My Employee Keeps Falling Asleep in Meetings

0 columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.

1. My employee keeps falling asleep in meetings

I have noticed that one employee tends to doze off at our weekly departmental meeting. I don’t believe she has any medical condition that would cause this, and I don’t see her dozing off at other times. But I’ve noticed the dozing off many times during these weekly meetings (usually held after lunch or around 3 p.m.).

We’re a laid-back office, but this feels disrespectful and unprofessional. Should I speak with her about it and ask if there’s a medical issue? Should I ask her to drink more coffee?

Yes, you should talk to her. She’s presumably supposed to be paying attention at these meetings and if she’s sleeping, that’s not happening. Plus, she’s doing her reputation no favors — if you’ve noticed her sleeping, other people probably have too. And if you don’t intervene, other people are going to think you’re OK with it.

Say this: “At our weekly meetings lately, it’s looked a few times like you’ve fallen asleep. Is everything OK?” Then, depending on her response, you’d say something like, “I do need you awake and engaged for these meetings. Can you do whatever you need to to solve this?” You don’t need to make specific suggestions like drinking coffee; she’s an adult and should be able to figure this out on her own. You just need to let her know what you need from her.

Of course, if she mentions there’s a medical issue, that’ll require a somewhat different approach. You’d presumably still need her awake for meetings, but you might give her more time to get it under control, offer to schedule them earlier in the day, or otherwise work her on it.

2. Our employee takes lots of leave without pay

Our firm offers a minimum of four weeks of paid time off to staff. One of the best secretaries on our staff currently has 22 days of PTO, and each year, she not only uses all of it, she has a negative PTO balance well before the end of the year. The usage is always for travel, not because she’s dealing with an illness or family issues or anything serious. She also takes a lot of leave without pay after she uses up her PTO.

The rest of the secretarial team has always covered for her, but the team is starting to resent the amount of time she’s away from the office and have started making comments like “Why does she get to take so much time off?” and “Must be nice.” She also frequently states that this is not a job she needs — that her husband makes enough to support both of them.

This year, she has already started saying that she will be taking much more than her allotted time off (using leave without pay again) to travel for multiple weeks at a time, and if she doesn’t get to take the days off, she’ll quit. Do we call her bluff?

It can be tempting in a situation like this to just go with the principle of the thing — to say that you hired her to be there for a certain number of days per year and she needs to do that, period. And that might ultimately need to be the answer. But before you decide that, look at the real impact of what she’s doing on your workflow and on the rest of your staff. If other people’s workload becomes heavier and more stressful when she’s out, it’s reasonable to explain that and use that as the basis for a no. (Do explain it though, so she understands where you’re coming from and doesn’t just think you’re sticking to rules for the sake of rules).

But you also need to balance that against the fact that you might indeed lose her over this. So then the question is whether her work when she’s there is strong enough that you’re willing to accept the impact of her being out a lot. It’s possible that her work is so much better than everyone else’s that you could decide it is, despite the potential morale impact that might have on others. But the key is to weigh the value she brings versus the disruptions it causes. Keep that equation clear in your mind, so that it’s really about what makes sense for the work and not about fuzzier ideas of what she should or shouldn’t be entitled to do.

And of course, this only applies to the leave without pay. Her use of PTO is part of the compensation you’re giving her, as long as she’s scheduling it in a way that doesn’t cause massive, avoidable inconvenience.

3. Should I ask my interns to stop greeting everyone in the morning?

We have 10 employees and typically a couple interns per semester. When our interns arrive for their shifts, they have to walk past every person’s office to get to their desk. I’ve noticed that the interns stop to greet everyone when they arrive and then again to say goodbye to everyone when they leave.

I certainly understand why they do this — it seems polite and it can feel awkward to just walk in and walk out without acknowledging anyone. I was in a similar situation as an intern early in my career and my supervisor abruptly told me it was weird to greet people and say goodbye, which was very embarrassing for me as a student who had never worked in an office before. I want to say something to our interns, since part of what they learn here is how to work in an office, but I don’t want them to feel embarrassed or unwelcome to talk to our staff. Is there a way that I can let them know that this isn’t standard practice (at least in our office) without embarrassing them?

Do you do any kind of regular group training for your interns? If so, I’d bring it up there. Ideally you’d cover it at the start of the internships by having a “how to be in an office” segment to your initial training. It’s a lot easier to explain this at the start, when it’s not in the context of “you’ve already been doing this wrong.”

But that helps you only with future interns. For your current ones, you can still see if you can bundle this together with a few other “things you might not realize about being in an office” tips, which will minimize some awkwardness (and I bet there are more tips that would be helpful to them). But if not, then you could just say this: “I love that you all make a point of being friendly to co-workers here. One thing you don’t need to do — in fact shouldn’t do — is greet each person individually when you come in and say goodbye individually when you leave. I know when I was new to working, I felt awkward about coming or going without acknowledging people. But it can be an interruption to people who are concentrating.” You could add, “This is the kind of thing that isn’t obvious when you first start working, and we’ve all been there.”

4. Does connecting with someone on LinkedIn indicate I endorse them?

I used to work with a man who did not get along well with a lot of people, including me. Over time we did earn each other’s respect and were able to work together professionally.

I just learned he was walked out of his current job after he gave his two weeks’ notice. I don’t know what the circumstances are, but I do know this is not normal for his company. Tonight I got a request to add him as a connection on LinkedIn. I am concerned he may want to use me as a reference or endorse him. Even though I respect him, I don’t feel I can do that based on my own observations. Would it be better to ignore the request, or accept it and politely decline if he asks anything of me? Does adding him as a connection imply that I support him?

Adding him as a connection doesn’t imply that you endorse him, just that you have some sort of connection to him, which could be anything from to “this is a stranger who asked me to connect and I figured why the hell not” to “we once worked in the same 500-person building” to “he is my professional soul mate.”

But you’re not obligated to add him if you’d rather not. You’re free to ignore the request, and if he contacts you and asks you about it at some point, you can say, “Oh, I’m hardly ever on LinkedIn, so I often don’t see those.”

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