A reader writes:
I manage two groups of employees. The first are paid hourly, and personnel matters are governed by union contract. The others are salaried professional staff, who have individual contracts with our employer. This group is compensated and evaluated based on results, not how many hours they work. Our leadership is very clear that salaried employees should work about 40 hours a week, but results are what matters. It’s also very clear that there is no “comp time” for these positions. For example, if I work late Monday through Thursday, I still have to use PTO if I want to take Friday off. Administrators tell us that if we give salaried employees comp time, we run the risk of having the positions reclassified into the union, so it’s a somewhat sensitive topic from an HR perspective.
I have a spiel for explaining this to my reports, which goes something like: “You’re evaluated and compensated based on your results, not how many hours you work. I expect you’ll be here about 40 hours a week. Sometimes you’ll find you need to work more, sometimes you might need to work less. If you’re getting your work done and don’t leave your team hanging, I trust you to manage your own time. Just let me know what you’re doing so I’m not trying to find you when you’re not here. You don’t earn comp time in your position, so the amount of time you’re here one day has no bearing on how many hours you’re here on other days. If you’re sick, use sick time and don’t work. If you’re taking vacation time, don’t work.”
This seems super clear to me, but based on employees’ reactions, it’s not. I’ve had this talk about five times in one year with one of my staff. The last time was after she took a sick day, then told me the next day that she’d checked work email for an hour because she “got bored.” She wanted to know if she could subtract the hour from her sick time. I’ve also told her she’s free to take a long lunch, come in late, leave early, etc., as long as she’s getting all her work done. She still sends me requests for a couple hours of PTO at a time to do this stuff. Counter-example: if it’s 3:30 on Friday afternoon and I’ve done what I need to do for the week, and happy hour calls, I just go.
Another manager I know has similar issues. One of his employees requested “comp time” after working through a weekend. The manager told the employee he could take PTO, but there was no comp time for his position. The employee had a full-on meltdown with crying, yelling, etc. Part of our frustration is that we’re trying to encourage them to be independent and self-directed and they’re not handling it well: something we see as a privilege is received as a burden.
As far as I can tell, the inconsistent interpretations are driven by individual personality and past employment experiences. Many employees do understand, and manage their time as expected. I try to model the behavior I expect, and I manage performance through formal evaluations and weekly one-on-one meetings. What could I be doing to help everyone have a clear and consistent understanding of what “results-oriented” means in relationship to their work schedules and PTO?
Your expectations are clear to me and make sense for exempt employees.
I see two different issues here: employees who don’t understand the overall concept, and times where rigidly adhering to the no-comp-time policy will be genuinely demoralizing.
On the latter, it’s frustrating as hell to work all weekend to meet a deadline and then try to take off that Tuesday to get a piece of your weekend back and be told that you’ll have to use a day of your limited PTO to do it. It will very quickly make people resent that they went the extra mile, and it will make them less inclined to do it in the future.
I get that your company doesn’t want exempt employees using comp time, but I’d really try to come up with a more informal system if you can — not in a “break the clearly stated rules” way, but under the umbrella of how you’re already managing people. To me, it seems perfectly consistent with your overall practice to say to the person who just worked all weekend, “Hey, you just worked all weekend, so does your workload allow for you to wrap things up for this week on Thursday?” That’s not comp time; that’s them managing their own time, doing good work, putting in roughly 40 hours a week (in this case, more), and keeping you in the loop — exactly what you laid out that you wanted.
(I’d argue that comp time would be more like “you now have two additional PTO days to use at some point in the future.” My suggestion above is just helping the person to find room in their schedule later that same week, or maybe the next one.)
Then there’s your employee who’s basically acting like she’s non-exempt despite being exempt (taking PTO for a couple of hours here and there, wanting to be compensated for an hour of email during a sick day, etc.). With her, you’ve got someone who clearly doesn’t understand the whole concept. I’d sit her down and:
1. Say explicitly that you don’t think she understands how exempt workers are treated on your team (so that she’s aware that there’s a disconnect — otherwise she might not realize this is something she needs to re-sync herself on).
2. Lay out the spirit of the policy. For example: “You are a responsible adult and I trust you to get your work done and manage your own time. You aren’t an hourly worker, and you don’t need to use PTO to make your hours perfectly hit eight every day.”
3. Give her concrete examples of what that looks like in practice. For example: “Please do not use PTO for a long lunch” … “As long as your hours are roughly averaging at 40 for the week, you don’t need to use PTO for a few hours here and there” … “If I’m ever concerned that you’re not putting in enough time at work, we’ll talk about it before it ever becomes a real problem” … and so forth.
If that doesn’t work — and it may not, because some people are rigid thinkers or just really used to other systems — then I’d just reinforce the message by reminding her when you see it happening (“you don’t need to use PTO for this,” “you need to use a full sick day, like we talked about,” etc.). And of course, model it in your own behavior, like not giving people a hard time when they duck out early for the day when their work allows it (sounds like you’re already on top of that, though).
One other thing: Framing this all as being “results-oriented” probably isn’t making things any clearer to employees who are already confused. If you say “I care about your results and not your hours,” then it can feel contradictory to say “but you should be averaging 40 hours a week.” I get why you’re mentioning that — you want to give people a sense of the time you expect them to put in (and which presumably it takes to do their jobs well). But really, I think the confusion here is just about how PTO works, and so I’d keep your messaging focused there.