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Submitted by williamelledgepe on


Is it appropriate to give feedback to an employee for frequent yawning and sleepy facial expressions?

My gut feel is no. Yawning is a natural bodily reaction that one cannot not simply turn off - and it is not always related to tiredness - though in this case it accompanied with heavy eyelids and generally slower reactions.

Is this really a behavior suited for feedback? Assuming she is tired due to a lack of sleep it could impact productivity, but she gets a lot of work done. If there is a lack of sleep, is it any of my business?

The reason I ask: I am concerned my boss sees the employee yawning and discounts her ability to handle more work or be ready for a promotion.

The feedback would be along the lines of tiredness or the resulting lack of attention or something like that. Maybe something like "When you yawn in meetings, the team assumes you are too tired to contribute. Can you be more attentive in the future?"

Is this appropriate?

techmgr's picture
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Hi. I believe this is appropriate. But I do not think it be effective to give her feedback about being attentive or tired or to ask "can you be more attentive in the future?" Her response is gong to be "I am attentive!". I think it is correct for you to ask her to stop yawning. The yawn is a bad look. When she yawns, people think she's tired or can't handle the work or she's not paying attention. The yawning is the behavior she needs to change. Don't make assumptions about her lifestyle or accuse her of not paying attention, as that just muddles the message and can cause her to defend herself. Focus on the behavior of yawning. That's my opinion. Jeanne

nwillis's picture

I would agree with that. Concentrate on the act of yawning and especially the act or regular yawning You can always advise the person to be discrete when yawning as when sneezing. I think yawning is a bad thing when it is indiscreet.

delete_account_per_reacher_145083_dtiller's picture
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First I think you need to find out if this is a medical condition because if this is the case it may be treatable or not but at least you know you now have a duty to accomodate and as the work is being done you don't have an issue with deliverables. 

Otherwise I think you should address similar to the body odor topic (podcasts available) as maybe the employee is not aware of the volume of yawning and there are good tactics that you may want to use in this case.

If you using feedback it could go something like this:  When you continuously yawn, the boss discounts your ability to take on higher level tasks and this limits your advancement in the company.

Would love to know how you handle and the outcome.

Best wishs,


Kevin1's picture

I agree with the previous responses. It is the yawning behaviour you wish to target. Assume there is nothing negative behind it.

Something like "Can I share something with you? When you yawn 4 times in a half hour meeting, other people may get the impression that you are tired or disinterested in the topic. You may not even be aware that you are yawning. Would you please try to change that? "

leanne's picture
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I wouldn't bother with feedback at this point.

Instead, I'd just ask, in a one-on-one, during your part of it, 'Hey, I notice you've been yawning a lot lately. You doing ok with sleep?"

If she's not getting enough sleep, that's a health issue, and I don't really think health is appropriate for feedback. If there's a sleep issue, there may or may not be anything you can do about it (like, if she has to get up really early to get to work on time because of traffic, maybe adjust her hours a little, or who knows what).

I have insomnia issues myself, and getting feedback about yawning too much would be...well, it would strike me as quite tone-deaf. A problem with the relationship, not a help to it. Getting a concerned 'you ok?' works much better - leaves me feeling that my manager actually cares about my *health*, not necessarily about my ability to get work done or look good to upper management. (Not that my ability to get work done or look good to upper management isn't important - but if that's the concern rather than my health, that's...a problem for me.)

pucciot's picture
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I would consider the above recommendation about trying the personal concerned meeting approach.

Not feedback
---- Unless the Yawning is accompanied by a loud and obviously display of yawning.

Basically, a yawn could be considered a reflex, not a behavior - per se.

Unless, the yawn is accompanied by a loud - eahhwww ! and Stretching of the arms and a long after sigh.......

Well, then Feedback might help.

-- Can I give you some Feedback ?
-- When you make a loud noise and stretch your arms out when you yawn - it is distracting to others / or / looks like you are not interested /or/ ... {etc}
--- can you change that ?

Basically, you would be addressing the behavior that accompanies the yawn -- not the yawn itself.

If this person has a very subtle Yawn --- then the personal --- concerned question "Are getting enough sleep ?" approach may be the best way to start.

Good Luck


dharbison's picture
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it's not just yawning (which does happen as a result of medical reasons).  It's the yawning + heavy eyelids + slower response.  So talk about all of those that collectively convey the message "i'm tired and not paying attention".  Then say wha you wrote:

I am concerned (your coworkers) see you displaying signs of being tired/bored/not paying attention and will discount your ability to handle more work or be ready for a promotion.

That will get her to wake up! 

pucciot's picture
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From the comment above :

"I am concerned (your coworkers) see you displaying signs of being tired/bored/not paying attention and will discount your ability to handle more work or be ready for a promotion."

You may not want to use those words. - They might motivate and appeal to a High D -- but not everybody.

Because, not getting assigned more work - and not to interested in promotion - may be totally OK with this person.

I could point to several of my directs for whom the prospect of not getting more assigned work sounds great
- and they know there is little promotion around here anyway.

You will have to find what words will motivate that employee according tho their DISC profile and the environment you work in.

Good Luck