Readers Sound Off On Sleep Disorders, Messy Desks, Office Pests,... And More
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Friends, let's start with the really important stuff: This is an urgent medical bulletin to anybody out there who falls asleep in meetings, or knows someone who falls asleep in meetings, or just generally has trouble staying awake during the day. My March 2 column, which included a letter from a reader discomfited by an exceedingly drowsy colleague, drew dozens of E-mails and faxes--many of them from doctors--pointing out that chronic sleepiness is often more than just an inconvenience.

It turns out that an inability to keep from dozing off may be an early symptom of a wide range of illnesses from diabetes to Parkinson's disease. Or it may indicate a respiratory disorder called obstructive sleep apnea, which, untreated, can be fatal. People with sleep apnea wake up 40 to 50 times during the night when their breathing temporarily stops, but they usually are not aware of it; so daytime drowsiness is, in many cases, their only clue that something is wrong. Writes a cardiologist in Chicago: "The risks of undiagnosed sleep apnea include heart attacks, strokes, impotence, irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure." Adds an emergency-room doctor from Houston: "Apart from the serious cardiovascular implications, we see fatal car wrecks from sleep apnea sufferers falling asleep at the wheel."

So if you're nodding off even when you're not in a really dull meeting, put down that cup of coffee and get to a doctor. For more information on sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment, contact the American Sleep Apnea Association at 202-293-3650, or via the Internet at You might also check out, whose slogan is "All you wanted to know about sleep disorders but were too tired to ask."

As always, thanks to everyone who wrote commenting on other people's letters. Special thanks to a large number of folks who, very sensibly, thought I missed the point in my answer to "Penny" (Dec. 29), who called her boss at home one evening to say she would be late for work the next day and then got upset when he complained that she had disrupted his, um, love life. She asked whether his whining about this constituted sexual harassment (it didn't); but, to quote an astute reader named Lee: "The real question is why she was bothering him at home in the first place. What does she think E-mail and voice mail are for? To get a message to someone on a timely basis without having to call him at home, that's what!"

While we're (sort of) on the subject of sexual harassment, the Jan. 12 column ("After All This Time, Why Don't People Know What Sexual Harassment Means?") prompted a flurry of requests for more sources of information. Here are a couple of good ones: A Princeton, N.J., legal consulting firm called Amicus Group (toll-free 888-899-4388) has put out a terrific training tool for managers called Sex, Work & Accountability, on interactive CD-ROM. The disk and accompanying workbook aim to "promote critical thinking and ethical decision-making" on the topic, and they work. Meanwhile Nolo Press in Berkeley, Calif. (800-992-6656), has published a first-rate reference guide for managers called Sexual Harassment on the Job: What It Is and How to Stop It.

And speaking of sources of information, many of you must have desks even messier than mine, because so many people have written to request that I repeat what I said in the Dec. 29 issue about how to find an executive coach. (A typical plea, from Danny in Seattle: "I tore that page out of the magazine and then I lost it!!!" Hey, switch to decaf, man.) So here it is again. What you want is the International Coach Federation, a nonprofit professional association with 89 chapters nationwide, which acts as a clearinghouse for matching up coaches and clients. ICF's Website address is, and if you click on the Find a coach! icon there, you'll get a list of names and addresses of coaches in your city or state, along with brief descriptions of their specialties. For the unwired, ICF is reachable by phone at 888-423-3131 or fax 888-329-2423, or via snail mail at P.O. Box 1393, Angel Fire, N.M. 87710.

A letter in the March 2 issue signed "Not a Bad Guy," from a newly minted manager who thought his subordinates were spending too much time yakking about non-work-related stuff, brought a ton of mail from readers who think he should lighten up a little. Wrote an entrepreneur in Los Angeles: "His letter reminds me of myself when I first started managing people. I thought I wasn't being effective if people weren't constantly focused on the work. What I've learned is, you serve yourself and the company best if you clearly communicate what needs to be done, give your people a time limit to complete the task--and then back off. He will find that, with this approach, people will make the project their own, and everybody will be happier and more productive."

Finally, letters are still pouring in about etiquette and its electronic cousin, Netiquette (March 30). Apparently, lots of people fear they may be what a Southern acquaintance of mine calls yard dogs--okay to hunt with, but you don't want to let 'em in the house. I'll be getting to those etiquette questions later, but in the meantime here's a letter from Susan, somewhere in cyberspace: "How do you politely keep a co-worker from entering a cubicle that doesn't have a door you can close? Someone in my office is always intruding on me with nasty gossip, and sometimes it's not possible to pretend I'm on the phone with a client." She adds: "Annie, don't call experts--consultants or whomever--for this one, because I bet they all have doors on their offices. Instead, please ask your readers how they handle this." Done.