can I have a drink before a work flight, fasting during team lunches, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Can I have a drink before a work flight?

I work for a large state government agency, and I travel often for my job. We most often drive rental cars, but in some cases we fly. One of my fairly frequent trips involves flying home at around 6 pm on Thursday or Friday evening. I like to have a drink at the airport or on the flight home to relax.

My spouse works for the same agency in a different division and feels that I am violating policy by having a drink because being under the influence while working is forbidden (of course!), and travel time is considered work time. I think this is a bit silly, since there is no expectation that I will be doing work while flying home or getting a cab home from the airport, and it’s not during working hours. It would be different if I were flying in at 1 pm and then going to the office, but that is not the case. I’m going home to bed.

Should I choose not to have a drink or to not count my flight time as work hours? (I typically flex my travel time by leaving early another day.) Or is this something I should just not worry about? I scoured the HR manual, and the language didn’t really clarify this for me.

You are fine. You’re on a flight taking you home at night, not going to your office. The flight is “work time” only in that you’re getting paid for your travel time, not in the sense that you are expected to be doing any work during it.

Saying “you cannot drink while you’re working” is not the same thing as “you cannot drink during any hours you’re getting paid for,” or otherwise you also couldn’t drink during paid vacation time. (Paid travel time isn’t the same thing as vacation time, of course, but my point is that not all paid hours represent the same type of thing.)

2. Fasting during team lunches

I work at a large professional services firm. I serve several different teams in my role. Often, I’ll be asked to join working sessions/lunch and learns/training with these teams. A large part of these functions is often a catered lunch. I have been practicing intermittent fasting for the better part of a year and find it massively helps my focus and health and to manage my weight.

How should I handle the (inexplicably inevitable) comments that I get during the lunch portions of these meetings? I’m fairly introverted and for some reason the word “fasting” invites all kinds of intrusive and personal comments, questions, or weirdly personal anecdotes. I find it emotionally draining to try to discuss my very personal eating habits with coworkers. I would never venture to comment or even really form an opinion on someone else’s food choices.

I’ve generally just smiled, held up my bottle of water, and said, “I’m all set now, thanks!” A few times I’ve even used a “stunt apple” to set in front of me to try to minimize questions. (But then I’m just carrying an apple in my bag all day, which seems silly.) Any advice for a quick comment I can toss in? I make myself as scarce as possible during lunch, but often this time is used socially or even to continue the meeting so it’s hard to do so.

Try “Oh, I brought lunch for later” or “I usually eat later in the day” or “Nothing for me — I had a late breakfast.” These aren’t true (except maybe the second) but they’re permissible in this situation because no one is being misled on anything that matters, and they’re polite ways to deter people who otherwise might worry that the meal isn’t meeting your food needs without opening up a discussion of your eating habits.

I like the stunt apple too though. (Or alternately, a set of fake plastic food that you could carefully arrange in front of you, thus making you an object of incredible interest and speculation throughout your office and beyond.)

3. We’re not supposed to tell other departments if we leave early

My manager has asked me to not tell other departments if we leave early. We are supposed to leave with discretion. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do this very well. Sometimes people will ask me if I’m leaving. Today is a holiday and one of my coworkers said we were going to leave early, and I ended up blurting out that my department was as well but at an earlier time, and now I feel guilty. I’m not sure why we can’t say goodbye to other coworkers, especially ones who are very nice and friendly, and on a holiday no less. Should I be concerned about not being able to be discreet? And why do we have this rule?

It sounds like your manager is concerned that other departments will resent your team if they find out you’re leaving early and that may cause issues (for your team or for their own managers). Or who knows, maybe she’s not supposed to let you go early and if it gets out, she won’t be able to do it anymore. It’s not great to have to hide it (it could put you in an awkward position with other coworkers), but it sounds like telling other teams about it could result in those early departures being stopped.

4. Employee is panicking while we’re renegotiating a contract

I’m a low-level manager and I work closely with a group of contract employees and their manager, Archie. Our contract with their agency is up for renewal, and both my company and theirs are playing hardball. They will all remain employed while the contract terms are negotiated, so there is no risk for job loss. The contract will not affect contract employees’ pay, hours, or services they provide.

My problem is that one of the contract employees, Veronica, has become emotionally invested in these negotiations and she’s convinced her company is going to lose the contract and she’ll be jobless. She is not personally involved, and is not invited to meetings or included on confidential emails. She constantly asks Archie and me for information and tries to invite herself to committee meetings, read emails over shoulders, or eavesdrops.

Archie and I have been working together to be transparent when we can, but the questions she’s asking we aren’t able to discuss due to confidentiality, such as how much the agency is getting paid and management processes. Even if we wanted to tell her something to set her mind at ease, she’s not very trustworthy and would shout it from the rooftop. I understand her fear about job security, but how can I tell her to calm down and stay in her lane? Her behavior is getting obsessive.

Since Archie is her manager, this should probably come from him: “Veronica, there’s nothing I can tell you at this point, but as soon as I have something I can share, I will. I know this is an anxious time, but repeatedly asking questions that I can’t answer, looking at other people’s emails, and trying to hear conversations that you’re not part of is becoming disruptive. I’m sympathetic to how stressful this feels, but I need you to focus on work and stop trying to get information that isn’t available yet.”

5. Is it weird if my husband and I keep working at the same companies?

A while back, I left my old job and found something that pays more and that I love. It’s challenging, and I really feel like it’s forcing me to step up my game, which is amazing, and there is tons of room for growth.

Before I quit my old job, my husband worked for the same company as me, though in a different department. He was laid off a few months before I quit, though that’s not why I quit. He’s been unemployed ever since, but my new company is constantly growing, and both my managers have suggested I have him apply to work in our office. There are other couples in the office, married and otherwise, so that wouldn’t be unheard of.

My question is, is it weird or unprofessional if my husband and I work for the same company twice in a row? More specifically, does it speak poorly on him if it seems he follows me around? I started at the previous company first, as well, and referred him there after about a year. I’ve forwarded his resume along to my HR team, but the more I think about it, the more worried I am it’ll look bad on both of us to jump from company to company together. Am I overthinking this?

Eh, I think it’s fine! I can see why you feel a little weird about it, but most people aren’t going to know the details of who followed who. If anyone ever comments on it being the second time you’ve worked together, you can reply that the first time showed you that you could do it without issue (since not every couple could!).

That said, there are advantages to being at separate companies, as you probably know — like that if the company ever has financial troubles, it’s safer if only one of you is tied to it. But I’m guessing that haven’t done it before, you know how to weigh the potential downsides.

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