 2 different people to have the same screen name—-I did about a triple take when I saw this comment, wondering if I’d had a stroke and posted without knowing it (or had a child and not realized it).

        1. Midwest Manager too!*

          I never noticed there was a 2nd Midwest Manager! I rarely comment, but have been using this handle for a few years. I’m happy to change it to “Midwest Manger too!” for future posts.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            There used to be another poster on here with simply ‘Karyn’ as their user name. Once we introduced ourselves, I switched to this user name.

        2. Van Wilder*

          I once had to ask someone else to stop using Van Wilder on here. I felt pretty stupid about it but it can be confusing.

          1. Kara*

            Yeah, I’m currently debating what to do about my screen name. Picked what I thought was a nice one that no one else was using, then a couple of months later was randoming through the archives and realized there was (had been?) another Kara. I don’t think they’re still posting, but it’s still a handle that someone else had.

        3. Silver Robin*

          I used to be “Robin” and then another one popped up so I adjusted to Silver Robin to differentiate

        4. ThatOtherClare*

          Yeah, I also realised that the other way when a second ‘Clare’ arrived. I was commenting a lot at the time, so I figured ‘ThatOtherClare’ would make it clear who was whom in the thread and I’ve stuck with it ever since.

    2. Dido*

      I truly don’t understand people like this! I find that the workday goes by much faster when I’m busy working on something, especially if it’s challenging and interesting. I’d be bored as hell just pretending to be busy and stressed about trying to keep up the charade

    3. Morning Reading*

      “ The Lord above gave man an arm of iron
      So he could do his job and never shirk
      The Lord gave man an arm of iron-but
      With a little bit of luck
      With a little bit of luck
      Someone else’ll do the blinkin’ work”

  14. Safely Retired*

    I think the best response to the interviewee would be to pause the interview and tell them what Allison said about the practice.

  15. Throwaway Account*

    I did find an article called The Best Frogs in Children’s Books! Link in reply

  16. Orv*

    I have to admit I would feel weird if someone I was interviewing for a job brought up stuff from my personal life. It feels stalker-y.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      It’s unlikely to be your personal life (unless you have someone who doesn’t understand boundaries). Much more likely to be brought up is something on your LinkedIn, or from a PubMed search to see what you have published.

    2. Six for the truth over solace in lies*

      Is a published paper and a former association with an organization personal? I’d consider that solidly part of my professional life.

      Plus, I’m trying to think of a kind way to say this, but using “stalker-y” in this context seems very minimizing of an issue that is very serious and dangerous. Searching someone’s publications is very far from being a stalker.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        No, those aren’t personal. But if you just Google them and their Knot page comes up, it would be odd and overly personal to comment on their wedding venue.

        1. Six for the truth over solace in lies*

          Well, yeah, but that seems odd to mention because the LW didn’t indicate anything like that—just papers and past professional affiliations. If the situation was different it would be different is true, I guess, but not especially relevant?

    3. Nancy*

      Both examples given (paper and organization) are things that can be found on someone’s LinkedIn page, public CV, or department website. All of my papers can easily be found through PubMed.

      It is not odd to look up your interviewer’s professional accomplishments, but randomly mentioning it is not really useful.

    4. Anne of Green Gables*

      I am a brand ambassador for a craft-related company related to my hobby. The hobby and my job are not related in any way. When you google my name, most of the hits are related to this hobby and the brand, and not my job. In my job, I am frequently a hiring manager. I once had a candidate who asked me about the brand ambassador stuff, despite it obviously not being related to our field. It was quite the head-scratcher. We did not hire him, though not only for that reason.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        I’ve had that happen, but with professional areas that usually have nothing to do with the job they are interviewing for. (I’m a advanced teacher fellow with a US museum. I volunteer with continuing education for school teachers.)

        People have brought this up as an area of interest that they want to work with. Okay, but the history of Reavers has nothing to do with teaching senior citizens how to knit very cunning hats. It’s always been a clunky attempt to get noticed and make a “connection”.

    5. ArtsNerd*

      Once I had a candidate email me at my freelance email and tried to brag about how he, my boss and I all had English undergrad degrees and we had so much in common. It was extremely off-putting.

      Though not as off-putting as the time a Blackbaud sales rep tracked down my personal number to grouse that I had said that org was not a good fit for their software, and then later asked a nonprofit group for software recommendations (for a different type of organization, with completely different needs, and an even smaller budget than org I was in-house with.)

      1. ArtsNerd*

        To clarify, both were originally reaching out for an organization where I was in-house. Candidate found my freelance email.

        The Blackbaud rep originally called me on my work line, and that was totally fine. It was her subsequent behavior that was bonkers. My phone number was scrubbed from my freelance contact info immediately after that.

    6. Bast*

      I think it depends how personal we’re talking. One of the examples given is, “I’ve seen you recently wrote *paper/article title* but I didn’t read it.” I wouldn’t admit to not reading it, and might make an effort to skim it if it were a recent publication. The same with a recent case tried or something similar; these are all very relevant business accomplishments that make sense to bring up, especially as in my field they’re usually posted right on the company website and “what do you know about XYZ Company” is a common enough question. IMO if it’s on the company website it is fair game, and sometimes it has a bit of personal information unrelated to work. It isn’t uncommon for a company to list a little blurb about each person, “Jane Doe concentrates her practice in complex criminal cases, and specializes in gun and drug cases. She recently tried the State v. Smith case resulting in a not guilty verdict for her client. In her free time, Jane enjoys mountain climbing with her five dogs.” In this case, I can see someone looking up the company, Jane, and trying to make conversation about any of those points, including dogs or mountain climbing. However, if you mention things you’d only know by scrolling around my Instagram or Facebook, that’s a different story.

    7. KarenInKansas*

      I was taken aback when an interviewee told our hiring manager that he had looked them up (Googlestalking), was very impressed with their house (found on Zillow), and hoped to make their salary in a few years. He was NOT being interviewed for a private investigator position! :-p

      1. Pickwick*

        Crikey! Just because it’s available online does not mean you should seek it out, people. That is weird.

  17. lunchtime caller*

    I’ve known a few people who didn’t appear to have lives outside of work, no hobbies no nothing, and they really seem to psychologically need to reassure themselves that work needs them SO much that they HAVE to work all this overtime. I’ve also known people who think if they just work EXTRA hard and pull all this overtime, their job will applaud and realize they’re just so amazing and hardworking etc etc, when more places than not will actually be quite annoyed if you’re pulling a lot of unauthorized overtime.

    1. Orv*

      In academia you see this a lot with professors, some of whom practically live in their offices. Then they retire and just keep coming to campus, because they either don’t enjoy being home or don’t know what to do with themselves when they’re not at work.

    2. Bitte Meddler*

      Another explanation for working all the time — or, at least, being in the office all the time — is someone actively staying away from an abusive spouse.

      Because that was me for 3-4 years. I got to the office at 6:30 in the morning and didn’t leave until 7:30 or 8:00 at night. I would get home just in time to take my makeup off, do a minor chore or two, and then collapse into bed.

      Of course, the only person I said, “I have sooooo much work!” to was my now-ex.

      At the office, I never said anything about it unless someone asked why I was there early / staying so late, and then I’d use some excuse like, “Instead of going to the library downtown to learn [technical thing], I’m using our company’s excellent library and white papers.” (That company really did have awesome, online, internal-only resources).

    3. Katy*

      There are also plenty of jobs that expect people to work huge amounts of overtime, so that people essentially have to choose between their jobs and having lives. Teaching is one of them; I just spent a good twenty hours grading essays over the past four days, and now I’m too exhausted for the end-of-year party, but I don’t have any choice. The work I’m assigned is the work I’m assigned. If I work a 40-hour in-person week, teaching three preps, with only five of those hours allotted to planning, and then have sixty essays to grade and comment on in addition to prepping my classes, there’s no way I can get the work done without huge amounts of unpaid overtime. I could decide to have work-life balance and work to contract and not take work home, but then my teaching would be worse and more stressful and I wouldn’t grade anything.

      Deciding you HAVE to work overtime may be unhealthy, but it’s very often a message coming from the top down, not something invented by the employee.

  18. Been There, Hate It*

    I get really blunt on this topic and have said to colleagues, “Truly busy people can’t afford to take time to talk about how busy they are.” In my own experience, people who say they’re busy are trying to cover for (usually) spending your workday on non-work things or (sometimes) poor time management skills.

  19. djx*

    “working when sick”

    Don’t allow this and explain why to them and others. Not acceptable.

    1. A Significant Tree*

      And send them home if you realize they’re sick. In pre-pandemic times, I had a senior manager do this to a colleague clearly suffering from the flu (she straight up told us) after her peers telling her to go home was ineffective. I don’t know if she was waiting for “permission” from someone with authority or what, as she was new to the workforce, but this was a job with plenty of sick leave (that I know she had available) and did not have a culture of working while sick.

  20. A Book about Metals*

    I wouldn’t bring up the fact that I had seen my interviewer had written an article unless I had read it, but if the rest of the interview goes well it’s a pretty minor misstep. I probably wouldn’t factor it in to the evaluation

  21. learnedthehardway*

    Is OP#1 CERTAIN that the workload has not increased? Sometimes, there is scope creep in a role. I’ve had that happen with clients before – one project, I’m doing X and Y, but the next project I’m doing Z as well (where Z takes as long as X and Y together). It’s something I look out for but it’s also something that happens in in-house roles as well. So, it would be worth looking at whether the job duties have changed, or (if there was a technology upgrade) that the team member is using the tech/trained on it, etc. etc.

    If these are not issues, then I think calling out the behaviour as a performance issue is the way to go. There’s no point pussyfooting about it, as the OP was in the role before and KNOWS what it takes to do the role successfully. Either the team member lacks some skills, is disorganized, is wasting time, or lives to be a martyr. Skills can be trained, and people can learn better organizational skills, but motivation is harder to deal with.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This is what happened to me at my former job! I kept getting additional duties dumped on my plate, and then yelled at for not getting things done.

      Hence, former job.

      1. Orv*

        I had one like that. Every time they laid someone off, that person’s responsibilities got added to my own. When I eventually burned out and quit I resolved to learn to say “no” more often in my next job.

    2. Lucy P*

      I wondered the same thing.

      My responsibilities are varied and my manager has no idea how to do some of them. Thus, they really don’t know how long it takes me to do certain tasks.

      Or, they’ll tell me to do a report on a regular basis, but need to see the numbers sorted and tallied 4 different ways. I don’t have the tools or knowledge on how to automate this, so it will take me time to do it manually and verify that all of the numbers match across the board. For whatever reason, my manager thinks this should be easy. It is–but it’s also time consuming.

      1. Silver Robin*

        Still working on teaching my brain that easy or simple =/= fast. Some things have lots of steps (the embroidery stitch may be simple, but you have to do a bajillion of them)! Some things have steps that take a while (bread dough needs to rise)! Just because I get how to do it and have no questions, it does not mean it will be quick or effortless for me.

    3. Busy Middle Manager*

      Could be. Alot of the comments are too cynical. I have never worked with someone who wanted to be a martyr but the comments make it sound super common

      this made me think of a similar situation now, two people who replaced person who replaced me (yes its messy) when I moved laterally are oh so busy. The thing is, they are. But we used to investigate issues by writing long SQL queries that are above others’ level. They’re checking things by hand and taking notes and sending spreadsheets of comments back and forth and sometimes misdiagnosing what happened because they’re only spot checking examples.

      So they’re technically busy and doing things the way many companies do things, but for their roles, we expect them to be more efficient.

      1. Hroethvitnir*

        I have never worked with someone who wanted to be a martyr

        Wow, I’ve worked with so many! It’s probably more common in some industries. My partner is currently struggling with a senior employee who’s doing this to a really harmful degree – it’s incredibly clearly out of anxiety, but it’s making him really hard to work with.

    4. ArtsNerd*

      >(if there was a technology upgrade) that the team member is using the tech/trained on it, etc. etc.

      This is important! Once I had an employee take “too long” to do my old job, but I figured out pretty quickly it was the specialty software learning curve.

      It was the kind of “grab-bag” job that encompasses several wildly disparate skill sets, so you just accept that you’ll have to train up the new hire in at least one of them. Since I had already set up a robust set of templates and workflows in that one software, I selected for other skills in the hiring process. But even with those, the UI was still unintuitive, especially with someone without the background in the discipline. At some point things did click for that employee and he was fantastic, even improving on my templates and documentation. Was bummed to lose him!

    5. Alianora*

      This is a very good point. My last role was an office management role, but there were so many duties that I ended up taking over from other departments. It made sense for me to be the one to do them, but really, I needed either more hours or another person in order to get everything done.

      It can also be the case that the scope of the job doesn’t change, but the volume of work increases. For example, a small law firm could go from handling 30 cases from one client to 300 cases and 8 clients. They hire additional attorneys to handle the extra cases, but the burden on the paralegals and the admin team also increases and is not as apparent to the partners.

    6. Snatland*

      Yeah I think it is worth at least checking these things.
      And also possibly considering if LW experience in the role is actually skewing their time estimates for tasks. If LW was very experienced in the role or particularly high performing (either of which seem plausible if they’ve now been promoted to managing the role) they may have been able to do the tasks considerably quicker than say an average, less experienced person in the role.

  22. Girasol*

    The always-busy employee may not be foolish. They may have worked for one or more bosses who value and reward this behavior. Some bosses manage people not on whether they get stuff done but on whether they look busy. It can be an office race to see who can look the most put-upon and frazzled. Some bosses count effort or loyalty by number of hours of overtime worked and number of unused PTO days. Some bosses are poor at balancing the workload among the whole team, so one go-to guy gets three fourths of the workload while the rest of the team begs for crumbs. To avoid layoffs, they may do an aggressive show of “look busy” even though there’s hardly any work to be busy about. (I’ve worked for all these people!) Unfortunately, such managers know better than to state this openly, so they will reiterate that they only measure on results and they value work life balance, even as they reinforce the opposite. So it could be a bit of a challenge for OP to convince the employee that when they say they don’t value a show of looking busy, they really mean it.

    1. Who Am I*

      Absolutely! If you’re in an environment that rewards the people who look busy and talk about how busy they are without accomplishing much, yet punish the efficient people who keep quiet, don’t make a fuss, and just get the work done – well eventually you find a better job but in the meantime you learn how to fuss and make all the busy noises too. It becomes a survival skill.

  23. HonorBox*

    I think the person who is working too much needs a real serious heart to heart conversation. Are they working too much because they have too much to do and can’t accomplish all of it? Or are they making themselves look busy because they don’t have enough to do? Or are they disorganized and can’t keep things straight? Or are they unsure what to do and working those extra hours gives them time do figure it out so they’re not caught in a situation where they haven’t figured out how to accomplish a task?

    OP needs to sit down with this individual and really ask specific and direct questions. That will help determine which of the issues are in play.

  24. Office Plant Queen*

    For the second letter, it would also be bad for the boss’s daughter to hire her. Working in a job you’re not qualified for doesn’t do you any favors! There’s pretty much two options: it inflates their ego which is already too big, or it makes them feel insecure and incompetent. Hiring her would still be an issue even if she were very well suited to the role, but it’s a much bigger one when she’s clearly not

    1. Tess McGill*

      I used to work in my dad’s office – I’ll add another downside: his other staff either resented me for real or perceived favoritism, or they tried too hard to be nice to me and I knew it wasn’t genuine. It was a lonely job to have.

      1. Orv*

        I worked for a company where they hired the CEO’s nephew as a sales guy. He wasn’t suited to the role and knew it, and he knew everyone else knew it too. I felt bad for him.

  25. CommanderBanana*

    I’m always very, very suspicious of people who are sooooooo busy, omg I’m soooooooo busy, just so busy, so overworked and *~busy~* but won’t ever actually delegate, ask for help, and resist all conversations about how to shift their workload.

    That’s because they’re usually not busy, and are afraid someone will find out or ask them to do work. I have been in positions where I was actually, incredibly, ridiculously overworked, and I didn’t have time to drink water, much less wander around huffing about how busy I was.

    1. Busy Middle Manager*

      I’m not! I was this person and I found so many problems that other people simply didn’t notice or just overlooked. It was a bitter pill to swallow when I realized this wasn’t going to lead to instant praise and raises, but actually make people suspicious or annoyed! Many people don’t know what they don’t know so think you’re pretending to be busy, especially in white collar roles. It’s actually very frustrating if you truly are working

      And a manager wouldn’t automatically know what I was doing; many jobs change over time, new tasks and problems occur, new softwares are implemented, etc. a boss may have done the same job title years ago but it was fundamentally a different role

  26. Midwest Manager*

    Re researching your interviewers. I wasn’t really job searching, but I saw and open position at my institution and decided to apply—it looked like a decent fit, I’d been told I’d maxed out salary in my current position (and in fact that central admin was trying to figure out how to cut my current salary), and I like to interview periodically to flex those skills. I don’t typically research the interview team (position was as an asst dir, and my interviewers were the current director and her executive admin), but LinkedIn notified me that the exec admin had looked at my profile, so I took a brief glance at his. I have a very non-linear career course which always comes up in interviews, so I wasn’t surprised when he asked me about it.

    Him: So why is someone with a Master’s Degree in poetry and a law degree interested in [this program]
    Me (with what I thought was a light, humorous tone, which was in keeping with much of the interview): Asks the guy with a degree in Music from Harvard who works with a hospital volunteer program.
    Me (trying for affable): hey, you checked my LinkedIn, you had to know I’d check yours.
    Him (smiling but you know, not really): Thanks for coming in.

    1. Gullible Vengeance Umpires*

      I did something super similar at an interview about a month ago. I’m not really looking but a viable opportunity presented itself with a much shorter commute (rare, as I live rurally). I did research but, uh, didn’t exactly prepare myself to not word vomit.

      Interviewer: What questions do you have?
      Me: So, you WERE the interim director, but now the director? [they nod] but you also serve [institute three hours away.] Are you living there? How often are you here?
      Them (mildly amused): uh…. no. I don’t direct that insitution. I live [hour away]. I come every day.
      Me: Oh, got it. I Googled, sorry. [entire interview team looks amused but discomforted]

      Reader, I did NOT get that job.

  27. Seahorse*

    I was the “busy” employee for a while. There were a handful of reasons/ excuses for it.

    1. The whole workplace had a culture of excessive “busy” performances. It seemed expected and rewarded.
    2. I didn’t really understand my job.
    3. I didn’t like my job.
    4. The training was patchwork, and I had a difficult time getting concrete direction about priorities or time management.
    5. All this meant I took a long time to get things done, liked getting OT pay, and didn’t really want to take on anything new.

    Ultimately, I was a deeply mediocre employee in a poorly fitting job. I’ve matured in the last ten years and also moved to a job I’m much better suited to. Now, I’m very productive, don’t work overtime except on rare occasion, and virtually never complain about being busy.

  28. not nice, don't care*

    I had a ‘busy’ coworker who also refused to train anyone to either back her up in emergencies or to help with tasks that could be easily parceled out. She still had time to police everyone else’s conduct and be in charge of a huge annual internal event (that required weeks of even more over the top whining and puffing).

  29. Lucy*

    With the first one, it might depend on how long she’s been there. I have a colleague who does this and it’s SO annoying, but she is fairly new. We all come from a background in which staff are overworked as a standard (Teaching. We were all teachers.) and it feels like, in teaching, you don’t get to have appropriate compensation, a decent work-life balance or a sense of ownership of your role. What you get instead is the kudos of knowing you’re working harder than anyone else in the world and doing an impossible job! I’m exaggerating of course, and making fun of myself, not others. But this does seem to be a part of the culture, at least in my country. It’s one of the reasons teachers tend to clash with social workers and nurses and all the other professions with similar levels of overwork and low appreciation.

    So, in our case, my colleague just hasn’t snapped out of it yet. She’s there going on about being up til 2am finishing her paperwork, and instead of going, “oh yeah? Well I stayed up til 3am and then got up again at 5 to get it all done”, our response is, “oh no! Why? What happened? Do you need us to step in and help?” (Because our current job is not overly taxing and doesn’t take any overtime and at different times we’re slightly underworked even, so then we step in to help others with a heavier load. Like a functioning work team.)

    Anyway, to cut a very long story slightly shorter, maybe it’s a similar situation. Maybe she’s just readjusting from a toxic culture and needs a bit of time, and consistent appropriate reactions to change her habits. That said, it is super annoying, and while I try to be empathetic, as a peer, I think, as a manager, you have a lot more space to step in and do as Alison suggests – though, if you think my theory has any weight, maybe you could do a brief, “you know, we don’t really do that here…” thing first. But that might be a bad idea if it looks like you’re dismissing her, and she’s deadly serious. So, managerial judgement, I guess.

  30. JPalmer*

    > I admire their commitment to the job

    This isn’t commitment. It’s social posturing to seem important and valuable and it comes at the cost of other’s perception of your team’s organization and your organization as a manager. It annoys LW1 because it is basically a complaint about them.

    Why are they doing this? A number of reasons come to mind.
    Well if they seem busy, they won’t get given more work and they can underutilize themselves (now I think some of the ruthless maximum utilization that various companies do is terrible), but they’re basically constructing an environment where it is easier for them to slack off.
    They could be really generally stressed about their work, so it feels bigger than it is.
    They actually be bad at time management.
    It could make them feel important.

    Putting more scrutiny on this should get the behavior to suddenly get better, as more scrutiny likely isn’t what they want

  31. Ghee Buttersnaps*

    #3 reminds of that SNL skit where Chris Farley is interviewing Paul McCartney “You used to be part of the Beatles, right?” Paul – “right.”

  32. RedinSC*

    I had started a new job, and I would be getting emails from one of the finance guys at like 4am. He’d be there in the office working then and not leaving until like 3pm or so. EVERY DAY and I’d get emails form him on weekends I was part of the executive team so I went to his boss (also part of the executive team) and said, we really need to get another staff member in there, if you’ve got a guy working 12+ hours a day 6 days a week, this is way too much work for 1 person.

    I was told, this is how he likes to work. That its a job for 1 person, and he likes to work at a very very slow pace.

    I was really taken aback by that. OK. But it turns out we were breaking all kinds of labor laws too, because this guy should not have been exempt (per regulations) and shoudl then have been paid a MASSIVE amount of over time.

    Yikes on the whole mess.

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      I had a role once where I was a little bit in over my head. I am also a morning person, not a night owl, AND I was in a cube, not an office with a door that closed. Therefore, I would go into the office at 4 or 5 AM to get uninterrupted, quiet time to work on stuff that needed a lot of thought from me. Occasionally, I would need to email my boss something and she would see a timestamp at 5AM and be like, WTH?? But then when I would leave at 6 on the dot, she didn’t have anything to say because she knew I had been there for 12+ hours already.

      Much later on, I had a consulting client that didn’t care if my hours jived with their office hours. If I got up in the middle of the night to pee and couldn’t get back to sleep, I’d bang out some work at 2 or 3 AM!

  33. Spicy Tuna*

    When I was in my 20’s, I was this person because I didn’t have a life and it was lonely and boring to not be at work. I didn’t make a big show of how much time I was spending at the office, though, because my time spent at the office wasn’t to try to make myself “invaluable”, it was because I literally had nothing else to do. A lot of my extra time was spent on personal tasks as well. I had a very small apartment and slow dial-up internet (this was the late ’90’s / early aughts) so it was easier to do bill paying and other stuff like that at the office.

  34. yeep*

    I had an employee that routinely worked late and struggled to get ANY projects done on time, even after being put on a PIP that required weekly status meetings with me (during which they ran through their project list super fast and changed due dates while I was watching).

    They quit before their PIP was up. On the last day, they….worked late. I had to ask them to leave, as I was waiting to leave until they left. What exactly could they have been working on? They left no work behind! To this day I remain puzzled as to what they did all day besides write me lengthy emails about how the other people in the office had wronged them.

  35. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    Oh, the comical I’m-so-busy self-important person. I work with someone like that. It seems like compulsory behavior, so I don’t try to shut it down. I just refuse to give it any credence or attention. Faint smile, near-imperceptible nod, go back to what I was doing. Double down on my reserve not to be the kind of person at work who is met with secret eyerolls and behind-the-back giggles about cringey behavior like that.

  36. Yup*

    If the employee is doing their work well, perhaps the issue is that they feel the company culture requires being extremely busy in order to be considered successful. Maybe too they come from a place where this is the norm. I’ve worked with people who were still shifted into 5th gear at a new job that revved at a normal, lower rate. It’s hard to get out of that mindset.

  37. Crooked Bird*

    Anyone else here have an evangelical upbringing ’round the turn of the century? I’m just sort of wondering if I’m the only one who has that “Busy, Busy, Dreadfully Busy” song from VeggieTales stuck in their head now…

    That sequence was an amazing send-up of this type of person, come to think of it. Those 2 taking all this time out of their day to merrily sing to each other about their lack of time while the person who needs help is all “ummmmm…”

  38. Raida*

    Sorry, you ‘manage’ them but you haven’t addressed the amount of late nights they *need* to work?

    How about a workload meeting?
    How about clearly defined hours you don’t want them to work outside of, to ensure they have personal time?
    How about working together on their prioritisation?

    Like… why are you annoyed? You’re the manager. Manage them. If you don’t, then don’t complain about how they act at work?

  39. GenuinelyOverworked*

    I’m genuinely disturbed by the response to the person who says they’re overworked.

    I’ve been working for 30 years now and I’ve never had a job that legitimately could be done in 40 hours/week. Some of them couldn’t have been reasonably completed in 120 hours/week. I would go to bosses to get priorities, ask for guidance on what I would or would not do from the “should be done” list in any particular release cycle or other work period. I would sometimes be told all of it and I would say well you can pick 2 from column A or three from column B or one from each.

    At my current job my boss has been promising to hire me help for a good 18 months now while my areas of responsibility have expanded.

    I get a boatload of stuff done. I work relatively quickly and efficiently compared to almost everyone I know with similar jobs. My current boss acknowledges it and gives me great reviews.

    Sometimes – in my world often times – people really are overworked.

    Of course, there are always folks like a former coworker who say they’re overworked when they’re just malingering, but it’s not the default and as someone who has genuinely had too much work to do for most of the past 30 years I am appalled by the attitudes in this comment section and depressed by the idea that most of you would probably think I was faking it so I don’t have to work or because I want the attention or whatever other weird things people have been saying here. It took me a long time and a lot of effort to advocate for myself (beyond the boss you prioritize tactic) and it sounds like most of you think that means I’m just trying to be a drama queen.

    Maybe the person described in the original post is overworked and maybe they aren’t. Either way, they deserve to have the idea taken seriously and addressed (or at least acknowledged) if real or the reasons for the claims addressed if not. This piling on that of course it’s not real is not helpful and demoralizing to those if us who are genuinely overworked.

    1. Katy*

      Yeah, I’m a teacher, and this is a very foreign attitude to me. In teaching, you just assume that anyone who is relatively new is going to be putting in insane amounts of work at all hours of the day and night, and that the workload will gradually approach (but never reach) manageable as you get more experience. I would absolutely expect someone who is new to a job to find it much more time-consuming than the person who used to do it and is now a manager.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Not every teacher is like this. I have a friend who is in his third year of teaching, and he definitely puts in only his required hours and manages to grade during his prep periods and before the formal end of his afterschool hours. He’s been like this since he started. His philosophy is simply that he’s not going to assign work that he can’t find time to grade.

        Of course, unlike most people, he went into teaching for the income. He comes from an extremely poor background, and in his third year of teaching, he’s already making more money than either of his parents ever made. The prospect of steady income in a tenured job with a guaranteed pension is what drew him to teaching — not the martyrdom, save-the-kids attitude that is prevalent among lots of teachers these days. I’d argue his approach is quite healthy.

        1. Katy*

          Here are my job requirements, and here is my prep time. You do the math.

          I teach three different classes. I get about an hour of prep time per day. That means 20 minutes to prep each class I teach. I work at a school where teachers are responsible for curriculum design. If I never created any new lessons and only recycled old ones, I could just about manage to use my 20 minutes a day to update slides and print material. If I want to put any thought into my lesson at all, I have to go over my allotted prep time, and we haven’t even gotten to grading yet.

          Part of my job is to teach writing, so I leave feedback on essays. To read a single essay, leave feedback, and grade it on a rubric takes at a very minimum ten minutes, and that’s giving really bare-bones feedback. That’s a minimum of 10 hours, but realistically much more, to grade a stack of 60 essays. And that’s only two of my classes. How would you suggest fitting 20+ hours of grading plus prep for three classes into 5 hours of prep time a week? Not assigning writing may be an option for your friend, but it’s not an option for me.

          I actually have more work-life balance than most teachers, because I only take work home on the weekends. This means I’m always late with my grades, unlike the teachers who stay at the school for hours after the workday ends. But I would never judge those teachers for staying after school, because they all they are doing is what is officially required by the job and by admin.

          It’s not our fault that the job requires us to do equal amounts of curriculum design, teaching and grading but allots 90% of our time to one of those tasks. It’s a flaw in the system, not a flaw in us. And the reason I’ve replied at such length is that people love to point to teachers like your friend as evidence that the system isn’t really designed to be exploitative, that it’s just those martyr teachers who want to be heroes who are taking on more work than they really need to, and we just need to practice better self-care. All that results in is teachers taking work home and then feeling guilty for not managing their time in a healthier way.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            My friend does not teach writing, and he is in a district where there is central curriculum design and lesson planning for each grade level. That latter point has its drawbacks in terms of the customization that teachers can do for their classes, but there’s a lot of intra-district moving between buildings that goes on, so it’s actually better for their student population to have all of 6th grade — for instance — on the same chapter of the same book each week. It certainly also helps with work-life balance for teachers not to have to design curriculum.

            But the bigger factor for my friend is that he really doesn’t care whether his students do well. In his view, the systemic problems that you point out negatively impact a lot of teachers are also setting up students to succeed or fail on a bell curve, and there’s really very little that his putting in extra time to grade and prep more extensively would do to change that. As I said, he’s in it for the stable, middle-class income, which is something that no one in his family has ever experienced. And so if his grades aren’t done, that’s that — oh well. He will give out term grades based on the assignments he had time to grade. The students and parents with whom he works really don’t seem to mind, and neither does his admin, as far as I can tell.

            His approach certainly wouldn’t work for everyone — likely not for most teachers — but it works for him. I hesitated to mention him in the first place because I know how passionate most teachers are and how intensely most of those teachers dislike colleagues who are dispassionate. That said, I bet he’s still teaching in 20 years — with all the classroom experience that will bring — unlike a lot of his colleagues, who have burned out and left in just a year or two of trying hard in a system that abuses those who do so.

            1. Peanut Hamper*

              Yeah, his approach works for him, and that’s great. But does it work for his students?

              This isn’t retail. Teachers can have a huge impact on students’ lives. I get where he’s coming from, but when I was a teacher, I worked with people like this, and they were completely ineffectual as teachers. You just have to care.

              FWIW, there are plenty of other jobs he could have gotten with his four year degree that would pay even more than teaching and not require more than 40 hours a week.

              1. Brain the Brian*

                Would those other jobs come with the guaranteed pension after 30 years that public school teachers are afforded in my state? Doubtful. That part is extremely important to my friend, whose parents are aging without any form of retirement funding lined up. He does want to end up in the same boat as them.

                I also think my friend would dispute the notion that any individual teacher can have a truly outsize impact on students’ lives. Every single one of his own high school teachers wrote him off completely as a likely failure because his family was so poor, and he managed to graduate top of his class and now has a master’s degree. I once asked him if he had a teacher who had had an impact on him — because I feel that I have one or two whom I feel had a strong impact on me — and he stared blankly and just said “Nope.” It changed my thinking on the topic: now, I reflect on my primary and secondary school experience and think that if I hadn’t had the specific cadre of teachers I did, I likely would have perceived another one or two as particularly impactful on my life. The system is designed to inspire fealty from students toward their teachers — my friend is right about that — and whether a student finds inspiration in their teachers is primarily a function of the student in his view. He doesn’t dispute that education writ large is enormously beneficial, just that any individual teacher can make an outsize impact on their students in a way that justifies overpreparing and martyrdom-adjacent styles. It’s a job for him, and that’s it.

                Lastly, a quick correction. My friend is five years into teaching, not three. My mistake earlier.

                1. Katy*

                  It sounds like there’s a good match between your friend and his job, in that it sounds like he works for a school that does not expect teachers to be anything other than interchangeable delivery machines for standardized curriculum. In the absence of any academic freedom or ability to deliver good teaching, a lot of teachers would get depressed and leave for schools where the work was harder but they had more leeway to actually teach. It also probably helps that he’s teaching sixth grade, when the grades you enter don’t really have any effect on a kid’s future.

                  But it also sounds like you and your friend don’t really believe teachers can actually accomplish anything, and that is very strange to me, because I watch my students learn actual skills over the course of every school year. There’s a midpoint between “I phone it in because no teacher ever really does anything” and “I want to be a martyr and an inspiration to all,” and that midpoint is “I think my job matters and want to do it well.” That’s where most teachers fall imo. And the problem with teaching is that you can only hit that reasonable midpoint by putting in an unreasonable amount of overtime.

                2. Brain the Brian*

                  Well, you’re right that my friend’s district really only wants teachers to deliver their standard, approved curriculum. They’ve had political flak when teachers have taken too many liberties, and their admin is now quite strict about it, actually. Frankly, given the way that independent thinking seems to increasingly dangerous these days, it’s probably safer for my friend to teach at a school like his anyway. He is keenly aware of this. He doesn’t teach sixth grade, although I hesitate to reveal which grade he does teach for privacy reasons.

                  Of course students learn things, but I think my friend’s view — which I’ve slowly come to share — is that who the person at the front of the classroom rarely actually has much impact on that. A few examples: I had a series of absolutely dreadful Spanish teachers in secondary school and still scored 100 on my statewide Spanish exams. Same with English — my teachers taught us not a lick of grammar, but here I am with (frankly, and with as much humility as I can muster in a statement like this) the best grammar of anyone at my current company (typos — which can always be corrected — aside) and close to the best of anyone I know. Math was the opposite: I had supposedly great math teachers and still didn’t really learn a damn thing. I could muddle through tests okay, but I never grasped any of the concepts that other kids understood with ease. In all cases, what difference would a different teacher have made? Not much, it seems. My grades and understanding were consistent year over year, regardless of which teacher I had. We all either learned or didn’t based almost entirely on whether we did our assignments and our natural predisposition for the subject. This is not a popular opinion, I know, and it’s one I keep to myself when I’m not in an anonymous forum.

                  Perhaps I am also bitter because my own job (not a teacher) has less-than-zero impact despite all my coworkers pretending we do such important work. We’ve watched the supposed positive effects our work quite literally go up in flames over the past few years, so a fat lot of good it’s all been for, and yet they all keep bandying on about how great it feels to have such an impact. It rings very hollow for me, and it seems that only thing left to do is keep on keeping on and survive this miserable world one day at a time.

    2. Knittercubed*

      I feel your pain. I have had jobs that were physically impossible to do in a standard 40 hour week. Jobs that when adding in emerging crises took a solid 60 hours a week plus. I had a nursing job where I was the only RN for a prison of 700 men. It was an open campus and I had to run to individual units when called, fill meds like a pharmacist, do physicals, triage wounds, reduce dislocations from basketball. I finally asked a manager to “show me how to do this work in a single shift”. Turns out they used to have 4 RNs doing what I was tasked to do. But it was completely insane to expect it in an 8 hour shift.

      So we are out there and the problem is real.

    3. Media Monkey*

      yep! i my first job out of university, i was working from 9am to 8-9pm 4 days a week. my bosses saw someone who was ambitious and keen to prove herself and piled on more and more work while promising me help/ additional resources which never came. my direct boss had a breakdown as a result of the workload and walked out and i was told off by my grandboss for saying anything about my workload as it was criticising my direct boss for being ill. suffice to say it was a toxic workplace!

    4. Roseyposey*

      I totally agree – I don’t understand why the manager’s response is annoyance instead of pro-actively helping the employee to be more efficient? Why are the only options “be annoyed” or “ignore it”? So frequently I’ve started on a task, asked for help from sources I thought might have expertise who did not help, and worked until the wee hours of the night only to be told afterwards that there was a protocol for the assignment that would have cut my work in half if only someone had pointed it out to me. (And then I got blamed for being inefficient). Isn’t that the role of a manager, to help an employee improve their performance? Especially if the manger has done the role before, I would think the first order of business would be to teach the employee how to do the job more efficiently.

  40. Aardvark*

    Sometimes it is just incompetence and what should take most people 4 hours takes them 8.

    A former boss used to spend the first of the month with his head buried in the end of month reporting, starting early and staying back late to get it done.
    One month he was going to be absent so I was assigned this work. I had a small role in this already so had always questioned why it took him so long, but had not be allowed to be involved.
    While I did spend 2 days cleaning up all the old mistakes in his spreadsheets before the end of the month, including having to talk to the finance department to get formal corrections made to stock levels and transfers, once I had done that it took me less than 2 hours to complete both his and my reporting requirements.
    He was both perplexed and annoyed the following month when he came at 10am to check that I’d started on the reporting and I told him I was finished already.

  41. New Jack Karyn*

    I had an interview to work at a high school. I didn’t Google any of the interviewers, but looked at the school’s website, just in the way of due diligence. When I sat down, and we went around with introductions, I said “Go Hornets!” to the vice principal.

    I got the job.

  42. Knittercubed*

    I worked at a start up from the beginning and there was a culture of extreme martyrdom re: hours in the office. 14 hour days, coming in at 4 AM, that kind of thing. It was really toxic and as the company grew we lost good people because of it. Finally the partner company stepped in to normalize work flow. But it never really shook off the ghost of “come in early, stay late, work all weekend”.

  43. Brain the Brian*

    I’ve posted before about how much I hate my current job. A huge portion of it is because of how disengaged my manager is and how bored out of my skull I am on a daily basis. I’ve seen how far the pendulum can swing in the other direction, though (I used to be legitimately busy and worked 80- to 100-hour weeks), and I’m terrified of having a massive project dumped on me with no way to push back, so I pretend to be busier than I am to avoid that. It’s my (probably unhealthy, definitely dishonest) way of pre-emptively setting boundaries. I’m not sure 35 more years of being this bored are feasible, but it’s what I’ve chosen.

  44. Allmajorsystems*

    I have a co-worker like this, he sits next to me so I hear a lot of it. We share a line manager and I know she’s pretty good at trying to ensure we are not overworked. Sometimes I wonder if he chooses to stay 2-4hrs past normal finishing time because he doesn’t like his family! I do also think he’s a relatively slow worker/ inefficent. He lacks urgency on a lot of things that require urgency whilst spending too much of his time talking/complaining. He’s not incompetent and not a bad person. The work he does is good when he gets to it. But he is very frustrating to work with/sit next to.

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