Looking for Work Advice: Care a Little Less What Other People Do

I am a member of a unit of about 10 people at a nonprofit. The head of our group recently announced we would gather for a one-day retreat to strategize for the next fiscal year.

Our office is undergoing major renovations, but rather than find an alternative venue, my boss still set the retreat location in the office. This plan was, no surprise, foiled by ongoing construction. Now, the plan is to hold the work retreat in common meeting spaces at the condo residence of a subordinate. I think this crosses a professional boundary. What is more troubling is that other units routinely hold all-day or multiday retreats at (nonresidential) venues outside of the office. How do I address this? Am I overthinking this as being unethical?

— Anonymous

Why do you care about this? Why do you think this is something you need to address? Does the subordinate have a problem with holding the retreat in their common meeting spaces? Common meeting spaces are for … meetings. They are being used as intended. There is no ethical quandary here. The retreat isn’t being held in anyone’s private home. This is certainly kind of strange and maybe even a little tacky, but it sounds like a temporary, low-cost (no cost?) solution to a temporary problem.

If no one is being forced to host the retreat, I would let this go. Free yourself from overthinking something so inconsequential. That said, try talking to your boss about holding these retreats at a more appropriate venue, framing it as something that would be more professionally beneficial to all involved.

My work schedule varies from week to week. My challenge is around scheduling. Some of the other administrators will schedule meetings at very short notice and with no notice of what the meeting is about. I’ve gotten to my desk on a Monday morning, only to find that I suddenly have a new meeting in a couple hours. These meetings are not urgent and end up being something that could be conveyed in a phone call or by planning a meeting at a later date. It’s a very just-in-time administrative culture, which contrasts with my previous experience at other universities and with research colleagues, where we would schedule individual meetings via email or phone invitations and group meetings by poll.

My public calendar is always up-to-date and I’ve scheduled a few regular blocks of time for my research, teaching prep and meetings with collaborators, while keeping other times open. Our calendar software will notify someone scheduling a meeting if the other party has a scheduled conflict, and yet individual and committee meetings still “appear” on my calendar, sometimes at short notice, for times I have blocked off. When I respond, I’m told it’s just hard to schedule meetings because people are busy, and these were the best times that could be determined by looking at everyone’s availability. I cannot be constantly available or always rescheduling my other tasks. How can I respond to this situation?

— Anonymous

There has been a lot of talk about calendar practices on social media lately. A common thread is that academics can be incredibly resistant to fostering healthy, considerate calendaring practices. It is, admittedly, difficult to schedule large groups of busy people, but your colleagues’ practice of scheduling meetings during known, unchangeable conflicts is inconsiderate, at best.

It’s time for a crystal clear message to your colleagues about how you are managing your calendar. You cannot attend meetings they schedule when you have other professional obligations, which means they are obstructing your ability to do an important part of your job. Suggest using scheduling polls to find meeting times that will work for the most people. If they are so cavalier as to do this kind of roughshod scheduling, I don’t know that there’s anything you can communicate that will alter their behavior. But it’s worth a try.

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