overreaching wellness meetings, rambling coworker monopolizing trainings, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Overreaching employee wellness trainings

I work in a public facing setting. Today was the first of 12 monthly training sessions focusing on employee wellness. I know our administration means well, but today’s topic and subsequent sessions I regard as triggering, cringey and irrelevant to my job (think fitness, nutrition, body image, suicide prevention). I’m middle aged now, but I spent decades suffering from an eating disorder that I have learned to manage. To me, today’s “wellness” is updated code for the exercise and diet craze of the 80s that ruined my youth with distorted thinking.

Past staff meetings have focused on topics and issues related to our work, such as improving our research or customer service skills, implicit bias awareness and even public safety issues such as active shooter or CPR. Attendance is always encouraged but never required, and people miss the trainings for all sorts of reasons. For today’s session, our director sent an email stating that attendance was expected except for a work conflict or urgent deadline, or if the topic is triggering or causes distress, but we are to reach out to him in advance to discuss.

Is it just me, or is wellness in the workplace overreaching and paternalistic? Do I really have to share my past with my boss, who is 20 years younger? I should add that I am a supervisor, and as such feel it is my role and duty to provide guidance and help staff by addressing work-related problems and mitigating situations that are inherent to public service, hopefully to prevent burnout and malaise in the first place! Please let me know if I’m out of line here.

It’s not just you. It is indeed overreaching and paternalistic — and being required to discuss your reasons for opting out is invasive and inappropriate as well.

One option is to simply say, “I won’t be attending today’s session for personal reasons.” And then if pushed to discuss your reasons: “With highly personal topics like these, I don’t think we should push people to share what might be deeply personal reasons for opting out.” If you want, you could add, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to bring fitness and body image into the workplace at all and would like to see a return to work-related trainings.”

2. Rambling coworker is monopolizing our trainings

I recently started in an office job that requires several months of on-the-job training. One coworker in our group of about 20 constantly asks long, rambling questions that are often not related to the current topic. It’s so bad that I’ve begun timing her — she talks for a minimum of 25 but often up to 50 minutes every eight-hour work day.

It is driving me crazy, but our trainers seem to have been told to answer any and all questions. “There’s no such thing as a stupid question” is their mantra, but I think it’s out of control. It’s making me genuinely hate the training. How can I bring up this problem in a professional way? For the record, everyone else in the class notices this and is frustrated by her too, but nobody wants to speak up.

Those trainers are failing at their jobs; they need to be managing the training time for everyone, not letting one person dominate it. They’re almost certainly losing the attention and engagement of the rest of their captive audience. Frustrated, on-edge people do not learn well.

Are you willing to talk to the trainers privately and say that your coworker’s monopolizing of the class is getting in the way of the rest of you learning, and ask that they lay down ground rules about sharing air space and holding unrelated questions until another time? If you can encourage some of your frustrated coworkers to do the same thing, it’ll be harder for your trainers to ignore.

3. Can I create my own writing samples?

Is it okay to make your own writing samples for a job? Despite having multiple degrees and several years of work experience, I don’t really have any articles I’d want to share. First, sometimes there’s contractual reasons I can’t (e.g., it’s internal work I did for an org). Second, one of my degrees I graduated from almost nine years ago, meaning the writing feels a bit dated. Third, my MA is theology so I’m not wild on supplying theology writing to a secular organization because it may color their opinion of my ability to be unbiased, even though the specificity of this degree means that I actually have a lot of training in “secular” things like community organizing, psychology etc. I know I can’t expect an employer to necessarily know that, especially if they’re getting a writing sample that talks a lot about Jesus in the process.

Anyway, I want to create some of my own writing samples. I figure one way to do this is to create my own academic writing (say by creating 2-3 academic styled essays) and reports, proposals, etc. But maybe it’s a problem if no one has scrutinized the work before? Before I go ahead, I figured I’d run it by someone else.

It’s fine to create your own writing samples if you don’t already have anything well suited to use. But don’t create academic-type essays unless you’re applying to jobs that specifically request those. Academic writing tends to be quite different from professional writing, and typically the sort of writing samples employers want to see are ones similar to what you’d be creating on the job. Generally that’s more likely to be press releases, briefing papers, blog posts, articles … or whatever is closest to the sort of writing you’d be doing in the job.

4. Books with competent, polished professional characters

Due to a series of sad, traumatizing events (deaths of several loved ones, financial setbacks, my own you-could-die-from-this medical diagnosis) in 2022, I’m finding it hard to find my focus and get back on track at work.I floundered in the second half of 2022 and it’s obvious to everyone I work with, especially management.

I am having trouble keeping my mouth shut about myself (no one wants to hear sad stories about their coworkers) and my “cheerful” facade is coming out all wrong. I think I’m being funny, but it’s just … weird. I’m realizing that my emotions are so messed up that I am finding humor in things that the average person very much does not think are humorous.

I want to pull myself out of it and *fast*, so I can’t wait the amount of time it will take to find the right therapist and get to the part where she and I have productive conversations. A thing I’ve noticed about myself, however, is that I can take on the personality / thought patterns of characters in books. (Pity my long-ago ex-boyfriend when I was reading Game of Thrones and identified with Cersei!).

So I thought I’d ask if you had any books, preferably fiction, whose character is someone you would like to see yourself or an employee emulate in the workplace? Doesn’t matter if the character kills vampires, solves murders in the 17th century, or is just living her life in the 21st century. Whatever. I just need to borrow someone else’s inner voice for a while until I stabilize.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with all this! This is a fascinating question and I thought I’d throw it out to readers for ideas.

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