telling a chronically tardy employee with child care issues that she has to be on time … without tears

A reader writes:

I have a new salaried staff member who is a manager-in-training for a new location we are opening up. I believe this is her first management role, and this may be her first salaried position. I was not involved in her hiring process. She has worked for us for a week now, and is having child-care issues causing her to be tardy or have to leave earlier than expected. I would like your advice on the most professional way to handle this.

The nature of our business doesn’t allow for flex-time, and we are a semi-warehouse environment, so we don’t allow children inside the location. Location managers are also expected to be the last one out the door at night, which means sometimes you are going to be working 10-20 minutes later than you expected. She knew all of this before when she accepted the position.

The last four days, she has either been late (because the sitter was late), or she’s had to leave before other non-managerial employees in the evening to pick her child up. She’s a single mom, so I understand that she’s in a tough spot. The first time I had a conversation with her about her tardiness, she burst into tears. My boss spoke with her the next day, just to reinforce what I had said, and she burst into tears.

What’s the best way to have a crying-free conversation with her about tardiness and that as a manager, her schedule is somewhat penciled-in, and that she needs to understand that some evenings she’ll be expected to work a little later?

I don’t want to scare her off or to think she’s not capable of doing this job, but I also can’t risk a phone call from the client complaining that she hasn’t been there when they expected her to be, or from non-managerial employees saying she wasn’t there to unlock the door, causing them to get in trouble for punching in late.

Well, if your goal is a crying-free conversation, you might not get it. Instead, your goal should be to have a kind but direct conversation with her about the requirements of the job, so that you’re both on the same page about your expectations.

She’s a crier — some people are — so she might cry during this. You can’t prevent that, and you don’t want your worries about that to lead you to avoid or delay the conversation or to soft-pedal the message. You can and should certainly be kind about it, and if she cries, you can offer her a tissue and time to compose herself, but the conversation has to happen, crying or no crying.

Sit down with her and say something like this: “I know that you’re in a tough spot with child care, and I empathize. I wish I could give you more flexibility on your start time and leaving time, but unfortunately, this position requires that you be here by 9:00 exactly and sometimes requires you to stay a little later than normal in order to close up. I know that that’s been hard for you to do in your first week, and I want to talk about whether the schedule is something you can commit to going forward. If it’s not, we’re better off figuring that out now.”

If she cries, you can be sympathetic, but you’d still bring the conversation back to: “Understanding that we can’t be flexible on the hours, is this schedule the right fit for you?” Use a kind tone, but direct words.

If she says that she will be able to work the schedule that you need, then let her know that you’re glad to hear that and move forward. If the problems happen again after that, then you’d need to move to warning her that you’ll need to replace her if she can’t meet the schedule requirements of the role, just like you would with anyone else who wasn’t able to work the hours you need.

On the other hand, if she says that she can’t commit to the schedule you need, then you thank her for being candid with you and say that you’re sorry it didn’t end up being the right fit.

In other words, be compassionate about her situation but realistic and forthright about what the job requires. Good luck!

{ 250 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat*

    Tangential issue: it seems really wrong that non-management employees can get penalized when their manager is late and they truly can’t clock in. Even if you had a manager who was always on time, the non-management employees still shouldn’t be the ones who bore the brunt of their manager being caught in a freak traffic accident or hospitalization or whatnot.

    1. Jamie*

      A lot of places I’ve worked pay you for start of shift as long as you were there when the late person showed up. I’ve truly never worked in an environment where the hourly people would be penalized for that – although I’m sure it happens somewhere.

      This happened to me recently – I was coming into work and it was just going to be me and two guys here to clean the carpets. I was 12 minutes late and I made sure to let them know they’d be paid from start time. It’s not their fault I spilled my coffee and had to zip home and change.

      1. Cat*

        I was referring to the sentence in the letter stating: “I also can’t risk a phone call from the client complaining that she hasn’t been there when they expected her to be, or from non-managerial employees saying she wasn’t there to unlock the door, causing them to get in trouble for punching in late.”

        So possibly they’re just worried they’re going to get in trouble but won’t actually? I hope that’s it at any rate.

        1. Jamie*

          I see what you are saying, I’ve just seen so many people afraid of “getting in trouble” when there was no chance of that what so ever that for some people it seems to be a knee jerk response.

          I guarantee you that if we had only one person to open and they were late we’d have tons of people fretting over not being paid or being in trouble even though we have a well deserved track record of being fair. But there would be a lot of people who wouldn’t differentiate being spoken to because they forgot to clock in on time or clocking in late because they were late and forces beyond their control.

          I don’t get it. If I were them I wouldn’t worry, because if you tried to dock my pay I’d demand you pull the security cameras which prove I was here on time and I want my money! But then, I can be pushy.

          1. fposte*

            And I think it’s not even just fair, it’s the law–if you’re “engaged to wait” (and can’t do anything else), you’re owed the pay.

          2. tcookson*

            I don’t get it. If I were them I wouldn’t worry, because if you tried to dock my pay I’d demand you pull the security cameras which prove I was here on time and I want my money!

            I don’t get it either (some people’s propensity toward premature worry). I say, don’t worry until it’s time to worry — and it’s not time to worry until it has been proven that the bad thing is absolutely going to happen, not just that you think the bad thing might happen. Even if the bad thing does happen, it’s still not time to worry, if you can talk your way clear to a better result.

            1. Jamie*

              This reminds me of something my mom used to say to me (I’m much better now, but I used to have a tendency to freak out toward worst case scenario).

              98% of what you’re worried about will never happen.
              1% will happen, but won’t be anywhere near as bad as you think.
              You can’t do a darn thing about the remaining 1% so relax.

              Now just between you and me, I don’t think those figures were based on statistical probability studies but rather just pulled out of the air to make me shut up (I’m sorry…shush up…my mom felt “shut up” was as bad as swearing. I was raised by Ma Ingalls.)

              I still find those made up numbers to be comforting.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                That’s awesome. I’m going to try and remember that. Anxiety and worry are really big issues for me. Also, +1 for the Ma Ingalls thing–love those books.

                Favorite Ma quote: “Least said, soonest mended.” :)

          3. Rana*

            Perhaps some of them have worked in environments with less understanding bosses? I can fully see a situation where if you don’t punch in, you’re not officially there, and having a boss who is unforgiving of things like broken time stamps and the like. Think of the places that refuse to count computer start-up time prior to clock-in time, and those that dock pay for being 3 minutes late back from lunch.

            1. fposte*

              There have been lawsuits about that (2008 seems to have been a big year for their filing), but I’m not finding how they came out. I can’t imagine how it would be legal not to pay people for this, but of course that doesn’t necessarily stop employers.

          4. Anonymous*

            But if they demand you pull the security camera you are going to be branded a trouble maker even if you are right so they are going to sit there because they need the job and not stand up and shout because they can’t afford it. Assuming that everyone can always afford to be the person to stand up and make noise is not correct.

        2. RaeLyn*

          Has anybody else here ever worked in a factory? Many go in 5 or 15 minute increments, if you’re one minute late you’re automatically docked for the entire increment. If you’re late three times in one month, you’re written up, doesn’t matter why, it’s the policy. If you’re written up three times in one year, then you’re fired. You never got the chance to say WHY you were late…..and if you’re just the last in line for the time clock so you punch in late, was just told then you’d better start getting here earlier than you did today.

          1. Jamie*

            I’ve worked in many and written clock in policies.

            The way I structure a clock in policy is to the nearest 15 minutes. So if you start at 8:00 and clock in at 7:55 it will clock you to 8:00 – but if you clock in at 8:05 you are clocked to 8:00 as well. It evens out for most people.

            If you don’t feel you are being listened to, or if you were on time but the punch was late due to their being too long a line at the time station then there are much bigger managerial issues than minute increments of time.

            1. RaeLyn*

              lol Jamie……that was 15 years and two states ago! I haven’t had to punch a clock for years…..but that is how they handled it at that factory. If you punched in at 8:01 to 8:14 it was 8:15 start time and you were recorded as tardy, even if you’d been standing in the clock-in line since 7:55. And if you clocked in at 7:35, your pay started at 8am as that is the time work started regardless of when you clocked in.
              With over 3,000 employees working in that one factory using dozens of time clocks, no way HR could listen to every excuse about why their time clock needed to be adjusted.
              Just brought it up to illustrate how one can technically be on time to your workplace but still considered late in the employers eyes.

    2. Rebecca*

      Yes, everywhere I’ve worked your timesheet would be manually changed to reflect when you actually got to work. I’ve been on both sides of it.

    3. VintageLydia*

      Yup, I was the lucky manager to be at the store at 4am, and if my daily coffee stop was slower than normal, I made sure that everyone who was there before me got paid for the start of their shift (lucky for those who were late but earlier than me!) Didn’t happen often, of course, but the only person getting in trouble for a late start time was me.

      1. Heather*

        Hi, I’m the one who wrote in the original question. Please allow me to explain my terse concerns about our non-managerial employees possibly not getting paid:

        We bring in a long of short-term temps from a local temp agency who often work one to three days for big projects. They come to the location, and they know which suite to report to, but if the person they are supposed to report isn’t there (for example, is running late), it’s happened in the past that the temp thinks they are in the wrong place or gets frustrated, and leaves the worksite, thus, not getting paid, or getting in trouble with the temp agency. this exact thing has happened at a number of our locations, and i don’t want it to happen at my new one!

        Our regular non-managerial employees, or long-term temps (basically, anyone who has worked there before) would never, ever be penalized if they showed up on time and no one was there to open the door.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Can you post a sign that tells them they are in the right place and that this is where they should wait?

    4. Jessa*

      Exactly. This is NOT the fault of the hourly people. Do you have some kind of shop steward that can be given a key? Some kind of lead hourly worker position? It’s outrageous that someone can get in trouble because a manager shirks their duties.

      1. Heather*

        I’ll look into my options for this. It’s happened at other locations that I was tangentally involved with, and we need a policy for it.

  2. Tina Career Counselor*

    It probably won’t help with the current situation unless you’re a speed reader, but I recently finished reading “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Stone, Patton and Heen, and have found it very helpful. It gives both work and personal examples, and an overall checklist/road map to get through an awkward conversation.

  3. Ruffingit*

    Nothing to add to the advice Alison gives, but just want to say that the boss speaking to the woman the day after the manager did just to reinforce the manager’s stance seems really crappy. It’s reminiscent of Office Space with the TPS reports. Why did the boss feel the need to reinforce what the manager had already said to the employee? Seems one conversation from your superior is enough on this, why subject the woman to two?

    1. The IT Manager*

      Beause after the first conversation, she still was late.

      Okay maybe the escalation was not necessary at that moment, but this sounds like an unfortunate situation where she is simply not a good fit because of her child care issues.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I agree she may not be a good fit. But the way this was phrased was not that the boss spoke to her the next day because she was late again, but rather to reinforce what the manager had said the day before. The OP says My boss spoke with her the next day, just to reinforce what I had said, and she burst into tears.

        So the boss spoke to her “just to reinforce” what was said. That seems unnecessary to me.

        1. Adam V*

          OP points out that she was late 4 days in a row, so maybe OP had her conversation with her on the 2nd or 3rd day in a row, and after she continued to be late, the boss said to herself “OP’s conversation with Jill didn’t seem to have an impact, so maybe I need to speak with Jill myself”?

          It’s “reinforcing” from the standpoint that “okay, OP had the talk, now I have to have the talk”, but it’s also “OP had the talk, she was still late”.

          1. Adam V*

            Correction “she was late 4 days in a row” should have been “she was either late or left early 4 days in a row”.

        2. KayDay*

          Also, even if she was late again, it might be because childcare is not something that she cannot fix overnight, even if she tried. It does not necessarily mean that she didn’t get the message. (Which is, of course, a reason why the job very likely is a bad fit for her.)

          1. Wilton Businessman*

            If that’s the case, she should have said “Look, I have a flaky babysitter. I have a new sitter lined up for Monday and I expect that this situation will be resolved by the 10th. I understand this is causing hardship for the business and I assure you my personal situation will be resolved shortly and I can commit 110% to the job.”

            Don’t just tell me the babysitter was late, tell me you’re solving the problem.

            1. Jamie*

              Communication is huge here. Believe me, if I were late/leaving early my first week my bosses wouldn’t have a chance to bring it to my attention because I’d have brought it up myself.

              Along with what I was doing to solve the problem and being mortified that I was having issues week one.

              This isn’t something you wait for them to bring to you.

              1. Tami M*

                Jamie, you hit the nail right on the head! It couldn’t have been said better! ^^^^^5

        3. Managing for the People*

          @ Ghe IT Manager Not a good fit because of childcare issues? Sounds like discrimination. This could be a temporary issue. I would give her a month to secure better daycare, this way she has time fix the situation. When you are patient and good to employees, you would be very surprised what you get in return.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s not discrimination, not in the legal sense. It’s perfectly legal to tell employees that they need to be able to reliably work a particular schedule and replace them if they can’t/don’t. The law doesn’t require exceptions for parents.

          2. The IT Manager*

            The single mother has my sympathies. I agree with what you are saying but I am in a business that will accomidate variable hours. The LW is not and may not be able to give her a month. If the new employee was just hired, if she is let go quickly maybe they can make an offer to their #2 choice now instead of starting a new round of hiring which could tahe longer than a month.

          3. Jamie*

            They aren’t discriminating against parents, they would be “discriminating” against people who can’t keep the schedule they said they could work when hired.

            People aren’t entitled to jobs for which they can’t perform the requirements.

          4. Chinook*

            How would this be discrimination to insist that someone do the job they not only agreed to do but is also completely reasonable – i.e. show up on time no matter what and stay until the last person leaves? In fact, if I was her coworker (especially one who also had children) and I was stuck locking up when I wasn’t scheduled too, I would resent her scheduling problems. Discrimination, in my mind, would be setting up a job where no single parent would be able to do the job. Others have been, from the beginning of industrial era, able to figure out how to balance childcare and work expectations, so it is not improbable that she could too.

          5. Marmite*

            I’m a single parent with a toddler and childcare has been an issue for me in the past, because I have a changing work schedule and flexible (affordable) childcare is hard to find. I am lucky enough to have an employer that is able to occasionally allow me to bring my son to work for an hour or so, if childcare + my work schedules don’t 100% match up. I hugely appreciate that and, of course, that’s reflected in my work and my loyalty to my employer, and the level of flexibility I’m able to offer them.

            However, for the first three months I made sure that I was on time every day and stayed until the end of my shift every day. It sometimes meant shelling out more than I could really afford for a day or two of emergency childcare. It sometimes meant my son wasn’t in my first choice of childcare. It sometimes meant calling in every favour to get a friend to watch him for a day. You gotta do what you gotta do, but to me it was important to establish myself as a reliable employee, and my childcare issues are not my employer’s responsibility.

          6. KimmieSue*

            Being late or leaving early four times in the first week, regardless of reason, would not demonstrate to me that this employee warrants my goodness or patience. Too many strong qualified folks out there looking for jobs. Might sound heartless, but I’d recommend cutting bait with this one. Might also serve a lesson to the employee, with kids, you need to have a couple of back-up plans. This is coming from a working mother who was single for most of my kids upbringing.

          7. Tony in HR*

            I’m not trying to pick on Managing for the People here, but you bring up a pet peeve.

            You can be discriminated against for many things; some of things it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against for (having brown hair, not having a car, etc). I cannot stand when wanting to discipline someone for good reason is called discrimination. This is a clear performance issue, and lucky for OP, it’s in their first week.

            1. TheSnarkyB*

              I understand the pet peeve, but I think this is a grey territory. Not legally, but ethically/morally/legally in other places, so I get what MgftPpl might be saying.
              I also get very irritated when people write in here saying, “My boss yelled at me for being late, but I was sick. Why is he discriminating against me?”
              But I think it’s a little different when gender and parenthood and children are mixed in – some people may genuinely think that you can’t discriminate against someone with kids (marital status of family status or whatever you want to call it), and that this was a case of that. This isn’t a case of that, even if that were a protection, but I can see why someone might mistakenly think so. Just trying to add some nuance to the conversation. :)

          8. Melissa*

            A month? A month is enough time to lose clients or money or aggravate good staff members. It’s not discrimination – there are plenty of parents who are able to work out childcare so they are not late/have to leave early every day.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      It could also be that after the employee started crying, OP went into sympathy mode, and perhaps did not make 100% sure that the message got across, or realized later that something she said that she intended as standard sympathy talk could be construed by the employee as a “you don’t need to worry about this anymore.” So OP could have brought in the reinforcement because she had reason to believe it was needed.

        1. Heather*

          OP Here,

          My boss was visiting the site and helping me an unrelated issue. He asked how everything was going with the new trainee, and specifically asked if there was anything that concerned me, or if there was anything I thought he should know. I asked him for advice on this exact concern, and he said he felt it might help if the new trainee heard the message again from someone else. She knows that my boss is very supportive of our new location.

          and by the way, so far this week, no tardiness issues!

          1. fposte*

            Well, that is excellent news. I really didn’t like the sound of the start, so I’m pleased that the reasons that you thought she was a good employee are being borne out.

  4. Katie the Fed*

    Some people cry under stress/duress. It’s just a physiological reaction. I wouldn’t worry about it any more than excessive sweating. And if you’re not comfortable with employees crying during a counseling session, management is going to be very difficult.

    1. fposte*

      Right. The point here is not to let “bursting into tears” = “ending the conversation.” It’s not good for either side if that happens.

      1. Chinook*

        As a crier under stress, I agree. Don’t let the tears end the conversation or make you back down. AAM’s advice on handing over a tissue, giving her a moment to compose herself and then getting back to the issue at hand is good. So is acknowledging that this job may not be a good fit for her.

    2. Anonymous*

      It’s a cylical issue, speaking from experience. first you cry because you’re under stress, then you keep crying or cry harder because you burst into tears and now you’re afraid of how you’re being percieved. Or if you’re me, you’re also mad at yourself for reinforcing negative stereotypes about women in the workplace.

    3. Jamie*

      Believe me, of all people I know about stress crying…and I’m trying not to judge, but my knee jerk reaction is “bursting into tears” (which is MUCH different than moist eyes trying to hold back) over a relatively minor criticism would concern me.

      I would assume the otp reaction was due to her being afraid she was going to have ongoing problems meeting this schedule and she was terrified…understandable but scary. Or that she can’t handle conflict of any kind at all, in which case how can she manage.

      Now, it’s possible she just happened to start a job where stuff is going on with her making her more fragile or she has something else going on….in which case this could be an anomaly for her. But I’d really need to know she could manage others without doing this.

      1. Liz in a library*

        I’m a big stress crier, and I also pictured something much bigger than a welling up of tears.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          For someone who’s uncomfortable with crying, any tears might constitute “bursting into tears.” Are we talking wracked with sobs? Gasping for air? Or just a few tears?

          1. Jamie*

            I’m picturing wracked and gasping. Just shy of the kind of crying that needs a towel rather than a tissue. But it’s a great point that it could just be hyperbole.

            I hope the OP chimes back in, because while all crying should be avoided because it’s the world we live in (not my personal belief) but there is a huge difference between eyes kind of filling up and praying no one notices and a full on rending of garment and gnashing of teeth.

            1. Ruffingit*

              The mascara has no hope, rending of garment and gnashing of teeth cry is what my friends and I refer to as “the ugly cry.” It’s the one where someone you care deeply for has died. The one where you are pregnant and a Hallmark commercial comes on.

              If the employee is doing the ugly cry then that is indeed concerning.

      2. P*

        Yeah, this sounds a bit melodramatic. I totally get stress crying – for me it’s involuntary that the corners of my mouth pull down slightly and my eyes well up when I get bad news – but “bursting into tears” sounds like a complete lack of control.

        1. Heather*

          Original poster here.

          the new manager trainee is a stress-crier, as I’ve come to learn. And the first week on the new job there was a lot of work related stress she wasn’t prepared for, on top of the tardiness issue.

          it was in between “a few tears” and “wracked with sobbing”. enough tears that it made me uncomfortable, and that I didn’t know how to continue to conversation. I felt like I was kicking her when she was down.

          1. Del*

            Honestly, in a case like this, I’m not surprised. The first few weeks on a new job are always very stressful, add on to that the fact that the childcare issues are probably driving her nuts all on her own, and on top of that getting in trouble over the childcare issues that are already stressing her out, and the fear of job loss (justified or not) when she’s a sole provider… man, that is a horrible load of stress for that poor employee.

            Not that I’m saying you should be a complete pushover about it. If you need her to hold to a rock-solid schedule, then you need that, and the job may well be a bad fit. But I still feel bad for her being stuck in the middle of all of that.

    4. Newly Hired*

      Yeah. I have that problem and it’s incredibly frustrating. I’ve had to assure people more than once that I’m not *really* upset or crying “like that” and usually it’s just a few tears here and there but it can be supremely embarrassing.

      1. mel*

        Ugh I’m a big-time embarrassing stress crier as well, even if the situation isn’t a big deal or particularly difficult, tears may happen.

        It shouldn’t end a conversation though. I can’t speak for all stress criers, but just because a person is crying he/she can still process thought and retain memory. Just saying.

  5. Joey*

    Someone you’re training to be a manager is crying over this? I’d be worried she can’t handle managing let alone the attendance issues.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      She’s crying in a 1-on-1 session with her own manager. That’s very different than managing her own employees.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agreed, but she’s going to need to have some really tough, excruciating conversations as a manager, and if she’s falling apart over being reminded of something as simple as a schedule, in her first week no less, I’d have real concerns.

        (And yes, I get that it’s stressful because she’s a single mom with child care issues, but I’d still be concerned.)

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I’d be concerned, but I wouldn’t necessarily assume it’s a lost cause. She might be completely overwhelmed and stressed and nervous this week because it’s a new job, and childcare issues have arisen, etc etc.

          Hopefully she gets it together soon.

          1. Chinook*

            I agree. The stress of a flakey babysitter/sick child/whatever is causing childcare issues combined with knowing she could lose her job could definitely send someone over the edge. The employee could save this if she communciated to the OP that her solution to her problem is A with back ups B and C and explain how this is a rare occurence. But, it will come down to both attitude and showing a behaviour change as well as the reality of whether or no that position can risk having someone come late/leave early one more time.

        2. RaeLyn*

          Stress-crier here…….and a successful manager. Having somebody talk to me about my behavior will frequently make me “burst into tears” or shed a few tears, but rarely do I have the same problem when counseling an employee.
          I’ve decided it has something to do with control, I’m not in control when my boss brings up something upsetting, but when I’m talking to my employee I am. Make sense to anybody?
          So I don’t see it as a big of a red flag as the rest of you….but I’m also menopausal and that has a LOT to do with crying, something you really don’t understand until you’re going through it yourself. Just sayin’

          1. Jamie*

            You know, I think it’s something we don’t really talk about because as women (especially successful women) we don’t want to give anyone ammo by which they can diminish us as executives…but I’ll say it…there are certain times of the month I’m more likely to cry.

            It does NOT mean I’m irrational. It does NOT mean I cannot do my job. It does NOT mean you can dismiss why I’m upset chalking it up to PMS. It means my emotions are a lot closer to the surface and I’m not feeling all that well.

            Also – this doesn’t apply to all women. For some it’s unrelated. But managing our hormones can be a struggle for some at some points in our lives and there is nothing to be ashamed of. We do what we can to avoid this happening at work and we’re human so if we slip we splash some water on our faces and get back to work.

            1. Jamie*

              I have no idea why I used “we” in that first paragraph. This is something I’ve found in common with people in my real life, but I wanted to clarify that I wasn’t speaking for anyone here…just my own opinion.

            2. RaeLyn*

              Well said Jamie! And age has nothing to do with it either, I’m menopausal due to surgery so by looking at me you’d think I was way to young to be going through it. Have been working for FIVE YEARS with hormone replacement trying to get things under control, it’s getting more manageable, but still not where I’d like to be.
              Best friend had same surgery at same age, she has no symptoms whatsoever (and yes, I call her the b word when she gloats about it) so symptoms highly vary from person to person.
              But I don’t want people to just say “she’s just menopausal” and take me less seriously. So I splash some cold water on my face and go back to work with puffy eyes and stopped up nose and just dare somebody to say something about it. :)

      2. Joey*

        If she can’t handle being told she needs to be on time its doubtful she’ll be able to handle other criticisms. And there will be plenty as a manager in training.

          1. Joey*

            Because she didn’t remain composed over a relatively minor criticism. If she can’t remain composed over that its likely she won’t over all of the bigger issues either that come with being a new manager.

      3. Lanya*

        I agree, I am a crier when I am stressed, but I am an excellent manager and I can control my emotions when having difficult conversations with my employees.

        It should also be considered that this woman is not necessarily falling to tears over the stresses of being a single mom. There might be something else entirely different going on here that she has not disclosed at work, that is causing her to be late, above and beyond dealing with her children.

        1. BCW*

          So you can handle your emotions as long as its not directed toward you? That seems a bit odd to me

          1. fposte*

            I think it’s pretty standard–hiring managers don’t cry when rejecting applicants, as a rule, but applicants have been known to cry at getting rejections; relationship dumpees are likelier to cry than relationship dumpers.

            But I still agree that it’s a sign that she could have trouble even on the other side of the desk.

          2. Colette*

            That doesn’t seem that surprising – it’s less personal if it’s not about you, and you also have knowledge beforehand about what you’re going to say.

            1. Jamie*

              It’s also about control. It’s unpleasant to have to fire someone, but you have control over the conversation and as Colette mentioned it’s less personal. It’s not a fun thing to do, but it doesn’t impact how you pay your mortgage or feed your kids.

              When I’ve cried it’s been the loss of control, helplessness, either real or imagined, does it for me.

              And some of it is the degree of anger. If you’re letting someone go you’re generally past being actively angry at them, and it’s not as personal as being angry at someone who fired you.

              And can I just say that every time I see you post I’m sad I didn’t have another baby because I always said if I had had another girl I’d have named her Colette. One of the prettiest names ever.

              1. Colette*

                It’s a good name – common enough that I occasionally meet others, but uncommon enough that I’m usually the only one. My parents chose well.

          3. SB*

            Why is that odd? I’m a stress crier. Not a burst into tears crier, but my eyes get moist and my face gets blotchy. However, I find that it’s usually triggered by stress when whatever is causing the stress is directed at me. If it’s a different type of stressful situation, it’s almost never a problem. Not all stressors are created equal and they may affect people differently.

          4. P*

            I consider this so normal that I took it as a given. Are you saying that you would be exactly as upset (or not upset) while scolding someone for making a mistake as you would be while being told that you made a mistake? I find THAT odd.

      4. Anonymous*

        Some people are just very put off by tears. I’m not one of them, I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness or inability to cope, I think some people are just more prone to them than others. But I do think that’s not the common view and someone who is prone to crying is going to have a hard time being seen as ‘professional’.

        1. Joey*

          If she were working in an onion factory I’d be with you, but a manager crying because she’s emotionally overwhelmed from being told she needs to be on time?

        2. Heather*

          stuff happens while you’re at work, I get that. You get an emergency phone call, you’ve just been laid off, yes, there are reasons to cry at work. To me, this wasn’t a reason, and yes, it put me off.

    2. ChristineSW*

      Agreed. It’s exactly why I could never be a manager/supervisor…I cry too easily when in difficult situations. I also cry when I see someone else cry.

  6. EnnVeeEl*

    It’s imperative working parents find jobs that fit the lives they live and their responsibilities. I think it is the responsibility of the parents to do that. It can be done. I have this friendly conversation when it looks like an offer is going to be made. If the manager starts acting weird, I know it isn’t going to be a good fit. My current manager is awesome and flexible as much as he can be. I know this is a blessing and I handle this with care!

    1. Editor*

      In general, I agree with you. But I would add a caveat that in some job markets it is very difficult to find a job that suits a parent’s financial goals, skills, child-care needs, transportation restrictions and otherwise is a good fit. Rural areas, in particular, don’t always offer a lot of choices, and some workers do get stranded in locations that aren’t ideal.

      1. EnnVeeEl*

        Believe me Editor, I understand, but you also have to look at it from the EMPLOYER’S point of view, which this blog is very helpful in pointing out to people: Your manager doesn’t care about all that. They just want the work to be done. They are paying you. As long as we’re all in a position where someone else is paying us to do work, we have to play by their rules. And people get fired for repeated tardiness, absences, etc., all the time, no matter the reason. The employer may be sympathetic, but at the end of the day, they have a business to run. They will simply find someone else to do the work. And getting fired isn’t very helpful when trying to look for better paying jobs, etc.

        1. Editor*

          I don’t think I was disagreeing that the employer is entitled to receive the work being paid for. What I was disagreeing with is your contention that a working parent can find a job that fits in terms of career and childcare needs so the parent can easily meet the employer’s needs. Often this is a huge struggle for the worker when childcare isn’t available to fit the employer’s schedule.

          Frankly, I think a lot of employers would find that employees are more reliable if the employers had provided on-premises space for daycare, even if the operation of the daycare is contracted out so the employer doesn’t have the headache of actually administering it. I’m not arguing that parents should get more slack in punctuality, I’m simply concerned that a lack of child-care infrastructure in the U.S., particularly in rural areas, creates difficulties for both employers and employees.

          1. Jamie*

            I can’t imagine that the increase in reliability would make an on-site daycare cost effective for the vast majority of employers.

            The liability insurance alone will cost a bundle. That lack of decent child care is an issue for employees isn’t a question, it absolutely is, but it’s not really an issue for the employer and won’t be as long as their are more people looking for jobs than jobs available. I’m sympathetic to the struggle as a person, but this will just never be the employer’s problem to solve.

            1. Elizabeth*

              We’ve examined putting a daycare in the hospital, because it is something that our employees routinely rank as very high on their want list.

              The regulations for a day care make it prohibitive to have in the same building as healthcare facility. Many of them contradict each other, so that if we followed the regulations we must follow to keep the facility doors open, we would be violating the regulations governing the day care.

              Then, there is the issue of who is paying for it. It is not a service that everyone could or would use. Employees who say they want it also want it subsidized. Parents of grown children, childless individuals, and parents who choose other daycare providers are overwhelmingly vocal that the employees who use it should be required to bear the cost of it.

              Finally, there are what hours it should operate. We’re a 24 by 7 by 365 business. If it is only open Monday to Friday 8 to 5, it doesn’t offer any benefit to the night shift or weekend-only employees, who are the ones who have the most difficulty finding reliable child care. If it is open at all the same hours as the hospital (AKA All The Time), staffing it becomes significantly more expensive.

              It comes up about every 3 years. In the end, it is always vetoed as not a service that we should offer.

            2. SevenSixOne*

              And space is an issue too! In the dozen or so jobs I’ve had, there’s been only one workplace with enough space for an onsite daycare. Not everyone works in a great big office with an unused conference room or two, after all.

            3. Editor*

              Please note that I am not suggesting the employer run the daycare, so liability is not an issue. I am suggesting a daycare is a popular amenity with a certain group of employees. Health insurance is a popular amenity, too, but there have been plenty of employers over the years who haven’t wanted to offer it. When a business can develop a site plan that includes space for a daycare near the business, I think that is helpful, and I don’t see why people should be indignant about it.

              Furthermore, because I have mostly worked in rural and semi-rural areas and was specifically speaking about rural areas, finding nearby space that is not in the building itself (for instance, a rural hospital might well have open land at the opposite end of the parking lot) means that the site can be close to the job site but not actually the employer’s responsibility. That would take care of some of the objections Elizabeth raises in regard to hospitals.

              One of my kids presently works in a suburban area on a business campus that has a daycare on location and it is very popular. I believe it is managed by a contractor; I don’t know who owns the leased space. I believe the employers on the campus all lease, too.

              I lived in a southern state for about a decade, and during that time a couple of companies relocated to the town and transferred in a lot of employees. One of the things the women I knew complained about was day care. They were new in town and isolated, and they would have been very grateful for a daycare near the plants. Since workers were pulled from multiple other locations, they didn’t have friends-and-family networks. Initially there was a lot of pressure for mothers to stay at home because of the limited childcare options and paucity of part-time jobs (it didn’t seem like many or any single moms got transferred, but maybe I only met married women). That situation was very different from many urban and populous suburban work sites.

              1. Jamie*

                Maybe it’s the leased property that makes a difference, but I’ve tended to work at places where they own the property – so liability would always be an issue, no matter who ran it.

                And while it would be a huge help to those who need it, I can totally see why some people would resent it. Whether self staffed or hiring an agency to do it it will cost money. Most companies have a certain amount set aside for retained earnings and improvements, and some for raises and bonuses.

                Company improvements tend to go over well when the investment will increase the profitability of the company giving everyone a little more job security and hope for more money.

                If you were to do a day care center absolutely there would be people wondering how much bigger their raise or bonus would be if the money wasn’t spent on that.

                And in a lot of SMB – privately owned – that’s what people will be thinking. My kids are older, so I wouldn’t need this. So if I had less money in salary and bonus because free day care was provided…it was in part at the expense of myself and my kids. That’s why people would be pissed.

                It’s nice for those who need it – but there is really no incentive for an employer to do this unless he can’t get employees otherwise.

                1. Editor*

                  Well, there are no incentives for a lot of things some employers do. For whatever reason, the employer may think daycare, showers, an onsite fitness room or club, or a cafeteria is a desirable amenity. One of my extended family members works at a place with a pretty good food service operation, but it sounds like the employer provides the space or offers below-market rent in order to have food service onsite. Sure, that isn’t a mainstream approach, but there are employers who don’t necessarily use a cost-benefit approach to amenities. I do see this more at larger, institutional employers such as insurance companies, financial/bank companies, large academic institutions, and so on, but smaller employers can decide they want to facilitate easy access to food or childcare or exercise can do so if they wish.

                  I’ve been reading some articles encouraging bicycle commuting lately, and one thing the stories say is that it is easier for people to commute on bikes if there are showers at work. To me, offering showers is similar to offering daycare. The showers don’t serve all employees and they have a cost, but the facilities in general serve the greater social good. They probably don’t make a large across-the-board difference in employee performance, so there may be no measurable benefit to the employer.

  7. Meg*

    Is she making excuses? I noticed that the letter said she was late because the babysitter was late, or have to leave early to pick up her child. I know this is probably going to seem weird because I’m responding to the subject of the letter and not the letter writer, but I’d suggest finding a new babysitter if they can’t be there on time and can’t watch the child to a time when the parent gets home.

    Does your place of employment offer EAP? Perhaps you could refer her to that to assist in finding reliable child care.

    1. Kim*

      I agree that the childcare provider seems to be the problem and I would bet that she is looking for alternative childcare, but when you are working a full time job, you can’t simply find a new childcare provider by the next day. I’m in the process of changing childcare for my daughter and in addition to be crazy expensive to change (deposits, registration fees, etc) it’s time consuming (touring the facility, gathering paperwork from doctors, transition visits).

      1. Adam V*

        Sure, but you still have the conversation with the employee (or as the employee, you proactively meet with your manager). It will probably go something like:

        “Can you commit to this schedule?”

        “Yes, I’m getting everything taken care of, I should be completely fine by no later than two/three/seventeen weeks from now.”

        And now the company gets an opportunity to decide whether that’s acceptable. For you, if you’ve been at your company for a while, their decision is likely to be different than the woman who’s been late/left early four times in the first week.

      2. Wilton Businessman*

        I am a human being, I understand that. Take a couple days to get things straightened out and come back focused on work.

        1. Chinook*

          Wilton, that is the most compassionate thing I can remember you saying. It also might be the best solution (unless the company really does have a #2 candidate they could call to start right away). A few days to sort out childcare issues may make this issue disappear (and, if not, would be confirmatin that she needs to go).

          1. Heather*

            OP here, and yes, after that conversation she did mention she’s looking into different childcare options.

            I think that’s exactly it, that she just needed some time to sort out the issue, and now I feel bad for making a big deal out of it in the first place. Is it permenantly fixed? not yet. Is she crystal clear that it needs to be fixed? Yes.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              You shouldn’t feel bad about it. You needed to clearly lay out expectations, and when you weren’t getting signals from her that she was taking them seriously, you needed to push the issue. You did the right thing.

            2. EnnVeeEl*

              I agree, and I’m glad she got the hint and is fixing her childcare problems before you had to take more serious action. Believe me, she didn’t want to be late for work either! Flaky childcare is a no no.

  8. Anon for this*

    Man, I am also having issues with a staff member who can’t keep to the schedule. It is SO frustrating to me because my boss doesn’t see it as a big deal, because each little occurrence isn’t such a big deal, but the fact that after 6 months the employee is not doing what we’ve exhaustively discussed, and is outright insubordinate is driving me crazy. Today she wanted to adjust her schedule (she is in a similar position where this is not possible) and I told her she couldn’t, but then she did it anyway. When I asked her to leave at the regular end of her shift she refused! I’m finally writing her up, but my boss isn’t 100% on the disciplinary thing–but I can’t just talk to her one more time–after this long she isn’t going to change just because I’ve asked again!

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      You have two options:
      1. Don’t let it bother you. If the boss doesn’t care, maybe things are more flexible than you think.

      2. Don’t get caught in the middle of this. Start exploring.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Are you her manager? If so, you need to tell your boss that you need the authority to set and enforce consequences, since otherwise this employee and others will see that you don’t follow through on what you say and that people don’t really need to meet the organization’s expectations of them. If your boss doesn’t get that, then you’ve got to accept that you haven’t been given the authority you need to do your job, and decide how to proceed from there.

      1. Anon for this*

        I am her manager. But it is a government job so no manager has much authority. It is my policy that hourly staff need to get schedule adjustments approved before hand or take vacation leave for tardiness, and my boss had supported this in discussions we’d had with the staff member, but now she is all “be more flexible.” My problem is that as a manager, if you tell your staff that they need to do x and then when they refuse say ok if you are going to do y then y is the new policy, then they never will listen to you. For me the refusal to listen and the direct disobedience when I asked her point blank to do something is why she needs to be written up. Whether or not I should have that policy about adjusting the schedule is a different discussion.

        1. Joey*

          Govt managers with little authority is a common misperception. Usually, you have all the power you need. You just need to learn how to effectively use it.

        2. Goosey Lucy*

          Does your government organization have a clear cut policy? If so, you need to reference it or get it updated as needed.

          I used to work in HR for the federal government. You DO have a lot of authority, you just need to follow the proper steps. And NOTHING can be done until you do. You need to have a documented and increasing level of discipline in her file and with HR.

    3. Joey*

      Your boss is undermining you. You need to either buy into her philosophy or convince her to buy into yours.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Agreed. I worked somewhere once where the owner’s son was employed. This kid was a total and complete screwup. He’d show up late or not at all. He’d take three hour lunches. He’d promise to return from some errand in one hour and be gone for four.

        One of the business partners would get so upset about this and report it to his mother (the owner). His mother would make a show of caring even going so far as to tell us all in a staff meeting that he had been suspended for a long period of time. Yeah…he was back within a week. And everyone knew he would be. Of course, everyone else who worked there had damn well better be on time or they would be suspended or fired. But sonny boy could get away with murder.

        Moral of the story is that if the person with the power doesn’t care/won’t do anything about it, then there’s no point in getting upset. It is what it is. If your boss doesn’t back you on disciplinary measures, then there is nothing you can do. Accept that as the condition of the job or leave. Unfair to be sure, but also reality.

  9. yasmara*

    I feel like there’s one more statement missing…”you’re sorry it didn’t end up being the right fit…” AND “she is let go/terminated as of XXX date.” Or, if you’re not actually firing her, what’s the point of having the discussions? You need to be really clear about what the outcome is. Is it if she is late or leaves early again, she is fired? Is she being warned? Is she still in her probationary period? I feel like the discussion is still too open-ended for reaching clarity.

      1. Heather*

        OP here.

        I have no power to fire or to even suggest such a thing, especially since so little time has gone by. When I’ve had situations like this or other minor but very annoying issues, I was told by one of my managers that it was a great learning opportunity for me to hone my management skills. This is the first time that when I’ve reported a concern that a higher-up has talked to the person and attempted to coach them in the right direction.

        As far as I know, chronic tardiness has never gotten anyone fired at my company. They won’t get a raise or a year-end bonus, but they won’t get fired either. the only people who have been fired got canned because they were stealing merchandise or cash.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh! I had thought from the letter that you were her manager. If you’re not her manager, whoever is should be handling this. But it sounds like your company doesn’t exactly hold people to high expectations, so they might not deal with it.

          I’d be wary of the way your company operates in general; only firing people for extremely egregious behavior like stealing is not a good thing, generally speaking.

          1. V*

            Sounds like this person is probably a supervisor in a retail environment, where they “supervise” non-management staff but might not have the authority to actually terminate. This is common, but clearly problematic. In my experience, supervisors have been able to “write up” employees and whether or not it really does anything often depends on whether someone else chooses to do something about it. *Sigh*

            1. SevenSixOne*

              Yep! In my retail middle-management job, even if I caught an employee red-handed doing something criminal (like the one I busted smoking pot in the store), I only had the authority to write a “counseling report” and send him home from his shift without pay. Everything else was in the hands of the zone manager, my boss’ boss’ boss… who was a spineless twit who never did anything. Sigh.

            2. Heather*

              we’re not exactly retail, but yes,

              “they “supervise” non-management staff but might not have the authority to actually terminate.”

              how V stated it is very close. my title is District Manager. I was brought into this location to help with set-up and train the new manager trainee. In a few weeks the new site-manager will be reporting to a local regional director, but it is my responsibility to get her up to speed. In general, I have been given very little authority. a better title would be “client liason”, because that is more of what I do – I build the relationships with our clients, and I coach our location managers to work well with our clients, process our in-house reports, use our software, run internal operations of their location, etc.

              unfortunately, it’s become a bit of an in-joke that my company doesn’t have high expectations. Doesn’t help either, that we’re a smallish company (we just hit 300 people) and we’re expanding faster than we can adequately train people. growing pains, indeed.

        2. Joey*

          I hope you understand that a lot of what you’ll learn in an environment like this is learning what NOT to do.

  10. Lily in NYC*

    I would hope someone training for management would be better able to manage her own employee (her always late babysitter). OP, if she’s going a great job otherwise, maybe offer her a short grace period (like a week) if she decides she needs to find new child care. Promptness is one of my major pet-peeves and I hate that so many people get away with chronic lateness and that the rest of us just have to suck it up. Nor do I enjoy having to pick up the slack for coworkers that always have some event to go to at their kids’ school during work hours, but I digress.

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      See, there should be no slack. If you leave early to go to this or that school or activity event, you need to be ready to fire up that laptop after you put the kids down to bed.

    2. BCW*

      Would there be a grace period for me because I underestimated how long it took to get there? Or if I was just having trouble adjusting? I’m sympathetic, but this is a perfect example of her personal situation (single mom) getting her preferential treatment that others wouldn’t get.

      1. fposte*

        Not for underestimating how long it took to get there, no. But for stuff beyond your control–like if there’s a transit strike, or a lengthy power outage, or a bridge closed–yeah, I’d cut you slack your first week if you were otherwise looking strong. I had a great employee who was commuting from a long way away her first few weeks, before she moved to town, and her car broke down the first day. I didn’t hold the temporary transport issues against her, and she busted her butt to make sure she got in as best as she could.

        The problem with the parent side is they *legally* can’t leave the kid. It’s not a judgment call that can be solved on the spot, either, since there’s no taxi equivalent for child care. There really isn’t much that’s equivalent, in fact, since most of the other reasons people are late wouldn’t involve them breaking the law to come earlier.

        1. fposte*

          Forgot to add: but those aren’t reasons why she should be entitled to stay in the position if she can’t fix the problem. They’re just reasons to give her a chance to do so.

        2. Marmite*

          There are some “taxi equivalents”, but like taxis they’re not affordable for many people. There are agencies that offer nannies or babysitters who are all background checked, reference checked, first aid trained, etc. and available for emergency cover. Of course, they are expensive and mean leaving your child with a stranger for the day.

          I’m lucky enough to live in a city with emergency childcare centres, set up to accommodate working parents who’s regular childcare falls through. Again, it’s expensive, but it’s there as an option. My company doesn’t do it, but at least one place actually allows companies to buy places for their employees to use when they need to.

          I’ve used both of these options in a pinch, neither was ideal but both did the job. Both were out of my budget, but I made ends meet because my new (ish) job was important to me and ultimately how I was going to make ends meet in the long run.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I’m lucky enough to live in a city with emergency childcare centres, set up to accommodate working parents who’s regular childcare falls through.

            That’s a fantastic thing. I wish that were the case more often here. (You’re in the UK, right?). It seems like there are so few resources for that; I would like to have a baby but the childcare dilemma is a serious issue.

            1. Marmite*

              Yes, I’m in the UK and I only recently came across the centre. I’ve used it twice, it’s expensive but my son has enjoyed his two days there.

              Childcare is difficult but many companies seem to be moving in the direction of offering more help to parents to find decent care.

          2. Jen*

            Agencies for emergencies are nice, but don’t solve the “sitter is late” issue at all. By the time you realize the sitter will make you late, calling an agency won’t suddenly make you on time.

            I have a significantly cognitively impaired kid with sometimes severe behaviors who still requires care as a teen. We’ve burned through dozens of nannies and day care centers through the years. But my child care issues are one reason I have stayed in positions where my schedule is fixed and not variable–I would have crashed and burned on a variable schedule due to child care issues. I have been fortunate to have very understanding bosses, but I have combined that with high performance and value. The new employee may have just accepted a position that she cannot manage at this stage of her child’s life, and is unfortunately learning that the hard way.

            1. Marmite*

              “Agencies for emergencies are nice, but don’t solve the “sitter is late” issue at all. By the time you realize the sitter will make you late, calling an agency won’t suddenly make you on time. ”

              No, but if the sitter is late four days in a row, you can recognize that pattern and set something else up temporarily, while you’re looking for something more permanent.

          3. TheSnarkyB*

            I really like/appreciate Fposte’s comment about “no taxi equivalent”, and I think it’s very apt – otherwise I wouldn’t be coming to nitpick what you’re saying. Those options sound awesome (though they may be cost-prohibitive for some), but they don’t exist anywhere. In fact, I’ve never heard of the emergency centre option, and the first one is very difficult to make use of on the spot. Those backgrounds-checked agencies you’re talking about often have waiting lists, applications, processes etc. that take time, and they’re also the kind of thing you’d still want to do your research on. If you search the internet for it and they have horrible reviews or have been accused of criminal activity, etc. – these are not taxi-equivalent option. I actually can’t think of any taxi-equivalent option aside from family/friends who are home for the day, lives near enough, and with whom you trust your child’s life- which many people don’t have.

            1. Marmite*

              There are several agencies I have used both in the UK and USA that exist solely to provide emergency childcare.The emergency centre is something I’ve only come across in my current city, but I’ve used the agencies when living in towns and cities of varying sizes, they’ve never had waiting lists in my experience, because they maintain a huge database of nannies who are willing to do short-notice emergency cover.

            2. Marmite*

              Also, re-reading your comment, “with whom you trust your child’s life” is very subjective. Some people will not leave their child with anyone other than a family member, some will leave them with a unchecked babysitter they’ve found on Craigslist.

              Personally, I’ve left my son with babysitters/nannies from those agencies that offer background checked, interviewed carers and trusted that he will be safe. There is always a small chance he won’t be, I suppose, but there is a chance he won’t be in my care or in his regular nursery’s care.

        3. Heather*

          OP here, it’s funny you should mention a power outage, since we had one last Friday! all the stoplights were out, traffic was a nightmare. Everyone at the facility was very forgiving of everything that day, and we ended up closing early.

          Typically, promptness is a big deal for me. It’s just the way I was raised. And shouldn’t people be expected to show up on time to their jobs?

          1. The Other Dawn*

            I know what you mean about promptness. It’s been so ingrained in me that I have found it very difficult to let go of it, both for myself and people who report to me. I no longer give anyone a hard time about being late since I’m more concerned with whether or not the work gets done, but I find myself constantly watching the clock and wondering where the person is.

      2. Nikki T*

        Because I have had crappy commutes, I might give a few days to figure it out…but only a few..

        1. Jamie*

          I don’t know – if you have a bad commute you should err on the side of being there wicked early rather than late. Besides, at least in my area there is no shortage of ways to check the traffic before you leave home so barring some horrific accident that happened en route – I’d give that the side eye myself.

          And the other example he gave of “having trouble adjusting” I don’t even know what that means.

          I look at the sitter thing not as a parent privilege, but like any emergency issue with really bad timing, if she was in the process of replacing her with a new reliable sitter.

          If you hire someone and someone in their immediate family dies in their first week it’s really crappy timing, but you’d give them a couple of days to get their stuff in order. Not as much slack as a long term employee, but I’d always cut more slack to the unavoidable emergencies. As fposte pointed out, legally a parent cannot leave a small child home alone but someone can certainly leave early enough to hedge a long commute. That’s the difference.

          1. Marmite*

            I think the commute issue depends on whether you’re driving or not. On public transit delays are common (here, anyway) and unpredictable, hearing “delays due to a person under a train/signal failure/person taken ill on a train” is not an uncommon thing in my city. You can’t predict for it in the same way you can predict that rush hour traffic will make your commute between x and y minutes long and it seems to be more frequent than car accidents blocking the road. Plus, your options for leaving early are more limited because you’re restricted to the transit timetable.

            That’s not to say frequent lateness due to commute issues should be okay, but getting caught out occasionally wouldn’t get instant side-eye from me!

            I think there’s a big difference between a family death and trouble with childcare, too. Yes, timing can suck for both, but there are options for childcare, there aren’t for dealing with a family death. Plus, there’s an entirely different emotional impact between the two.

            Yes, you and fposte are correct, you can’t legally leave a child alone, but there are emergency childcare options available. By day four this employee could be using one of them while looking into sorting out something long-term.

            1. fposte*

              Emergency childcare options are only available in some places, and often they’re restricted to hospitalization/child endangerment situations; a babysitter’s lateness would not be sufficient. In my town, if you don’t already know someone who’s willing to come over immediately, like a relative or friend, your choices with a late babysitter are come in late or bring the kid to work.

              1. Houston*

                Exactly. Emergency childcare is basically non-existent in many places in the US. There is drop-in daycare in Houston, but we are the 4th largest city in America and even those day cares aren’t conveniently located for everyone. This city is huge and many of those centers are in the downtown or rice village area. It’s hard to find convenient, affordable daycare with little to no notice.

                So saying that emergency daycare is available is just flat out wrong. It depends on where you live and even if you live in a place that has it, you may not be able to access it because it’s still too far away to be practical.

                1. Editor*

                  Right. I’ve only lived one place that had drop-in day care, and that was a co-op that was open part-time on weekdays. Emergency daycare is pretty much a friends-and-family thing. I am so glad my children are adults now — the daycare years were grim.

                2. Marmite*

                  I’ve obviously been lucky with where I lived in the US, even living in a small town in a rural area there were childcare options. It’s interesting to hear how different it is in much of the country.

                  In the UK it is different, as we are smaller so most people tend to be close to a reasonable size town even if they live rurally.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            I do agree with this, Jamie. I have a hell commute and I leave a half hour earlier than I need to just in case things fall apart. I hate being late.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        I don’t think giving someone a few days to find a new babysitter is all that preferential. I did write that it should only be if she is doing a great job in every other way. Why lose a potentially good employee when a small amount of compassion might help fix the issue?

      4. Melissa*

        If your mother was sick and you needed to arrange in-home care, or you broke your leg or needed extra time getting to work, you could get that same grace period if you had a sympathetic boss. Trouble adjusting or underestimating the commute aren’t even in the same ballpark as trying to find childcare.

  11. Call Me Mrs. Bobo*

    First… I am a cry baby myself. Especially in situations where I know I screwed up and Im mad at myself…. but never in front of my manager. I think its a little unprofessional but it is sometimes an unavoidable reaction to unpleasant situations. Trust me, I cry every time my husband and I have serious conversations. He has gotten used to it and doesnt let it effect the fact that tough conversations need to be had.

    As a parent myself, I think its important to be upfront and realistic about job expectations vs childcare. I know full well that getting to work by 8 am will be nearly impossible considering commute, getting kids to school ,and hubby to work. I also know that I need to get off by 5 to allow time to get kids from day care no later than 6. If a job would require me to have to be flexible with my ending time, then that job wouldnt be a good fit.

    And that’s ok!

    This employee really needs to be realistic with the schedule demanded and whether she can live up to that expectation. Managers in general are supposed to be kind of flexible in certain jobs. If she can get some extra support to get her child on days she has to work late, great. But if thats not an option ( it isn’t for me), then she would reduce her stress and everyone else’s by simply saying “I cant commit to this and I need to step down, or find a different job”.

    And thats ok too.

  12. Victoria Nonprofit*

    Have we had an open thread about crying at work? I think we have, but I’d love to do it again. I know there are a lot of us who worry about/struggle with/are embarrassed by this issue.

    I’m a huge crier in everyday life (like, I cry several times a week – sigh), so I’m incredibly sympathetic to people who cry and I get my hackles up when people say things like “You can’t be a manager if you cry.” But… I’ve only cried once at work, and never since I’ve been in management. Makes me think – why am I able to control it at work and not at home? Is that an actual skill that needs to be taught? Interesting.

    1. BCW*

      I’ve always wondered that. I know people who claim to be “constant” criers, yet they only do it in certain situations. Like they will cry when any little thing goes wrong with their sig other or friends, but at work they can keep it up. Or vice versa. Thats why to me it really seems somewhat selective.

      1. Cat*

        Well, there’s also the fact that some situations are more emotionally loaded for some people than others.

        1. Jamie*

          Exactly. Everyone has different triggers. I’m not going to be the same kind of upset if On Demand is late loading the latest Masterchef episode as I am if my dog is sick.

          And it depends what else is going on. One time I cried at work out of frustration, over something I’ve not cried about before or since. But I had a migraine and my sister was in the hospital and my beloved dog had died the day before. Some days your triggers are more easily tripped.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I have often thought that when women cry it is not for just one reason. It is for a thousand reasons. The reason that triggered the tears is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

            I am wondering a couple things. Does this girl have some personal issues running in the background? OR Is this her first job since she had the baby and she is looking for a balancing point some where? Perhaps she has not yet built up a pool of resources for whatever she needs.

            1. Heather*

              OP here.

              Her child is two years old, and she was at her previous position for abut 10 months before coming to work for us. So she’s no stranger to sitters, daycare, etc. I don’t yet know if there’s other personal issues.

              1. fposte*

                And in a situation like this, the personal issues can be down the line and still screw her up–you can get a chain reaction from something like the babysitter’s boyfriend’s mother being in the hospital.

        2. Rana*

          I agree. The times I’ve cried (or felt like crying) in front of someone else are situations where I’m being scolded like a child, I’ve been frustrated in a situation that should have been straightforward and I did everything right but it still didn’t work out (hello, insurance company phone trees), and where I feel bad for having disappointed someone I respect.

          I’m not going to cry when I’m working with a difficult client’s demands, or when dealing with a student with issues, or arguing with someone.

          If I’m in control, and feel respected, I don’t cry, even if the situation is incredibly stressful otherwise. (In fact, in such situations, I tend to become the person who’s still got her stuff together, while everyone else is freaking out.)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think not crying at work is a discipline. A person cultivates a habit of not crying in tough situations. The discipline is supported by finding coping tools to draw on when the waterworks starts to come up.

        The thing about disciplines is that sometimes the wheels fall off. Not much different than dieting or budgeting or any other form of self-discipline. It’s the willingness to recoup and get back on track ASAP that makes us or breaks us.

      3. TheSnarkyB*

        @ BCW, or it’s not selective. Consider this trade-off:
        Shoving it deep down at work means you’re more comfortable with how you’re professionally being perceived, but repressing it means having digestive issues, a quick heart beat, maybe shaky hands for a little while afterwards (It’s a stress response). At work, the trade-off is worth it, but it’d be hell to do it all the time and in every situation. My stronger emotions have to go somewhere else when i’m at work. And I hate it, but it’s worth it. I don’t always feel whole when I am shoving things down, but it ends up being okay because I can decompress after work, stress-cry when I get home, work out, whatever..
        Sometimes it’s not about being selective – it’s just more like a dam.

      4. Ellie H.*

        I think there are probably some unconscious controls that influence our behavior in ways we aren’t really aware of. When you’re at work, you’re “on” in a very specific way. I was just listening to a segment on Radio Boston about swearing; one of the hosts was saying how he has a very difficult time refraining from thoughtlessly swearing if he’s trying not to for some reason (like it bothers his wife) but that he’s never even thought about it on air. I think it definitely may be at least somewhat situational, but the largest part of it is likely unconscious.

    2. Jamie*

      Several times a week…I’m in that club!

      At home I actually find crying really cathartic and a good cry will sometimes stave off a migraine. And I cannot get through the scene in the Golden Girls where Rose is telling the story of how Charlie died and how she dressed him after…holy crap the way Betty White looks so brave, sad, stoic, and proud all at the same time just chokes me up.

      Also in Friends where Ross is listening to the answering machine yelling, “LET HER OFF THE PLANE!” and Rachel walks in. And don’t even get me started on the Chapter in Deathly Hallows where Snape dies. “Still?” “Always!”

      I’ve cried a handful of times at work. None that I’m proud of, and none where you’d call it bursting into tears…but sometimes the stress/frustration just boils over. No excuses, but it is what it is and since I don’t have a time machine for a d0-over I just move on. I wasn’t going to quit over it and it doesn’t seem to have hurt me professionally…but it could have and in another environment would have. I know that.

      Like anything else, we just do the best we can. I’ve never raised my voice – neither should be done at work but sometimes shit happens and we’re imperfect creatures who can’t always check emotion at the door.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        A few weeks ago, I burst into tears while watching TV: the series finale of The Big C, when Paul walks in to find Kathy dead. I’m not even that invested in that show, and I’d been watching it perfectly calmly, when the next thing I knew, I was crying. And not tears-welling-up crying, but an actual sob that took the person next to me on the couch quite by surprise.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I once tried giving up caffeine for Lent. A few days into it I found myself crying at commercials, at books, newspaper articles about wars, etc. I was an absolute wreck. The moral of the story: I need to be properly caffeinated.

        2. Sydney Bristow*

          I completely sob at tv and movies. I was watching the West Wing last night and had to turn if off once I realized it was the sad Mrs. Laningham episode because I didn’t want to go to bed crying. My boyfriend found out about this crying thing pretty quickly and always gets up to get me a tissue when he knows something sad is coming. I even teared up at a commercial last week!

          I’ve only cried once at work in front of anyone and that was when I was laid off. I can remember at least one other time when I cried at work but I was able to hold it in until I could get into the restroom or out of the office to cry quietly alone.

          I wonder if “burst into tears” is a slight exaggeration of what happened and she really just started crying. Regardless, I think it’s possible that she is super stressed out about figuring out childcare and may be desperate to keep her job so the thought of losing it would immediately jump to mind during these conversations, hence the crying. She absolutely needs to figure something out quickly though and it would help if she said she was hiring someone new or had some other fix to implement.

        3. Marmite*

          I am not a crier at all (I worry at funerals that people think I don’t care, because I rarely manage to cry at them), but I was watching My Girl the other day and the scene where she bursts into the doctors office after Macaulay Culkin dies totally got me going, much to the surprise of myself and the friends I was watching with!

        4. Liz T*

          There’s a song by The Weakerthans where a cat is telling her depressed owner to snap out of it, and THAT always makes me tear up. Reliably.

          The weirdest time I cried at work, during an only slightly tense conversation, I was shocked because I didn’t even feel like I was crying. My eyes were just suddenly leaking as I spoke calmly and rationally. I apologized, but it was so weird I was hardly even embarrassed!

          1. Jamie*

            You know that happened to me the other day – and I wasn’t even upset my eyes just started watering as if I was crying.

            It was the weirdest thing because, like with you, there was no crying sensation. No tingling, or stinging, and my nose didn’t run…just tears running down my face for a minute then stopped.

        5. Elizabeth West*

          I did that when Ex and I watched the similar episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I just went, “Is she dead?? Nooooo! Bawwww!” and it was ten minutes before I got it under control. Dammit, just thinking about it makes me weepy!

          1. KellyK*

            I’m rewatching all of Buffy, because it’s great brain-candy for knitting, and there have been a *ton* of episodes that have made me cry. Pretty much everything with Angel, for starters. Joss Whedon is a terrible person, but we love him for it.

        6. Ellie H.*

          I cry a little bit at pretty much everything (even Spiderman, even commercials, almost anything I read; it’s ridiculous) but I’m not that big a crier in “real life.” However, by far the most I ever have at a TV show was at that one episode in season 5 of The Wire – I was crying so hard we had to turn it off until I calmed down.

            1. Anonymous*

              Unfortunately the spoiler rules don’t cover international showings, it’s only just started airing in the UK…

      2. Adam V*

        I wasn’t sad that Snape died until after the next chapter (but by then, I had other people to be sorry about too). But at that exact moment… not so much. I was too “payback for Dumbledore!” to be “oh no, yet another victim of You-Know-Who”.

        Actually, I teared up earlier today… I was listening to my iPod and “When She Loved Me” (the song from Toy Story 2) came on. That one gets me every time.

          1. ChristineSW*

            The end of TS3 gets me bawling. Every. Single. Time. By the way, I’m almost 40 years old with NO children!

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I cry at EVERYTHING these days; I’m still not quite over everything that happened last year. I went to see Pacific Rim on Sunday (btw it was pretty good, if predictable), and there was a part that made my lip quiver and my eyes overflow. Monsters vs. battlemechs and I’m STILL losing it!

        Deathly Hallows was a half-Kleenex box for me.

        1. Susan*

          I tear up over big spectacles. I’ve teared up watching Beauty and the Beast on Broadway! Utterly ridiculous.

          Most recently I went to see a production of the Wizard of Oz. I had tears running down my face when Ms. Gulch took Toto!

          1. AnonAdmin*

            Oh my god, it’s not just me! The Olympic opening ceremonies are a sure fire cry-fest for me. Any Big Spectacle thing does me in.

      4. Ruffingit*

        That scene with Rose in The Golden Girls makes me cry too. I also cry when:

        – I hear Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA song.

        – I see Olympians receive their gold medals. Just thinking about the sacrifice it took to be there and the culmination of a dream makes me tear up every time.

        – When I found out some friends passed the bar exam last year, I cried. I have passed the bar myself and I remember how thrilling it was for me and how much I cried tears of joy when I passed so now I do that for friends too.

        – When TV shows have a character die and they show scenes of the character interacting with the others and how they were all friends. Sniff, sniff. :(

      5. Al Lo*

        For me, it’s always the very last scene in the headmaster’s office, when the portraits are all applauding Harry and he gets his last conversation with Dumbledore’s portrait.

        Oh, and also the scene in Half Blood Prince when Harry and Dumbledore are in the cave, and he’s nearly pouring the potion down Dumbledore’s throat. Even more than any death scene, those two scenes make me choke up every single time.

        1. Judy*

          We got the Half Blood Prince book right when it came out. I read it first, because I read faster than my husband. My daughter walked by me sitting on the couch (Pretend Mommy is not here right now…) and called my husband to say that I was crying. I cried the last 100 pages, I think.

          She also did that when I was reading Deathly Hallows, and I got a “really?” from my husband, because I was crying in the middle, when Dobby died. I think he was expecting me to cry for the entire rest of the book.

          1. Jamie*

            If you don’t cry when Dobby dies I question the existence of your soul.

            There should be a “take off your mascara before reading” warning on that chapter.

    3. Noelle*

      I tend to cry when I am angry or frustrated, regardless of where I am. It is incredibly frustrating at work though, especially because I think people sometimes feel you are manipulating the situation when really it’s just a reflex. I actually talked to a therapist about this a few years ago and he helped me learn how to stay calm. Now I can at least sense when I’m on the verge of tears and calm myself down before it actually happens,but it takes some effort.

      1. Chinook*

        I cry when frustrated combined with anger. It is completely uncontrollable and the tears start welling up and nothign will stop them. The worst was when I was dressed down in a staff meeting by the principal for not controlling a student who had to be hauled off by a cop after slamming a kid’s head into the desk. I was beating myself up enough inside to figure out if I could have done anything differently (the cop said no) and, when the principal started in on me, all I kept thinking was “you weren’t even in the school at the time and, when you did arrive, you weren’t able to get the kid to calm down either and neither was the cop nor the kid’s grandmother.” This all happenned minutes after making sure the kid had his jacket as he was hauled off in the back of the cop car and started with the principal getting angry at me for being late for my first staff meeting.

        Amazingly, when I was recently fired, I never teared up once, not even when I got home.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I hate that attitude- like it should have been embedded in your genes at birth to know what to do in a situation.

          This cannot possibly be the first time an incident like that has happened in the school. How come there was no policy or instruction as to how they wanted you to handle it? I guess you were supposed to mind read.

          Good riddance to that place.

    4. ChristineSW*

      See….this is why I love this blog and the comments. It makes me feel almost normal!

      I tend to cry pretty easily, particularly when I’m angry at myself and/or frustrated. And yes, I have cried at work on several occasions. In front of managers. And not just the “tears welling up” type of crying either.

      My non-work crying triggers are just…..odd. My soap opera, certain songs, and movies–many of which are of the animated variety (hello…Monsters Inc., Toy Story 3, Cars….shall I go on? lol). Heck, I’ll even cry if a favorite celebrity is ill. Yet, I don’t always cry at wakes and funerals. Figure that one out! :/

    5. Cassie*

      I’ve had one instance of major crying (like UGLY crying) at work – but it was in front of a couple of coworker friends, not my bosses. It’s a long story but it would be akin to them telling me to be nice to the bully, because the bully was a manager (albeit not my manager). I can take criticism/corrections, but it was super frustrating that my coworker friends couldn’t see (or didn’t want to see) the bullying behavior and that the bully was using them to get at me. I was also mad at myself for just standing there, trying to defend myself against my friends (who were trying to be helpful but DEAD WRONG), and not just walking away.

      Finally, after a couple of years, the coworker friends see what I’ve seen since day one – the bully in all of her glory – and NOW they get upset seeing people get bullied.

    6. Lily*

      My boss’ criticism has never made me cry. I feel embarrassed and guilty and show it by shifting uncomfortably and staring at the table and my voice might tremble a bit. When I tried to surpress the feelings, I would get defensive, which I think was worse.

      Her understanding has made me cry, because I was so moved!

  13. Wowzer*

    What a difficult situation. Its not always easy talking to employees especially the ones that cry. At the end of the day she is employed for a certain amount of hours and paid accordingly. I think if the problem persists you should demote her and let her know its so she will have more of a flexible schedule. She might be able to earn that leadership position back once she gets her personal schedule in line.

  14. Mena*

    The first week or two may require some establishment of routine, getting to know traffic flow, etc. But after this initial time period, I agree with Alison’s advice. BUT, Alison has accepted the crying (‘she is a crier’) while I am not so much. This is neither professional, nor an adult manner in which to handle conflict. I would second guess her hiring as a manager-in-training; she isn’t seeming up to the task. Her inability to manager her time may or may not be a 2nd clue as to her ‘managerialness.’

    1. Chinook*

      I have more empathy towards accepting her as a crier depending on the type of crying. Was it those uncontrollable tears rolling down the cheek or was it a full out, choked up bawling of her head off? The later can be somewhat controlled and dialed back to the former.

      1. Heather*

        OP here.

        she wasn’t bawling her head off. but there were quite a few tears, and they caught me completely, 100% off guard because I’m not a crier. She became very embarrassed, and then I was embarrassed. Like Mena, I felt it wasn’t a professional way to handle the situation.

        1. bearing*

          I get the impression that people who aren’t criers don’t really understand people that are.

          Maybe it’s like the extrovert/introvert thing.

          I urge all the non-criers who are appalled at the unprofessional behavior of criers to re-evaluate their stance. The most common trigger for crying is *low*-level stress and frustration, and it is a very difficult reaction to control; worse, it puts you in a vicious cycle where you become frustrated at the involuntary crying, and that makes it worse.

          Frankly, I think the “crying is unprofessional” thing is a vestige of male-dominated professional environments. For physiological reasons, women on average tear up involuntarily in response to low-level stress far more often than men do. This is an involuntary behavior that is associated with femaleness, and in my opinion that is why it is thought of as “unprofessional.”

          It is probably also tainted by a perception (from non-criers) that criers are faking their reaction to get attention or sympathy. If you don’t happen to react to low-level stress with involuntary crying, it may be impossible to imagine that “a small thing” could bring on the waterworks. Just as the extroverts find it impossible to imagine that not everyone likes the office Christmas party. But seriously — chances are very good that the tears are involuntary. If you are annoyed by the possibility that they might be a bid for sympathy, simply don’t do anything that you imagine might “reward” that behavior, such as softpedaling whatever bad news you’re delivering. A person who is embarrassed about involuntary crying would probably simply prefer that you ignore the crying completely except perhaps to offer a tissue and/or a moment to compose herself where she is sitting.

          1. Rachel*


            The idea that the occasional cry at work somehow means that you’re unprofessional is downright ludicrous to me. Always has been, always will be.

            And this is from someone who never does it.

  15. Allison (not AAM!)*

    Hardest thing I ever had to do was to write up our receptionist for kind of the same thing. She had a baby who was about 2, and in the matter of 6mos had missed 30 days of work due to the baby’s constant colds, fussiness, etc. I was told my more than one person that much of the time she was gone was due to the fact that she just didn’t WANT to come in, she wanted to spend the day with her daughter. She was not a single mom, she lived with the baby-daddy, who, incidentally, also worked with us. But she was very young and very immature. I dreaded doing the writeup – I knew she’d be emotional, so I took her in a conference room to do the disciplinary action; lord, was I right! Immediate waterworks; sobbing, defensiveness – just glad I had steeled myself; I got through what I had to say, she signed the paperwork, and I stood up, told her that she could stay in there as long as she needed to and I left. Took her over 15mins to come out. But funny, the absences STOPPED.

    1. Chris80*

      Wow, 30 days in 6 months? That’s insane. Kudos to you for doing what needed to be done even though you knew it’d be an emotionally charged conversation.

      1. Heather*

        Like Chris80 said, that’s insane!

        May I ask how your receptionist has been since that conversation?

        1. Allison (not AAM)*

          Well, I left the company (of my own volition!) about six months after that, she had straightened out after the write up, but I understand she quit to be a SAH mom after that. Rough, because the baby’s dad got laid off not long after that…not sure what’s happened to them since.

  16. Laura*

    This would be so hard for me as a manager, because I know first hand that child care is a house of cards. I’m married, plus my mother in law lives with us and is always willing to help out if I have an early meeting or something. And even then it’s always a challenge in the morning depending on how much drama I have to deal with if my daughter is in a bad mood.

    Perhaps the OP could suggest some alternatives next time this comes up. We have found our daycare twice now by using a website on the state’s Dept of Health and Human Services page. You put in your address and the site shows a map of all the licensed child care facilities in your area, both big centers and in home providers. Both times we’ve been very pleased. The OP certainly isn’t required to do this but maybe the employee feels stuck with her current situation and doesn’t know how to find something better or more reliable.

    1. Majigail*

      I think a.) figuring out employee child care is not the OP’s job and b.) a lot of employees would be offended/defensive if their manager took this step.

      1. Heather*

        As a non-parent, I do not feel comfortable telling a parent how or where to find childcare. Not my job, not my comfort zone.

      2. Laura*

        They would have every right to if their childcare arrangements were not affecting their job. That isn’t the case here.

  17. Marina*

    Man, I feel torn about this. On the one hand, the schedule is not optional and that’s just part of the job, and the employee knew that when she took the job. On the other hand, reliable daycare is kind of ridiculously difficult to find. Most places in my city have at least a 3 month wait list, especially places that are willing to work with last minute scheduling changes. (I’ve honestly been shocked by the number of places that have policies like if you’re over 5 minutes late three times then you’re kicked out of the daycare.) If she just got the job, her child may be in temporary care of a less flexible daycare and on the wait list of a better one.

    Maybe the only option really is that she needs to immediately commit to not having any more scheduling issues–if that’s what the job requires, it’s what the job requires and that’s all there is to it. But if there’s any flexibility at all, giving her a deadline at least a week or two out to get things sorted would be a very kind and understanding thing to do.

    1. Heather*

      I wish we could do flex time, we have a lot of single parents working for us and sometimes someone who works 2nd shift will be needed on first shift for a few days (and they are told this months in advance).

      I often tease my bosses that they simply have no idea what it’s like out here in the field. They’ll usually agree, that yes, they have no idea, and then they tell me to make things work anyways. In the end, I’m thankful to have a job.

    2. myswtghst*

      I like this, and I do think it’s a balance. It’s unfortunate when the job doesn’t allow for flexibility, but you also have to be realistic and proactive about finding a solution, if you’re the employee in that situation.

      I had a similar situation to the OP – the woman who joined our team and who I was mentoring as she was taking over a number of my old responsibilities first had issues with an unreliable babysitter, then switched to daycare, but had issues with her daughter being sick all the time (and the daycare understandably couldn’t take sick kids). While I was sympathetic, especially at the start, it got to the point where I was doing her work plus my own, and I was stressed all the time because I never knew if she was going to make it in or not. She eventually ended up leaving on her own, which was unfortunate but a bit of a relief for me – I know her intent wasn’t to make my life harder, but she never seemed to have a realistic plan to prevent future issues, and instead just seemed to rely on hoping it wouldn’t happen again.

  18. Ed*

    I can sympathize with the single mother but I would worry about the entire site slipping if the manager has issues getting in on time and staying late. I would be especially concerned because this is a new location. I’ve opened new sites/stores before and it almost always requires slightly longer hours in the beginning. The person opening in the morning being late would be disastrous.

    Maybe she wasn’t realistic with herself about the required hours. I was a little taken aback when I got my first salaried job. I remember telling my dad that we have to stay late sometimes but also get to leave early sometimes. He just smiled and said “yeah, in theory that’s how it works”. I’ve been salaried for about 15 years and only in the past years got my first job where we actually get to leave early sometimes (but still work occasional weekends, evenings, etc so it still averages to about 50 hours/week).

    1. Heather*

      my family was shocked when I got my first salaried job. For about 5 months I worked 50+ hours, and then for a few months we worked half days on Fridays. I’m used to it by now, it’s a work hard/play hard philosophy, and honestly, I get an adrenaline rush out of these crazy long days. But I know not everyone gets that kind of rush.

      And yes, set-up for new locations is a few weeks of 12+ hour days. You work until the day’s shipments have been processed and there’s no more work to do. Having the new manager trainee help with set up lets them see every aspect of the business before they start working with our clients and customers, so I think it’s good they are brought in that early. I don’t think she realized when we said “expect very long days those first three weeks”, that’s exactly what we meant.

  19. Tony in HR*

    Being a ruthless HR guy, I’m always of the camp that if someone is showing you performance issues this early, cut your losses and move on. However, in situations with a weird circumstance around it like this, I always try to prompt the employee to let me know if there’s something we can work around or temporarily accomodate. Too many employees just think “I can deal with it, I don’t need to burden by boss” and that just creates more problems than they anticipate.

    In this case, since you know the situation, I’d be direct- “Is there a problem with your babysitter?” followed by “Do they understand they’re putting you in a bad position here?” If they make excuses, you know to continue in the way AAM recommended, if they have a clear explanation with a solution, you can move forward, hopefully with improvement.

    And IMO- document these conversations! Even if it’s the date, one sentence about the issue typed on an otherwise blank sheet of paper and your signature, you’ll be able to pull it out of their file if you have further conversations about the issue and show them “we haven’t seen improvement here, and I’m sorry but we need to (fill in appropriate punishment).”

    1. Heather*

      “Is there a problem with your babysitter?” followed by “Do they understand they’re putting you in a bad position here?”

      I like this a lot! thank you! I think she has potential to be a good location manager, and I don’t want her to give up because of a crappy babysitter.

      1. Tony in HR*

        You’re welcome. Sometimes it helps me so much to be direct. We had an employee that broke down in my office and spill about some personal problems that were affecting her work, and I was able to refer her to our EAP and everything. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but the results I’ve seen have been so good.

        Let us know what happens. I’d love to hear if she improved!

  20. JR*

    If the OP is Canadian these might be of interest:

    Accommodating Childcare Needs: Understanding Your Obligations

    Canada: Employers May Be Responsible For Accommodating Employee Childcare Needs, Says The Federal Court

    Employers told they must accommodate staff’s child-care requests

    Federal Court Affirms Employer’s Obligation to Accommodate Childcare needs

      1. Heather*

        I’d love to be in Canada.

        unfortunately, I’m in the US, land of at-will employment. :(

    1. Jean*

      In the USA, various jurisdictions (states, counties, cities, towns…) may (or may not) have public or private organizations that keep lists of child care providers. The OP’s employee is going to have to do a lot of research and she may feel like she’s seeking a needle in a haystack…
      IMHO she might have better luck dealing with an organization instead of with an individual. Presumably a child care center is going to have plans in place when one teacher can’t get to work, whereas if your one and only babysitter or nanny calls in sick, you are in trouble (unless you’re dealing with an agency that promises you backup care…in which case you’re probably also paying major money for this service…). It’s not going to be easy for the employee to find a new child care provider–individual or institutional–while also holding down a fulltime job, but people do make these things happen with a combination of determination and good fortune. The employee should check with all public or private organizations, state & county agencies, people in her congregation, bowling league, etc. She should also network with all available employed parents of young children and even talk to child care providers that aren’t a good choice for her (e.g. the preschool that sends all kids home at 12 noon) because those teachers will probably know other places she can investigate. People who teach courses in early childhood at community colleges or the local college/university can be another resource. Finally, there’s the public library.

      I’m not trying to condone the OP’s employee’s crazy schedule, but making solid child-care arrangements sometimes will disrupt even the most otherwise reliable of employees. As Ella said in her compassionate comment below, it might be really helpful for the OP to help the employee make progress in turning things around…but also not to demand an overnight, all-or-nothing improvement. In the long run this might turn out to be a good investment in a good employee.

      1. Jean*

        Re first sentence of my last paragraph, make that “the OP’s employee’s _currently_ crazy schedule”. The point is to help the employee get things squared away!

        I know that workplaces aren’t _obliged_ to arrange the non-work lives of their staff, but honestly, folks, it’s hard work being a single parent and I think they can use a bit of extra kindness. If things still don’t shape up, then you can start considering whether the employee isn’t a good fit.

    2. JR*

      It’s really quite shocking how different the employment laws are between the two countries. Employees really have the upper hand in Canada (for the most part).

  21. ella*

    I’m not a single parent, but the only ways I have to get to my work (which is 12 miles away) are my bicycle or public transportation. When I first started at this job–for a boss who is super focused on punctuality–I almost lost it because it took me a few weeks to really get my commute down. For people who only commute in cars, it’s hard to explain the learning curve of figuring out what bus lines work best, which streets are safe to ride a bike on, stuff like that.

    The new employee has only been at this for a week, she’s probably super stressed, and trying to adapt, and wanting to live up to the expectations, and has barely figured anything out yet. I think four days in isn’t long enough to expect her to have her act together and to have everything be going smoothly. The employee needs to have a talk with her babysitter–or she needs to find a new babysitter–but I’d encourage the OP to look for progress of things falling into place for the employee, not an immediate turnaround. She’s going to get this figured out a step at a time, but she’ll get it figured out.

    1. fposte*

      She doesn’t have to have figured everything out, but she should have been able to stay for a full day’s work, and she hasn’t managed that yet. Frankly, I’m concerned that the employee didn’t proactively bring this issue up to her manager, because this is a significant lapse on her part.

  22. Not So NewReader*

    Crying at work is not so much an issue to me. I tend to keep going through a conversation no matter what. My only problem is if I cannot understand what the crying person is saying (because they are congested or their voice cracks). I don’t like missing something that the person has said. My problem is more with angry/violent people. That is the most unsettling to me.

    What strikes me here is that I did not read where the employee had a plan to work on the tardiness issues.
    Granted it is not the employer’s job to find babysitters, but perhaps there are other parents working there that would be happy to brainstorm ideas with her.

    The other thing that hits me is that OP does not say “I have this great employee except for one detail that seems to be a big deal…”

    Bottom line OP- you main quandary is your boss who back pedals.
    Monday: “Always do xyz.”
    Tuesday: “Never do xyz.”


    Policy A says that the manager should be the last one out of the building.
    Policy B says it is okay for Susie New Hire to leave early.

    Ask your boss which policy you should be following. And you can say that tactfully (unlike what I did here). “Boss, the problem is that when Susie leaves early then technically she has left subordinates in the building. I am not sure how to proceed. Who stays with those remaining workers? What about our later customers?
    Additionally, everyone else has to adhere to the schedule on an absolute basis. I am concerned that if they see Susie leaving early and coming in late all the time grumbling will start and morale will take a hit. I think if we accommodate one then we must accommodate all.”
    See what he says. You might have to say it more than once to be heard.

    I am hoping that this week is better and the problem lessens dramatically.

  23. Heather*

    I work for the kings and queens of policy inconsistency. Another manager I report to on occasion is infamous for the “always do xyz/never do xyz”, and he gets really pissed at me when I call him on it. I’m loving it that for this particular location, I’m reporting to a manager who is more consistent.

  24. Heather*

    Original poster here,

    I want to thank AAM and everyone else for their valuable feedback.

    What I’ve learned so far: I need to monitor the situation for the next few months and see what happens, a conversation that’s not a big deal to me might be a cry-inducing big deal conversation for someone else, and I should find out how exactly the hiring team is bringing up the need for extended hours during set-up in job interviews.

    1. fposte*

      I think she’s lucky to have you, Heather, and I think
      you’re doing an excellent job of being a better manager than you’ve had yourself.

  25. VictoriaHR*

    I would give her the opportunity to get a different sitter or set up a day care before letting her go. Sounds like she’s got an unreliable babysitter. That’s not the workplace’s fault but if she didn’t know the sitter was unreliable until her first week, it’s not her fault either. She’s under an enormous amount of pressure, I’m sure.

    1. Joey*

      This isn’t about assigning blame. Whether its kids, traffic, your SO, or something else its always possible to blame someone else. This is about deciding whether the short term pain is worth the potential long term return.

  26. knitcrazybooknut*

    OP: All of this advice is great, but one of the best pieces of advice I got from my HR Director was to have a glass of water ready for the employee if I thought they would cry during the conversation.

    It is physically impossible for someone to cry while they are drinking water.

    Crying comes from all types of emotions: sadness, frustration, stress. But if you can short-circuit the physical reaction by having the employee take a sip of water, many times you’ve won the battle, and can calm the emotional response as well.

  27. Carrie*

    It’s your obligation to help and support this poor woman. Obviously you don’t know hard it is to take care of children, especially as a single parent. Could you set up day care or hire a babysitter at the workplace? Your place of work obviously doesn’t value its employees – most organizations have daycares or daycare affiliations.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, most do not. And no, it’s not a manager’s obligation to support an employee who isn’t meeting the requirements of the job, particularly when they were clearly stated before hiring.

      Managers can and should be kind and supportive, but not at the expense of the needs of the job.

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