update from the manager whose employee kept sneaking out of work early

Remember the reader who managed an employee who kept leaving work early, even after being told to stop doing it? Here’s her update:

Your response motivated me to really take a second look and not only evaluate the situation, but also my managing tactics. I do believe you were correct in saying that I wasn’t yet comfortable in my role as a manager. I had only been at it 4 months and was still adjusting. While I am now just shy of being in the role 10 months, I’m learning more all the time and discovering the best methods to lead my team fairly and assertively. It’s a process and I want to do the best I can, but at that time, I think I was concerned with being “the bad guy” and wanting to be liked. I now know that not everyone can like me all the time, but so long as I’m fair and provide reasoning for why I’m doing what I’m doing, they’ll usually get over it and learn to respect my decision (again, not always, but so far!).

I spoke with the employee in a meeting we had shortly after the incident (just an informal chat that I have with staff on occasion to see how they’re doing) and learned more about her situation. She rides the bus to work and it comes five minutes before her shift ends, and then not again for half an hour. She was skipping out early to catch the bus. We talked about her starting five minutes earlier instead, and that worked out fine. She is no longer in my department anymore (she was temporary), so I can’t say if this continued or not.

Regarding some of the comments from posters, my organization does rely on coverage from other employees should one be sick or need to leave suddenly or take on other tasks that only that person can tend to. Occasionally, they are asked to stay late if it’s a dire situation. If someone were to leave early and I called them for coverage, they wouldn’t be there, and clearly that poses a problem. In my organization, staff are scheduled within set hours and are expected to work for that duration of time (unless we agree otherwise or have an extenuating circumstance). I’m not sure how other organizations work, but if you choose to work through your lunch or your break or stay later, that’s your prerogative – here, you won’t be paid extra or get to leave early (unless, as mentioned above, it’s agreed upon). I’d be interested to see what the managers of those who made comments to the effect of “what does it matter” think about their attitude towards their work schedules. It doesn’t matter if you’re “an adult” and shouldn’t have to ask to leave early. This is your job and it’s a matter of respect for your coworkers and doing the job that you are being paid to do, which includes being present at certain times. As cliché as it sounds, it’s also a matter of principle. There’s a difference between enjoying what you do and just being there for a pay check, and I think that difference is evident in a lot of the responses.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Tech Chic(k)*

    Glad to hear there was an easy solution! And thanks for being flexible so she could catch her bus – I’ve wound up in the same situation many times as an employee who uses public transit. It’s really REALLY appreciated.

  2. Katy O*

    I didn’t see the original post but I agree with these comments about working your scheduled shift & being on time. As an adult, your employer should be able to trust that you will be at work during all of the time you are being paid for. It may be just a few minutes a day but that is not acceptable. Just my opinion but it’s common courtesy to work the hours requested. Actually, leaving early & or being late would result in termination at many companies.

  3. Emily*

    Not totally on topic, but why on earth would employees work through their lunch if they aren’t getting paid? Or was that just a hypothetical scenario to illustrate that it’s important to work the exact hours of your shift?

    1. Julie*

      I can think of two reasons:

      1. They feel overwhelmed and unable to complete all their work in eight hours, but still want to leave on time, so they work through lunch. (I had a few colleagues like this at a former job — due to the very tight turnarounds they had, they would often arrive in the office to see new projects that were already overdue or due in less than an hour, when they were at least 3-4 hour projects.)

      2. As Dawn says, below, they may want to leave early and feel that eight hours of work is eight hours of work, regardless of whether you take a break in the middle.

      I’d note that here in Quebec, both these things are technically illegal. An employer is REQUIRED to give a half-hour unpaid lunch and two fifteen-minute paid breaks to employees. The company in scenario #1 repeatedly told the employees that they would not get paid, even if they worked through lunch.

        1. Julie*

          My mistake. I’ve always been given them. Thought it was part of the law. Perhaps that only applies to shorter shifts, where you’re required to have a 15-minute break?

          1. Jennifer*

            A quick search of various provinces’ laws on hours of work confirms what Marie said: meal breaks are required but coffee breaks aren’t. Also, whether or not there is a minimum time off between shifts also varies by province.

            FYI: A Google search of “labour code work schedule” for each province gives you links to the government sites describing their laws. (I learned something this morning while reviewing the laws of various provinces: some things I had thought applied across Canada are actually provincially regulated. Interesting!)

    2. Under Stand*

      Let’s see: at our office, we have no place to sit and eat lunch other than our desks. There are little tables on every floor, but they only seat about 5 people and often have managers holding meetings at them since the conference rooms are already taken.

      We can go across the street to the main building (and lose 15 minutes of lunch walking over and back), or we can eat at our desks. Now maybe you are more disciplined than I am, however I have caught myself several times ending up working on something because it is right there and something occurs to me. But Policy is policy and I do not get paid for it because they have to give us an unpaid lunch.

      That is just one example of why someone might work during lunch.

  4. Dawn*

    @Emily, I think a lot of employees would work through lunch/breaks if it meant they got to leave early at the end of the day (with the thinking of “eight hours is eight hours”).

  5. Samantha*

    Offices are different. I’m not taking anything away from anyone else if I leave half an hour early; just like my coworker is not taking anything away from me if he comes in at 9 am instead of 8:30 am (which he often does). We have our jobs to do (and we do them) but nothing is so earth shattering that it can’t wait until we are in or the next day. That’s the way our office works and no one has an issue with it.

    I realize not every office is this way but mine is. If my supervisor has an issue with it he has never raised it with me in the three years I’ve been there. Just another perspective. However neither of us answer phones or have any dealings with any reception type duties.

  6. Harry*

    I didn’t read the original post either but if the bus arrives 5 min after the shift it means the employee is leaving even earlier to get to the stop. What is so difficult about waiting for a mere 30 min for the next bus? It’s a job, I get tired of employees who think their jobs are an inconvenience.

      1. Under Stand*

        In our town, there are some busses that are every half hour. Other busses are every hour. And if you have to catch a connection from one to the other, if you have to wait that half hour for the first bus, it may mean you miss the second by 5 minutes so now you are taking an extra hour and a half to get home.

        Just something to think about.

    1. Julie*

      I appreciate the sentiment, but as someone who’s been in this situation, it really is annoying to know that if you could only get out of work 5 minutes early, you could be home a half-hour earlier. (Particularly if the buses worked out that you could arrive 5 minutes early as well, so you’re not trying to cheat on overall time worked.) That’s a half-hour you’re sitting at a bus stop, potentially in the cold, rain, or extreme heat. A half-hour you’re *not* spending cooking dinner, taking care of kids, or doing the myriad other things you could be doing at home. A half-hour may be the difference between arriving at a class on time or late, or getting to an early-evening group fitness class or needing to wait an hour or more for the next one.

      Is a half-hour the end of the world? No. Could they wait? Sure. But if there’s an easy work-around, like coming in 5 minutes early and leaving 5 minutes early, I see no reason not to take it.

      1. Cassie*

        Yeah, taking the next bus (30 mins later) may not seem like a big deal, but there are other variables to take into account. For example, if you take this bus at 5:05pm, you get to your destination in one hour. If you take the 5:35pm bus, it will take you 90 minutes. Or something like that.

        It’s great for an employer to allow some flexibility for something that can be arranged easily (e.g., start 5 minutes earlier, end 5 minutes early). Especially considering the employee probably comes in earlier anyway (you can’t cut it too close with bus schedules after all).

      2. fposte*

        Then throw in the possibility that there’s day care and extra charges involved if you’re half an hour later.

    2. Vicki*

      If she is paid for the shift and only for the shift, that extra half hour is on her time. THAT’s the inconvenience, not the job.

    3. -*

      That’s what I’m thinking, she could work a little later, until like 5:10, then by the time the computer gets turned off, she goes to the bathroom, gets to the bus, its 5:20. 10 minutes til bus comes. Big deal!

  7. Anonymous*

    “There’s a difference between enjoying what you do and just being there for a pay check, and I think that difference is evident in a lot of the responses.”

    To get employees that are not just there for a paycheck, you’ve got to be willing to treat them like adults. If an employee is working through lunch and getting a lot done, is 5 minutes really going to make a difference?

    I can understand when things need to be covered, but even when I worked retail most of my managers were sensitive to the fact that the employees had lives outside of work- the ones that didn’t seemed to have trouble keeping fully staffed. And employees were sensitive to the fact that some had to leave a bit earlier to pick up kids/catch a bus. (But then, we also got paid for every minute worked.)

    1. Aaron*

      Agree with this. As the quote goes, “I love what I do, but if they stopped paying me, I’d stop showing up.” I If an employee is unprofessional, setting strict hours may be a way to try to fix the problem–but if someone else is a great employee and you draw a line in the sand on hours worked, because or professionalism or pride, you’re going to lose some great employees. Glad to know the parties were able to work it out here.

    2. greatworker*

      Couldn’t have said it better. I’m a great worker naturally, but also because manager treats me like one. If she starts watching the clock for me, I’d be calculating every minute I work outside of my office hours, and will definitely start looking for another job that allows me to perform as well as I normally do.

  8. Lisa*

    I absolutely love what I do and I go to work enthusiastic to do my job. I work even on days “off” when supposedly nobody is allowed to work, because there are things to do and I want to do them. I’ve been known to pirouette in my kitchen because I’m excited about an early morning meeting.

    And yet, I would love what I do a lot less if suddenly one day my manager started giving me grief about being in the office for particular hours, and picking even at a five minute interval. As things stand now, I can come in late and stay late, come in early and leave early, or essentially structure my schedule however I like, within reason, so long as my work is done.

    One of the best things my manager can do (and does) to make me happy at work is to give me latitude to set my own schedule, and trust that my work will be completed. I have a number of things going on outside of work, including being a full-time student and the President of a local youth organization. (That’s a small part of a very long list of things I’m involved with.) Sometimes the other things I have going on take five minutes out of my workday one day, which I make up from home later or the next day. Sometimes I choose to work 12 hour days. If I felt that my employer was stingy about the five minutes, I probably wouldn’t choose to give the extra four hours.

      1. Kathleen*

        I think the reason so many managers are picky about a couple of minutes is that they have employees who regularly abuse the work hours. I don’t know any manager that would not let you leave five minutes early to catch the bus, as long as you make it up somewhere in your day.

    1. Olson*

      Really, it depends on the office/type of work. My dad is the assistant manager at a college bookstore, he manages day-to-day operations. Over the years he’s worked there, due to the lax management style of his boss, most of the staff are late most days. Sometimes 5 minutes, sometimes 15, sometimes 30. It’s a big deal because now he can never be sick or late himself because he never knows if the rest of the staff (including his boss) will be there to open the store.

      The “we’re all adults” goes both ways – as adults we know we have obligations to fulfill and shouldn’t have to be prompted about it. One of those obligations is to be on time for work, the majority of the time.

      I love that you get to set your own schedule for the most part, but it’s also a function of the type of work you do and the boss you work under. And your choice to do that type of job versus one that doesn’t allow you that kind of flexibility. But it’s not necessarily a demeaning thing if in other jobs, they hold their employees accountable for being on time down to the minute.

  9. Anonymous*

    It becomes just a paycheck when you work hard, come in early, leave late, work thru lunches, save the company big money and you are told that YOU dont get any promotion, salary increase or anything becuase you are salary but the idiot down the hall who comes in late, leaves early, gets the salary increase and no one knows what they actually do. Yes…Im looking for a new job because the boss I have is an unappreicative, unfair oaf that shouldnt have gotten the mgt position in the first place.

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