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I don’t see the point of taking time off, explaining a black eye on Zoom calls, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. I don’t see the point of taking PTO

I work a customer-service-heavy role, and my manager has been wonderful about encouraging us to take PTO if we’re feeling burnt out. Except … I don’t see the point. Yes, I’m burnt out from work, but taking time off work doesn’t magically make all my issues go away: I still have to cope with a special needs dog, I can’t “do anything” because my partner works nights and I either have to pick up the pieces for everything he can’t do or don’t want to disturb him while he’s sleeping, I don’t have enough money to take a vacation, solo or not (and even if I did, who will get groceries and take the dog to the vet while I’m gone?), and I’ll come back to everything being worse because my out-of-office messages aren’t read and customers/team members are wondering why no one has replied to them (yes, this has happened before). PTO doesn’t magically make anything else in my life go away and, if anything, it winds up making worse when I get back. I’ll take a day for doctor’s appointments or similar when there’s a chance I won’t actually get work done, but I just don’t see the point in taking more days than I “need” to. Why should I bother taking it in the first place if I’m not actually going to end up relaxed and recharged?

(For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s an inherent problem with my life/job; it just doesn’t actually make sense for me to take time off.)

For starters, all those days of PTO that you don’t use are days you’re working for free for your company. Your salary is calculated on the assumption that you’ll work X weeks a year and have Y weeks off. Are you willing to work multiple weeks for free each year? Right now you are.

Of the reasons you listed not taking time off (the dog, the sleeping partner, the lack of money for a vacation, etc.), all of them are true of the weekends too, except for the time off making your workload worse when you return. But you still presumably take and enjoy your weekends, right? Or at least aren’t voluntarily spending them working when no one expects you to? That means the biggest issue — and the one you can potentially change the easiest — is the workload problem. So you should raise that with your boss! You said she encourages you to take PTO so she’d probably be receptive to hearing, “I find myself not taking time off because I always come back to a mess, like (examples). Can you help me figure out how to take PTO without customers and team members getting upset that no one has helped them while I’m gone?” Your boss should be able to find solutions to this — maybe it’s having your email forwarded to someone rather than using an out-of-office message, maybe it’s her reassuring you that you don’t need to care if people complain, maybe it’s hiring a temp, who knows. But talk to her because this is a work problem that should have a work solution.

The rest of it is a mental framing problem, in that you need to see days off as valuable even when you’re not doing anything big with them. There’s value in having time to lounge around and read, or binge bad movies, or build a tree house for your dog, or whatever it is you like to do to recharge. You don’t need to take a capital V Vacation to make time off valuable. If a one- or two-week stretch of that sounds like too much (although I take all of December off every year and I don’t do a damn thing and it’s glorious), start by trying some three-day and four-day weekends, and practice relaxing and doing nothing.

Do not work for free for your company.

2. How do I explain my black eye on Zoom calls?

A couple of days ago, I was walking my normally well-behaved large dogs when another dog charged them, unprovoked, and they tripped me, and I ended up hitting the sidewalk hard. Thankfully the other owner ran to get my partner (I was a block away from home) and my partner took me to the ER. I have a concussion, a small fracture in my rib, and various other bruises and bumps. But what is most noticeable is my black eye. I hit my head just above my eyebrow and my eye looks like someone drew on me with a purple sharpie, and since I’m very pale, it’s not going away soon.

I took a few days off from work and screens but since I primarily work from home and have a bunch of Zoom meetings backed up, I’m back at it on a limited basis. My team was shocked when they saw my face, but they have all been supportive and said it’s fine and they’ll get used to it. My problem is outsiders! Most of my meetings are on camera, and I feel weird saying I want to be off camera because of a face injury (sounds worse than it is) but then if I’m on camera it is very distracting and I can feel people staring.

An added complication is that some of the organizations I meet with support people who have experienced domestic violence, and I look like a poster child for getting punched in the face. (In my case the assailant was the sidewalk, but from the way I look you wouldn’t know that.) So my look is very triggering. In a couple of days, I could probably use some makeup on it, but it’s too tender for that right now. I just need an easy way to explain away this massive black eye that doesn’t sound dismissive.

Oh no, I’m sorry!

The easiest way to handle this is to just stay off-camera. Don’t make a big deal of it. Just say something like, “I’m recovering from being sick so my camera’s off today” or “long story, but I’m going to leave my camera off today.” Be matter-of-fact about it, as if it’s not a big deal because it’s not, and it’ll be fine.

3. My friend posts screeds on social media complaining about being rejected for jobs

I have a friend who is neurospicy and extremely brilliant, and is having trouble finding work. Which is a thing for a lot of us right now, for sure.

The trouble is, my friend takes every post-interview rejection so personally, that they will screed on social media about how they were “lied to” and “deceived” and grumble about “blasting them on Glassdoor” to “get even.”

I’ve used all of the reasonable points I’ve seen you make — maybe the firm promoted from within, maybe the position was put on hold — but my friend just can’t hear any of it, due to the panic they feel over not having a stable income at the moment. My concern is, they are posting this on their socials under their own name, and I’m worried it will harm their job prospects. Any advice?

Rather than try to make them see reason about the rejections themselves (you’ve tried, it’s not working), shift your focus to the fact that they’re shooting themselves in the foot: “You know, employers google candidates, and an employer who sees you talking about other employers this way will be reluctant to interview you. You’re hurting your job search by posting this stuff.”

But also … say it once and then wash your hands of it. It’s a kindness to talk to a friend when you see them self-sabotaging, but after that, assume your friend is an adult who’s going to do whatever they’re going to do. It’s a favor to flag it once, but then drop it. It’s not your job to fix this, and it won’t be good for you or for the friendship if you get too invested in trying to make them see it the way you do.

4. My boss didn’t want me answering urgent calls in meetings

Years ago, I worked for a healthcare third party that was integral but adjacent to the functioning of hospitals. Every few months we received an urgent call from one of our hospital customers (emergencies important to hospital functioning but not to patient safety). Since our days were filled with (Zoom) meetings with our other clients, from time to time the two would intersect. If this happened, my strategy was to apologize and excuse myself from my ongoing meeting, triage the message/set up a meeting with the client during my next opening, and the return to my current call. In total, this took me out of an hour-long meeting for 2-3 minutes. At the time, I felt this was a justified response. The meetings they interrupted were open Q&A sessions that often didn’t go the full hour and were not uncommon to reschedule due to small conflicts on the client or my side.

My boss, however, disagreed and said that when we were in a meeting, we owed the people in that meeting our undivided attention (outside of an immediate emergency like a fire or a family/friend/loved-one crisis) and phone calls should go to voicemail. He told me that any calling client would not be left to worry; if the initial call did not go through, it would be routed to a backup and then, if not answered, the backup’s backup, and so forth. There would always be someone to eventually pick up the phone.

Did my boss have the better method to handle urgent requests during meetings? Is total, undivided, uninterrupted attention reasonable for every meeting? I did watch him a bit during meetings we were both in, and he was pretty consistent in following his own rules, even during the totally optional and silly divisional game night.

I should also note that the rerouting of calls wasn’t always smooth. Often backups would prioritize their own client work doing no/only an abbreviated triage. Sometimes the person handling rerouting wouldn’t contact the backups but just me again via a different method (this happened once when I couldn’t answer … because I was on a separate emergency call). I learned my triage method from shadowing other, experienced coworkers during training. When should a company reiterate, retrain, or rewrite their policy if it conflicts with what’s practiced?

This is the kind of thing that’s really your boss’s call. You can try it the way that makes sense to you, but once your boss tells you “no, I want you to do it this other way,” you’ve got to do it his way. I can’t say from the outside whether he was right or not; it depends on all sorts of things I don’t know — but ultimately it doesn’t really matter because it’s his prerogative to decide.

However if you were seeing problems doing it his way, you absolutely should make sure he has the same information you do. So for example, you could have said, “My concern with letting calls go to the backups is that the backups don’t always answer. Twice last month customers with emergencies got shuffled from backup to backup and never reached anyone. If I shouldn’t excuse myself from meetings to take calls, can we do something to ensure the backups are picking up more reliably?”

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