ask the readers: when parenthood changes work habits

I’m throwing this one out to readers to answer. A reader writes:

I am the executive director of a nonprofit with about 20 employees. Most have been working for me for over 10 years. When they were hired, they were selected because they were high-achieving, high energy, good thinkers who believed in and were committed to the mission of the organization.

About half have had children in the last 5 years. All but one of these new parents have changed significantly as employees. They miss work frequently due to sick kids, school closings, and babysitter problems. They have become low energy and lethargic at work, are distracted and preoccupied, and want to come to work late and leave early. Our parent company has a generous sick time and vacation policy which they take full advantage of. They want to be included in new projects, but ask for special treatment (examples: they only want to do the “in-town” meetings, they don’t want to be lead initiatives during the summer, etc.). It makes running a business very difficult.

I have directly addressed this with them individually, the problem gets better for a while and then returns. So it becomes a cycle of performance improvement plans, which they accomplish, and then regress. I travel a lot and stay very busy and do not have time to micromanage them, but they take advantage. I value their professional skills and want to be a family-friendly workplace, but this behavior impacts productivity and creates problems for those who have to take up the slack. Any suggestions?

{ 615 comments… read them below }

  1. Vadigor*

    Tricky, I get why the OP wrote in because I’m not sure how to navigate this potential minefield.

    Have any other readers noticed this as a recurrent problem to such an extent ( close to 90%) or did the OP just get unlucky with his batch of new parents?

    1. The+IT+Manager*

      “Tricky” My thoughts exactly.

      1) Sounds like the organization may have been formed or did big hiring push about 10 years ago and when they did they hired a number of younger employees who had not had kids yet.

      2) I wonder if the one employee who hasn’t changed his work habits is a man? Somehow (not in every family though) it still seems that mothers are the ones on the hook to care for sick kids, take them to the doctor, and handle child care issues.

      1. Eliza+Jane*

        Yeah, one of the biggest places I have seen this phenomenon is a company that hired almost exclusively out of college. The employees all worked crazy long hours, because that was the company culture, and they didn’t know anything else. But when people started having kids, all of a sudden, the workload was literally unsustainable. I was one of them, and I just couldn’t do the thing where I got in at 7, left at 6, and then worked from home in the evening anymore. So I dialed way back.

        I probably came across as disengaged and low energy, because I was feeling this unbearable pressure of impossible expectations, and feeling like I was being judged for wanting to do things like use my vacation time to take vacations, sleep at night instead of working until 1AM, and so forth. So I kind of checked out. Now I’m in a place that has more reasonable expectations, and I’m engaged and energetic again.

        1. AMT*

          This is an interesting possibility. I initially assumed that the OP’s workplace was fairly normal and that the parents were slacking, but it’s totally possible that it’s the kind of dysfunctional workplace in which the workload is insane and only manageable if you have no outside responsibilities and are willing to spend all of your time in the office.

          That said, coming into work late, leaving early, and declining to travel or lead initiatives during the summer when it’s part of your job aren’t acceptable behaviors in any workplace. So it’s also possible that the OP is being reasonable and the parents are taking advantage of his/her lenience.

          1. MT*

            100%. If it is part of their job, don’t let the employees dictate the job. If its their turn to lead the initiatives or to travel out of town, remind that that is part of the job and they have two options.

          2. JenM*

            I’ve worked in offices where coming in late/leaving early meant coming in after 7am and leaving before 7pm every weekday plus usually Saturday as well.

            This really hits home for me because I’m a new parent and we’re totally swamped at work. In the past, I could have absorbed it by working a few 70-80 hour weeks to get things done. Now I cant.

            1. The Other Katie*

              This is happening to me too. I have 5 1/2 month old twin boys at home, and my husband just had shoulder surgery and is unable to help at all. We are crazy at work right now, and I just can’t put in the hours I used to.

          3. Observer*

            True. But, when it’s a 90% hit, you really need to look at what is going on at an organizational level. As others mentioned, there are organizations where 9:00 – 5:00 is leaving early and coming late, low energy and disengaged.

            1. AMT*

              True. I wish the OP would reply so we could get some of these questions answered. I’m dying to know whether any of this speculation is on target.

          4. Non-profit professional*

            I have been through something similar at work as a new parent. I try to leave close to 5 now to get home to my kids and take over childcare when I used to stay at work past 6 every day. My ED saw a change in my work hours as my working less and being less engaged (especially since she works past 6 everyday). What she didn’t recognize was that I was doing more work from home. For example, I answer all of my general emails in the evening and before work, so that my in office hours can be devoted to things that can’t be done at home. It hurt my feelings at first, that she didn’t see those extra hours and questioned my work ethic. We had a good conversation about the change in my habits–although I still feel guilty when I leave around 5 and then guilty at home when I get home after 6. It’s an impossible problem where one side of my life remains less than satisfied even though I feel like I am burning the candle at both ends.

            1. Gail L*

              It bugs me when bosses look more at what you *appear* to be doing than what you get done. If you were still answering all your emails, but she didn’t see you do it, did she really think you weren’t doing it…?

        2. De Minimis*

          The places where I’ve seen this culture usually have an “up or out” mentality where people usually leave after a few years, get a better job and then settle down to have families. This is kind of like what would happen if everybody were able to stay as long as they wanted.

          Knew a few parents when I worked in that environment, and almost all of them had a tough time and usually ended up leaving. Even higher-ups who had kids [and in theory were allowed to work half-time] were pressured to be in the office all the time.

        3. KC*

          This was exactly my thought when I read the letter. When people are expected to regularly be working 12+ hour days, it’s barely sustainable when you don’t have kids/outside responsibilities. I think it’s perfectly reasonably for someone to want to work a 40-45 hour week, have a flexible schedule, etc. It might be to ask yourself: does your culture need to change?

        4. Anonathon*

          I was going to say something similar. I know that I almost enjoyed working crazy hours and letting work consume me when I was right out of college. But then I hit a point where that stopped being exciting and fun, and I just wanted to leave work on time, not answer email all night, etc. Basically, I think this type of pulling back could happen even to those who don’t have children (we don’t yet), but are simply reaching a different stage in their lives.

          1. De Minimis*

            Yeah, I didn’t have kids but wasn’t a fit for that environment either. Sometime in my early thirties I started “working to live” instead of “living to work.”

            1. Not+So+NewReader*

              This. What’s the deal with just the parents? How are the other employees doing? [Not a parent here.]

          2. Nelle H. L.*

            That’s exactly why I left working in television, though I adored the work and will miss it for the rest of my life. I don’t have kids, but I wanted – and needed – more than work in my life. It sounds like the OP hired a bunch of staff 10 years ago, and they have hit the expected life changes that come with age. Seems to me that the OP has two choices: accept that her staff”s workload has to be adjusted, or go through the whole process of replacing them.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        It sounds like #1 — that this ED hired a lot of people at the same time, and that there hasn’t been the usual amount of turnover in this group. To have half your original staff having stayed around for 10 years is mind-boggling to me — I realize that’s partly because I work in advertising and the average tenure in a job seems to be around 2 years. But it seems like the usual process of sloughing off staff members, whether due to attrition or due to firing low performers, and replacing them with new blood as an ongoing process, hasn’t been happening. So if they were all hired at once, when they were all in a similar stage of life (young, willing and able to dedicate a lot of hours to a job in order to build experience and salary), it’s not surprising that many of them have moved at the same time into another stage of life, where family becomes a larger priority.

        If this were a large organization, rather than a 20-person outfit, I’d try to help these employees, one by one, find less demanding positions elsewhere in the company and slowly replace them with others who are able to make the time commitment. In a smaller organization it’s probably impossible to find them jobs internally, but maybe OP can have a heart-to-heart with each one about the demands of the job and whether they feel it’s something they can continue to do long-term, so that OP acknowledges the hard work they’ve put in in the past but also the reality that the position requires that hard work to continue and thus may not be the right fit for someone whose first priority is not work.

        1. UKAnon*

          I was going to suggest something similar but slightly tangential. I don’t know if either would work in OP’s company, but I was thinking something along the lines of:
          a) Get them to try and find ways to work this out amongst themselves – Project X needs to be done, so A takes the out of town meetings and gets to be lead on this one, but B (whose been doing in-town based work) has to take on that role in the next project so B can stay closer to the office
          b) As you seem to be away from the office, make clear two or three employees who you trust are ‘in charge’, i.e. overseeing the projects, arranging who does what, in discussion with you but seeing that what you’ve agreed with them is implemented – almost ‘promoting’ the highest performing with more responsibility (that one possibly makes more sense in my head)
          c) Offering them changes to work and therefore subsequent changes to T&Cs – as they want to work in town, not over specified periods on specified tasks etc, you are prepared to offer them part-time (or expect full-time performance as per non-parents) but they’ll have to take the subsequent pay/holiday/etc hit so that the business can compensate with new part-time staff to pick up the rest of the staff. Let them decide whether time with family or current generous conditions is more important to them.

          I think that if you genuinely want to be family friendly, there are ways of making that work that are also beneficial to the business – it’s just about finding the ways that work for you.

          1. Mike C.*

            I worry with (a) that those without “families” (aka children, because for many that’s all that counts) are going to end up with the brunt of the work all the time.

            1. Observer*

              There are many way s to be family friendly without being unfair to those who have children. Of course, that does mean either extra rewards for those who do the crazy work levels, or having a culture that recognizes that EVERYONE has, or should have, a life outside of work. Children are not the only people that your staff may have commitments to. And, guess what, even true loners needs some time for themselves.

              1. Lynne*

                Yeah I think they key here is to focus on work-life balance generally, rather than “employees-with-kids-friendly”. If everyone is encouraged to take vacation time when they have it, to work regular, sustainable hours, and do high quality work, then it won’t matter if they have kids or not. We have a lot of folks in my office with kids which they inevitably take time off to deal with, but they have the vacation time to do so and the flexibility to make that work, and all of us are encouraged to use our time off as we see fit and to generally make our life-life important in addition to our work-life. That way I (as someone without kids) doesn’t feel like I’m being treated any differently, and the folks with families are able to be with them when they need or want to be.

              2. Who are you?*

                Truth!!! Back when I first started working, I was always given the horrible shifts and weekend hours because I didn’t have kids. I actually had a manager tell me that my approved days off were being rescinded because one of my co-workers had a sick kid at home and that was more important. Nevermind that my important thing was a wedding for a family member!!!

                1. Adam V*

                  Yeah, that’s a sign of a tone-deaf manager. No one person’s days off are “more important” than any other’s, and saying otherwise is a recipe for disaster. It’d be one thing if you’re the first person they ask every time someone needs to switch (so long as there’s no pressure to say no), it’s another to just outright go back on their word and cancel your plans. After that happened once, I’d be on my way out the door since I couldn’t trust that manager again.

          2. Wednesday*

            My business has incorporated a lot of the things you suggest here. We’re mostly young, 95% women, and it feels like many of my coworkers are pregnant/new mothers. There’s frequent turnover as young employees become mothers and drop down to part time status. There’s also opportunities for very high value employees who need to reduce their hours to take on specialized management roles where they work 10-20 hours per week in a very specific capacity.

          3. amp2140*

            A can be dangerous.

            What can easily happen is that without oversight, the rotation often gets traded after the fact, and falls to the child free employees.

      3. Meg Danger*

        Also, nonprofits tend to employ more women/tend to pay lower wages (which may be a contributing factor when determining which parent will stay home with an ill child).

  2. Adam V*

    > I have directly addressed this with them individually, the problem gets better for a while and then returns.

    It sounds like you need to have a second meeting, where you say “We spoke a couple of months ago about this, and while it got better initially, you’re back to your old ways. I need you to continue to work at a high level like I know you’re capable of. Is that something you can commit to for the long haul? If not, then we’re going to need to find a replacement and help you move out.”

    (I don’t like the wording of the last sentence but I can’t come up with something I like better.)

    1. Celeste*

      But that’s the rub–they are no longer capable. Things have changed for them. Most people can’t anticipate what parenting will be like to know if they should change jobs. You cannot KNOW what sort of baby you will get and when you hire caregivers, you are trusting that they will work out, too. It’s incredibly hard to have a divided loyalty.

      1. Colette*

        Some things might change (i.e. they might need to leave to get to the babysitter on time or they might be less able to work in the evenings), but things like being disengaged while they’re at work is a big problem. If you can’t be engaged in work while at work (on a regular basis), you need to take a hard look at whether that is the job for you, and the OP should absolutely take action to get people who can be engaged.

        Having said that, it sounds like this is an organization that expects people to put in a lot of hours and take little vacation, and for many people that’s not sustainable, whether they have kids or not.

        1. Mike C.*

          The last part is really important. The OP writes “Our parent company has a generous sick time and vacation policy which they take full advantage of.” So what? I’m sure they also have a paycheck policy which they also take full advantage of.

          1. Wednesday*

            Yah, that part made me feel that OP was miffed that her employees were actually using their benefits. Also, where she says that she thinks they’re “taking advantage” without specifics is a red flag.

            Benefit of the doubt though, because it does sound like there are actual performance issues in play.

            1. Sadsack*

              I took it as the OP saying that the employees have ample vacation time and use it, but are always trying to use more time than they have allotted. I don’t think OP is bothered about employees using their given vacation time, he is more concerned about their arriving late and leaving early, wanting more days off than allotted. At least that’s how I took it.

              1. Vicki*

                I would love specifics on the meaning of “late” and “early”.

                As others have pointed out, “arriving late” could mean 8 am or 9am instead of 7am, “leaving early” could mean 5pm instead of 7pm.

                I worked at a company were someone was a surprised to see “so few” cars in the lot after 6pm. He assumed this meant the employees weren’t engaged. He wasn’t happy to be told that perhaps they had families and other commitments. To many people with families and commitments, a job is supposed to take 40 hours M-F, not 7 days a week, not 60-80 hours.

          2. Anonsie*

            This stood out to me as well. With the question of whether they’re doing less than is reasonable or if this is a particularly demanding company, this tips me towards “demanding company.”

          3. Windchime*

            This caught me, too. A generous policy isn’t so generous if it’s on paper only. When people get dinged or perceived as less committed when utilize all their benefits, then the policy isn’t so generous after all.

          1. Colette*

            Yes, but I’m of the opinion that you need to mitigate the effects of your outside life as much as you can. An occasional sleepness night happens to everyone, but if you’re constantly not getting enough sleep to function, you need to figure out how to change that. No one is going to pay you to go to work and not accomplish anything – at least not for long.

            1. Celeste*

              Of course, where the occasional sleepless night is concerned. Sometimes it’s just a season of a parent’s life, a rough patch. I don’t see any way to mitigate that except taking a day off in between to recoup lost sleep. It isn’t clear from the OP’s letter if there has been any attempt to see if something like that is an issue. Even the greatest worker might not stay that way on sleep deprivation.

              1. Colette*

                I don’t think it’s the OP’s responsibility to fix that, if it’s really the issue. The OP should be clear about what his employees need to do (i.e. come to work rested, be productive while in the office, etc.), and then it’s up to his employees to figure out how to do that – whether it’s using a vacation day to catch up on sleep, getting someone else to look after the child at night, giving up non-work activities, or fixing whatever is causing the issue in their own life.

              2. Poe*

                I have chronic insomnia. My doctor and I have done all sorts of things to sort it out, but it remains a fact of my life. I do everything I can to prevent my cr@ppy night from affecting my job. In my opinion, my insomnia should not get me any special treatment, and nor should a parent’s sleep deprivation. It’s a problem outside of work, but you can’t let it affect your work.

          2. Tax Nerd*

            This. In my crazy busy times, I might not leave work ’til 10 or 11 (or later), and then not fall asleep until 1-2am, because it take me a couple of hours to decompress, no matter how exhausted I am. So when the alarm clock goes off at 6 or 7… I end up functioning (or trying to) on 4-6 hours of sleep. This is hardly optimal. I like my job, but the long hours get to me. If I have a boss that is okay with me coming in at 9:30 instead of 8:00 on the dot, I’m far more productive. (It would be great to go to sleep earlier, but I’ve never managed to actually do it, in spite of gobbling melatonin.)

        2. Observer*

          Yes, but the disengagement may be a result of the attitudes / culture of the place or the OP. If she lets it be known that taking your sick and vacation time is “taking advantage”, that’s highly likely to cause a person to disengage.

          Again, we don’t really know what exactly is going on. But the combination of the way this is presented and the fact that there is a problem with ** 90% ** of former high performers is a huge red flag for me.

          1. Celeste*

            Agree that we don’t know the staff’s side of this here. We aren’t even told if it’s women or men or both who are so disengaged. It’s also true that not all jobs will work in all seasons of a person’s life. This may be one that isn’t compatible with the demands of a young family.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Very true. And this can be a vicious cycle. If every time an employee asks for leave they get a sigh and and eye-roll, they are not going to be very motivated to put in 110%.

            Also, OP, as has been pointed out, you may be assuming children are the problem when that’s not it. People with kids have sick parents, divorces, burnout, health issues, etc just like people with no kids. But if all you see is “mommy track” then you’ll be blind to those other issues lurking.

            Also ALSO, let me be blunt and say that some non-work issues are easier to hide than others. I used to work at a company where the single young people made up the biggest contingent of slackers, but you can get away with pretending your hangover is that bug that’s going around so the boss doesn’t know. It’s a lot harder to cover up “schools unexpectedly closed today”.

  3. AnonEMoose*

    I probably won’t win friends with this response.

    But those who are taking advantage and not performing up to standard, especially repeatedly? I would suggest one last very firm conversation with reference to the performance improvement plans and the regressions, and let them know that if their behavior and performance slips again, they will be terminated. Then follow through.

    But do let them know that their employment is at risk if they do not shape up and stay that way. It sounds like they’re doing just enough to get off the PIP and going back to what landed them on the PIP in the first place – that’s not acceptable and they are taking advantage of you (and presumably your other employees who are therefore stuck picking up their slack).

    If you’re looking for ways to be accommodating of your employees’ lives outside of work (this should NOT apply only to those with children), why not look at what other organizations of your approximate size for ideas? How about asking your employees to put together some ideas? “Family friendly” should be, in my opinion, about more than those with children. It should also be about those who may be caring for, say, elderly relatives, or a spouse, or who have other circumstances going on that some flexibility (where possible) could really help.

    1. AMT*

      Yes! I’ve heard from dozens of employees whose workplace family-friendliness only extended to people with kids and not to people with spouses, parents, pets, or just a bunch of friends and hobbies. Your time isn’t less valuable just because you’re not spending it at Gymboree.

      1. Office Girl*

        Big plus one to this. I work in an office where the workload is prettyyyy unbalanced–ie, some of us (~20%) work late every day, the rest have never stayed late in the 4 years I’ve been here. And by not staying late I mean literally shutting off their computers at 4:59 every day regardless of how much work is left on their projects. I’ll let you guess which demographic is saddled with the extra work…

        1. PE software subsidiary*

          It’s all about setting expectations. If you always work the same hours then it isn’t shocking when you always do the same thing. I do this, even in a very high stress PM position. When I do work outside normal hours, it’s always highly appreciated. Mind games, but it works

      2. Wednesday*

        I like this! One way my workplace is family friendly is that all managers hold their staff to reasonable workweeks. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing with your personal time (in my case, I watch a lot of tv) but you’re not treated differently because you aren’t a parent.

      3. Ed*

        My current job is really fair with dividing after hours work but I ran into this a lot at previous jobs. Personal time is personal time, no matter how we choose to spend it. I shouldn’t be punished because I choose not to have children. As long as nobody abuses it, I have no issue with everyone being cut a little slack with the schedule. Being single (and living in a new city by myself), things like taking my car to the garage or picking it up during their business hours are very difficult for me.

        A friend of mine is a cop and gets 24 sick days a year. While this sounds very excessive to most of us, he told me there are several co-workers who are always out of sick days by the end of summer. I think some people just treat sick days like vacation days, regardless of the quantity. I’ll bet if you reduced this number to 12- 16 extra use-them-however-you-want days, it would be plenty.

        I’m a big fan of very liberal vacation time where sick days, personal days and vacation all go into one big pot. Need to stay home with a sick kid? Take a day out of the pot. It allows sick employees to get leave without worrying about doctor’s notes and feeling guilty while those of us who never call in sick get rewarded with a little extra vacation. But this plan is often unpopular with some because it punishes those who consistantly use every ounce of sick time but forcing them to cut into their vacation days.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          I had a job like that once and never got any vacation because I used all the time on undiagnosed health issues. It sucked.

          Obviously the best solution was getting the health issues under control. But I didn’t like paying for it with leisure time. My ideal would be a finite amount of vacation and unlimited sick time where more than a couple of days in a row–or, frankly, in a pay period–comes with some sort of explanation. Many years later I had another complicated health situation where I had the sick time to cover it, but kept my manager posted about my expected back-to-full-strength date all the same. As others have said, if managers know what they can plan for, that defuses a lot of problems.

          1. Poe*

            My current job has unlimited sick days, but any pattern or multiple days out has to be explained. The person who was claiming doctor appts every Friday afternoon but couldn’t get a note? Yikes! My 3 Wednesday mornings coming in late because I needed to see a doctor over time to try a new medicine? Legit with a note, and I have really appreciated this policy, even though I have been remarkably healthy this year (knock wood). I would say 99% of us use it at a completely acceptable and reasonable level and in the right way, because we really love having that in case of disaster.

          2. Zillah*

            As someone else who has had periods of poor health but it generally a high performing worker, I 100% agree with this.

          3. Jessa*

            I hate the idea of lumped together time. You never get to use vacation because OMG what if you get sick after you have taken it, then you’re stuck losing your job. Sick time should NOT be lumped in with vacation time.

            I’m disabled and part of my disability is unexpected time off (one of the things I have is lung problems and it doesn’t take much – one employee who had a sick kid coming in and sitting next to me, to have me ill for a week and maybe in hospital.) I could NEVER take vacation because I had to save every single day in the pot in case I got sick. During the time I was at that job I went three years without a vacation. Because I needed every single one of the days made available for sick leave. I got not one single day in three years that was scheduled off that was not for a doctor’s appointment. I could not afford to “waste” a day on something for myself because I knew ultimately I’d be ill. Lumped together time just means no vacations for me at all.

        2. annie*

          I think it’s a little bit different for police officers. The rest of us might be able to muddle through in our offices by drinking tea and popping some cold medicine, but you probably don’t want police officers out there making decisions while under the influence of Sudafed.

    2. Adam*

      Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Being a parent, especially for the very first time, is rough. Most people get that. And if an organization makes strides to be family friendly that’s awesome. But they are still a business with a mission to get done independent of their employees’ personal lives, whatever that may entail be it raising children, caring for ill relatives, or just wanting to live a life not tethered to their work desk 24/7. So long as the company isn’t creating an environment where you are expected to be married to your job, it’s reasonable to expect that staff figure out a way to meet the expectations of the job alongside whatever personal challenges they may be facing. If that’s not possible, then either the job needs to be restructured so they have less responsibility, or the company needs to find someone who can fill the role as listed. Only the Scrooges of the world would take joy in ousting a parent who needs the job, but as the manager/business owner your job is to make sure business is functioning, and it’s often a hard and thankless task.

    3. Andrea*

      I agree, too, especially with your last paragraph. And I bet that some of those employees who are picking up the slack would like some flexibility, too.

    4. Wednesday*

      Nothing controversial in your viewpoint. And OP shouldn’t make her #1 priority being family-friendly. Her #1 priority should be producing good work/getting good results for clients. If that means allowing high performing staff to work part time and restructure to create roles for entry level staff, then do that. But it doesn’t mean keep 10-year employees who no longer get their work done.

      1. Recruiter*

        “And OP shouldn’t make her #1 priority being family-friendly. Her #1 priority should be producing good work/getting good results for clients. ”

        I completely, 100% agree with this statement. It’s not about who has kids and who doesn’t, it should be about who is producing and who isn’t. If the tables were turned, and the employees without children were the poorly producing ones, the same consequences should apply. All rules, standards, etc., should apply to ALL employees, parents or not.

      1. Victoria*

        I agree with this. And a more broad definition of ‘family’ that includes parents, nieces, nephews, siblings, grandparents etc, not just ‘husband/wife and children’.

    5. AndersonDarling*

      I agree. I know many parents where one works for a “family friendly” company and that parent always is the one who takes off early or calls in sick when needed. The boss may need to redefine that family friendly doesn’t mean that the whole company bends backwards for your family.
      Once you lay this down, the parents may skip a school event, ask the grandparents to help out, or the other parent will stay home with the sick kid every once in a while.

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        As long as you don’t end up unduly punishing the family that is single-parented with no local family.

        1. Anonsie*

          This is a big one: Never assume anyone has an option to handle something other than doing it themselves.

          1. Chinook*

            “This is a big one: Never assume anyone has an option to handle something other than doing it themselves.”

            But that goes for everything – not just kids. As someone said earlier, being single means having to take a day off in order for my car to get repaired and made road worthy or staying home to wait for the plumber when the water heater explodes or being the one to figure out what to do when my dog dies and the vets only have business hours and I suspect that, if I left the body in has basket, the cat might start nibbling on him (so no, I can’t do it later). That is why having an office that understands that stuff happens but you are still expected to help the business succeed is a delicate balance and worth almost as much as a good pay cheque.

            1. Anonsie*

              Well yeah, that’s why I said “anyone” and “something” and wasn’t parent-specific.

              What I had in mind was the time I needed to take my dog to the vet urgently one morning and my boss said I couldn’t take the morning off to do it because my mom lived in town and she should do it for me. I told him my mom was not about to take a morning off work to take my dog to the vet for me, and he seemed to think that was stupid and I was making up excuses.

    6. Observer*

      I fully agree with the idea that “family friendly” should not be only about people with children. In fact, I’d really love to replace the term with “whole human” friendly.

        1. Kelly*

          Both my mother and I like our cats more than some people, especially in laws. I call my cat my kid and you can tell by a person’s reaction if their an animal person or not.

          I had to work last Saturday to cover for an absent student. I drew the short straw because I don’t have a partner or kids. The cat thought it was weird when I was gone most of Saturday like it was a normal work day.

          1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

            I like your cats more than most people, and I’ve never met your cats.

            I’ve yet to meet a human being who could measure up to a cat.

            1. CA Admin*

              That’s because you’ve never met my cat. I love her and she’s very cute, but she regularly ruins my shoes by puking in them.

              1. Cucumber*

                Here, here. Oliver, one of my cats, killed my printer by urinating in it. We ask him daily to turn back to the Light Side of the Force.

                1. CA Admin*

                  She’s ruined an expensive bean bag chair and multiple expensive bags by peeing on them. You can’t leave a backpack on a surface or she’ll decide it’s better than her litter box. She’s avoided ruining tech so far–that’s what the rabbits are for. The rabbits will chew any exposed wires or cables, the more expensive and hard to replace, the better.

    7. NoPantsFridays*

      I also agree with you. Thanks for saying this. Too often, “family” means only children and no other type of family counts. Also applies to other personal activities, e.g. volunteer work or teaching classes, that don’t count as meaningful activities because they don’t involve having/raising children.

      1. Who are you?*

        It’s funny. I’ve never assumed that people who say they are doing something with family are talking about kids and spouse. I almost always assume that they mean siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles and the like. I wonder why that is. I’ll be pondering this all day, BTW.

        I also agree that all aspects of a person’s life outside of work should be respected. My childcare emergency isn’t my co-workers problem. I know this. I respect this. I do what I can to have several contingency plans in place in case of an emergency. That being said, we are all humans and sometimes life happens and it’s ugly. I’ve picked up the slack when a childless co-worker was going through an ugly divorce, been there to cover a shift when a beloved dog had to be rushed to the vet (he swallowed a toy whole and it had caused a bowel blockage), and I cannot count how many times I’ve been asked to cover shifts when bad weather has kept half my team home and because I only live 7 minutes away it wasn’t as big a deal for me to make it in. I think, in most cases, people should stop keeping score and realize that we all have lives outside of work that sometimes interfere with our work. Nobody wants to be the person responsible for the work disruption, no matter what the reason is.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I think this is true up to a point. And I don’t have a problem doing the occasional favor for a coworker. But when the favors only ever seem to flow in one direction, that’s a problem. It’s not about keeping score, but there does need to be some reciprocity.

          1. Nerd Girl*

            And that’s why I said “in most cases”. Believe me, I’ve been the person who picked up the slack for co-workers who were constantly taking advantage. One in particular used a litany of excuses to get out of pulling her weight. My favorite was the day she came into work with a bruised wrist and claimed that she’d broken it while jogging that morning. She apparently bumped it against a mail box as she ran by. For days she nursed her arm, even when her MD said it wasn’t broken and she was fine. Once that healed she started telling people she had skin cancer and was heading into chemo. Funny enough, that lasted about three weeks and then it was something else. I don’t miss working with her at all.

      2. Chinook*

        I agree – I once got written up for taking off part of the day to pick up DH at the hospital. Never mind that I started the shift on time despite being told he was in emergency and found someone to cover my shift. Nope – too bad. The boss even said she wouldn’t have had a problem if it was a child.

          1. Cucumber*

            I would probably have looked into the policies, and if they were friendly, done the same.

            That is plainly insane, and discriminatory against the vast majority of working people who have some family, but not necessarily kids.

    8. SB*

      Love the idea of asking the staff what can be done. If this is a problem for the organization as a whole (and it sounds like it is currently impacting everyone) having a productive, constructive conversation about how to improve morale and energy will share the load between all the employees no matter their family obligations and, if done well, may remind everyone why they do what they do. Yay kool-aid!

  4. illini02*

    I think that if its a performance issue you deal with it like you would if it there weren’t kids involved. It sounds like you may need some new blood in the office. I’m not saying fire them now or anything, but I feel like you are giving them more chances than you would give to someone else without children, which itself isn’t fair. So your choices are get rid of them, or decide if they are that valuable to your company that you can’t lose them. However, I’m going to guess that your double standards aren’t going unnoticed by the people without kids, which may cause animosity as well.

    1. Mike C.*

      I’ve seen the new blood thing come up a few times now, and I’m really beginning to wonder if the OP’s business just has really out of whack expectations that weren’t brought to light until a large number of employees stopped working what I imagine to be insane hours.

      1. Chriama*

        It sounds like that to me too. To have a company composed of the same people working the same job for 10 years — I don’t think that’s necessarily a great thing. Unless it’s factory work, any job where employees need to use creativity or judgement needs new ideas from time to time. And since they all got families at the same time, I think it might have been that these people were all hired years ago when they were young and eager and full of new ideas. In such a small company there may not be room to advance, so aside from the childcare issues it could be that they’ve just gotten complacent in their jobs.

      2. Andrea*

        Yep, I think this is exactly it. I think the workload is overwhelming and the expectations are way too high and unsustainable, and that in the past, these folks were working insane hours and now they can’t/won’t.

  5. Eliza+Jane*

    If this is a really widespread problem, which it seems to be for you, I’d take a close look at whether anything in your company culture may be contributing to it.

    In my own personal experience, the places I’ve seen this kind of pattern tend to be places where high-energy and commitment translated into “work seventy hours a week.” It may be that that’s not the case where you are, but there’s a pretty common arc when you’re hiring young people just starting out. They have tons of energy and enthusiasm, and they make their job their life. Then their life starts to build up, and they have to back off on the number of hours they work. They have other things filling up their brain space.

    It sounds to me like your employees who had kids are burned out. That may mean that your pace is just too fast to sustain if you have an active outside-of-work life. That’s okay, if you’re okay with it, but this is absolutely one of the results.

    Two things to add:

    1. if people are churning through multiple iterations of PIPs, you really need to structure them so that backsliding is failure.
    2. if you have a generous sick time and vacation policy, it’s really unfair to punish people for using it. It either is the policy, or it’s not. But if it is, then people are allowed to use it.

    1. The+IT+Manager*

      if you have a generous sick time and vacation policy, it’s really unfair to punish people for using it.

      I do agree with with this heartedly, though. Do not punish anyone for wanting to or using all of their vacation time! You can however reject some requests that don’t work for you (“We really need you attend this meeting/event/etc. Can you select another week to take your vacation?”), but don’t reject everything because you’re always too busy for people to take vacation. That sounds like a problem with you’re workload and like your organization does not allow for work/life balence.

      1. Auditoholic*

        +1 We have a very generous time off policy and this year I’m taking 4 full weeks (one week at a time). Next year, I’ll take three one-week vacations PLUS a 5-week sabbatical. My company offers a paid sabbatical every 7 years. However, I have to plan these with my manager to be sure the dates work. We usually have all vacation for the following year in the calendar by mid-December.

        1. bad at online naming*

          I was going to ask if we worked at the same place, until that last sentence!

          We’re very similar in policy but a little less organized. I asked my manager about taking days off for a wedding a year in advance and he laughed and told me it would almost certainly be fine but please bring it up later.

      1. CC*

        This applies to so many things!

        If you’re teaching and the majority of the class doesn’t understand your explanation… examine your explanation.

        If you’re coaching and the majority of the team can’t do your drills… examine your drills.

        If safety devices are routinely disabled to allow use of equipment, the safety devices are poorly designed.

        If rules are routinely broken to get the work done, the rules are poorly designed. (Alternate phrasing: if a “work to rule” strike cripples a business, the rules are wrong.)

        If it’s only one or two who don’t understand, break the rules, don’t meet standards, then that one person is likely the problem. But if it’s the majority… it’s not.

        1. Wednesday*

          I have seen cases where the majority WAS the problem–9 out of 10 employees were slacking, underperforming, and unhelpful–but that was part of a bad culture that needed fixing. It took a lot of turnover to get to a high-performing team who proved that the expectations actually were manageable.

    2. AMT*

      Re: #1, that was the part that confused me about the letter. Aren’t PIPs supposed to be more like, “You meet these standards or you’re out,” and not, “You meet these standards, but if you stop meeting these standards, we’ll just do another PIP”?

      1. Rachel - HR*

        Usually the phrasing is meant to convey, “You meet these standards immediately or you’re out and we expect that you continue to meet these standards in the future.” But, there is a lifespan on things like PIPs and final warnings. If everything goes fine for a year or more it’s hard to justify an immediate termination if things start to slip. In those cases, another PIP may be appropriate.

    3. Jenny*

      I agree with this. While this stinks that there has been a backslide in quality of performance since having kids, there are countless reasons for a backslide in performance. Sometimes after a few years people feel stale in their roles and just go through the motions. Sometimes jobs become too unchallenging if there are no projects. Your employees have clearly burnt out and you’re saying “The cause of their slacking is their kids” and that may be PART of the reason but it’s not the entire reason. I’m a mom of two kids and like anyone, if I feel valued and appreciated at my job, I work very hard. If I feel like the job couldn’t care less about me, I navigate towards the areas of my life where I do feel appreciated and that’s now (at this point in my life) the area with my kids.

      So don’t think of the kids as the reason for the backslide. See it as a symptom.

      And honestly, yes, you need to address this PIP structure. If people can slack off repeatedly and keep their jobs, there’s no incentive for anyone to work hard.

    4. Looking for a Solution*

      Looking to the company culture for possible explanations for this behavior is fair. I can unequivocably say that no one has been punished for taking sick time and vacation time, and I have no problems with work being done after hours. In fact, this is the way I manage the work-life balance. I have, and could terminate each for backsliding on their PIPs, and have elected not to because of the disruption this causes in productivity and the difficulty replacing the specialty skills they possess. So perhaps this is a choice I have made and must live with- however, I was looking for some new ideas on how to bring these folks back in line without throwing away all these years that I have invested in and developed them as employees (mentoring, training, coaching, supervising). There has to be a way to change this mindset of entitlement that has taken root.

      1. NK*

        Based on this post and your one below about this being an above-average organization, I have to question this: “however, I was looking for some new ideas on how to bring these folks back in line without throwing away all these years that I have invested in and developed them as employees (mentoring, training, coaching, supervising). ”

        I think you’re incorrectly viewing these people as an investment that you must hold onto as long as possible. In some ways it’s great that these people are loyal enough to stick around for 10+ years, but it sounds like your organization could desperately use some new blood. It’s good for an organization to have diversity of age and experience, and it sounds like you don’t have that right now. The people who aren’t performing are probably no longer a good fit for the organization, and I think it would be wise to start talking to those people about seeking new opportunities. If you help them with this it can be beneficial to everyone. Just be very careful to ensure that you’re not singling out a specific group and that you’re looking at everyone based on the work they generate (or don’t) and not their personal circumstances.

        1. Mike C.*

          I disagree entirely. Treating long term employees who are loyal and have hard to find skill sets as investments is the right way to go – people aren’t cogs in a machine to be replaced at a whim.

          If you have one or two that are screwups, that’s fine to clean house in an appropriate manner. When it’s a systematic issue, you need to examine the processes in play rather than each person as an individual. Otherwise you’re going to repeat the same problem over and over again, and since all of these folks belong to a clearly identified class, well, that’s going to be a fun conversation as well. I don’t know if it’s directly illegal, but it’s not something I’d like to face in the press.

          1. badger_doc*

            I agree that investment is needed to retain good, long-term employees. However, everyone should be replaceable. No organization should be structured to run on the shoulders of one or a few people. What happens if they were to die unexpectedly? Or leave the company? I agree to not treat them as cogs, but be careful about the other extreme and having your organization depend solely on them to survive.

          2. NK*

            Hmm – that is not what I meant to get across, but reading my post again it certainly sounds like it. I just think that when most of your employees have been around for 10+ years in a smaller organization where there’s likely not room to move around and grow much, it’s pretty easy for things to get stagnant. And when you combine that with employees who now have more competing priorities outside the workplace than they once did, I think it’s a recipe for apathy. That’s why I don’t think it’s always best to hang onto people forever and ever in a small organization, on top of the usual reasons cited like bringing in fresh eyes, new ideas, etc. And I don’t mean hiring all young people, just people new to the organization. And I suspect the existing employees might be better employees for organizations they are new to as well.

      2. J.B.*

        So what was on the PIPs? People throughout have given lots of possible answers. What are the problems and how much of them are tied to kids directly? Have they gotten a change in responsibilities over the years? – if they’ve been doing the same thing for 10 years then boredom and burnout are highly likely. If the job really requires travel and full time presence then yes it is quite likely that younger folks could do it more than parents. There are times when the career needs to dial back.

          1. Looking for a Solution*

            They are paid for 40 hrs per week but generally shave 5-7 hours off per week by arriving late and leaving early

            1. Kerry*

              I’m having trouble putting together a picture in my head of the hours – is it that they should be coming in at 9 and leaving at 5, but instead are coming in at 10 and leaving at 5, or coming in at 9 and leaving at 4?

      3. Meg Murry*

        Can you ask if they want to go part-time or jobshare (with the appropriate cut in pay and benefits) so you can hire more people to take up the slack? For instance, if 4 people each went to 50%, that’s 2 full-time equivalents, and you could hire 2 more full-timers? That way you don’t lose the people you’ve invested so much time in, and maybe once their kids are older they’ll want to come back full-time when the positions open up?

        1. Mike C.*

          I really, really wish more employers would consider serious job sharing programs. In addition to what you’re talking about, it would have taken a lot of the sting of the previous recession. Not only are the employees retaining some security but skills aren’t stagnating and the employer can ramp up as business conditions improve.

          1. the+gold+digger*

            And there are experienced employees who really want a part-time option. My husband is quitting his engineering job after 15 years with the same company and 29 years (holy smoke we are old) in the same industry. He asked if there were a part-time option or a consulting option and was told no – that it is too hard to track PT employees. His employer is not happy to see him leave, but that’s what’s happening – the loss of the person who knows how to do the xyz part of their product.

      4. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Is the temporary loss in productivity really so great as the continual loss of productivity you feel you have by continuing to employ them in the current way? Meg Murray’s job-share idea might be a way to keep their skill set available as well as grow your workforce a bit.

      5. Natalie*

        “I was looking for some new ideas on how to bring these folks back in line without throwing away all these years that I have invested in and developed them as employees (mentoring, training, coaching, supervising).”

        Perhaps it’s time to look at the fundamental nature of their jobs. It sounds like this group represents a lot of your employees, and if they are all having problems it is likely something to do with the structure of your company being essentially incompatible with having kids. If it’s true these folks bring value to your company generally, there is incentive for you to meet them where they’re at (to an extent, of course).

      6. Wednesday*

        Honestly, it sounds like you are afraid of bringing in new staff. Turnover always causes disruption, temporary reductions in productivity, and the difficulty of searching for new employees. And it’s worth it. You have to be willing to let go of your employees or you can’t be an effective manager.

      7. Alexa*

        This may seem like a bit too radical of a solution but there have been recent news stories of companies instituting a 4-day work week or reduced hours. I wonder if you might try moving to a “competency based” system – where you assign specific projects and timelines and employees are responsible for completing those projects in however long they need to. This means that if they can get all their work done on the weekends or while their children are in daycare, that’s fine as long as they’re accomplishing the projects you need them to. Obviously this won’t necessarily for for customer facing roles but may give parents a lot more flexibility to not only take care of kids but get rest when they need it. It also creates really clear indicators of whether or not people are pulling their fair share.

      8. MaryMary*

        It’s come up a couple times on this thread, but I’d be careful about leaning too hard on flex time or expecting employees to get work done later at home. A lot of people (like you, Solution) use flex time successfully as a way to balance work and home. But when there are other commitments at home, logging back in isn’t always feasible. I had a coworker who had three kids under the age of five, including an infant. We had a monster of a project, and while he’d leave the office around 4 or 5, he’d log back in after 9 or 10, sometimes working until the wee hours of the night. Anything he coded for me after 11pm was crap. Once, he somehow uncoded what we’d been working on and knocked a whole database out of commission. He was so exhausted and overextended that trying to put in more hours late at night did more harm than good.

        It creates communication issues, too, when people are responding to emails in hours instead of minutes, and something that could have been covered in a five minute conversation takes a day and a half over email and voicemail. When my Dad was in the hospital, I was out of the office for about two weeks. Most of the time, I put in eight hours a day, but it was two hours between 6-8am, checking email sporadically during the day, maybe a phone call in the afternoon, and the catching up on everything else at night. Everyone was very supportive, but my manager was on the point of telling me to go on FMLA when I was able to come back full time. Flex time is a coping mechanism, but it’s not a substitute for 40+ hours a week in the office.

      9. Non-profit Anon*

        One potential solution: it may be time to review the job description and be very specific with requirements. Such as you are required to attend lead summer project which will entail x-amount of travel and work until 8 pm an average of 3 times a month.

        I know for me as a mother of two preschoolers, I travel frequently in the summer and work late several times a month. However, since I know that those are job requirements and I have other flexibility that I value, I am very willing to do the job. It may be time to ask these employees if they can continue to do these requirements.

      10. Zahra*

        Solution, excuse me for being harsh, but what would you do if any of those employees was hit by a bus? You’d lose those skills and it doesn’t seem you have any cross-training in place. Having “difficulty replacing specialty skills” is a poor excuse and it’s a situation many companies have been faced with when baby-boomers go into retirement. When you have a full cohort leaving within 5 years of each other, you need to figure out how to replace them and no one will have these skills within the first 6 months. It took 10 years for your employees to get at this level. Surely they didn’t possess this kind of proficiency when you hired them?

        If it’s truly entitlement (and not “not doing (free or paid) overtime anymore”), there’s not much you can do but replace those employees. If you *need* overtime (and not 5 hours a week, but 15+) a majority of the year from everyone, then you need to hire more people, because it’s not sustainable.

      11. Clever Name*

        What’s more important to you (and the company)? Keeping these particular employees because of their specialized skills, or having employees in those roles who are willing and able to work the kinds of hours/travel commitments you expect?

        If it’s more important to keep those particular employees (maybe not all, but just some of them), maybe discuss with them ways to re-structure their work/travel schedules to accommodate their lives outside work. It IS possible to have a high-performing team that have lives outside work, but you may not like what that entails. (allowing people to work 40 hour work weeks and limit travel)

        If it’s more important to have people in those roles who are willing to work they way you want them to, it’s time to bite the bullet and move the underperformers out.

      12. Observer*

        Well, the first thing I would suggest is to look at this as a systems issue. Maybe it really is a culture of entitlement, maybe it’s unreasonable expectations, maybe it’s something else, but to figure this out, you need to start over by looking at the system as a whole.

        In general, if your only concession to work / life balance is allowing people to work after hours, you have a long way to go. This is true for everyone, whether they are parents of young children or not. On the other hand if your primary management tool for people who are under-performing is a PIP or series of them, you need to broaden your repertoire, as well.

        Lastly, as others have suggested, look at making people part time, and bringing in people who can pick up the other pieces. That helps you retain people to deploy their unique skills while bringing in fresh blood, and provides some resiliency when (not if) someone with important skills leaves. It’s the general staff equivalent of succession planning.

      13. Rana*

        “I have no problems with work being done after hours. In fact, this is the way I manage the work-life balance.”

        This bit concerns me. Work being done “after hours” is still work. If your employees are unable to work long hours because they have other commitments and responsibilities, telling them that they can “balance” things by working more on their own time is unlikely to come across as helpful.

    5. Adonday Veeah*

      Even with a generous vacation policy, there should still be some capacity for the manager to deny the use of vacation if, for instance, the company is experiencing a busy season, or the employee is just not meeting reasonable goals.

    6. WorkingMom*

      I totally agree with this. First and foremost, if an employee is having performance issues, address it head-on just like you would for any employees.

      Now, since you have noticed a theme that appears to be affecting a large part of your workforce, consider your company culture. Maybe do a casual survey of some kind to get a pulse on your workforce – not entirely about work/life balance, but about everything, and include some of those balance questions in there. (It HAS to be anonymous!) Based on the results, as well as what you see day-to-day, evaluate your culture. Can an individual still thrive in this environment with a family? Or heck, a devoted crafty hobby, or sports, or anything outside of work? Not saying you should entirely redefine your company’s definition of success, but take an honest look at it.

      Could employees be burned out, or bored? Maybe they need new/different challenges. I know after several years of doing the same job I get burned out and need a new challenge. (Luckily my manager can provide new challenges for me!) I would encourage asking employees for honest feedback, and asking for their partnership in creating a culture that works for the business and the employees. You can do everything in the book to make them happy, satisfied and well-balanced, but it only works if they put in their fair share of effort, too.

  6. NJ anon*

    Employees should not be treated differently because they have kids. I have three and have been a working mom since they were born and never expected nor received any special treatment. I know it sounds harsh, but if they cannot perform their job duties without special treatment, maybe they should be replaced. I would think that having X amount of PIPs in a certain amount of time would be cause for termination.

  7. Cat*

    Oh boy, I have a lot of Thoughts on this. My feeling is that the key is that the letter writer is muddling two things:

    1) Legitimate concerns about employee behavior.

    2) Illegitimate expectations about things that your employees were doing and probably shouldn’t have been pre-kids.

    The second is probably actually creating a problem re the first because your employees have learned that they can be going full tilt or they can burn out and you (generally) haven’t created a climate where they can be productive without exhausting themselves.

    So you should expect your employees to be engaged and energetic (most of the time) while at work. You should expect that they’ll figure out how to get stuff done even if they need to be flexible about the hours. You should expect that they’ll fulfill the job duties even if that means travel or more summer work (but should probably also make sure the travel and summer work are evenly distributed).

    You should not, however, expect that they won’t take advantage of your vacation and sick policies (though they shouldn’t be abusing them either). I think creating a culture where you’re not disengaged because you take vacation and sick time will help with creating a culture where you are expected to be engaged while at work.

    Also, since you’re mentioning half your employees having kids, a note on balancing between the two groups: my rule (as someone who doesn’t have kids but has a lot of co-workers who does) is that it’s fair to expect that some (not all) people with kids will have more leeway about when they work but it’s not fair to expect them to work more as a general rule. I am happy to be the one physically in the office until whatever time if we have a deadline and my coworker needs to be at daycare at a certain time. I am not, however, happy to work twice as many hours as said coworker, even if that means my coworker will sometimes be logging on after their kid (and I) are in bed. And if I do need to leave at a certain time for a non-child related reason, I think that should be respected as well.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I agree with pretty much everything you said, up to the last paragraph (which I don’t totally understand; I think I got confused about who “they” are throughout – parents or non-parents?).

      To me, it boils down to this: The manager needs to reflect deeply on what reasonable standards of performance are and what kind of organization she (and her board) wants to run, and then hold everyone to those standards. There are tradeoffs to whatever standards she chooses, and that’s ok.

      She can choose to run an organization that has a very fast pace, very high expectations for performance and hours worked, and has great immediate results. That might mean that her staff need more vacation to recuperate from the pace, have higher health care costs, and don’t stay as long. Or she could run an organization that prioritizes staff longevity/health/etc. and has, as a result, slightly lesser output. But she probably can’t have it all.

      1. Cat*

        I don’t know the best way to clarify – I think parents and non-parents should be working about the same amount of hours over the long-term; parents (and some non-parents, like those with other dependents) may need more flexibility about what those hours are. So, as a non-parent, I actually don’t mind that I may be in the office until 7pm or 8pm some days because a parent co-worker needs to leave at 5pm on the dot to pick up her kid from daycare. But if the parent is never logging in from home and is really only putting in 8 hour days while I’m working overtime, that’s a problem for me. (I am in a job that will sometimes require over time; it’s just inevitable).

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I think parents deserve some flexibility, but that flexibility should apply to every employee. No special treatment. If Joe Blow gets to leave at 5 on the dot on Wednesdays to pick up his kid, then I should be able to leave at 5 once a week to be able to get to my piano lesson on time. I’m lucky that I work at a place that allows this type of arrangement as long as you get your work done. I can see this causing problems at places with strict hours or retail type shifts. At other jobs, I felt like I was being punished because I was always the one expected to work late or at events that lasted to 10 pm because the people with kids didn’t want to do it. I was tempted to fake a pregnancy (not really).

        2. Koko*

          Family-friendly policies should really be for everyone. If I participate in a softball team that practices outside of normal work hours, I don’t like the idea that my manager decides my softball game isn’t as important as my coworker’s kid’s piano lesson. Now, there’s plenty of times that I voluntarily skip softball when someone is needed to stay late and pitch in. But I think that should still be my choice–or if nobody volunteers the manager is calling the shots on who has to stay late when they have other plans, it shouldn’t always be the parents who get to go and the non-parents who have to stay.

          And ideally, in a lot of workplaces, everyone should have the flexibility to go home and log on later if they aren’t actually needed to be physically present in the office between 5pm and 7pm. And hopefully the jobs that do require physical presence, sometimes outside of normal hours, made that requirement clear during the advertising/hiring process.

          1. Cat*

            I agree but sometimes it’s helpful to have someone in the office and I don’t mind pinch hitting when that’s the case since I have the flexibility.

        3. Melissa*

          I think the misunderstanding (which I also had) came here

          “Also, since you’re mentioning half your employees having kids, a note on balancing between the two groups: my rule (as someone who doesn’t have kids but has a lot of co-workers who does) is that it’s fair to expect that some (not all) people with kids will have more leeway about when they work but it’s not fair to expect them to work more as a general rule.”

          By which I think you meant

          “Also, since you’re mentioning half your employees having kids, a note on balancing between the two groups: my rule (as someone who doesn’t have kids but has a lot of co-workers who does) is that it’s fair to expect that some (not all) people withOUT kids will have more leeway about when they work but it’s not fair to expect them to work more as a general rule.”

          But I eventually figured out what you meant, and I agree – I don’t mind staying later in the office to help out the parent who needs to leave at 5 pm, as long as we are both working the same hours. I would also like the same courtesy extended to me in the rare case that I might need to leave at 5 pm on the dot – and not have it held against me because I’m leaving to catch a flight to see my extended family rather than pick up my kids or whatever. (In theory. In practice, this doesn’t really apply to me because I’m an investigator at a research center and we work weird, nonsensical hours.)

        4. V*

          I think your last paragraph above meant to read “it’s fair to expect that some (not all) people withOUT kids will have more leeway about when they work . . . ” and the that’s where the confusion came in.

  8. AMT*

    You should treat their parenting-related poor performance the same way you’d treat poor performance for any other reason. That means focusing on the behavior (attendance problems, inability to comply with reasonable travel requests, poor productivity), not the circumstances that led to it (kids).

    The problem is, you’ve tried to deal with the behavior via PIPs and it keeps getting worse. So you basically have two choices: either fire the employees whose performance continues to be substandard or come up with a more effective long-term strategy to improve their performance. (I suspect you don’t want to do the former) Could your PIPs be longer-term? Do you have an assistant manager or any other employee who could enforce your rules about attendance/deadlines/etc., or at least monitor the situation and keep you in the loop while you’re gone? Could you travel less or otherwise rearrange your schedule so that you’d have more time in the office to manage?

    Bottom line: don’t feel bad about making parents meet the same standards as other staff members, but also make sure you’re not unnecessarily contributing to the problem by failing to hold them to these standards.

    1. Alice*

      AMT, I agree with you and it seems to me that OP doesn’t want to hold the non-performers accountable. She’s hoping for a magic bullet that will turn them back into high performers without forcing her to fire them and train replacements.

  9. Kat A.*

    “Our parent company has a generous sick time and vacation policy which they take full advantage of.”

    This really burns me up. Every job I’ve had has used generous leave as part of recruitment. Once you work there, however, you are discouraged from using the leave and are made out to be a slacker or not a team player if you use it.

    Employees have a right to use the leave they are given. It should not be held against them.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      To be fair, I think it’s possible that the OP included this to indicate that employees are getting reasonable time off (i.e., that the problem isn’t that the org is a cheapskate that is working them to the bone without any benefits).

        1. LCL*

          Me too. I read ‘taking full advantage of’ as they are using the vacation. Not in the sense of using a loophole to get away with stuff.

      1. Dan*

        Yes, but we’ve also discussed before that when an employer uses a vague term, they’re probably pretty full of it. Reference the conversation a few months back about “excellent” benefits.

        No matter what the intent, a statement like “every employee fully utilizes a generous leave policy” never comes across as a positive, particularly when listed among a long list of complaints. Also, the phrase, “Our parent company” (which is a lot more to type than “we”) seems to indicate that the OP is trying to distance him/herself from the leave policy, as if she doesn’t support or like it.

        To me, if someone were to write “every employee fully utilizes a 4 week PTO plan” or “every employee fully utilizes a generous leave plan, which we encourage them to do” comes across much more positively.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Eh, I disagree with that. The term is used too loosely, but that the fact that it’s used in the first place doesn’t indicate that it’s untrue. It’s absolutely true for some employers that use it. Most employers with great benefits don’t realize that they need to be more specific in order to be believed (I work with a couple of clients with truly great benefits, who use this terminology because they wouldn’t think not to, for example).

          1. Dan*

            Ok, call it the Lake Wobegon effect, where every employer thinks their package is “excellent” aka above average. It can’t be, by definition.

            Although despite my years of reading here, I have no idea what an employer “should” mean by claiming an “excellent” benefits. What’s the baseline for “average”? Who knows. But in terms of leave, I’d consider 2 weeks vacation + 1 week sick (or three weeks general PTO) to be the bare minimum for “average”.

            At a previous job, one year, I thought my health plan rocked because if my spouse or I got seriously sick, the max out of pocket we’d pay was $250/pp. I thought that was awesome. Yet others thought that it sucked because they had spouses who worked for the government who had even better benefits. I at least tried to say that just because someone else had a better plan doesn’t make ours bad.

      1. MT*

        If the company had a unlimited personal time policy, there could be a point where it could be considered abuse.

        1. MR*

          That point is reached when the person is not getting their work done.

          As long as their work is done, they can take off as much time as they need/want.

    2. NortheastNonprofit*

      From another perspective (and I totally agree re: vacation time) but – I once managed staff at a university with a very generous sick policy. Some employees took ALL their sick time – which amounted to 1/3 of their scheduled working hours, in some cases — not because they were sick, but because they felt it was owed to them. Not sure what is going on HERE, but I wonder if that’s where the “full advantage” phrase comes from?

      1. Melissa*

        …but that’s the thing – if you have paid sick time, why not take all of it? If available sick time is 1/3 of working hours than maybe the organization needs to reevaluate how much sick time they offer their employees, and scale it back some. I mean obviously the common-sense thing to do is not to take so much sick time that it interferes with your ability to do your work and turn deliverables in on time. But assuming that that is not a problem, I don’t see a reason that people should take all of their PTO in whatever form it is – unless I’m missing something.

        1. skyline*

          For me, generous sick time policies are supposed to get you through life’s emergencies, whether it’s your own illness or the illness of a family member. It shouldn’t be taken just because it’s accrued. Generous vacation time policies are different. I’m happy when employees use what they accrue, because I don’t want you to burn out and be disengaged.

          I also have this attitude because sick leave and vacation leave are handled differently. Vacation leave has to be requested in advance and approved, and I can decline it for business reasons if necessary. (Not that this happens often!) This also means I, as a manager, can schedule substitute coverage for that person’s absence. Sick leave is usually not scheduled in advance, which means there’s no staff coverage lined up, which means everyone who is at work that day has to scramble to cover for the missing person.

        2. kobayashi*

          Sick time is meant to be used when one is sick…employees are not entitled to “use up all” their sick time even if they aren’t sick (some states offer things like “kin care” etc. – but again, this is all for specific reasons, not any reason under the sun just because it is on the books).

          1. doreen*

            In addition, if employers with generous sick leave policies were to switch to a single bucket of PTO they wouldn’t be so generous. Most people at my agency get up to 25 days vacation and 13 sick days per year. We can accumulate up to 10 months worth of sick leave, but on a specific date we have to be below 8 weeks of accumulated vacation. Part of the reason they can be so generous is because sick leave almost works like insurance. Thousands of people earn 13 days per year, and thousands save it in case of a serious medical problem – but most people never have one.( There are pension benefits associated with sick leave balances so they don’t completely lose out) I guarantee if it were changed to one bucket we’d get maybe 30 days total instead of 38 and it would accumulate to a total of maybe 10 weeks rather than 10 months.

        3. Cassie*

          Because the employees aren’t actually sick, they are just taking sick time because they feel it’s owed to them. In some cases (like at my workplace), sick time and vacation time are not interchangeable. Sick time is supposed to be used for illnesses/doc appointments (either for the employee or if they have to take care of family members).

          It’s like when I was in college and the policy was that you could miss 2 dance classes per quarter without it affecting your grade. I’ll admit that I took advantage of missing 2 classes, even though I was perfectly healthy, could have gone to class, didn’t have something else to attend, etc. I just felt that I was entitled to miss 2 classes so I did.

      2. Laura the Librarian*

        It can be challenging when the parent company has a generous leave policy but you have a small department. For example, I work in a 7 person department that is covered by our county’s sick/vacation time policy. We have longtime staff who have built up multiple weeks of vacation and sick time. Our manager encourages us to use our time, but in reality, you have to have adequate staff to get the work done.

        1. Alice*

          Couple quick fixes:
          1) Make sure employees can’t accrue ridiculous amounts of PTO.
          2) Managers discuss PTO with employees when it’s requested and negotiate plans that meet the company’s needs (e.g., only two people in my department so my manager makes sure we don’t overlap our PTO during busy periods)

      3. Dan*

        I don’t understand sick leave policies like that. I just don’t. 1/3 of scheduled working hours for a 2000-hour a year full time employee is 4 months of sick leave. That’s a lot of friggin’ leave. It makes no sense to me.

        I was offered a job from a company that had unlimited sick leave. If you really want to offer your employees some protection for a long term illness, there’s things like short term disability and what not. Although that’s not full pay, it’s something.

        But as a guy who never gets sick enough to need/want paid sick time (I use PTO for vacations) I just don’t get the business need for these huge amounts of sick leave for everybody.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Consider how you might value PTO differently if you were not somebody lucky enough to have avoided sickness so far.

          1. doreen*

            Dan, you actually had the answer right in your comment -“Although that’s not full pay, it’s something.” Full pay and benefits is more valuable to me than partial pay and COBRA. I don’t get sick much either, but to use the cliche, what if I get hit by a bus?

            Four months a year is a lot, but as I said upthread it almost functions like an insurance policy. It’s available to anyone who truly needs that much (there are usually rules that prevent people from using it as vacation), but most people never do.

    3. TL - Rachel*

      My place of work has unlimited sick days and I think you could legitimately take advantage of that – but otherwise it’s hard to imagine how you can “take advantage” of a benefit that’s clearly defined.

      1. KC*

        We have “unlimited” sick days too and I can never decide if I like it or hate it. On the one hand, if I’m feeling iffy but can still work, I can work from home. But when I’m legitimately feeling really bad, I feel guilty for actually taking the day to just rest, because everyone’s expectation is that I’ll work from home, regardless.

        1. Liz*

          Don’t feel guilty. If it’s a minor illness and you’re working from home to avoid infecting coworkers with your cold/pinkeye, or because you need to rest your sprained ankle and that’s not possible at work then that’s one thing. If you’ve got a migraine or the flu or a sprained wrist, you need the actual rest time and your coworkers should understand if you shoot them an email first. (I tend to email my manager and say things like “I’ve got a bad cold so I’ll be working from home today” or “Terrible migraine, will try to check email later”. It’s never been a problem.)

  10. Janis*

    You need to do some benchmarking studies with other companies similar to yours. Here are some of thie things we have instituted:

    How about flex schedules, if not allowed already? We offer several flavors but the best one is a 45-hr. week and a 35-hour week, so it’s an 80-hour pay period. People try their darndest to schedule doctors’ appointments and workmen visits on their flex days.

    A number of years ago we had a sea change on child care issues. On snow days, where the schools close but our company doesn’t, we instituted a new policy that allows people to bring their children to work for a few hours so they wouldn’t burn through their leave because, no, our company does not pay people on snow days even though it’s bad enough the government closes down. Now people often bring their kids in and try to put in 2, 4, maybe even 6 hours. Depending on the age of the child, the staff can usually get a few hours of work in before they have to pack it in.

    Conduct an anonymous survey to elicit from them what they really, really want. You may be surprised! Survey Monkey is super intuitive to figure out how to work — on both sender and recipient ends. Changes from below are often better than changes fom above (and I have the scars to prove it.)

    I’m speaking philosophically here, not at you personally OP, but I think when an empoyer pounds, staff retreat and grumble. When an employer engages, staff responds. My two cents’ worth.

    1. Adelina*

      …..ugh. I can’t think of anything worse than my office swarming with other people’s children during cold and flu season.

        1. Adelina*

          They say it for snow days, but at that time of the year, kids are always sniffling and I’d be furious if someone else’s sniffly kid gave me the flu around the holiday season.

        2. AMT*

          I was with Janis until the kids-in-the-office thing. I don’t think bringing children to work should ever be acceptable unless it’s a life-or-death thing. What parent doesn’t have emergency childcare for when schools close down or a kid gets sick? It’s going to happen eventually, so it’s not like it’s unexpected.

          1. Cat*

            A lot? The problem is that when schools close down, everyone needs emergency child care and there isn’t enough to compensate. Working at home maybe better but if that’s impossible, kids aren’t necessarily that disruptive in the office, especially if the parent has a private office.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            “What parent doesn’t have emergency childcare for when schools close down or a kid gets sick?”

            Erm – it’s crazy expensive and hard to arrange, so it’s not really an easy option.

            1. Victoria*

              It’s not my problem if it is crazy expensive and hard to arrange. You chose to have children, that’s part of the package of having them. Sort it out and keep them out the office.

              1. Dan*

                I don’t have kids, and I even I think that’s going too far.

                Besides, the math guy in me wonders how practical it is to assume that your emergency care is always available when you need it at the last minute. Unless you’re lucky enough to have non-working family in town, you’re competing for resources with others.

                1. Natalie*

                  And a widescale emergency, like a weather crisis, is going to affect the people supplying emergency childcare.

              2. E.T.*

                Actually, Janis was just using that as an example. Your office doesn’t have to institute this policy, and you can protest against it if your office ever does. But, if her office allows it and her coworkers are not protesting against it, then everyone’s opinions posted here against children at the office really doesn’t matter.

                And, yes, I chose to have children, and yes it is crazy expensive and hard to arrange for their care sometimes. That is why when my office and coworkers shows sympathy and tries to work with me (because children are people, not machines, and they will become annoyingly inconvenient some of the time), I work hard for the company and don’t bring my book of business to another competitor elsewhere.

            2. AMT*

              It just seems a little weird that something that happens every year (snow days, the flu) necessarily has to become an emergency for everyone with kids. I can understand not always having a plan C if grandma/babysitter/daycare falls through, but an office policy that allows you to bring your kids in regularly sounds a bit much. I’m sure it depends on the office culture and that lots of people don’t mind, but I’m equally sure that having to work around kids (not all of whom are going to be well-behaved) for many days out of the year would be a dealbreaker for many employees. I’ve been in situations in which this has been a problem.

              1. Natalie*

                Eh, they say snow days where the state government shuts down. That’s not generally an annual thing; it’s usually a true emergency situation.

              2. Katie the Fed*

                I think most parents do have some contingency plan, but sometimes those fall through too. Like last year we had a ridiculous amount of government closures for weather – and it really fell on parents hard. Bringing the kids in isn’t an option here, but we did allow some folks to work from home, make up days on weekends, etc.

                1. Janis*

                  Katie — I think you and I are both in the DC area. I did say SNOW days, not sick, feverish children. Last winter’s snow was rough! We are government contractors so that means if we aren’t working, we aren’t billing so we aren’t getting paid.

                  Honestly, though — the kids are pretty well behaved and have been well-drilled on behavioral expectations. As I said, sometimes the smaller ones can’t be out of their routine more than 1-2 hours, whereas a 12 year old can be at the office the whole day with some kind of entertainment to keep them occupied.

              3. Observer*

                They happen every year, but no one can predict when they will happen, which is why even people with decent child care arrangements get stuck when these things happen.

                This kind of question makes me nuts, because it simply ignores reality. And, I’ve found that people who ask this about childcare tend to be the same people who ask questions like “Why don;t you warn us about unplanned outages”. Worse, these are the types of people who don’t want want t spend resources on developing emergency procedures because they don’t see why we can;t just use our “regular processes”.

                What I am saying is that you always need to have some rules or processes for situations that y0u cannot plan for, even though you know they are going to happen, or are very likely to happen.

          3. Kelly O.*

            Parents who don’t live near their families for one. This one burns me, personally. I have a plan, but if that falls through, I have to come up with something. And my kid is no more germ – ridden than Janice in AP who insists on coming to work as she coughs up a lung and swears she’s not contagious.

            1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

              This. No one is more disgusted by the germ ridden than me, but it’s not like I’m going to prefer getting sick because the adult who should have known better sneezed on her hands and touched the copier.

              And I didn’t have to do it, and not sure I could have, but I see it and it’s a herculean task to manage schedules with small kids. And no, not everyone has a nanny or family around the corner waiting with cocoa and storybooks. It’s hard.

              It goes back to my belief that businesses should be flexible when they can. If your work is such that you can do it from home, then that should be an option. If not, I’ve certainly worked places where kids were sitting quietly due to school being out for the day and no one was bothered. Would it work in an open floor plan with screaming kids, of course not – but it can work depending on the kid and the circumstances.

              When someone’s personal life, kids or not, impacts their ability to work per their employers needs on a regular basis that’s a problem and needs to be addressed. But we are human and need a little flexibility from time to time, and that should be okay, too. A lot of us are willing to give our employers a lot more of our personal time when needed (and exempt do it without pay) it’s nice if they can reciprocate when needed.

              But the idea that every working parent has plans A-F in case things fall through is unrealistic.

              1. Witty Nickname*

                There are zero emergency child care facilities that are open to everyone in my area, and I live in a big city. There is ONE that is open to people whose companies have contracts with them. My company does not. I have no family here, and my friends all work. So if my kids are sick, my options are 1) bring them into the office with me, 2) hope that the really expensive baby sitter we use on occasion is available (and that I have the funds to pay her for an entire day), 3) take a vacation day, or 4) work from home and get very little done.

                Thankfully, option 4 is an option for me. My boss is fine with me staying home with a sick kid and trying to get as much as I can done.

                1. Witty Nickname*

                  Sigh – I posted before I was ready (because I’m actually working from home today because my kid’s allergies had him waking up with a terrible headache and he couldn’t go to school, so I’m on my laptop, and I’m constantly hitting the touchpad with the heel of my hand).

                  Anyway, I was agreeing with you. :)

                2. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

                  I’m glad your boss is cool with this and I’m willing to bet you go out of your way for them when needed.

                  I don’t know how old your kids are, but when they are little they do need a lot of care when sick so parents get less done on those days – but there is a stage where they are older and you still don’t want them home alone, but you can work while they are curled up next to you watching tv or whatever – but you’re still there to bring them soup and kiss their foreheads and monitor symptoms while still being able to work.

                  And everyone has some days they are less productive in the office as well.

                  I don’t know how you all do it, but I am amazed how dedicated some parents are to work and still able to juggle everything (even if, like everyone, imperfectly.)

                3. annie*

                  Even if you are living around family, it does not mean that your family members are available as backup childcare people. In my family of several siblings/grandparents/inlaws who live within the same general area, all of us are still working, even the grandparents, so weather closing days are not something we could help out with.

                4. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

                  @Annie – very true. I know people who have small kids and really resent that their parents or in-laws who are retired won’t sign on as full time child care. Some people really do have the idea that family has an obligation to provide child care and some just won’t or can’t for a million reasons.

                  The emergency thing I do think most people assume families will help out when possible, but if they have health issues, are caring someone else, work, or any of a myriad of reasons they can’t do it on any given day.

            2. Melissa*

              This. Plus honestly any time I’ve been in the presence of a child who had been brought to work by the parent, they were mostly sitting quietly playing with some toy or other distraction mom (it’s invariably mom) has provided them. Even kindergarteners are equipped with the ability to sit still for a couple of hours, at least, while mom puts in a little work.

              1. Kelly O*

                I have an almost four year old, and she can even be quiet and play for reasonably long stretches, particularly if I can bring her a snack and a drink. If I can bring our portable DVD player, some headphones, and plug her in, the only time you will even hear her is when she starts singing “Let It Go” on her Frozen DVD.

                I’ve been fortunate and not had to bring her to work many times with me, and right now it would not be an option in my workplace. I’d just have to burn vacation or take unpaid days since I can’t work from home either. She came a few times to my old office and even as an infant was fine.

                I’ve also found that invariably there is someone who wants to spend a little time with whatever kid is in the office. Maybe I’m lucky and have just had well-behaved kids for the most part, or it’s just how the places I’ve worked have operated, but the very vast majority of people understand extenuating circumstances and even want to help in whatever way they can. I used to keep a stash of crayons and construction paper at my desk, and I worked with one lady who kept stickers and coloring books just in case her boss had to bring her kids in, and we all sort of pitched in when a parent had to bring in a kid.

                My stepdaughter read through a rather substantial portion of Harry Potter books one summer, curled up in a chair in my office when my husband had to run to a customer unexpectedly while she was with us.

                It really does depend on the kid and the office, but honestly it doesn’t hurt to be compassionate. You may not have a kid, but you might have an ill parent or neighbor or friend or dog or cat or hamster or whatever. You might want to duck out early to go to a concert not involving construction paper costumes, and you should be able to do that. We all have lives outside our offices, whether we have kids or not. There are things that keep us all up at night, and everyone gets sick eventually.

                Just be compassionate. Treat your employees and coworkers the way you’d want them to treat you. Understand we are all people, and even people who are trying their hardest to remain professional and keep things separate are going to have times when that’s just not possible.

              2. Observer*

                And, sometimes, the kids can actually be quite helpful, especially if they have been around often enough to be comfortable. The other day the little son of one my co-workers wound up running a bunch or errands for the busy and stressed office manager. It was a total win for everyone.

                You have to know your kids, and a reasonable office policy will address the issue if a parent is totally oblivious. But my experience over the years is that children coming with a parent (yes, almost invariably mothers) have barely been a blip on the distraction meter.

                1. Sharon*

                  My parents took me to work a few times a year when I was a kid, and I realize now it was actually beneficial–I learned a bunch of workplace norms and How To Talk To Adults from a very young age.

            3. Alice*

              Good point about the families. I grew up surrounded by family and regularly had my grandparents take care of me when I got sick and my parents were working. Now I live a 2-day drive away from my nearest relatives and I lack any experience with 3rd party child care. I love my job here, but I really think I might move home if I got pregnant because I feel overwhelmed just thinking about raising kids without my relatives on hand.

          4. Melissa*

            A lot of parents?

            One time in graduate school there was an unexpected snow day. One of my professors tried in vain to find some emergency childcare for her son, who I think was 4 or 5, but could not. I think she normally had emergency childcare for him but because it was a snow day, even the emergency childcare was unavailable. So she brought him to work and taught an entire 3-hour lecture with him there. She brought things to distract him and he sat quietly for most of it. *shrug*

            I admired her a lot for that, because academia (the field I intend to enter myself) is still a largely male-dominated field where women disproportionately do not have children because it’s seen as damaging to the career. If you do have children, you’re sort of encouraged to pretend like they don’t exist. She’s a successful professor in my department, so it was like a visible reminder to me that women can and do make it in the field while also being mothers.

          5. Janis*

            I think daycare *is* their emergency care! And sometimes daycare shut down in truly bad weather. If parents had another option, they might want to use that before spending so much money in daycare. So — their response was to stay home (esp. single parents), burn up every single hour of leave, go into Leave Without Pay, make smaller paychecks for themselves and make a smaller revenue stream for our company. We had to come up with a better way.

          6. Xay*

            Generally if schools are closed, other child care providers are also closed. Also, if schools are closed due to inclement weather, babysitters may not be readily available.

            Re sick kids – there are very, very few child care options for sick kids.

            1. Kelly O*

              I just have to add a +infinity to this.

              I’m really fortunate in that my husband and I have worked out previous illnesses, and we don’t have a kid who gets sick often. Even with that, if she gets a fever over a certain level, even if she’s exhibiting zero other symptoms, she has to go home. Someone has to leave work right then and get her, and figure out what to do about it while you’re on the way.

              I have no idea what an option for me would be if she were sick for an extended period of time, i.e, chicken pox or whatever, except to burn my own time.

              1. Raptor*

                Chickenpox is actually something you can get a babysitter for. I’ve done this before when I was a teenager. Oh yeah, it’s terrible, and the parents of course paid me more (there were 2 of them), but with chicken pox, most teenagers should be either immune to it or have had the vaccine.

                However, I will note it’s important for that babysitter not to have just had a mild or light case of the chickenpox.. they have had to have really had it (or, again, the vaccine). Or already know they are immune to it because they encountered it again already. Getting chickenpox later in life is much more dangerous. My brother had this happen. Chickenpox when he was little, but he didn’t break out too much. Then, he caught it again as a teenager and it was a lot worse. Almost put him into the hospital.

                Also, sometimes daycares will just have everyone there…. because that’s where the kids got exposed in the first place. When I was little and had chickenpox, I still went to daycare with it because everyone else there had it too… we may as well all be miserable together.

                Thankfully, these kinds of long term illnesses are slowly seeing a decrease thanks to vaccines. So, hopefully that trend continues.

                1. Anon55*

                  Yup! You can indeed get chicken pox more than once, but some people will simply never develop the antibodies to it and can catch it continually over their life. I’ve had the privilege of having it twice due to my childhood version being mild. This of course wasn’t known until I came down with it a second time, missed a week of college and had scabs for a month, some of which I still have scars from years later. When you have blood work done you can ask your doctor to check for the varicella antibodies to see if you’re immune or in need of a vaccine or a pox party. I highly recommend doing this before exposing yourself to poxy children as the consequences are not fun. I am now overflowing with chicken pox antibodies thanks to the second case.

                  I had a coworker at a previous job come in with active shingles (an active shingles infection can transmit chicken pox infections) who didn’t tell anyone that’s what he was diagnosed with, despite the fact we had two pregnant coworkers in our department. Pregnant women who catch chicken pox are at risk of anything from premature delivery to permanent mental and physical disabilities in their child. He was despised in our department and the company as a whole, but actively risking the health of unborn children so that he would be considered a tough worker who never called off was a new low, even for him.

        3. tt*

          I hope they also included rules about controlling and disciplining your children so they didn’t disrupt every one else. I would definitely find children distracting and end up being less productive.

          1. Janis*

            It’s sort of self-policing. They know it’s a privilege and know their kids can’t scream and run up and down the halls. Even the program manager has borught his two daughters in on occasion. I’m sure many a stinkeye has been given in the minivan before entering the building.

            In the 3 or 4 years that we’ve had this, I know of only one person who was told she could not bring her child in again because the little girl was too disruptive. And if they’d only stayed 3 hours, all would have been well. She was trying to put in an 8 hour day and the poor kid had had enough.

    2. Meg Murry*

      I’m not a fan of regularly bringing kids to the office, but have you looked into offering emergency childcare as a benefit (or at least letting your staff know about them)? In a different site I read, someone mentions that her company contracts with Bright Horizons to offer backup childcare. Is that something you could look into? I’ll link to the site in my next post but it will probably go into moderation.

        1. Lore*

          My company uses them and they are fantastic. I don’t have kids myself, but I have multiple reports from coworkers who do–their kids actively request a chance to go periodically! Like everything else, though, they can get squeezed in an unscheduled emergency situation when *everyone* in a given area suddenly has the same needs for backup care.

    3. Alice*

      I wouldn’t like the children fix your company chose, but I would LOVE to have server access from home on snow days. Most of my work is computer-based, so I could do it from anywhere if I had access. So I 100% agree with “ask what the employees think would help”!

    4. Hooptie*

      I don’t get it – school is closed because of snow. I’m not a parent, but if the roads are snowy why would someone risk their children’s safety in driving them to the office? It doesn’t make sense, unless they are bringing them in later in the day after the roads have been cleared?

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        Here in the DC area, schools are routinely closed in whole huge suburban counties because the forecast called for snow at the time the decision makers had to make the call about whether to send the buses out on the roads or not. Come actual school time, the roads are dry and the sky is clear, but you can’t walk back a school closing decision once you’ve made it. It happens all the time – this year some districts had to shove extra days on to the school year in June in order to reach the state minimum number of classroom days.

      2. Janis*

        Yes, Hoopte…you have it right. They typically come in a bit later after the plows have gotten to the main roads, and leave before it gets too cold and re-ices.

      3. Judy*

        Because at least where we live, school closings are about bus safety out on the county roads, not street safety in the city. I”m lucky that the place my kids go to for before and after school care does snow day care. They figure out how many teachers they can get, and the first 15 or 30 kids’ parents that call in after 6 am after school is cancelled get a spot, and it’s not more expensive than the “spring break camp” or the “winter break camp” that they have signups for. That’s one reason we use this place rather than the before and after school care at the school. It’s only been closed 3 or 4 times in the 5 years we’ve been going there, and those days we certainly didn’t leave the house anyway.

        There’s a difference between school closing and “state of emergency”.

      4. Kelly O*

        Because sometimes your employer is not as concerned about snowy or icy roads as your local school system.

        We had ice storms in Houston this past summer. I was at work, on time, every single day of the storm, because I had no choice. Schools were closed, my daughter’s daycare was closed, and I’m fortunate that my husband works from home and could take calls and manage her while I trudged out in the weather.

        I would not have wanted to be out with her in that mess, but if that’s what I’d had to do, then that’s what I would have done. Again, my current workplaces is not really good for bringing a child (think converted warehouse with a shop in the back) but when you are backed in a corner, you just do what you have to do.

        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a great plan either.

  11. Katie the Fed*

    I kind of think there might be something else going on.

    My team has gone through this as well – last year we had four people about to become new parents, and several have had 1-2 kids in the last few years. But it really hasn’t made that big of an impact – if they were strong employees before they tend to be strong employees after – but they may need a bit more flexibility here and there.

    Is everything else going well on the team? Is the work engaging? Are people managed well? Do they feel they have a say on their work/work environment?

    It sounds a lot more like burnout than new parent woes, to be completely honest.

    1. fposte*

      I’m also wondering about the possibility of confirmation bias. Are there actual productivity metrics that have dropped? Or is it possible that the greater absences (which I think are expected and pretty much okay, as long as its within leave) aren’t resulting in a dip in productivity but are bugging the OP enough that she *feels* like she’s getting less work?

      My work involves a lot of people in the family-starting age. It’s a logistical challenge, but even it was ethical/legal to narrow my pool to the bereft of family it would hurt me to lose out on the talent in the broader pool.

      1. Not+So+NewReader*

        One company I worked for had a real problem. The longer people stayed the more time off they got. So you have a crew of five people with two weeks vacation each. Not a big deal. But when that crew of five people suddenly has 3-4 weeks vacation, this is starting to get unwieldy as the group is working short a person for almost half of the year.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I was wondering about management as well. The OP says they are traveling and can’t watch what is happening in the office. Does there need to be another manager hired to keep everyone motivated?

  12. Cucumber*

    How much have you explored whether your organization really is family-friendly, and what influences may be coming from your business? When I have a problem with someone or something, I often find that if I look over my own actions and behavior, I realize how I’m contributing to issues, too. A great tool for you to start with is Robert Mager’s book “Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna–How to Figure out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to do About It”.

    When you say that you are a nonprofit, and that you’ve had many of these people for ten years, and hired them as high achievers and high energy folks, many obvious questions come to my mind.

    For instance, I would guess that most of your employees are now in their early or mid thirties, and were in their twenties when hired (high energy, high commitment). Could part of the issue be originally hiring for certain qualities, and availability, thus getting a critical mass of people in the same lifephase (then in their twenties), who are now going through the same crunch (in their thirties)?

    Have your expectations for your staff changed at all in response to the time they’ve been on board – are the staff moving up in the organization to jobs that might be a better fit for someone more seasoned, or do you still require the same high energy, commitment to a cause, and pursuit of achievement you did when they were young and new to the company? I’d like to hear more about this part, because it sounds like you expect them to be the same people they were ten years ago.

    How much does the nonprofit pay, and could that cost have something to do with issues with child care, babysitting, and time off?

    By the way, I am not a parent, unfortunately, nor are most of my friends. I am nowhere near as hard-charging as I was in my twenties, though, and my needs have changed a lot in my thirties. Same for my friends.

    1. Looking for a Solution*

      I did not provide this information in the original email but the organization is known for its excellence and exists as an alternative to “business as usual”. We are known for “above-average” results, and it is the reason people want to work here. Unfortuantely, that means that mediocrity is a problem, and that the qualities that allowed people to be hired, are necessary to maintain. People don’t want to leave because it is prestigious to work here, they probably do find it difficult to keep up the performance standards when they have competing demands, but the organization cannot become “less than” to accomodate the needs of a few. Pay is above the average for the area, and the benefits are great. No one is punished for taking time off, the expectation is that the work gets done, at a high standard, and on time. Regardless of whether you have children or not.

      1. A Teacher*

        Chiming in here, but you say in your OP that it has become at least half of your staff, that’s not the “needs of a few.” I’m also in my early 30s and still don’t have kids, but I also have learned as I get more into my working world that “its my job, its not my life.” My job does make my life possible and I do still have passion for what I do which means I do still put in extra hours, however, when more than half of your staff is having a problem, sometimes its the culture of the workplace more than the change in the employee lifestyle. It is fine to have expectations, even high expectations, but when 50% plus of your staff has a problem the organization “prestigious” or not needs to address the underlying cause of what’s going on. Just because the other 50% step up, what happens if something occurs to a parent or a pet–no kids, but “family” isn’t just kids and that is something we as a society (not you OP) fail to recognize to often.

      2. DM*

        If being “above average” is crucial to the organization’s mission and culture, it may be worth having a conversation with the team about how they can achieve this goal by increasing productivity (so all effort put in results in greater outputs) instead of focusing on “how can we put in more effort”.

      3. Sarabeth*

        How many hours do you realistically expect your employees to have to work to achieve those “above-average” results? If it’s much more than 40, you have found your problem, unless you also pay well enough that everyone can afford a nanny who works overtime (in my area, that would mean 6 figures). Even a 40-hour week with a short commute and a short lunch puts my kid in daycare 9+ hours per day.

        If that’s the case, you need either to accept that you are not actually a family friendly employer and fire people who can’t figure out how to make it work (which will be most parents), or you need to hire enough people that workloads drop back down to a 40-hour workweek.

        1. Sharon*

          And loads of daycares charge a big premium if you want to drop off/pick up your kid outside the hours of 7am-7pm… if they’re even open at all!

      4. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

        they probably do find it difficult to keep up the performance standards when they have competing demands, but the organization cannot become “less than” to accomodate the needs of a few.

        If you consider having children a competing demand which will make it hard for your employees to meet performance expectations you are not a family friendly org.

        I’m not saying you should have to lower expectations, but if the expectations are such that it’s incompatible with having demands outside of work including basics like a family then you need to realize that, hire for that, and let people go when they can’t meet the expectations. But you can’t do that and call it family friendly – it doesn’t work both ways.

        And you need to be super clear about expectations when hiring because few people (although there will be some) will be willing to sign on for a career of not having a family and no other obligations outside work. That’s completely untenable long term for most people, and a very unusual expectation from management.

      5. Observer*

        9 out of 20 is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the “needs of the few”. That means you need to look at the overall picture.

        As I mentioned in my original comment, you can certainly decide that your organization needs a certain level of commitment that precludes having a life outside of work. However, you need to understand that you cannot have that AND maintain your investment in your staff at the level you want to. The fact is that, parents or not, most people will eventually decide that they need to have an outside life and either notch it down to a point that you get rid of them, or they will walk on their own.

        There are a lot of good ideas for maintaining a high level of commitment while providing the capability for decent work life balance. What you will not find here is usable ideas for bringing people who’ve developed a life outside of work back to the level of not having a life outside of work. It’s generally not going to happen with reasonably healthy individuals.

      6. fposte*

        If somebody suggested this, I missed it–have you thought about the possibility that you’re understaffed? It sounds like you’re continually expecting more productivity than you’re getting, and the problem might be more easily fixed by adding a staffer than hoping your current staff works longer hours.

        1. Rana*

          I was thinking this, too. If there’s X amount of work to be done, and the existing employees are now doing 2/3X, collectively, then you need to figure out a way to get that remaining 1/3X covered. It’s clear that expecting your current employees to do so isn’t working out, so that means someone additional is needed to do it.

          (And this would be a chance to get some fresh energy into your business, too.)

    2. books*

      re the staff moving up in the organization to jobs that might be a better fit for someone more seasoned, or do you still require the same high energy, commitment to a cause, and pursuit of achievement you did when they were young and new to the company?

      That’s a crucial question. If you’ve been with an org for 10 years, your duties and responsibilities should shift towards the management from the doing for an office job. So if these workers are still expected to perform under doing, there are a lot of other factors that could contribute to the poor performance. (Also, do you have some bias and are not noticing that non-parents are underperforming as well?)

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        I totally disagree. Management is a different skill set altogether. Being a good “do-er” does not mean you will be a good manger in 10 years, and there should be no assumption that people automatically move into management positions after x years. Especially if they remain good individual contributors but clearly do not have the aptitudes for management.

        1. Cucumber*

          Even if a person doesn’t move into management, they do need challenges and change in their jobs, a move to a different role, different or additional duties, etc., to avoid burnout.

          1. books*

            Right. Expectations in regular office jobs are that you’re going to move to a position of more responsibility and eventually that responsibility will include the activities of management. I would argue that if you are a good do-er and that’s it, then you’re not achieving or being taught the right skills to progress in your career.

            1. Jennifer*

              But not everybody wants to BE in management. I sure as hell don’t. I’d kill somebody. So what else is there for me to do but to be a do-er, then?

            2. esra*

              That really depends on your career. A programmer or designer can move up the chain as a do-er without ever becoming a manager. Management is not for everyone.

              1. Sharon*

                At my first full-time job, everyone automatically got promoted to a “management” role once they’d reached the top of their current position’s pay grade… so at one point, our 10-person team was a supervisor, 5 “team leads”, 2 “assistant managers”, and a “lead assistant (???) manager”. All of us (except the supervisor) had basically the same work load and responsibilities, some just got paid more for doing them based on how long they’d been with the company. It wasn’t until I got a different job that I really stepped back and thought about how bizarre that organization structure is.

              2. Cucumber*

                Yes, exactly what I was thinking. You can have more responsibilities without leading other people. That may be more evident in certain white collar professions, as opposed to some blue collar professions or trades where it’s more either/or (for instance, a beautician who can move up to specialization on hair coloring, but after that, probably would have to move to management).

                1. books*

                  Sure, I guess in my thinking it is that as you gain knowledge and practice in a task, your responsibilities in those tasks change and you move up the chain, from doing the busy work to delegating the busy work and doing the harder stuff. Not to say that everyone is becoming a manager, but you’re growing into roles where management of things or people or tasks is expected, versus being told what to do (this could include, management of yourself/your own projects). At some point in the 10 years the workers have been there, they should move away from the tasks they were doing when they were hired as their primary job duties, because presumably, they have grown as workers.

  13. Toothless*

    My first job right out of college got many, many free hours of my time. Why not? I didn’t have any family, and all my friends worked right there in the office with me.

    Later, when I had a child, my employer began to get the hours it paid for.

    Possibly the letter writer has employees who are now phoning it in. But possibly the letter writer got accustomed to getting quite a bit of extra from his/her employees, and is now seeing what happens when that unpaid extra effort begins to go someplace other than the office.

    1. hildi*

      I was just having this conversation this morning with a coworker. We were talking about how a more experienced coworker always tells me that she liked me better when I turned 30 and started having kids. As opposed to before when I was younger and didn’t have kids, my only focus was on my job and I was hyper intense about traveling and working far more than was required by my job. Now that I have kids, I have really pulled back on my travel and my energy and focus isn’t nearly as intense on my job as it once was. We have a coworker that is younger and no kids and I was observing recently how intense she is about some aspects of her job. It made me think of what my coworker has told me. So….Toothless, you said it much, much better, but my vote is that these employees’ lives have just expanded and changed in different ways and their energy that they had the luxury to give to the job now is going to their family.

      I see somewhere downthread that OP says the organization isn’t known for mediocrity. Which is fair enough. But perhaps if these employees are not willing to return to their former high-achieving selves it might be time for them to move on and you to bring on employees that do have the drive you require. I have also been in my position in the same organization for about 8 years and I think there’s also some aspect of burnout (though that’s too strong of a word), but boredom? complacency? comfort? that sets in after a certain time. I still enjoy what I’m doing, but that fire is by no means still in my belly. It’s a nice, comfortable smolder. The extra fire is going to my kids these days. {shrugs} The rhythm of life changes I guess.

  14. Erin*

    I feel really horrible saying this, but as a single employee without children, I get quite sick of ‘picking up the slack’ for parents who always have to duck out to pick up sick kids from school or have to go to parent teacher night and worst of all, them always seeming to get the ‘good’ vacation leave. I totally get that family needs to come first, but why does your family have to mean I have to stay back and do overtime to get things done? Heave forbid I want to be with my loved ones after work and during holidays even if they are not people I birthed.

    1. Jerry Vandesic*

      Definitely true, but much of the responsibility for making sure you aren’t picking up the slack comes back to you. Just like parents push back when they can’t do something because of a child commitment, you need to do the same. Push back. As with the parents there might be some ramifications to that stance, but that’s part of work.

        1. Toothless*

          See, this is like how in the old days companies used to pay women less “because she’s not supporting a family.”

          Employers need to base pay and job requirements on the market and the demands of the position, not on what [they imagine] employees’ non-work requirements and commitments are.

          And even if it were legitimate to base the demands of the job on the employees’ personal life, it doesn’t necessarily follow that parents have more demands than non-parents do. For instance, I have one child; she’s in high school and can handle her own transportation. A single person with a disabled parent (or, heck, even a new puppy) has much higher outside demands than I do.

          1. Alice*

            I like the puppy comment :) Two of my co-workers were just discussing how they typically take PTO for a week when they get a new puppy to train it.

          2. Raptor*

            The funny (or not so funny thing) is that this was used in reverse too. Where, if she had kids, then paying her less was justified because she would take more time off and be less productive, by default. And, that also meant there was a man supporting her, so she didn’t need to be paid as much.

        2. neverjaunty*

          I would bet money that your boss is telling the parents “Look how hard Erin works and how dedicated she is to the company, I get that you have kids but you certainly aren’t going to get that promotion if you don’t need that standard….”

          Which is to say, you’re right to look for another job. It’s one thing to understand that a parent with a newborn may need a little slack, a very different thing to assume that non-parents have no life outside work.

      1. tt*

        A former boss once offhandedly commented to me that I’d probably end up doing more evening events than my program partner, because I didn’t have children and she did. I just matter-of-factly said I expect to do some evening events, but I have no intention of doing them all just because I don’t have children. It wasn’t actually an issue with my program partner, because she was aware and conscientious about that kind of thing, but it was useful to make sure my boss didn’t just start dumping all the evening stuff on me.

    2. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

      As a parent I agree with you. I have worked places where the single/childfree people got the short end of the stick and it’s ridiculous. Your free time is just as precious to you as anyone’s.

      I think an employer should be flexible when it can be, for all employees. You do an excellent job and go above and beyond when needed then you should be able to flex time a little if you have to stay home for the plumber, or take your cat to the vet, have an appointment, or yes, have a sick kid.

      If the emergencies become excessive and it’s impacting the business or your coworkers that’s the time to have the conversation about this is what we need from you, can you do that. That conversation is no different if it’s sick kids or a water heater that breaks every Friday and Monday.

      But know not all parents see kids as a get out of work free card and there are a lot of us who have just as much respect for the free time of our single/childfree coworkers as we do our own.

      1. Ali*

        I am single with no kids either and have heard the “Coworker has a kid and can’t work these days” speech at least once in my memory. It makes me roll my eyes, especially since he got Monday-Friday hours on our schedule change to spend time with his family on the weekends while the rest of us are still expected to contribute.

        My coworker himself is not problematic and will work pretty much any time, even saying that so be it if he has to find child care to cover for someone. But it is something you notice, someone getting a better schedule because they have a family while you still have to contribute weekends and hear your requests can’t be accommodated.

    3. Sharon*

      I worked in a retail job where everyone was (supposed to be) required to work at least five evening shifts and one weekend shift a month… but employees with children were seldom scheduled outside 9am-5pm Monday-Friday because “that’s the only time they get to spend with their kids”. WHAT.

  15. Lucy*

    It sounds like employees are assuming a certain level of flexibility based on what they see their peers doing; it could be worth it for the OP to clarify expectations.

  16. Hiring Manager*

    Really? This is the part about having humans as employees become clear. If they were all single robots being a manager would be easy.

    Lighten up. There are going to be sick days because of sick kids. It’s all part of the package.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      That’s not very fair – there was also mention of decreased performance from these people – here’s the sentence: They have become low energy and lethargic at work, are distracted and preoccupied, and want to come to work late and leave early.
      “Lighten up” does not seem like the answer to this.

  17. Adelina*

    I get really frustrated with how people with children so frequently act as if it is the only type of family commitment. I had a co-worker try and make me swap a leave day with her because her daughter had a dress up day at school and she wanted to go get pictures. I explained I couldn’t because I was taken that day off to drive for my sister’s 30th birthday the next day and she went on and on about how ‘who cares, she’s 30, she’ll get over it, but MY DAUGHTER’. Lady, I don’t care about your daughter. My family is as important to me as your special little flower.

    1. AMT*

      I hate this, too. My free time is valuable, even if I’m just going to spend it watching Netflix or having a beer. There’s a huge difference between having a flexible workplace and shifting the extra work to childless employees. Arranging work in a way that gives parents better job assignments or more time off is a morale killer.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t have children, but can we not use this as an opportunity for bashing those who do? You have an issue with individuals, not all people with children. And if it’s this rampant, then it’s really the fault of management, not your coworkers.

      1. Mike C.*

        She’s not bashing parents as a group, she’s bashing parents who believe that their needs come above the needs of people without children. The example was really clear about that.

        1. Natalie*

          “how people with children so frequently act as if it is the only type of family commitment. ”

          That’s making a rather broad generalization about all people with children.

          FWIW, I don’t have kids myself, but I work with a lot of parents and I have never experienced the above sort of attitude.

          1. Mike C.*

            Hmm, yeah, I skimmed over that. “people with children in the circles I run in” would be a little less problematic.

          2. JC*

            +1. I don’t have kids and don’t plan to ever have kids, and work with many parents of young children, and I have also never experienced this in the workplace.

          3. Valar M.*

            In her defense, when you know a lot of these types of parents, it can seem like everyone, even if you know intellectually speaking that it’s not.

      2. Kelly O*


        We all have different situations and circumstances. We need to learn how to be compassionate, and treat each other the way we’d like to be treated. Maybe that’s a bit naive, but it would resolve a very substantial percentage of the disagreements we see here.

    3. Kelly*

      As someone who is single and child-free, I know what it feels like. I also get irritated with people who use a perennially ill spouse as an excuse why they need more time off. I have one co-worker whose husband probably will be an invalid the rest of his life and she’s probably gone at least a full day every week because of doctor’s appointments and therapy. She’s working towards building up more time for FMLA leave, which would be preferable to the current situation when we have no idea when to expect her in and working at full commitment.

      My mother has breast cancer and it’s been tough getting time off to help her out. I told my boss that I needed some time off around Thanksgiving to help her with her recovery from her mastectomy. My sister’s been the one who has been helping her out the most and she’s exhausted. Between job hunting and helping Mom, it has drained her. It would be nice getting some time off to give my sister some relief. Our father isn’t much help – has ample vacation and sick leave he could use to take Mom to chemo and do things around the house for her, but uses the excuse that he needs to save his vacation if work shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s.

      1. Cucumber*

        Kelly (the other response was to Adelina),

        Sounds like things are very rough for the coworker if she’s taking in her spouse every week; but I don’t see how the situation is different to that of your sister’s, where she’s the primary caretaker? Maybe the coworker’s family members won’t step in, either?

        I’m really sorry to hear that about your father, as well, leaving much of the responsibility to your sister and yourself. I saw that play out between my father and his brother when their father became ill.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Ouch, and I think it’s a very different situation from people leaving because they want to go to their kid’s dress up day at school. Thank goodness my workplace doesn’t have this attitude, because I really needed the flexibility when my dad got ALS. I did end up taking 2 months of FMLA right before he died last month, but there were times I had to rush out the door with no notice because of an emergency. I always made up the time and my coworkers were very understanding.

          1. the+gold+digger*

            I had a horrible, awful job for one year in corporate finance. It was a nightmare of a job – long hours of stupid things (like removing the staples from the right-hand side of the presentation for the board and stapling on the left-hand side), but I will always remember and forever be grateful to them for not objecting or complaining when, three months after I had started, my dad’s cancer – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – returned and metastasized to his spine and I left.

            My aunt, a nurse, called me at work and told me he would not last long. I got my plane ticket from Florida to Minneapolis that day and was gone for two weeks. I told the director that I didn’t care if they fired me, but I was going. Not only did they not fire me, they even paid me for the two weeks, dismissing my request that they not pay me by saying it was too much hassle to deal with payroll.

            So although it was a horrible place to work in every other way, when it came to a true crisis, they did it right.

            (Although this was also the place where, when I returned and the VP expressed his condolences over my dad’s death and I burst into tears, the VP asked, “Oh! Were you and your dad close?”)

              1. the+gold+digger*

                And sorry about your dad, too, Lily. It’s horrible to watch someone you love suffer and even worse to lose someone you love. I am glad you were able to be with your dad at the end.

            1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

              I am really glad they came through for you in the clutch.

              And that VP is exhibit A of why people should say “I’m so sorry for your loss” and stop talking. smh – the stupidest yet most well meaning things I’ve ever heard were uttered by people after my parents died.

              (What doesn’t help is that sarcasm is my first language and the first thing to go when grieving is my filter. I read a sign somewhere that said “I’ll try to be nicer if you try to be smarter.” I should have worn a sandwich board with that on both sides until my diplomacy came back.)

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Thanks for the kind words, Aunt Vixen. It was a tough 6 years and I’m so grateful to my office and boss.

      3. LCL*

        Kelly, I am sorry about your mom. It sounds like you could qualify for FMLA for this. It can be intermittent leave. That’s what I am doing for a family member.

        1. Judy*

          It can be a good idea even if you have PTO to cover it. A co-worker’s husband had cancer, and he’s fine now, but it involved her off for 1.5 weeks around the surgery plus a day every 2 weeks for the chemo for a while. Her manager suggested doing the FMLA paperwork, because it’s better to get everything on paper in some environments. She got a new manager about halfway through the ordeal, and she was very glad the paperwork was there when he pitched a fit about her schedule.

      4. Observer*

        That’s so hard. It sounds like your father is in deep denial, but it’s still soooo hard.

        I’m sorry and hope things go as well as possible.

        And, as hard as your wo-worker’s situation is making things for you, it sounds like she’s trying not to be like your father, which can’t be to easy for you.

    4. Cucumber*

      She sounds like an incredibly rude person.

      That said, I am one of the only non-parents in my department – but no one has ever gone out of their way to suggest their commitments are more important than mine.

    5. Adonday Veeah*

      I’ll bet she didn’t plan ahead like you did, either, and was trying to make that your problem.

  18. Puddin*

    Numbers, numbers. numbers. I like the business adage, “you cannot manage, what you cannot measure.” I would tally sick days, late days, deadlines missed, dollars lost or spent due to these issues. The give a presentation showing the facts. Explain where you need performance to improve, give attaboys where possible. Then keep a posting in a public place on these numbers, track it weekly or monthly. You may not need to set a goal, just by showing people that you are looking and tracking, some issues may be resolved. If not, then you can have a follow up and set some improvement goals, attendance standards, and profit realized. At the same time, make sure you invite people to solve their own problems (rather than dictate a solution right away) and listen to their feedback on what would be a reasonable solution for all.
    Lastly, I would view this as a change management project. If this behavior has been tolerated and allowed in the past – regardless of what the employee policies are – you will have to get people used to a new way. Change is hard, they might feel persecuted, or that you have become a ‘jerk’ all of the sudden. To avoid this, communicate clearly and frequently. Read up on change management techniques to provide yourself with a blueprint. I recommend The Heart of Change Field Guide by Daniel Cohen or EPIC change by Timothy Clark.

    good luck!

    1. Wonderlander*

      +1 to documenting everything. It’s one thing to say it *feels* like staff is leaving early/coming in late, but whom specifically and how often?

  19. Judy*

    I can certainly say my ability to travel changed when I had kids. My husband teaches 2 night classes. Before kids, I could check my calendar and decide if I could travel or not. After kids, and being lucky that my kids have 3 grandparents in town, I have to check my calendar, I have to check with my husband to see if he’s not travelling, and I have to make sure that at least one of the grandparents is not travelling to cover the two nights a week that my husband teaches. Or else I have to find a babysitter that can pick them up from their after school care those 2 days, fix them dinner, and hang out with them until my husband gets home at 10 pm.

    I do try to limit my travelling to 4 times a year, but that’s pretty much the travel frequency I had most years before kids.

    1. Judy*

      I would also say that this hasn’t stopped me in a production emergency to get a call at 8 am, figure out I could go by 9:30, get tickets, head home and pack, and stop at the school on the way to the airport to say goodbye to my kids before a 1 pm flight (It would take quite an emergency for me to leave the kids without telling them in person first). But there are also times I wouldn’t be able to do that.

        1. Judy*

          Yes, that’s why I have a job that requires about 4 trips a year. I don’t consider that “a lot of travel”, personally, I consider 1 trip a month a lot of travel.

          And the time I had to go solve the production issue, when my manager called to ask me if I could go, he told me I was the third backup to go, but they were getting everything in order and he knew I’d have to have some time to arrange things. So 3 people from my team told him they couldn’t go to a plant where production was stopped to help solve a problem. (My job was design, and this was an issue with a system that had been in production long before I joined the company.)

  20. Joey*

    Are you doing annual performance evals? That would capture the roller coaster performance.

    Also, I wouldn’t use PIPs for these folks. PIPs are for people that need lots of help to meet expectations. Your folks dont, they just don’t want to which is another issue.

    Additionally, I think its time to start assigning some of the initiatives regardless of whether they want them or not-its part of the job

    If you haven’t done so I think its time to be a little more firm about all of your expectations. That means making sure there are consequences for negative behaviors/performance and rewards for positive behavior. For example, maybe only the high performers get to come in late/leave early.

    Fwiw I don think you have to micromanage them since they know what they’re doing. Just lay down your expectations, talk about what they can expect if they exceed or fail to meet them, and hold them to some objective criteria.

  21. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

    Our parent company has a generous sick time and vacation policy which they take full advantage of.

    This bothers me. I am really quick to want to squash any abuse of the system, but it’s not wrong to take full advantage of a benefit your company offers you. If the company allows a parent to use sick days when their kids are sick and they use them all they would take full advantage of that in that they’d use them as needed. Kids get sick so much most parents of smaller kids play rock paper scissors on who has to burn a sick day to stay home. If that’s allowed, it’s allowed and not abuse.

    And as someone who has never even come close to using all my vacation days I would give a huge side eye to any employer who viewed using all earned vacation as taking full advantage. You can’t offer a generous benefit and resent people for using what they’ve earned. Vacation is part of compensation. That’s like an employer offering a generous salary and then being upset when the employees want their whole paycheck each week.

    If you don’t want them to use it, don’t offer it. And since the parent office makes that call the OP needs to abide by their call on that.

    1. Jerry Vandesic*

      My company has a PTO policy (vacation + sick time), and no rollover from one year to the next. They are also very generous with the amount, over 6 weeks per year. But because they don’t allow rollover, we must use it all in the year. This sometimes causes problems and friction because people need/want to use it all up, but the rules are the rules. I figured that if the company wanted to make it work better they would allow rollover, but they don’t, so I don’t feel any concern if people are taking too much PTO.

      1. Mike C.*

        The other thing they could do is simply pay it out or have a rolling limit. They’re able to limit their company liabilities, but lose the fun in simply stiffing their employees out of earned compensation.

        1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

          Every place I’d worked where it was tough to take the time (which is an issue) at least paid you out end of year.

          I’d be furious if I had time and just lost it – I get not rolling it over as the accrued vacay in liabilities will be crazy after a year or two, but ffs if people can’t have the time at least give them the money.

          (to be clear I’m referring to accrued vacay – not sick time.)

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            My parents both retired from a job (same job) where sick time, but not personal time, paid out at 25% on retirement (and possibly on leaving for other reasons as well). They’d been accruing sick leave for 30 years and barely used any of it (to be clear: presenteeism is a huge problem among public school teachers; my dad used to use the term “beningerers” for people who came to work even when they weren’t feeling well), which added up to a nice extra end-of-service bonus.

            1. Callie*

              One of the reasons presenteeism is a huge problem among public school teachers is that you can’t just call out and forget it; you have to create an entire day’s worth or more of lesson plans for your substitute. In my case, that meant on top of what I had already planned for the day, because I was a music teacher and I could never get a substitute who knew anything about music. (in the state where I taught you didn’t even have to have a teaching license or a college degree to be a sub, just a high school diploma and a clean background check.) Then when I got back, I had to cram two periods of lessons into one to make up for what the sub didn’t do with them, deal with all the behavior problems, and clean up the mess. So unless I felt like I was about to die, it wasn’t worth staying out, because it made even more work for me when I got back.

              The other reason teachers don’t want to call out is that we’re constantly being vilified in the media and by politicians as lazy government teat-suckers who get too many days out of school already so HOW DARE WE get twelve sick days. I was terrified to take a sick day and go to the doctor, because someone might see me and assume I was enjoying my free day off at taxpayer expense. I went ten years without a single doctor or dentist appointment and only took a day to go to the eye doctor because I’d torn my last pair of contacts and couldn’t see to drive to work. By the time I left my teaching job I had three months of sick leave banked, and it would have been more than that if they hadn’t had a “lose anything over three months” policy.

              1. Aunt Vixen*

                you can’t just call out and forget it

                Yes. I wasn’t clear at all in my statement that this was exactly my dad’s point. Preparing to have a substitute cover for you was more exhausting than just going and teaching.

                To say nothing of the fact that the days you’re out of school already are days you’re not actually being paid for, of course. I don’t know how it was in your district, but at one point my folks’ board of ed said “Hey, everyone, good news, we’re going to switch to a year-long pay calendar so you don’t have to worry about not getting paid in the summer.” A large number of the teachers said “Hm, so I won’t get paid until the first week of September for work I completed in the first week of June? No thanks.” (“But it will be easier for you to pay your bills if you have a steady paycheck all year.” “It’ll actually be easier for me if I’m earning interest on my money sooner instead of you earning interest on it longer, and I can do my own math and manage my own budget, thanks.”) (I think they rolled back the twelve-month plan to opt-in.)

          2. Mike C.*

            Even at my last terrible job they paid it out. I know it’s the law in CA, but I wish it were more protected given that it can only be used with manager approval.

          3. Kelly O*

            My current company has a “use it or lose it” policy, and we’re now faced with figuring out how to take time before we close down, because it probably won’t be paid out.

            I tend to hoard days for the fall, when we’re more apt to be sick and have holidays. Trying to get all these people to take vacation in eight weeks or so? That’s challenging.

          4. Kyrielle*

            That’s my job! We can accrue, but as soon as our accrued vacation hits 160 hours or sick time hits 120 hours, we stop accruing. We don’t pay out – we just stop accruing. If we don’t immediately take some to bring it down, we just miss out on whatever we would have earned.

            It’s not “use it or lose it” but it has similar effects.

    2. Puddin*

      Hmm, I did not read it this way. I read it as the OP being proud of the policy and that people use it. The subtext for me, was that they use it because they are encouraged to do so.


      1. De Minimis*

        I read it the same way, not that the OP was judging them for using their benefits, but more like “we give them really generous benefits but they still have poor attendance/performance problems despite this.” A lot of the time when you have crappy benefits/attendance policies you see abuse and absenteeism run rampant. I thought the OP was just trying to say the company had really tried to meet them halfway by having family friendly policies and it was still not working.

      2. Observer*

        Given the rest of it, it didn’t come off that way to me. In one response the OP says that “no one was ever punished” for using time. Again, I could be reading too much into to, but it really does seem that people are *allowed* to use the time they are entitled to, but it seem totally grudging. “Not punishing” is not a terribly high bar. That doesn’t make you a good manager – it just makes you a not rotten one.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      Yes, that is what bothered me about this letter. It’s the vibe of many companies I’ve worked at, where taking all 2 weeks of your vacation time each year (or whatever you get) is frowned upon, as if employees who use all the time off they legitimately earn are somehow slackers in the OP’s eyes. That’s crap. If you earn 2 weeks of vacation time each year, and use it all, that’s your prerogative and you shouldn’t get chastised for it.

  22. Sales Professional*

    Many people have made valid points but I’m going to agree with the posters that point out that the OP might be experiencing burnout with her employees.
    Yes, it’s common for those of us who routinely gave 70-80 hours a week of our lives to our jobs to dial it back once we have other life obligations outside of work. I get irked when its referred to as “slacking” instead of just putting in the hours they employer is paying for. It’s hard to retreat to being a normal 40-50 hour a week employee when you were giving the company 300% prior to having a family.

    I find that flex schedules take the stress out of this situation for everyone. Offer your employees the ability to work flex schedules and you may find there is less frustration all around.

    One thing the OP didn’t mention was this: do you *want* to keep these employees working for the org? If you do, find a way to connect with them and see what the issue is! If not, them restructure your PIP’s and move on.
    But please, don’t hold it against them for using the “generous” time off that they deserve based on your benefits package.

    1. grasshopper*

      I agree. I get the sense that the expectations were set really high 10 years ago and that now people can’t do all the extra time that they used to do, not that they are slacking.

  23. Victoria*

    As a childfree by choice woman, I’m sick of being expected to make sacrifices and give up my time because of OTHER people’s children. This will sound harsh, but I don’t care about your children and your children are not my problem. It’s not my problem if someone can’t pick them up, don’t even THINK about making it problem by walking out 30 minutes early and leaving your work with me to finish. I’m not doing a second of overtime because you can’t manage your family commitments. People with kids take so many more sick days and I’m stuck doing an extra workload to compensate for being short staffed all the time. I’m sick of coworkers having a ‘bludgey’ day because they’re tired because their little snowflake puked or peed the bed at 3am. Not my problem. You chose to have kids, I didn’t, don’t make your choice my problem. My birthday always falls during school midterm break here and I have to fight to get my birthday off every year because of all the parents who think I’m less entitled to put in for leave at that time because I don’t have a child. I don’t care if your kids don’t have school that day, I’m allowed to celebrate my birthday and do not appreciate being guilted otherwise.

    Also, no one wants to hear about your kids unless they ask. I never ask about your kids, which means I never want to hear about them. So no, I don’t care that little Johnny got all As on his reportcard and I don’t care that little Sarah won student of the month. Get away from my desk.

      1. AMT*

        Okay, the comment about not wanting to hear about people’s kids was a little weird, but her point about shifting the workload to childless people is a good one. Many workplaces could do a better job of handling employees’ child-related emergencies. Often, the default becomes, “You don’t have a family, so can you stay late and finish this up?” This is unfair and presumes that people without children or families don’t have a life outside of work. If childless people are routinely asked to pick up the slack, that either means that the entire team’s workload is unmanageable or that management is holding parents to different standards in a way that disrupts everyone else’s work-life balance.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          There are ways to manage this though. Like, we know our folks with kids usually have to leave by a hard deadline of, say, 5pm. So we allow a few other people the option of coming in a couple hours later and staying late to address anything that comes up after 5. This isn’t impossible. You just have to figure out what the restrictions are and try to work with them.

          1. Judy*

            It is truly rare that I’ve not left work by 5 pm (I get in about 7:15 am). But at least weekly, and at crunch time much, much more, I’m back on the network at 8 pm and work until 11. I call that my second shift, once the kids are in bed.

          2. AMT*

            That’s an excellent way to handle it. Kind of like how airlines used to just bump people from flights, but now offer vouchers to people who volunteer to take the next flight. Saying, “Who wants to work 11 – 7?” is a lot better than saying, “You have to stay late because Bill needs to pick up his kids from soccer.” It’s voluntary, doesn’t result in anyone working more hours altogether, and could also apply to people with non-child-related obligations.

          3. Natalie*

            I would freaking love that. I am NOT a morning person, and if I ran the world we’d all work 10-6 at the earliest.

            Plus, if I had kids it could make it easier to stagger caregiving with my spouse.

        2. Victoria*

          And it builds a LOT of resentment to always be the one picking up the slack.

          And I don’t see why it’s so weird? I’m at work to get my job done, not make best friends and not to hear about little Johnny and Susie. Instead of spending 10 minutes talking about your precious snowflakes, put your head down and do 10 minutes of work, maybe then you’ll be leaving me with less work to finish for you when you swan out of the door on the dot to pick them up even though you are not finish with the day’s work.

          1. Mike C.*

            I think this is more the individuals you happen to be working with. I work with parents who can talk about normal things, and I work with parents who do nothing but talk about, in great detail, every last micro-event in their child’s development.

            Much like someone who can only talk about football or model trains, it’s an annoying, but individual issue.

          2. Rat Racer*

            Is it that you resent anyone who wants to make small talk because you’re super busy? Or is it a particular vitriol against people who want to talk about their children? Just curious.

        3. neverjaunty*

          What you’re not hearing is that management is almost certainly pulling the other side of this routine on the parents (and especially mothers): oh sure, you can leave at 5, but we’re very disappointed that you don’t emulate Bob McNolife who works round the clock and never takes a sick day, we wish everybody was as dedicated as he is….

          It absolutely is unfair for an employer to assume that children are the only possible excuse for failing to devote your every waking moment to your job. But dysfunctional, unfair employers are rarely bad in only one area.

          Re the ranty poster, what a maroon. She’s the flip side of “I will dump all my work on you to spend time with my precious child” and she doesn’t even know it.

          1. AMT*

            Yeah, I do wonder whether the workload was too much for a 9 – 5 job to begin with, especially because of the complaint about vacation/sick days being taken. I have no kids, and I take every bit of my vacation time!

          2. Mike C.*

            No, I think wanting to spend a previously scheduled day off for a 30 yr old’s birthday is perfectly appropriate. The need of her coworker to have her cancel so she can take photos is completely unreasonable.

            1. Callie*

              To be honest, I find the whole “must go to school to take pictures” thing tiresome. The last couple of years that I taught I noticed a huge upswing in the number of parents who would just show up to take pictures of their kids doing things so they could instagram/facebook/whatever it. Just take a picture at home before you leave for the day, if they’re wearing something special. Every moment of your kid’s life doesn’t need to be instagrammed.

              (once I was directing my students in a concert and a parent came ON STAGE to take a picture of their kid while we were performing because she wanted to get a good picture. on. the. stage.)

        4. Tilly*

          I don’t think the comment was weird at all. It’s extremely difficult to hear people at work talk endlessly about their children- they don’t ask about my life because they can’t relate to my child-free lifestyle yet I am expected to sit and listen to story after story after story about kids! With a couple of people especially no matter what you try to talk about it somehow always goes back to their kids.

          1. Betsy Bobbins*

            Those are also the people where it would come back to them no matter what. It would be their dog, cat, sports team in place of their kid. Having children doesn’t turn you into a narcissist, but plenty of narcissists have children. I have a child and share details sparingly, at the same time and I hear plenty of stories of my co-workers lives including wedding planning, husbands hunting trips, details of divorces, etc. It’a a back and forth kind of thing. If your not getting a two sided conversation your co-worker is simply rude, not rude because he/she is a parent.

            1. Valar M.*

              There may be some truth to this, though I know quite a few people who were fantastic company as friends and coworkers before having kids, and after are completely incapable of talking about anything but their kid. They’ve even defended it with “All of that other stuff in life – who cares? It’s all about little Johnny now and that’s how it should be! None of that other stuff matters.” Maybe it’s because the things they cared about earlier were things I also cared about, and now we’re at an impasse because their interests have changed. But kids change this in ways other things do not. Very few people take up a hobby (hunting for example) and from then on ONLY talk about hunting, and dismiss everything else as useless nonsense.

              1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

                Am I the only one who loves my kids, but really don’t want to talk about them all the time. I will if I’m using anecdata to make a point, but no more than if they were my anyone else.

                And when they were little and I was a SAHM? I found them endlessly fascinating and was very involved in their lives but any opportunity to talk about almost* ANYTHING else I was all over it.

                Why would I need to have conversations about them to people I know aren’t interested (or as interested for sure) when I can have perfectly excellent conversations with myself about them in my head and I KNOW I’m fascinated?

                Maybe I’m weird – I have a couple of good friends and work and we talk about our lives because we’re interested, but most other people.

                To tell a story about my kids to people irl it has to be really funny (and short), or particularly helpful (and short), and not over sharing because we’re touchy about being embarrassed. That doesn’t leave much material.

                *when they were babies we moved to a new military base and had some of the other cul de sac moms over so we could hang out and talk while the kids played in the yard. We had just moved, my dh was working tons of hours, and I was desperate for grown up conversation. 20 minutes on aluminum foil vs freezer bags for long term freezing. 20 minutes. Including merits of Reynolds Wrap vs generic foil.

                I thought I was being Punked before that was a thing. Seriously, I kept waiting for them to laugh and tell me they were f’ing with me and change the subject to music, or makeup, or books, or ANYTHING. Nope. Every so often I see a normal person in the wild, the kind of person who can care deeply and be content talking about freezer-ware for food…whose brain isn’t constantly screaming for something more stimulating and I realize how not normal I am.

                1. NoPantsFridays*

                  You sound like most of my parent coworkers. They’ll mention their kids in passing but with some of them you wouldn’t even know they had kids, but for the one or two family pictures they have up in their cubes.

                  Weirdly enough, the coworkers who continuously talk about their kids and ONLY their kids don’t want to hear about other coworkers’ kids! It’s not like they’re interested in child-related conversations, just in talking about their own children.

                2. Rana*

                  As the mother of a 10-month-old, I’m starting to have that experience. There are interesting people who happen to the parents of little people, and we get along well. Then there are people who are obsessed with all things child, often their child in particular but not exclusively, and they baffle me.

                  I mean, I love my baby, and I think she’s an awesome little person. But love of my own child is not, for me, transitive to loving each and every child, let alone things associated with children. Nor do I think that I’m comfortable being defined solely by my status as a parent. There are ways in which being responsible 24/7 for a small human affects my ability to interact with other adults, but I would hope that it remains more a matter of scheduling and responsibilities and not so much that I’ve come to find children and childcare fascinating to the exclusion of all my other interests.

              2. Natalie*

                At least in my experience, these people were always sort of boring, but they hid it until they had kids. “Has kid=boring” is a trope, so they can use it as a cultural shield. At least in my area (small, hipster-filled, somewhat cosmopolitan city) there’s pressure to be a specific flavor of interesting and spend all of your time attending porch festivals and pop-up dinners and craft beer fairs. If you would actually prefer to be at home with Netflix or whatever, it must feel like a relief to have kids and drop all that stuff without argument from your friends.

                1. Valar M.*

                  It’s entirely possible they were just good fakers before and now can shield themselves behind their kids. Though these are people that even when I’ve tried to engage in polite conversation like – so have you see X show on tv? Y on Netflix? Tried X recipe? Things I think we could still have in common, its a big “wow must be nice to have time to cook and watch tv. I don’t have time for stuff like that anymore. Let me tell you more about the many wonders of Johnny’s teething ring!” I’ve just taken to avoiding them, but then I feel guilty about being a bad coworker/friend. I imagine them writing letters to AAM like “my coworker used to be really nice to me, now she avoids me, whats up??”

              3. Observer*

                I honestly don’t know anyone like that. Yes, I know people whose interests shifted dramatically after having kids. And I do know people who won’t stop talking about their kids, and won’t let anyone get a word in edgewise. And there is some overlap. But, I don’t know anyone who was a reasonably good conversationalist (ie willing to listen to someone else, and taking at least some interest in what’s going on with the other person) who changed that drastically after having a baby. The person who is “My kid” 24/7 was “Me, Me, Me” 24/7 before the kids, and will be “Me, MYkid, Me” when the kids get older.

      2. tt*

        I’m child-free by choice, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like hearing about my coworker’ families (though please spare me the potty-training stories). I worked in a very close-knit office and had occasion to meet some of the children, many of whom were genuinely adorable, charming children. They talk about their spouses and kids, I talk about my husband and hobbies.

        I would be frustrated though, if I were getting a bunch of stuff dumped on me specifically to accommodate someone else’s family on a regular basis, and not getting any kind of flexibility or reciprocation at other times. Thankfully, I also work in a place where so much of our work is independent, that no one is regularly required to pick up someone else’s work when they’re out of the office, it just waits till they get back in the office, unless it’s an emergency.

        1. Victoria*

          It is because most parents do nothing but talk about their children and show zero interest in anything else. I could find the cure for cancer and all they’d want to talk about is Little Sally’s potty training. That’s the reason parents are insufferable.

          There is a reason is so popular…

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hey Victoria, I think this is starting to cross the line into incivility, which tends to be the case when anyone is making sweeping generalizations about a whole category of people. Can you rein it in? Thank you.

          2. AMT*

            I’m childfree, too, but I don’t think this applies to “most parents” at all, anymore than we childfree people are all wine-chugging sex maniacs who spit into baby carriages.

              1. A Cita*

                Seriously. For a moment, I thought about guiltily putting my wine glass down as I cross read between this and CL’s casual connections. But then I realized that the wine really helps build up a good saliva ball….. *looks speculatively at the school kids across the street*

                1. AMT*

                  I never said that I wasn’t a wine-chugging kid-spitting sex maniac, just that not all of us are! Please don’t burn me on a pyre made of disposable income.

              1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

                Thank you – I just had to explain to the receptionist what was so funny since my OOC burst of laughter caused her to run in here.

                I pulled up a lolcatz as a cover.

                It was like being ambushed by humor – I never saw it coming!

                1. Ruffingit*

                  This is why I don’t read AAM at work for the most part though I do sneak it in at work at lunch sometimes on my phone. It’s like having an employment flask, I have to sneak around at work to drink from it.

      3. GoatGirl*

        Yeah, I understand your frustration, but this comes off as really caustic and completely unsympathetic to the fact that parents are people with human problems. I don’t have children either, but I’m not going to begrudge a parent sharing a story about how proud they are of their child, nor am I going to punish them for wanting to hang out with their kid. It’s just life. I agree you shouldn’t have to stay late if you don’t want to, but it would be nice to help someone out if they’re in a tight spot. It’s not about “making their choice your problem” it’s about being a nice person.

      4. Kelly*

        I can understand your point of view. It seems frustrating when people who leave early to pick up their kids from daycare or school can stand around and chat with other people about what their kids did beyond the friendly small talk.

        The other part that hasn’t been mentioned is the constant fundraising for both school and private sports/clubs. I’m in my late 20s and had a father who refused to bring in my Girl Scout cookie order sheet to work. He felt that it was setting a bad example by him do the selling for me. At the time, I thought he was being too harsh, but as an adult who has worked in several workplaces where parents bring in order forms for various fundraisers, I appreciate it in retrospect. It’s gone beyond the Girl Scout/Boy Scout/class trip fundraising that I remember. I had one cousin who was selling candy on behalf of her little brother’s club football team for his dues and travel costs. It surprises me how acceptable some people think it is to ask others for donations for their kid or family member’s private or non-school club sports activity.

      1. Victoria*

        Not everyone is a warm fuzzy kid lover, contrary to what parents thing.

        Your kid is special. To you only. The rest of the world really doesn’t give a damn about your kid.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, but that’s not really what the letter is about at its core, is it? It’s about how how to manage a specific situation that absolutely isn’t universal when it comes to parents.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      OK, like I said above – this is a management problem, not your coworkers’ issue. This stuff doesn’t happen everywhere. If it does then your office isn’t being managed properly. Your blame is mis-focused on your colleagues when you should focus on management being inconsistent. But you know, maybe a little less angry when you do it.

      1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

        This. It’s a management issue, not a co-worker issue. If management where keeping expectations and flexibility equal, regardless of personal issues, this wouldn’t be a problem.

        I find the idea that people without kids should pick up the slack abhorrent, but the attitude Victoria expressed is really off putting and won’t help if it bleeds through when trying to make this point at work.

        The problem is certain employes having to unfairly pick up the slack for others – would it matter if she cut out early all the time for emergency oboe lessons rather than kids? Hostility won’t help to move managers toward a positive change.

      1. Victoria*

        Every time a parent makes this comment, I ask if their children were really a choice or a birth control failure.

        Combat rudeness with rudeness.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          “Combat rudeness with rudeness.”

          Or….don’t? Not everyone wants to see an interesting thread go completely off the rails.

        2. A Teacher*

          As Carolyn Hax says: WOW. Also childfree and gets lots of comments/questions about why I am. That said I like hearing stories about my coworkers kids–minus pictures of potty training (your kids won’t thank you later, per the high school kids I teach)–and I tell them stories about my dogs. Being hostile never makes a situation better.

          1. Observer*

            Yes! Totally, PLEASE skip the potty training pictures! You can be sure that your kid will NEVER thank you – even after they get out of high school. In fact, there is a good chance that they will find those pictures and destroy them. And who can blame them?

        3. amp2140*

          shame on you.

          You’re committed to derail a perfectly valid conversation managing people of different lifestyles and have now just made it clear you are determined to be rude and nasty to other posters. The same issue would arise with coworkers that have sick parents that require a great deal of care and coworkers with spouses that require assistance. At work, we’re dealing with a manager who has a wife who is bedridden due to medical complications (not pregnancy). He is often MIA and it’s affecting the rest of us.

          You’ve already been asked by Allison to cut it out, please listen.

      2. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

        Making things personal and nasty isn’t helpful and is specifically not okay here.

        Ditto combating rudeness with rudeness.

    2. Aunt Vixen*

      I burned all my vacation and sick and personal time–ran an overdraft on it, in fact, and didn’t have to take LWOP only through the goodness of HR’s heart–when my dad was dying of cancer. I assure you I did not choose this. My team did pick up a certain amount of my slack when I was more distracted and less efficient, rather than insisting that my problem was not theirs. This might even make me more likely to be understanding and accommodating when they have needs of their own. It’s a thing about being colleagues rather than just being people who happen to work in proximity.

      Put another way: there’s a way to be a person. You don’t know everyone’s life.

      1. neverjaunty*


        Everybody has a life and stuff happens. In a decent workplace people take turns picking up the slack when somebody has a sick kid or a parent with cancer or a dog hit by a car. When people take advantage of their co-workers, rather than being part of the give and take, management should step in.

      2. Cucumber*

        Absolutely. How fortunate that you had some very kind and compassionate coworkers who were trying to cushion the slings and arrows for you.

    3. Melissa*

      This sounds like an issue with either certain coworkers at your workplace or with the management at your workplace. Not everyone with children expects sacrifices to be made for their children and family commitments. Like you say your parent co-workers are taking more sick days – are they taking sick days beyond the allotted amount? If not, then they’re just taking advantage of the benefits that come as part of their compensation. If the allotment means that your office is constantly short-staffed…that sounds like a management issue; management needs to alter the policy to make sure that the office always has sufficient staff.

      But at the same time…people are humans. I would be understanding of a coworker who was a bit slow at work because their child was up in the ER all night – just like I would be forgiving if a childless/childfree coworker were recovering from the flu or had spent the night in the ER for themselves or a non-child family and was thus having a slow-ish day. Fighting for vacation time during popular holidays is a pretty universal experience; you happen to do it with coworkers who have children, but it could be Christmas or Ramadan or the time when the crappy district manager comes in to “shake things up”. There could be three other people with birthdays the same week. Everybody thinks their own situation is more important than someone else’s. Some of these issues aren’t really limited to people with children; they’re just experiences people have in the workplace, and in your particular case people with children are experiencing pretty routine workplace stuff OR people with children are abusing policies, but those kinds of people would probably do it WITHOUT children, too.

      Also, you’re making a lot of generalizations. I am childless and I do not mind hearing about other people’s children, even unsolicited. So saying “no one wants to hear about your kids unless they ask” is false. You, personally, don’t want to hear about other people’s children – and that’s fine – but you just need to make it clear to your coworkers that you don’t make small talk about personal lives at work. (And that makes me curious – does this ban only cover small talk about children, or family, or does it extend to all small talk? Would it irritate you if I told you my husband got a new job he loves or my sister graduated from college with honors? Because I’m trying, and failing, to think of a way to tactfully ban only small talk that has to do with children while allowing other personal-life stuff. Unless you just make it a policy to not talk to parents at all, which doesn’t really bode well for work relations if most of your coworkers are parents.)

      1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

        Would it irritate you if I told you my husband got a new job he loves or my sister graduated from college with honors?

        When reading in a hurry that sentence totally read as “would it irritate you if I told you my husband loves my sister…which made me wonder for a split second what you consider small talk Melissa – because wildly entertaining, sure, but not really in the small talk vein. :)

        I need to read all the words.

        But I agree that it would be impossible to ban only children related small talk without that becoming a far bigger deal than mere disinterest. I have no interest in the weather, or what people had for lunch, or SPORTS and I live in Chicago. If I forbid anyone from making sports related small talk with me I think I’d be forced to move.

        If everyone had to vet their small talk to make sure everyone else found it fascinating Alison will have had her last letter about chatty coworkers.

        I’m not a fan of small talk, but I’ve gotten kinda good at it because of it’s socially lubricating properties (tm fposte) and sure, it not required that you discuss anything about your personal life at work but if your boss asks you how your weekend went and the response was “I don’t think that’s any of your business and I’m not obligated to speak to you about my personal life” you’re going to have a bad time.

        Ditto if you go around telling others which part of their boring and banal small talk you find least interesting.

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          Well, you don’t have to give that kind of answer to avoid talking about your personal life. “What did you do this weekend?” Oh, nothing much, it was ok, I slept a lot. (or whatever generic answer). I’ll even say “I didn’t do anything much” and quickly ask about their weekend. There’s no reason to divulge information one doesn’t wish to divulge, and one does not have to be rude to avoid divulging information. Kind of like when people push alcohol on me, I don’t go into my personal history, I just say “No, thanks” and repeat.

    4. Joey*


      Why is your anger directed at parents? If it was really a problem you manager would be doing something about it. It’s no different than if someone had a broken down car. The person with the broken down car isn’t the problem. It’s the manager who isn’t holding everyone to the same standard that’s the issue.

      1. Mike C.*

        I would venture to guess that the manager is using the parents as a justification for decisions being made in the workplace. It’s a great way to get folks to fight among themselves rather than have to deal the responsibility of making a tough decision.

        1. A Cita*

          This. And also, I think it’s a frequency and magnitude issue. It just happens a lot more when it’s a parent thing. And yes, it could be just an excuse management uses too (or probably, a combo of both). Just explaining why the frustration may be more aimed at parents. That being said, I’m a child free by choice and *everyone* I work with has kids and are *really* into their kids. But it doesn’t bother me. I use it as an excuse to talk about my hobbies nonstop…like chugging wine while terrorizing the menfolk and spitting on kids (of all ages…I don’t believe in discrimination). :) Ok, only 2 out of 3 are true. I won’t tell you which though.

          1. fposte*

            I was thinking about the possibility that everybody rambles on to roughly the same extent, but the non-child rambling is more diversified, so the topics don’t have the same impact as children do.

        2. Valar M.*

          Yes. Plus…Managers are human. They might be parents themselves and relate more (consciously or subconsciously to the parental side of things), and thus be letting this slide and not understanding the childless employees plight. (Same with the opposite side, managers who can’t relate to parental emergencies because they’ve not been there).

          1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

            I think this is a great point. It goes to being aware if we have an unconscious bias happening so we can make sure it’s not impacting anything negatively. But we all do come from our own experiences and that can make us more proactive in reaching out to others who are in similar circumstances.

            I had a co-worker whose mom was in the last stages of cancer. We’re peers, but he reports to me on two major ongoing projects. When I heard I caught him alone and told him I know from when my mom was diagnosed how hard it is to juggle everything and whatever I could do just ask. I stepped in and did a lot of his stuff myself. When I needed others to do his stuff when he was out (that I couldn’t do) I moved other things off their plates so they weren’t overwhelmed, I understood that he was off his game for a while and I was in awe he could function at all work wise.

            Truly I would do that for anyone in a difficult spot like that. But because I knew how hard it was to be the only sibling of a dying parent “not working” and providing full time hospice care there was no way I could even think of “well, his sister is there and she’s not working so why is he taking off again.” Because I knew intimately how desperately his sister needed a break to shower, cry, or have 2 freaking minutes to herself.

            That’s not to say that people who share experiences with the manager should get special treatment, just that the empathy can lead to more proactive reaching out and accommodating.

            Just like when my beloved 14 year old pup passed away, I had to work because of a major thing but my boss got why my office door was shut and I was crying off and on all day. Because he is a dog person. We tend to be more understanding and cut more slack when we understand something on a personal level – which is why bosses with kids who know how hard it is to juggle a schedule should proactively assess their behavior to make sure they aren’t discounting others with different needs.

  24. Koko*

    Looking at the complaints against these employees, I’d handle each differently.

    They miss work frequently due to sick kids, school closings, and babysitter problems.
    How frequent is frequent? Does it feel like a lot because it’s always someone but each person is only missing a partial day every couple of months, or is everyone missing a partial day every couple of weeks leaving you with several out unexpectedly at a time? I’d try to determine how often each person’s job permits them to be out unexpectedly and work from there. If you truly want to be family friendly I’d especially be realistic here and focus on outcomes–if someone is missing a day once a month but doesn’t miss any important meetings and makes up their work so they still hit all their deadlines, is that really a problem? If someone is missing a day once a month and it’s causing problems with meeting attendance or deadlines, that’s of course different.

    They have become low energy and lethargic at work, are distracted and preoccupied,
    This one is hard. As others have pointed out, this could just be the difference between starry-eyed recent grads with few obligations who are eager to prove themselves for peanuts, and adults with obligations who aren’t being paid lawyer salaries to justify working lawyer hours. Or it could be the difference between hard workers and lazy employees. If it’s the latter, then I would have a direct conversation about the attitude issue, but be prepared to point to concrete ways the attitude problem seems to be related to poor job performance. “I notice you no longer ask questions or suggest ideas as often in our meetings. It seems like you’re preoccupied and distracted rather than as fully engaged as you once were. When you’re invited to a meeting, it’s because we need your perspective. I need you to be 100% present and focused on the discussion.” So it’s not just – you seem distracted. It’s – you seem distracted as evidenced by your decreased participation in important tasks.

    …and want to come to work late and leave early.
    See my comments about how frequently they miss work. Is it everyone frequently, or is it always someone? What is the real impact it’s having on meetings, deadlines, and other important outcomes?

    Our parent company has a generous sick time and vacation policy which they take full advantage of.
    This is a little bit bitch-eating-crackers. Don’t give them sick/vacation time if they aren’t allowed to use it or will be penalized for using it.

    They want to be included in new projects, but ask for special treatment (examples: they only want to do the “in-town” meetings, they don’t want to be lead initiatives during the summer, etc.).
    This one is the easiest. Give them special treatment if the benefits of doing so outweigh the downsides. If having the lead on a project not attend the out-of-town meetings will compromise the project’s success, then make it clear that the project requires out-of-town meetings, or that being a project lead means occasionally taking summer initiatives and that they don’t get to choose all their own assignments purely for themselves but must also accept the assignments they receive. Inform your employees that this is part of the job description and required of them, and distribute the undesirable assignments fairly among the staff. (Don’t make them do it themselves or have some sort of first-come-first-serve/not-it system.) If, on the other hand, there’s no concrete/tangible downside, then why not let them do half the meetings remotely?

    1. Anon, alas*

      Some great points, especially about considering the actual performance impact. But really, I just want to thank you for brightening my day by teaching me the phrase “bitch-eating-crackers” :)

      1. Dasha*

        Maybe they are acting like this because they’ve been there 10+ years and expect that they’ve earned these sorts of things?

        1. Dasha*

          Agh, I meant to comment that somewhere else, sorry. I wanted to comment here about the “bitch eating crackers” phrase- I got a good laugh!

    2. Lisa*

      The whole thing about using allowed vacation time as a reason to put someone on a PIP is nuts. I agree don’t offer it if you don’t like when people use it. People leave for better work / life balances (mostly employees that start to assess perks that way are those that have kids, but also those that hit a point where work isn’t the end all and want to pursue things that matter to them – ie, hobbies, traveling, etc.). I believe that companies that understand this and truly offer it, get the best talent out there that will stay at those jobs for years if they get the right balance of good salary with raises (even just COL ones) and acknowledgement (tell me i am doing a good job), time off, WFH days, prof development, and trusting work non-micromanaging environment. OP should start thinking of how to attract the awesome talent by using perks that matter to the type of employees OP wants.

    3. Alice*

      Nice layout Koko. It reminded me that OP said the employees wanted to take on new projects – that sounds very good, and a counterargument to burnout. If they’re seeking involvement in new projects then they’re still engaged. That makes it really important to clarify and define which things they’re doing that still point to disengagement. Are they responding to emails slowly and incompletely? Producing partially completed work? Missing important or minor deadlines?

    4. Anonathon*

      This is great, especially the first point. It’s possible that the OP feels that “it’s always someone” because at least one person in this group of ten is late every day. But maybe Jane and Joe are the late ones 90% of the time, and everyone else is late maybe once a month. So be careful not to class everyone together or become frustrated with the entire group when the bulk of the issue rests with one or two people.

  25. Rose*

    Sounds to me like an employer that expected far too much from their employees than they were paying them for and have the nerve to be annoyed the employees have said ‘enough is enough’ and are working the hours they are paid to work….

    1. Joey*

      Working the hours that they are paid to work really doesn’t exist if they are exempt. It’s getting the job done that matters.

      1. TL - Rachel*

        Well, if they’re exempt, it becomes the “putting in the value you’re paying me for.” I’m exempt and I’m not paid enough to deal a few things that have been suggested to me, so generally, I don’t. (They get taken care of; I just pass them up the chain of command.)

        I’ll go above and beyond when necessary, but if you’re paying me only $15000/yr (and saying no raises, don’t ask), don’t expect a $50000/yr performance.

          1. TL - Rachel*

            That’s true. It could also be, however, that they’re valuing their time a lot more highly than they used to. But I agree with the other commenters that this sounds like burnout.

            Or the other option is, because this is such a small workplace, that one or two people set the precedent for highly reduced work output once they had a baby and now it’s just a part of the culture. Less likely, I think, but it could be most are looking around and thinking, “It’s okay that I’ve picked up the slack because once I have my baby I’ll be able to do a lot less and have someone else pick up the slack. That’s how we do things around here.”

          2. Observer*

            Actually, it sounds like it could very well apply. It’s hard to say for sure, but it sounds like they USED to get $15 worth or work for $10 of pay, and now they are getting $10 worth of work for the same $10 worth of pay.

      2. Anonforthis*

        Could you teach that to the exempt folks where I work? You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve needed something from a member of exempt staff that was deadline critical and was told it was “time for them to go home”.

        1. Windchime*

          Yeah, this. We are all exempt on my team. Most of us (the majority, in fact) put in extra time when the deadline is nearing, and in exchange for that we don’t feel guilty if we leave on time or maybe even a little early once crunch time is past. But there are a couple who still behave as if they are hourly, and when quitting time comes they leave on the dot. It’s as if they are being shot out of a canon and can’t get out of the office fast enough. Oddly enough, the person who is the biggest clock-watcher and the least likely to put in extra time happens to be child-free.

  26. MaryMary*

    If all of these employees are people OP wants to retain long term, maybe the answer is to more clearly differentiate the high performers. For those who are willing to put in the long hours, travel, etc, make sure that is reflected in their pay, and consider a title change (Senior, Advanced, Director of, etc). For those who have other priorities, maybe their position becomes more administrative and office-based (which could free up your superstars to focus on higher level activities). I don’t know if it is a possibility budget and salary-wise, but formally shifting role descriptions, compensation, and expectations could help.

    1. Anon, alas*

      An interesting point, MaryMary. I would ask the OP: have these employees been adequately rewarded and compensated for their 10+ years of service?

    2. Andrea*

      I was thinking about something similar to this, too. Also, perhaps some employees would prefer to be part-time, and if that’s an option for this organization, that could work, too. It might also be time to get some additional staff members in there, because I suspect that the real problem here is that the workload isn’t sustainable and that you need more people to do the work. I have worked with some parents who didn’t take their work responsibilities seriously, and it sucks. I have also worked with many parents who did. It sounds like the problem here is the organization itself—if that many people are reacting this way, then I think they’re burned out, and maybe parenthood hurried that process along, but I bet it didn’t cause it. I bet your child free employees are feeling it, too.

    3. Alice*

      MaryMary, I like that you’ve taken this in a different direction than most of the comments. OP definitely seems interested in retaining these people, and just wants to figure out how to re-energize them.

  27. Marie*

    I 100% agree with other posters who have pointed out that it’s not fair to judge an employee as disengaged for taking the leave that your organization grants them. Don’t give that much leave if you feel a high performing employee can’t be away for that much time. And I agree that the alleged disengagement of these employees needs to be considered more broadly. Maybe when OP indicates the organization is “family-friendly,” employees think the behaviors referenced in the post are acceptable. OP should make explicit what that means to him/her.

    When I’ve been disengaged at work, it drives me nut when others assume it’s because I am a parent. Maybe I’ve lost respect for leadership. Maybe I saw compensation data and am feeling anxious about my salary. Maybe I don’t like my role anymore. Maybe the organization is going in a new direction and I don’t feel committed. There are a lot of reasons a person might step back. Obviously it would be better if these employees worked to address their problems (including finding a role that allows them the work-life arrangement they desire, if that is the issue) than just tuning out, but I think each person needs to be approached with an open mind as to why their performance has changed. When people do assume any issue/distraction I face is kid related, that in an of itself prompts me to check out- it’s like the other person doesn’t want to see me, they just want to see a version of me that fits the story in their head.

    1. Alice*

      I agree with Hildi. I almost skipped this post because the time off issue has been discussed so much, but the second point is really good.

  28. Andrea*

    You have people at a different time in their lives who will perform differently than when they were younger an unencumbered–how have you planned for that? Do you only want young employees who will sacrifice everything for the job, then you have to be honest with yourself and realize that you now have a bad fit in terms of employees.

    I see this as the employer’s myopia–nothing will change, people will always perform 150%. That’s not realistic, since life gets in the way, what people get out of and bring to their jobs changes. That is life. You let your workforce age and now you have the VALID concerns of parents in your workforce. How will you handle that?

    1. Jen RO*

      But why is this the employer’s problem? OP hired people to do a certain job. The job has not changed. If a person doesn’t want to or can’t do the job anymore, it’s time for them to find another one.

      1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

        I agree with this if it’s a permanent lifestyle change and the terms of what the employee can do have changed. Not every job can morph to meet changing needs.

        But life does happen and I’ve certainly gone out of my way to pick up the slack for co-workers when they were dealing with something serious…like a parent with a terminal illness. Life will happen to all of us and a temporary patch where we aren’t 100% at some point is inevitable.

        I am sure you weren’t implying that the second someone needed an accommodation they should be fired. :) Just throwing it out there that everyone will need some slack for something sometime…but that doesn’t mean a full on lifestyle change can be accommodated.

        1. AMT*

          Good point. This letter is a great demonstration of the difference between “life happens” and “a complete, permanent change in productivity just happened to half my employees.” I would totally understand if an employee with a new baby or a health issue wasn’t operating to his or her fullest abilities for a period of time. That said, assuming that the workload wasn’t unreasonable to begin with, it’s not unreasonable to expect employees to be on time and fulfill the same tasks as everyone else, and I wouldn’t call that “sacrific[ing] everything for the job” as Andrea did. OP’s team is coming in late, leaving early, and refusing to travel. That’s unacceptable.

      2. hildi*

        One thing that I have said in some of my supervisory classes before is that when you hire an employee, you’re hiring a whole person. You’re not hiring a job description. So when you’re going through the hiring process, make sure you’re hiring for capability, commitment, and chemistry. I think the same concept might apply here? True, the job hasn’t changed, but the people have in terms of their chemistry (fit), and maybe even commitment (motivation). And I agree if the job absolutley cannot change or the supervisor doesn’t want the standards to change, then the people might have to move on. But…..the black and white focus on “the job hasn’t changed” always bums me out because PEOPLE are not black and white. We’re messy and life is messy and love it or hate it, people’s life creeps into the job at times. Some people are better at managing the creep than others.

        1. Andrea*

          How has the organization planned for people to move up or out? If it’s customer service that is the same issue again and again, how have these 10 people moved up the ladder in 10 years? What has the company planned for progression in title and function that would accommodate people as they have kids, have sick parents, etc? It’s myopic not to see that jobs wear out, people change, etc.

          1. Alice*

            From what OP says above, it looks like the “move out” part of the plan is missing. Jen RO asks how it’s the employer’s problem if the employee stops meeting their job description – well, it’s the employer’s problem if the employee doesn’t leave. Natalie, OP might not need to release 50% of the team, but could probably separate those who can improve versus those who need to be let go.

      3. CA Admin*

        There’s a reason that a lot of high-performance jobs tend to hire new grads and then cycle through them in 2-3 year increments–it’s just too hard to keep up with the crazy hours, especially as you get older. Associates in industries like Big Law, Private Equity, and Investment Banking tend to have a very high attrition rate. Yes, some will stay and make a career of it, but many will switch to other things after a few years.

        There’s nothing wrong with running a business on that model, but you have to be self-aware and understand the consequences–high attrition and a tendency toward burnout. If you want your employees to stay longer term, then you can’t operate on that model.

        1. Koko*

          Very well said. You may have a continuous need for the exact same unchanging job duties, but you need a larger management plan for how to keep that position filled with a competent employee over the long run besides assuming that one person will do the high-intensity job forever or assuming your employees will self-select out of the role without any nudging or direction from you. That’s also why you talk to your employees about their career goals and desire for professional development–so you can either allow the role to grow with them as they grow (and hire in new staff to do the low-level work they mature out of), or so you can be clear when the position is not going to accommodate their goals (“this will never be a flexible or 40-hours-no-more job”).

          For whatever reason, the incentives for the current staff of this nonprofit are encouraging them to stay (at a reduced performance level) rather than move on, internally or externally. A good management plan would examine what those incentive are. Even though OP says he’s talked to staff about these issues, the fact that it’s happening on such a wide scale suggests that the popular belief in the office is that this lower level of output is acceptable. Either they don’t truly believe that lowered performance will not be tolerated, or the standards are so unrealistically high that they know they won’t be the only one failing to meet them and thus feel that it’s OK to fall short of the mark, or maybe some combination of both.

      4. Observer*

        Because the OP wants to have her cake and eat it. If you see a benefit to retaining people for the long term, for whatever reason, you need to provide an incentive to the people who you want to retain. If that means adjusting the job requirements, then so be it. You can’t realistically try to retain people, but on your terms only, if people no longer find your terms acceptable.

  29. Chayele*

    Is it possible that the employees are lower-energy because they’ve been working there for 10 years and have settled into a rut? I used to work for a non-profit that had “term limits” on certain positions for that reason.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      That’s kind of what I was getting at above. They sound burnt out. This seems less about parenting and more about burnout.

      1. Joey*

        Eh, I almost always see some readjustment of priorities when people get married and/or have kids. There are just so many more balls to juggle when a family is leaning on you for things. And there are just so many unexpected things that can distract you when you become a parent.

        Term limits though sound crazy. So what happens when someone’s performance doesn’t fall off?

        1. Mike C.*

          I was going to say the same thing about term limits. I work with folks who have their 35 year pin, and they are all incredible resources. They work hard, they’re incredibly knowledgeable and they’re a huge, huge asset to the company.

          Heck, there was a story a while back about a woman who was an actual “Rosie the Riveter” who clocked in I believe 60 years here. First female engineering manager at the company as well. So long as she wants to come to work, why would you throw away a resource like that?

        2. Katie the Fed*

          Maybe not burnout, but it seems like something else might be going on in the working environment for this many people to have gotten this flaky.

          1. Windchime*

            Maybe they’re doing it simply because they can. If they are truly apathetic and just basically phoning it in, maybe they’re doing it because nothing happens to prevent it. They still get their paycheck and there is no repercussion other than an occasional PIP that never results in a firing, so why change?

  30. Always Learning*

    I agree with other posters that this really is tricky. You want to be as flexible as possible while still fulfilling your mission. A few details the OP mentioned, however, look to me like good black and white opportunities to follow up on.

    First, the requests to only attend in-town meetings or not lead projects in the summer. I’ll assume that both attending out of town meetings and leading projects in summer are requirements of these jobs, so you assign these duties to individuals based on their job descriptions and work-related criteria. They’re required then to meet their job responsibilities.

    Second, showing up late and leaving early. This depends on the organizational culture. Let’s assume from the context these employees are salaried, exempt. Is there a documented expectation of a number of hours for a work week? If so, follow up on that. If not, then it’s a matter of getting the volume of work done that you expect on the timelines you’ve requested.

    I’m in a very similar boat – the work my organization and unit does makes it extremely difficult to say “you should be able to get x, y, and z done by date n.” I’m constantly on the prowl for new ways to benchmark this and back up what I consider to be reasonable expectations with evidence. Good luck, OP.

  31. Victoria*

    Parents like this are the reason that all women face indirect discrimination between ages 25-40, just in case we breed and turn out like them….

    1. J.B.*

      Wow!!! There is not enough information here to make that kind of a statement. Yes, when you have kids it is harder than it was to balance the career. But these could well be structural problems, and disengagement that doesn’t relate directly to the kids. More the stage of life.

      Now that we have kids my husband and I work less than we could because you don’t get to the top together. But we are committed to doing the jobs we have well and balance the sick kid time as best we can.

    2. Recruiter*

      I resent that comment. You can be a responsible woman, with children, with a successful and rewarding career. Are you saying that once women “breed”, they should all quit their jobs and stay home, barefoot in the kitchen?

    3. Zahra*

      Actually, I was thinking that managers like this are the reason women face discrimination during child-bearing years.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I agree that the issue is management, not child-bearing women, but I don’t think this particular manager deserves that. She’s describing a very specific problem she’s facing, not complaining about all parents.

        1. Zahra*

          Sorry, the “parents like this” got to me. What I’m reading in the letter is that the manager doesn’t know how to adapt to the reality of having employees who are parents and cannot commit the same level of time and energy that they could prior to kids. I’m also reading that the previous levels were “Work hard, play hard”, 60+ hour weeks, which are not realistic with young kids and a two-working-parents household. In this light, the problem is not the parents, it’s the manager for not managing well, either by replacing these employees, reducing her time commitment expectations for everyone to more manageable levels or hiring additional staff.

            1. Mike C.*

              The post implies a lot of long hours being worked. This may not be the actual case, but for many of us who have worked in these situations, this is usually the language used to describe it.

              1. MT*

                There are several other things the OP writes that the employees no longer want to do. Travel and to lead projects. Having employees who don’t want to go normal business items leads me to believe that they don’t want to work normal business hours.

  32. Ann Furthermore*

    Something about this OP’s letter bugged me, and I had a hard time putting my finger on it. After thinking about it for a little while, I realized that (to me anyway) the tone of the letter was that working insane, long hours is some kind of badge of honor, and not doing that is a commentary on your work ethic. I’ve worked in environments like that, and it’s unsustainable over the long term, if it’s just constant work work work with no ebbs and flows. Sure, it will take longer for it to become unsustainable if you start off with a batch of fresh, young, unattached college grads who want to focus on their careers, but it will inevitably become unsustainable.

    In my line of work, things go up and down. As a project launch date approaches, your hours increase until the last month or 2 you’re working 70-80 hours a week. Then you launch, you do a little hand holding, things calm down, and the hours drop off. The another project starts up, and you do it all over again. Can I work the 70-80 hours a week for a month or 2? Sure. It’s the nature of the work I do and part of my job. Can I do it day after day, month after month, year after year? No, I can’t. I don’t live to work, I work to live, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    I think the OP needs to first evaluate whether the expectations placed on her (I assume) people are reasonable, realistic, and sustainable in the long term. Then, look into what you can do to help people get their jobs done beyond expecting them to be in the office around the clock. Can you set up some kind of virtual work program where people can work from home one day a week? If someone needs to leave at 4:30 to get their kid from daycare, is it possible for them to do that and then log on later in the evening to finish their work day? Can people flex their hours, call into meetings instead of attending in person, and so on?

    If you’re providing all that flexibility to your people, and they’re still taking advantage, then yeah, you’ve got a problem on your hands, that can probably only be solved by closely managing them, putting them on a PIP, and including in the PIP that a relapse of the bad behavior could result in termination. But if you’re still expecting the same work habits from people at 32 that they had at 22, then I don’t think that’s very realistic. Sure, you could fire the whole bunch of them and re-staff with another batch of new graduates, but that’s a lot of knowledge and experience walking out the door.

    It could well be that I read the tone of the letter incorrectly — I’m a bit hypersensitive to that kind of thing since I’ve spent way too many years in environments where the number of hours you worked was an indicator of your commitment, ambition, and so on, and wanting to have a life outside of work was frowned upon.

    1. MT*

      I don’t see one place in the letter where it said they were putting in a ton of hours.

      “I am the executive director of a nonprofit with about 20 employees. Most have been working for me for over 10 years. When they were hired, they were selected because they were high-achieving, high energy, good thinkers who believed in and were committed to the mission of the organization.”

      Now the OP states they want to work even less hours than before. Coming in late and leaving early supports not working a full work week.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        To me that’s code for people working long hours, although like I said, I could have interpreted it incorrectly.

        And coming in late and leaving early doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not working a full week. If I leave early to get my kid someplace she needs to be and then work a couple hours later in the evening, I’m still getting all my hours in. I’m just not in the office for all of them.

        1. MT*

          But the OP clearly stated they wanted to come in late and leave early. There is nothing about them catching up on work later in the night.

          1. Zahra*

            Yeah, but if it’s code for long hours, then working from 8-5 when you were used to getting 6-8 (or even 7-6) *is* coming late and leaving early. If work isn’t getting done because people aren’t putting the extra time anymore, you need more employees and it will benefit the whole organization.

            1. Ann Furthermore*

              Exactly. The letter makes me wonder if “coming in late and leaving early” is actually people just wanting to work closer to a 40 hour week. That does not make someone a slacker, if they’re putting in a 40 hour week and working when they’re in the office.

              1. Michelle*

                Not all jobs or organizations operate with a traditional 40 hour per week schedule. If this company requires them to work more than that and the employees know what the expectation is and are no longer able to do so, then it sounds like they need to move on. They should find positions, probably with another company, that would allow them to work a schedule that will work better for them.

                1. Ann Furthermore*

                  Yes, but if that’s really what’s going on in this case, then the OP can’t really be running a “family friendly” workplace. If the expectation is 60+ hours a week (or whatever) most parents can’t accommodate that.

              2. Elizabeth*

                OP posted downthread that “no one works more than 40 hours per week- Most shave 5-6 hours off of that by coming in late and leaving early. ” This being the internet, anyone can say anything they want, but I take him/her at his/her word.

          2. Ann Furthermore*

            My questioning of the OP comes from working for people who are convinced that if you’re not sitting at your desk, working, then you’re not actually working. I had a boss once who was convinced that one of my staff was slacking on her hours. She wasn’t, she was just coming in later and working later. She had cleared it with me. For her to be at the office by 8 would be a 45 minute commute. For her to be at the office between 8:30 and 8:45 would be a 20-25 minute commute, based on where she lived and the rush hour traffic on the highway. So I said yes, she could start between 8:30 and 8:45 and work until 5:00 or 5:15 (with a 30 minute lunch break). I explained this to my boss over and over again, and also pointed out that her work was still getting done. He was convinced that she was slacking on her hours and not getting her work done. I finally solved it by logging into the timekeeping system and showing him, based on her timeclock swipes, that not only was she working a full 40 hours a week, she was in many cases working up to 45 hours a week. That finally shut him up.

            The OP doesn’t really have anything concrete in her letter about unhappy customers, lost contracts, or lost business due to her employees’ allegedly poor work habits. That’s what makes me wonder if the mindset is long hours = dedicated employee.

            1. Ann Furthermore*

              Also — the boss in question was an early bird, in the office by 7 or 7:30. Since he always left between 4 and 4:30, he didn’t believe that my employee was working later than he did. Since he didn’t see her sitting at her desk by 8AM, in his mind, she was a slacker.

            2. Alice*

              Ann, thanks for sticking up for your employee. I tried to work out something with my boss where I could come in from 9:30 – 5:30 (I was working until 6 every day anyway), but all the admin staff thought I was just tardy. They leave between 4 and 5 and though I was leaving at 5 as well. So I got my new schedule rescinded and I’m back to 9-6. I’m still a little resentful about it, especially since only 6 out of the 30 employees at my company work 9-5, everyone else has flexible schedules to work with clients.

      2. Cucumber*

        The OP implies that they’re not managing in person because they keep themselves very busy, traveling a lot, and the way I read it, it was implied a lot of hours are worked in comparison to their reports.

        The OP’s reply to me also stated “We are known for “above-average” results… People … probably do find it difficult to keep up the performance standards when they have competing demands, but the organization cannot become “less than” to accomodate the needs of a few… the expectation is that the work gets done, at a high standard, and on time. ”

        I’m with Ann, it does sound like an organization where there’s a lot of emphasis on completing a lot of work, by any means necessary. In other words, you need to put in a lot of hours. Hours = commitment, face time = achievement.

        Someone upthread suggested that the OP might want to privately survey the employees to see what they think of their position, the mission, etc. I think the OP might be surprised how different their attitude, and the attitude of their reports, are. Maybe they’re not slackers, but as has been stated, their priorities have shifted where they’d like to serve the mission in a different way.

    2. Lisa*

      Sure, it will take longer for it to become unsustainable if you start off with a batch of fresh, young, unattached college grads who want to focus on their careers, but it will inevitably become unsustainable.

      This is why my old job just hires more new grads every 2-3 years. They leave once they realize they can double their salaries elsewhere, and he gets a new crop willing to work all the time for peanuts.

  33. Scott M*

    “Our parent company has a generous sick time and vacation policy which they take full advantage of. ”

    Um.. if you can’t run your business when employees take advantage of the benefits you offer, then something is wrong. In my mind, you should budget for your employees to be out of the office for the entire amount of PTO and sick time they are allowed.

    Having employees with kids is part of the business world. It sounds like the OP got spoiled with a overabundance of young employees who had no other life. Now the OP is having to deal with a larger number of employees who can’t put in a lot of extra hours.

  34. Anon, alas*

    A number of thoughts, some of which have been raised by other people:

    – I don’t want to second-guess the OP, but – are you sure that parenthood is the base problem?

    – “Our parent company has a generous sick time and vacation policy which they take full advantage of.” I’m sorry, but this was a red flag for me: I remember my first job back in fast food, we had a 30 minute meal break – but God help you if you actually used the full 30 minutes! But I’ll assume that you’re trying to convey that employees have a sufficient sick time and vacation policy.

    – When a parent (or anyone) tells you “they only want to do the “in-town” meetings, they don’t want to be lead initiatives during the summer”, from their viewpoint they aren’t looking for special treatment; they’re (probably) attempting to be helpful with scheduling and planning.

    – A few random ideas: do your employees have flex-time? Can they work from home / online? Have you considered finding interns to try to handle additional work?

    – This probably won’t be a popular idea, but if I were in your shoes I would want to see if I could find any patterns in employee behavior and lifestyle, ie, is your employee a mom or a dad? Married or single? If married, does the employee’s spouse work? How many children, and what ages? I do not want to encourage any toxic generalizations, but if you found any patterns – all of your ‘problem employees’ are single parents, for instance – it might be helpful to think about that.

    1. Zahra*

      Yeah, I’m married, but I might as well be a single mom during the week: my husband is a truck driver and away from Sunday morning to Thursday evening. There’s no one else for drop-offs and pick-ups at daycare.

      The only day when I can be more than 8 hours in the office is Friday. I can (and have) worked a few extra hours in the evening here and there to complete a project or answer a client’s questions. But I usually can’t log in before 9PM (7:30 PM is golden and wonderful) and I need to be fully rested to give my all to my employer and my kid the next day, so I won’t stay past 11PM unless it’s a true emergency.

  35. Meg Murry*

    A few things I want to point out:
    -There is a big difference between time in the office vs amount of work done. When your employees were brand new, they probably took a while to get tasks done. As 10 year veterans, they may very well be able to get the exact same volume of work done in less hours than it took them as newbies. So unless you require a certain amount of face-time for clients, you need to look at what they are producing in the hours they are working, not just what time they arrive and depart.
    -I imagine your generous vacation and sick time was probably a stepped system, with people earning more time as they got a longer tenure. If most of your employees have been there 10 years, they probably get a lot more vacation and sick time than they did when they started – possibly 2-4 times as much. And even more if you allowed vacation or sick time to carry over from year to year. So if it seems like your people are taking more vacation time – they are. Because they all have more days to take than they did as newbies.
    -Is there one person that is going above and beyond the rest as far as taking too much time off or slacking too much? Set clear expectations, if they don’t meet them, fire them. I suspect that will scare everyone else into shaping up or shipping out. Just don’t be surprised if you have a mass exodus of people with the most knowledge and you are starting over from scratch with enthusiastic but un-knowledgeable young people.

  36. amp2140*

    I think there needs a conversation with these employees.

    The reality is that when working in a team, there is give and take. Someone takes vacation, someone else picks up the slack. The problem with this situation is that the takers are rarely giving.

    I would go to these employees with numbers. Track them over a month. “Suzy, over the past month, you’ve been in late 6 times, left early 7, refused to take assignments that involve travel (which was a clear requirement when you were hired), and your productivity is down to 70%. We’ve been through the PIP process twice already, with no long term improvement. The reality is, I can’t have 70% of an employee. I need a 100% employee, and I believe I have pretty reasonable standards. We need to talk about a lasting solution to this problem, and if you’re productivity dips this low again, I’m going to have to find an someone who can give me the effort I require for this position.” I find having actual data to back up ‘you’re not working as well’ is helpful.

    I also want to do a shout out to my coworker. She’s a single mother, and she job hunts for jobs that can accomodate that. Currently, she designed a deal with our boss that she comes in earlier than us, she leaves at 3:30, and is back online from home after she gets her son off the bus. She is reliable in that commitment. She honestly works her butt off more than I do, and I’m 24, single, with no kids. Sure, there’s the occasional ‘I can’t travel for that meeting that day, I have my kid’, or ‘I can’t stay overnight, but I’ll drive both days’, but those are few and far between, and she put herself in a role that requires very little time away from home. Parents (like in this letter) need to realize that we get you’re parents, we get that it is a thankless job full of snotty noses and late nights. You just need to realize that it is not my job as the child free one to accommodate you over and over. If you need to read your child that doesn’t comprehend words yet your proposal to get them to sleep, so be it.

  37. Angora*

    I would like to know how many hours they are expected to work per week. Many times companies increase vacation time when employees hit their 10, 15 and 20 year anniversies but than resent the employee taking it. They forget that it’s offered as an incentative to retain older more experienced workers. Years ago I had a coworker that had been with the orginization for 20 years and so much pressure was put on her not to use her 4 weeks; that her vacation bank went over the limit and she lost some of it. Than the following year her manager turned around and told her what days to take off. There was no discussion, she was told.

    I am an older, single woman with no children. One thing I hate to hear at holidays is my kids are off, we need you to cover the office, etc. Since I didn’t have kids I wasn’t supposed to ask off around Thanksgiving or Christmas. The thing was I didn’t mind working part of the holiday, but all of it I really resented. At one job I got my back up and said we all should only get 2 – 3 days off and rotate who covers the office. The manager got mad and said for us to work it out among us. I got the two days off I wanted. But I really resented it put on me as being the bad guy.

    The question I have, is if they are not performing while they are in the office it’s an issue or are they not willing to work the extra hours that they have in the past. Also, the OP needs to ask if the workload has increased over the years and there is not enough staff. If people feel that they never can get caught up, they will slow down out of frustration.

    OP also needs to think about how much training will be required if they have to hire new staff. I like comment one of the readers made about having leaders in the office, when the boss is out of the office. If you have workload monitors, someone on-site that they have to report to, things might change.

  38. DM*

    I work in a non-profit organization with a similar number of employees. We also have very generous sick and vacation leave policies as well as flexible hours (there’s a downside to this as well – there’s an expectation that we’ll cover events and meetings outside of standard business hours). I have stayed at this organization for over a decade for a variety of reasons – a belief in the mission, a relatively narrow field with limited similar job opportunities elsewhere, and generous benefits (including paid time off). Anyways, I’ll weigh in from the employee perspective, since I see some similarities.

    If this organization is anything like mine, it is possibly hampered by the fact that there is very limited redundancy. If I’m not here, there is nobody to else familiar with my job.

    The most demoralizing thing that has happened in my tenure here was when a consultant decided to tell me that I was abusing the leave policies and her project was not progressing due to my leave. I admittedly took a good amount of time off over the course of 9 months, but here is what I was dealing with:
    -knee injury, surgery, & rehab in the middle of a New England winter, working in a building without an elevator (3 weeks off plus an 80% schedule for a while to allow for the rehab).
    -my father had a sudden, severe health issue, requiring a six week hospitalization, 4 weeks of which were in the ICU (1 week off, then 80 -90% schedule while he was hospitalized, allowing me to visit)
    -two one-week vacations (early August and late September, the second one planned more than a year in advance)
    -death of grandmother (2 days bereavement leave out of 3 allowed by policy due to whining of consultant mentioned earlier).

    I was able to take all of this paid time off due to the fact that I had not previously abused the system, and I really did not appreciate being told that using available leave when I truly needed it was abuse of the system. It certainly created challenges for the office, but they were made worse by whining from my boss and the consultant that they simply could not do stuff because I was not there. When I was making arrangements for knee surgery, instead of asking for what they needed to move projects forward in my absence, my boss took two weeks off while I’d be out (this was not during a normal school vacation or other time you’d expect half the office to be gone). This whole situation was very demoralizing, and I’d have to believe that took a toll on my performance as well.

    Move ahead a few years (to today). I have just announced my first pregnancy to the office. I have six months until I am due. My current supervisor’s first questions were how much time I’d take off (and he suggested six weeks) and asked if I could work from home during that time. His superiors (the ED and COO) have expressed excitement, and the maternity leave question hasn’t come up with them yet. I’m planning now for what 2015 will look like, and hoping to work out an arrangement that will allow me to spend time with my baby while making sure that the work I do continues, if not at the same level, then at least at a respectable level.

    If my supervisor holds on to his position that I should take six weeks off (our policies promise at least eight) and that I should work from home during this time, there will certainly be frustration. I have the accrued paid time off to take more than 12 weeks, though I think that would be pushing the limits. My belief is that to make this work for everyone, we’ll have to discuss what absolutely needs to be done to keep programming running, what could potentially be put on hold, and what can be delegated. I think there are some job duties I’ll have to stay on top of during my leave. If not, I could return to find that a major funder has terminated their support.

    Some things will need to be adjusted next year. I am going to push for significantly decreased goals (which have been increasing annually). If I’m out for 2 – 3 months, it’s not fair to expect me to exceed what I’ve done in the previous 12 months. I’m going to ask to significantly reduce my obligation to attend meetings outside of normal office hours. And I’m going to ask that if I need to travel in the first 6 – 12 months, that they consider paying for the transportation to bring another adult and the baby along (this I see as a tough one, but there is likely to be a mandatory meeting with a funder, usually held approximately two months after my due date).

    With all of this said – your employees are probably still with your organization in part because they believe in the mission. They would like to see the work progress, but how this happens going forward needs to be discussed. The employees could probably put forth some solid ideas about how to make sure the organization continues working towards the mission, but this can only work if management is equally receptive to what employees can and cannot commit to as their lives change. Plan where you can, and be supportive when emergencies arise. Employees will appreciate this, and will return the favor by cooperating in the efforts to move the organization forward.

    1. hildi*

      Congrats! I hope you are able to get all of that worked out like you are hoping. I am so fortunate that my job requires travel several times a month, but once I had kids my supervisor was very cool about letting me scale back on the amount of time I spent on the road. I spent more time doing local training or developing courses. And it’s like you said in the last sentence: I appreciated her flexibilty and am still engaged and innovating as a result.

    2. Mister Pickle*

      You sound like you’ve got things under control, but I’d like to comment on your supervisor’s “suggestion” of six weeks off and that you work from home: if my benefits promised 8 weeks off, I’d demand 8 weeks off. And perhaps graciously offer to work from home.

      I’m prickly about this stuff because benefits are, at some level, part of one’s compensation. If I’m asked to work on a vacation day, that’s like I’m being asked to take a salary cut. Which I might accept, under the right circumstances. But I got the sense from your text that your supervisor was essentially telling you “you get 6 weeks” – and that doesn’t fly for me.

      1. DM*

        I completely agree with benefits being part of compensation, and what one is entitled to (therefore, I’ve never apologized for all the time off I took a few years ago, during the year from hell). I didn’t dwell too much on my boss’s suggestion, because I honestly think I caught him completely off guard, and I think he panicked at the idea of me gone for any amount of time (I really mean it when I say there’s no redundancy). The promised eight weeks off is only partially paid through disability insurance, and only if you’ve exhausted your paid time off. I am in the habit of putting any time I work when I’m off in my timesheets, so what time I do work will not be billed against my PTO. And I fully plan to insist that I get at least a couple of weeks completely off the office grid.

    3. Alice*

      You sound very thoughtful and clear about what it will take to make sure the work gets done as well as possible. I’m confused about the travel accommodations….

      Also, don’t work during time off! Maybe you could insert some half days in during the 8 weeks, if you really thought it would help, but don’t let it come out of your time off.

    4. Tiffany In Houston*

      You need to check on how your disability insurance works. A lot of policies won’t let you work at all while out on leave. Just an FYI. Though to be honest, the fact that your boss even wants you to work from home after having a baby really sucks. Most new parents are exhausted!

      1. Cucumber*

        I agree most sincerely. That’s not rational, to expect someone to work right after birthing a baby. If they can, that’s gravy, but few parents can until they’ve had time to adjust.

  39. Dad*

    I feel like I’m on the flip side of this question. Since I became a Dad seven months ago, I just haven’t been able to work at the level I used to. I don’t feel bad about using more sick time than I ever have (that’s what it’s there for), but I feel like crap about my output dropping so dramatically when I’m here.

    But I haven’t slept through the night since before my daughter was born. I can’t concentrate. Even when I feel alert, I can’t problem-solve. I can’t remember what I was working on five minutes ago, and stuff falls through the cracks. I feel like I have swapped brains with a much stupider person. I’m scrambling like mad to keep up and I still feel lazy and useless. And this is with my wife handling the lion’s share of late-night duty. I feel like all I can do is try to hide my new incompetence while I run down the clock on my current contract and hope no-one notices.

    1. hildi*

      I could have wrote what you just wrote. I have a 4 year old and 1 year old. And I have to tell you… brain is permanently scrambled. You will NEVER see me use the term “mommy brain” becasue I utterly hate that phrase. But…I know what they’re talking about. I only get about 3.5 – 4 hours of sleep at a time and that’s so hard to sustain. But you find a way to just slog through. I’m assured that one day I’ll get to sleep again. Otherwise I’m going to be seriously pissed at being lied to all this time :) But you’re probably doing better than you think. It’s just so painful to physically feel the way you do and know that in times past you have been more on top.

      1. Zahra*

        Yeah, I haven’t had an uninterrupted night of sleep in 3 years (and some months). There are days when I can barely remember what I’m supposed to be doing. In general, though, I do better than I think. The few things that helped me are mommy hormones (they help with the lack of sleep (at least early on), but you need to breastfeed to keep them up) and co-sleeping. There’s no way I could be this functional to this day if I had had to get up to breastfeed multiple times, every single night (and still now, because I still breastfeed at night only).

        1. hildi*

          I think there must be some kind of hormone or DNA switch or something that happens to new parents so they can function less sleep. I am one of those people that was easily able to get 8-9 hours of sleep pre-kids. I love sleep, I’m a fantastic sleeper. I could nap with the best of them. Sleep has never been an issue for me. Until now. I thought I was dying when my first kid came along. I never knew that kind of exhaustion. I didn’t know if I could make it. But something kicks in (sustained adrenaline?) and I made it through. She was sleeping through the night beautifully then we had another. And I’m back in that interrupted-sleep purgatory. But I’m a long-term nurser with these two, so I suppose I’m asking for it. But it still works for us, so that’s the way it goes. But what I observed this time around is that I was less physically devastated by the lack of sleep with the second. I suppose becuase my body never really recovered? I dunno. {shrugs} How the hell any of make it through is a mystery.

          1. Anonsie*

            I think you get used to it. People’s sleep cycle and their ability to move into REM sleep more quickly alters when their sleep patterns change.

            1. Dad*

              You *feel like* your getting used to it. I no longer feel tired when I’ve only had three or four non-consective hours of sleep. But I’m convinced that’s just my meta-cognitive abilities being so impaired I can’t recognise the feeling of fatigue anymore.

              1. Anonsie*

                Haha, ok, that’s definitely true. You are so used to the feeling that it just becomes your normal baseline.

                People who regularly only sleep 4 hours can potentially get higher quality in those 4 hours than someone who normally does 7 will get on the one night in a week something disrupts them and they only get 4, but does that actually make the regular 4-hour-er feel better? Probably not, or at least not across the board.

          2. Rana*

            Yeah, I’m in a similar situation, with a 10 month old who has never slept for a stretch longer than 5 hours during her whole life. I’m not at all the cranky zombie I was fearing I’d become – before having her I was someone who needed 9 hours to feel fully human – but I’m also very glad I don’t have a job that requires me to operate heavy machinery or perform delicate tasks!

      2. Who are you?*

        I have an 8 and a 9 year old. They sleep through the night and so do I! And now they’re at the age where they sleep in on Saturday mornings and so can I. It’s coming…I promise. :)

        1. hildi*

          Hooray! :) And sleeping in is a foreign concept to me! I suppose I should be happy my kid thinks I’m so incredibly awesome I’m the first thing she has to see in the wee hours of the morning. That’s the long-range perspective I’m taking on this. :)

          1. Editor*

            When our daughter was about four, we figured out if we left the clean breakfast dishes on the table, she could get out her own silverware, pour her own cereal — and, because we put some milk in a small container, pour her own milk. Sometimes juice was in a smaller bottle, too. We got to sleep in and she fixed her own cereal and then played or watched acceptable television, which in those days was less complicated to come by. The cereal in our kitchens has always been in a low cupboard since we let her fix her own.

            Sometimes there were small spills, but there was a paper towel holder set low enough for her to reach, and she could mop up — inexpertly but who cared — on her own. I think she reveled in the independence of having the downstairs to herself.

            Of course, now she’s an adult and hates cereal. And I still bend over every morning to haul it out of the cupboard.

            1. hildi*

              Editor – I’ve been thinking about this lately – about putting out breakfast items in an accessible place. Like I was telling Jamie below, I have the manufacturer’s model of kid that doesn’t want to do things alone. She is just happier doing things alongside of people. So, I have a feeling we’ll lay it all out for her and she’ll still want someone to be with her! ugh. But I’m going to try something like you suggested – you never know!

          2. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

            hildi – I have news for you…my 19 year old is an early riser and wakes me up every morning at 5:00 am so we can watch tv even though I don’t have to get up until 6:00. Weekends when I ask him to be quiet because dh is sleeping he’ll keep opening my door waiting for me to wake up.

            I bitch about it, then we watch TBBT, talk about music, he tells me all kinds of crap I don’t want to know about Iggy Pop and Graham Parsons or whatever musician or actor du jour that he’s been reading up on. If I fall back asleep he sings really loud and when grins like a lunatic when I startle awake and he tells me he didn’t mean to wake me.

            Between my work and his school and work we don’t get a lot of time to hang out at night and I’ll gladly forgo sleep to have a teenage boy who still wants to hang out and talk with his mom. No matter how old it’s still cool when they think it’s awesome to see you first thing in the morning.

            1. hildi*

              Jamie – very cool. You’re lucky, indeed :) I know that my firstborn is the type of person that needs to be with and around other people. She just doesn’t want to be alone. She’s only 4 so maybe that will change a bit as she gets older, but I suspect she’s always going to be like that, like your son just wants to have the interaction. So while it’s overbearing sometimes to ALWAYS have someone hanging on me or yanging at me…..the time will come when it won’t and then I’ll want it back. A timeless dilemma.

    2. Heather*

      I’ve never understood how parents can manage on so little sleep. I have no kids and I’m completely zonked today because I got a crappy night’s sleep last night. If that happened every day for months, I can’t even imagine how little work I’d be able to get done. So props to you for being honest!

      Sometimes I think the people who run the world are the ones who can happily get by on 4 hours of sleep and they have no idea that they’re not the norm. And they’re the ones who get to make the rules.

      1. Jennifer*

        THIS. The highest up person in our office has been known to say that they sleep no more than 4 hours a night. It’s intimidating when the big boss is at work with you until 10 pm and then beats you into the office in the morning. I sometimes feel as if he must think we are all slackers or something….but i just NEED to have 8 hours of sleep or I cannot function normally!!

        1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

          I am so jealous of the 4 hourers – but no way. I can do one night and drag butt the next day but long term – no way.

          I know people who just need 4 hours as their norm and I’m ridiculously jealous of all the extra free time not spent unconscious.

          1. Cucumber*

            Those people are mutations. Really. ( What disturbs me is the societal pressure that we should all be little Stakhovites; if so and so only needs five hours of sleep a day, well, everyone should do the same in order to save face and prove they’re working hard.

            Many of the people who claim they don’t need so much sleep, actually do. Delayed sleep phase syndrome (“night owls”) and parasomnias (sleepwalking etc.) run in my family so it’s an area I’ve researched, not to mention I was injured by a driver who was sober but trying to get by on just 5 hours of sleep. It’s really not sustainable long-term for the vast majority of people, to get less than 7-8 hours of sleep.

    3. Anonsie*

      I don’t have kids but I know exactly how you feel. I’ve had this ramping up for a while now due to chronic illness, and I’m absolutely petrified that it will never go away. There’s no way to “treat” it so all I can do it hope it goes away on its own.

  40. Observer*

    I haven’t read any of the other responses, so I may be repeating. Also, if the OP has added any detail, I haven’t seen it yet.

    My first thought is that you really need to re-think your organizational culture and management style. If this were one or two people, I would say it’s that staff. But if 9 out of 10 high performers have had their work so seriously affected that they’ve needed multiple PIPs each, there is something in the environment that’s affecting them.

    Now, you may decide that your family hostile policies / procedures are really necessary or of more value to the organization than retaining high performers, and that there are no realistic ways for you to balance the issues with other actively family friendly things, that is a legitimate decision. As a parent, I would definitely be unhappy, and would also be looking for another job. But I recognize that you need to make the decisions that best suit your organization.

    The only things you need to make sure of are that you are clear about the tradeoffs you are making, and you are clear, honest, respectful and compassionate with your staff when you deliver your message.

  41. Amanda*

    I’m a little confused about the comment the OP made regarding how employees use the generous sick/vacation leave time, however they are often absent due to kids’ sickness, etc. If they are absent because their child is sick, then aren’t they simply using the sick/PTO days they are allotted per company policy? If company policy allots them those days and they use them, this doesn’t seem like an issue. Or perhaps they are using up all available sick/vacation days and are still calling out sick?

    It seems like the company hired many of these employees when they were younger and had fewer “life” responsibilities and were therefore more willing and able to stay late, arrive early, travel frequently, etc. Therefore, that’s the type of performance the company grew to depend upon in order to achieve it’s desired results. Now, the staff has aged 10 years and they are not able to make those same commitments. It sounds like you are stuck between wanting to hire young go-getters with few out-of-work responsibilities and wanting to retain staff you have made significant investments in who are no longer in the position to devote their lives to their job. So, either your organization has to change its expectations, or you need to

    The arrive late/leave early stuff seems simple enough to deal with – address the issues when they happen and if they continue to happen, terminate the employee. Assign staff to travel or lead summer initiatives on a fair schedule – if those things need to get done, they need to get done and I guess it’s too bad, so sad that no one “wants” to do them. If it’s part of the job, then end of story. If this becomes a problem for those employees, I assume they will eventually find employment that better fits their availability.

  42. Recruiter*

    This is pretty discouraging for the OP. I’m sure he/she doesn’t want to penalize the workers for having a family life. I was a single mother for a while, and I had a full-time job in addition to attending college. It boils down to this-if you choose to have a profession along with children, you need to have back-up plans. I had my normal babysitter, plus a back-up babysitter, plus my grandparents offered to watch my child in the event my other two babysitters weren’t able to do so. Missing work wasn’t an option for me-I HAD to be there.

    I think the OP needs to create an attendance requirement. If her workers have to be off due to a child’s doctor appointment or sickness, they should be required to supply a doctor’s note or school note as documentation of the reason they are off work. I think it’s reasonable for the OP to only allow a limited amount of these absences before the worker(s) face consequences. By doing this, you show that you acknowledge that having children comes with emergencies, etc., but that taking advantage of your good graces will not be tolerated.

    As far as the productivity/lethargy issues, how about having a wellness seminar? Have a nurse/doctor/nurse practitioner come speak about ways to be alert and productive during the day. I’m tired a lot of mornings when I come to work, but I’ve found that taking vitamins, especially B12, helps with my alertness and drowsiness.

    Being a parent and having a full-time job is hard, no doubt about it. But the OP needs to put strict guidelines in place in order for her workers to understand that while they’re there, they need to be productive. And if they fail to come to work the required amount, they will face consequences.

    1. Colette*

      I disagree with requiring notes – it’s a waste of everyone’s time to have to go to the doctor if they have a cold, for example, and I can’t imagine schools are in the habit of writing notes to get parents out of work. Setting absentee limits sounds like a reasonable thing to do until someone has a child born prematurely or who has a serious-but-curable medical condition that requires a lot of absences in the short term, but not on an ongoing basis.

      I think the OP needs to figure out whether her expectations are reasonable, explain her expectations to her employees, and then take the appropriate action if the employees don’t meet the expectations. It may be that she’s expecting more than her employees can deliver at this point of their lives, and what was once a good fit no longer is.

      1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

        Emphatically agree – it’s not just a waste of the employees time when all they need is rest and fluids, but it takes up appointments so those truly in distress need to wait, forces them to go to the doctor and expose themselves to sick people when their immune system is already taking a hit, and its an unnecessary expense for both the co-pay and the hit to the insurance company.

        No one feels sorry for the insurance companies but premiums go up if everyone in the company has to run to the doctor for every little bug.

      2. Mister Pickle*

        I also agree emphatically. I’m not sure what the general consensus is, but IMHO requiring doctor’s notes and such is totally inappropriate in a professional environment.

    2. Observer*

      Attendance requirements are one thing. But treating people like misbehaving and untrustworthy children is a sure fire way to ensure permanent disengagement. requiring “documentation” of illness is wasteful – and in many cases can drive the employer’s insurance costs up, because the “experience rating” for their insurance usage indicates a high usage. And for what?

    3. Callie*

      Requiring a doctor’s note for every absence is ridiculous. What about illnesses that you don’t need to go to the doctor for? It’s difficult to get appointments that are not emergencies. If my kid has a run of the mill stomach virus that will resolve itself in a day or so, the doctor will not even book you an appointment because there’s nothing they can do. Plus, there’s the issue of having to PAY for that visit, and if your employee health plan is self funded it just drives the business’s costs up. It’s a stupid idea.

  43. Single Worker*

    I understand OP. I see the same thing – only worse – in my office. It’s up to the company to make the necessary changes – or they’ll lose their high performing single workers – at least at my company. I enjoy co-workers who are smart, who work hard, who are creative because it pushes me to be better. It sets the energy of the office.

    1. Alice*

      …and high performing parents, of course. I know plenty of hard working parents who would take their skills elsewhere if their work environment started filling up with under-performers.

  44. Scott M*

    “If they are absent because their child is sick, then aren’t they simply using the sick/PTO days they are allotted per company policy? ”

    I think the issue is that these are unplanned absences, even if they are covered by sick/PTO allowances. And unplanned absences multiply when you have kids.

    1. Amanda*

      I would think any sick leave would often be unplanned, whether the employee had children or not. Unless the employer differentiates between unplanned sick leave and planned sick leave, then I don’t see how the employer could be dissatisfied when the leave time given is actually taken. Although I can see how it would be more disruptive to the office environment to have employees unexpectedly take unplanned sick leave (a day here, a day there), as opposed to say a planned 2 week recovery from a surgery.

  45. Peachtree Girl*

    I don’t have children and have picked up the slack when co-workers with children have needed help. I didn’t like it much, but this was in a field were you did what you had to do, for the greater good of keeping things going. That said –

    I think the problem here is very different from what the OP thinks it is. From what I read, it sounds like this organization is seriously understaffed. If this is a consistent problem with half your staff, it’s systemic, not an individual performance problem. If running this business requires all staff to work flat out 100% of the time, if staff taking vacations and and needing to arrive late and leave early (even on a somewhat regular basis) is creating an on-going crisis, there is simply too much work for too few hands. What if a childless member of staff got ill, or suddenly had to care for an aging parent? The same issues could apply to them. Unless you want to throw away a decade of investment in these people and go through the time, effort, and expense of replacing them, I’d consider a few new hires.

    1. Heather*

      This. If everyone is working a 60 hour week just to get the work done, then you need to hire more employees or cut back on the amount of work the organization takes on.

      1. MT*

        Ignore the hours, part of the job requires travel, and if the new parents don’t want to travel that’s an issue.

  46. Joey*

    Now I’m not meaning to derail here but I always wonder how much of the hostility towards families is from folks who want the same treatment, but don’t really have a need to ask for some flexibility.

    I say that because I always tell my folks I understand they have personal lives and that I will be flexible with them, but I wonder how many folks (ie singles) feel more burdened because they just feel like non family reasons for flexibility are seen as less important even though I say otherwise.

    1. Mike C.*

      At least from personal experience, it’s a lot bigger than that. Here’s a few of the many things you get to randomly deal with from family, coworkers and so on –

      How do you not have kids yet, you’re not an adult until you have kids, when are you having kids, having kids is the highest calling there is, you’ll change your mind, when are you having kids, why don’t you have kids, you’re just goofing off if you don’t have kids, how can you deny your wife children, you’ll never know the true meaning of love until you have kids, tick tock!, it’s the highest calling a woman can have, when are you going to have kids, but you’ll love being parents, how can you be a real man if you don’t pass your name down to your son (wtf?!), Jim over there is a real family man, give him the big promotion…. and so on.

      And yes, this is way worse on my wife for all the reasons that come to mind.

      So when random strangers, far flung family members and coworkers suddenly have this intense, invested interest in one’s own sex life, you get a bit hostile when the topic comes up. Our media is saturated with stories about how someone isn’t “grown up” and “truly an adult” unless and until they have a spouse, a house and specifically sized (not to small and not too large) number of children. In fact, the amount of “love” contained in such a family is often depicted by the number of children present. As for your coworkers, I’m willing to guess that they’re reacting to what they’ve always been told.

      Good on you for being fair, it’s appreciated.

      1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

        When my kids were small the only thing I used to wonder about childfree people is if they knew I was jealous that they had significantly less risk of stepping on legos in barefeet.

        Now that my kids are older I look at them and wistfully wonder what it’s like not to spend all your money educating other people just because they look like younger versions of you.

        Seriously, though, it sucks that people say that stuff. It’s the height of rudeness to inquire about other people’s reproductive plans.

        1. Mike C.*

          Not in my household. :D

          And to be fair, I see tons of parents get the same sort of crap. It’s more along the line of folks who insist they know exactly what should be fed, how many/what kind of activities kids should and should not be exposed to, and how many more children they should have though. Anti-vaxxers though, christ.

          1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

            It’s really the problem of it being soooo much easier to live other people’s lives for them than worry about your own.

            Here’s a novel idea that I’m really hoping catches on someday – how about we all make life choices that work best for us (and those affected by said choices) and respect that others are doing the same and keep our mouths shut absent witnessing harm? And just make it a universal given that our life choices aren’t necessarily right for anyone but us.

            You don’t have to condone other people’s choices, but you shouldn’t think your two cents matters either unless you are preventing harm.

            :) Crazy talk, I know.

        2. Anonsie*

          When my kids were small the only thing I used to wonder about childfree people is if they knew I was jealous that they had significantly less risk of stepping on legos in barefeet.

          We do know, and it sustains us. We feed off the tears you shed every time a Lego jabs its sharp little corners into the soft, unprotected footmeat of our child bearing peers.


        3. Trillian*

          That suggests an explanation for something that has puzzled me for years: Why parents don’t seem to notice, or if they notice, don’t seem to mind having their floors covered in Cheerios.

          Is it because Cheerios don’t hurt when you step on them barefoot?

          1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

            They are much worse because of the smell…a thousand legos before one Cheerio would be my motto if I had ever thought of this before. :)

            I couldn’t raise my kids in a peanut butter free house, but we were Cheerio free till they got jobs and started thinking they could spend their money on subversive things like forbidden breakfast cereal.

          2. Rana*

            Nah, it’s more that the little buggers get everywhere, all the time, every day, and your kid loves them so it’s an easy way to get some peace while you’re preparing your own food, but the baby is clumsy and the cereal bits are light and roll long distances when they fall from high chair height, and then it’s just too much of a PITA to sweep them up after every meal because either the baby’s awake and you need to keep her from chewing a toilet paper roll to bits or she’s asleep and you’d rather use that time to veg out on the internet or do something that brings in money than pick up those frakkin’ little cereal Os for the umpteedumpth time.

            I did mention upthread I’ve not been getting much sleep, right? ;)

      2. Heather*

        Don’t forget “you’re so good with kids, you’d make such a great parent”! Otherwise, nailed it.

        1. Mike C.*

          I still don’t understand why people say that to me. I have serious problems trying to relate to small children, babies scare the crap out of me and the older ones I’d just teach them all the cool stuff that would get them in serious trouble.

          I’m the last person you’d want to leave your kids around.

          1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

            I’m the last person you’d want to leave your kids around.

            Scariest t-shirt message ever!

          2. hildi*

            Mike, I’m in no way arguing with you. You make some really great points and I defnitely agree with your and Jamie’s conversation above. I wanted to respond to the piece about why people would say “you’d be such a good parent!” (which I agree is just not necessary for someone to say). And when you say babies scare you, etc. – been there. And now that I have my own it’s so incredibly freaky to me that I really like kids. I think becuase I can see my own girls in other kids and that has softened me to kids in general. But I don’t think I would have gotten there otherwise if I hadn’t been a parent. So, in no way am I suggesting you should feel differently, but perhaps that’s why people say stuff like that?? Because it honest to God is really different when you have your own and people are stupidly trying to convey that because they want everyone to feel the same thing? My coworker calls it brainwashing :)

              1. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

                You love math. Next time someone tries to sell you on parenthood sell them on math right back. If they ask why you don’t have kids, ask them why they don’t know hexadecimal math. If they ask when you will have them ask if their graduate degree is in pure or applied mathematics. If they assume you’ll have kids, you can assume everyone has an advanced math degree.

                It would make a point and I be wildly entertaining. Because I happen to love math but believe me way more people love babies than algorithms.

            1. Elizabeth*

              Because it honest to God is really different when you have your own and people are stupidly trying to convey that because they want everyone to feel the same thing?

              But what if it isn’t? What if I still have the instant revulsion to all of the fluids that a small person has no control over? It isn’t like I can send them back if I find out it isn’t different.

              I have a small group of children in whom I have an interest in watching grow up. A small subset even share a small percentage of DNA with me. That’s as close as I want to get.

              1. Observer*

                I don’t think Hildi was trying to say that you should therefore have children. I think her point was that this is what people are thinking, and want to convey.

                But, you have a point – you really CANNOT send them back. So, yes, people really need to stay out of other people’s decisions about having children. And they also need to stay out of what those decisions actually are. In other words, it’s not your business if someone decided not to even try having kids, decided to stop trying, or decided not to pursue treatment. Just, stay out of it.

                1. hildi*

                  Thanks, Observer – yeah, I was just trying to convey what the busybodies are maybe coming from when they say that stuff. Because they’ve found out that’s it not as horrible as they thought, etc. and want everyone to join in the fun.

                  But Elizabeth – for sure I think some people are just fundamentally grossed out by all that stuff – thus I agree with what Observer said above.

                  FWIW, my kids are absolutely disgusting Petri dishes. I have always thought kids are some of the nastiest, dirtiest things on the planet. Have you watched a one year old eat? Kiss their sibling? haha. Snot, food, etc all mixed together. Some people will never get over that and some people find a way past it. haha. Trust your gut -that’s what I think. And no one should try to talk you out of your feelings.

              2. C Average*

                *Puts up hand*

                My sister was born when I was seven. I thought she was the most revolting creature in existence–loud, foul-smelling, bad-tempered, demanding. I vowed never to breed. It terrified me to know that it was possible to have a baby come home with you and live with you forever when you didn’t love it even one little bit.

                We’re close now. She turned out OK and so did I. I am still strongly baby-averse. I have two lovely stepkids who were old enough, when I met them, to converse intelligently and take care of their own bathroom stuff. That’s my cutoff point between “children to be avoided at all costs” and “children who have the potential to be interesting to get to know.”

        2. Poe*

          Children love me. They’re like cats–they know who in the room most wants to be ignored by them, and then they clamber all over that poor, innocent person. Also, as someone who has requested the same flexibility in several past jobs that was offered to parents, and had the request turned down (that’s a benefit for families, flexibility is for family responsibilities, etc), it can really suck to be a single, childless person in a family-friendly company.

    2. Ali*

      This is me. I said above that I’ve noticed at my job how married coworkers (both with no kids) and one with a kid seem to have better schedules, grab the requests for good hours or days off on holidays and so forth. A couple of friends have asked me why don’t I request a better schedule, ask for better hours on holidays? (I work in media, so getting them off is almost out of the question, unlike people who work more traditional jobs.) I have to admit I have trouble figuring out why I need the time as opposed to coworkers who are married and/or have kids. My family is mostly local, so I can’t say I’m traveling to visit them. I don’t have kids so can’t use “My little one is sick/has a doctor appointment.” I’m not even in a relationship so I can’t say I have to go to my boyfriend’s family function.

      I do have season tickets for the local sports team, but even at times I feel silly saying I can’t be available some nights because of games I’ve paid for or because I’m traveling to see them on the road. I feel like it’s trivial compared to someone planning a wedding and taking several weeks for a honeymoon/ceremony or so-and-so has a kid and can’t work this day because he has to babysit. It can be hard and I wonder if I’m less of a team player because I have sports tickets and can’t work past a certain time sometimes.

    3. Sam*

      When my childfree staff say things like “Well, I don’t have kids or anything, but if I could just get out early on the third Tuesday of each month. . .” I tell them “Whatever you do in your life outside of work is as important to you as my family is to me. Kids don’t take precedence over night classes, sports leagues, elder care, yoga, whatever else you have going on in your life; we’ll find a way to work it out as long as we’re all getting the work done.”
      That said, I know people still feel weird about flexing time to take that yoga class, where parents (in my office) tend to feel more comfortable leaving to make it to their kids’ football games, etc.

    4. C Average*

      I think you might be on to something here.

      I’ve asked for and gotten time off and/or flexibility in my schedule to volunteer, to train for a sport, to attend classes both related and unrelated to my work, to go to recurring appointments, and to spend time with out-of-town company. I’ve simply said to my manager, “I’d like to leave early on Thursdays for the next month. I’ll come in early, I’ll work through my lunch, and I’ll check in from home in the evening to make sure nothing’s gone undone.” I generally don’t offer details. Only once have I had a request denied, and that was due to the fact that other people were out on the day I was asking for flexibility.

      Of course, I also come early, stay late, often do some work in the evenings and weekends, have worked on many holidays, travel when I’m asked to travel, etc. At this point I’ve got over 200 unused hours of PTO banked because I never use it as fast as I accrue it.

      If you’re a resentful childfree person irked by your colleagues getting all their flex-time requests approved, try making some flex-time requests for yourself for things that interest you. Maybe your manager is fairer than you think about accommodating these things.

  47. HR Manager*

    The post discusses a lot of presumably negative habits, but doesn’t specify what isn’t getting done or what impact it is having on the business. There is nothing wrong with someone being tired or lethargic, unless this is leading to mistakes or poor work. Nor is taking time off to tend to sick kids, if it doesn’t push back any work deadlines. If work quality is dropping, then that should be addressed in itself, and not as an issue with (or byproduct) of parenthood.

    Just a personal pet peeve of mine — when people talk about great policies and how people take advantage of them. If they were not mean to be taken advantage of them, then don’t have them! Please! It’s like giving your kid a lollipop and then being mad that s/he ate it. Write practices and policies as you expect them to be used, and please do not begrudge your employees for using something you’ve offered.

    1. Joey*

      You’re oversimplifying. Toeing the line of acceptability is a problem. Especially when you’ve conditioned me to expect more from you.

      1. HR Manager*

        I meant to type this in my original reply:
        EDIT: when people talk about great policies and how people take FULL advantage of them

        It didn’t sound like the manager was complaining about the workers breaking rules or policy, but that they now no longer worked as many hours, that they now use sick time for kids when there was no need to before, or that they had other priorities (life!) over work. The problem was couched as habit changes due to parenthood – not necessarily that work and quality went downhill, and the manager seems resentful that they are using time off and sick time as intended for them. It’s like when companies offer you vacation time, but give you dirty looks for actually wanting to use them.

        If it were not parenthood, but another life style issue, would it be the same result? Let’s say I move and my commute goes from 15 minutes to 1 hr. I now come in at 9am vs. 8am (though not required) and can no longer stay past 6pm, but I still get my work done. It would be unfair to now consider me less reliable of an employee. This should be what work-life balance is all about; if you want max engagement from your employees, your practices should support them through lifestyle changes too where possible (e.g., flexible hours, work from home, etc.).

  48. DB*

    I’m not sure how to word this without sounding slightly snarky, which I do not intend! In my experience at least, organizations are happy to find young “high-achieving, high energy, good thinkers” but not so happy to hire the same people who are slightly older. Depending on the answers to all the questions posted prior to this about office environments and expectations vs. employee burnout etc. and considering so many of your employees are dealing with this issue at the same time, it might be beneficial to look at your hiring practices and standards to see if perhaps some changes need to be made in terms of age bias.

    1. Joey*

      Hmm. She’s describing behavior changes she sees, not speculating that they might occur. How is that biased?

      1. DB*

        Not saying it is, just saying that if a large portion of the employees are having this issue perhaps they should take a look at hiring practices and norms.

  49. aliceblue*

    Is one person worse than all the rest? Often in situations (classrooms as well as workplaces) there are a number of “borderline” people who are easily influenced and their behavior goes up or down based on the actions of the group leaders. If one person is consistently a problem this might be “leading the way” for the rest. X leaves early, doesn’t go out of town, etc. so A, B, C, and Z all follow the leader. Perhaps, after adequate warnings and time for improvement it would be the best to fire X (for not meeting reasonable job goals, NOT for being a parent). This would not only remove a disruptive influence but sends a clear message that slacking is not going to be tolerated. (of course, this is only useful if job expectations are reasonable and achievable for most employees. Unless hired for such, 12-14 hour days, 6 days a week is not USUALLY reasonable).

  50. Bri*

    I’m childfree, a hard worker, and dedicated to my career. And it’s funny, everyone in my office makes fun of me for not wanting children.

    It’s hard to be taken seriously if you’re not a parent. Somehow, many people think you’re not “a real, responsible adult” until you’ve had a baby. Doesn’t matter that I pay my bills, run my own business, and work a regular 9-5. Doesn’t matter that I have two degrees, healthy pets, and a happy relationship. No, the “only way” I can know *true* love and responsibility is if I have children. That is the attitude we have to fight against.

    1. Mike C.*

      Well maybe if you sold off your Porsche collection, and toned down the bottle service at the club to only once a week you’d realize the error of your ways.


      /No seriously, my wife gets the same thing. It really pisses me off. Fecundity is not an appropriate measure of moral value.

    2. J-nonymous*

      Why is it an attitude you have to fight against? Are opportunities for advancement at work being withheld from you because of your childfree status? I mean, if so then I’d recommend leaving, because you’re not going to convince these people of anything different.

      But if not–if it’s just the general attitude of people around you–try letting it roll off you and not taking it so personally.

      Your comment sounds an awful lot like another post on AAM today from the woman whose coworker who keeps commenting on the OP’s Michael Kors bags: It’s annoying, the coworker is being a pain in the ass nosy person, but the OP needs to not take it so personally.

      1. Poe*

        It’s an attitude we have to fight against because it is not appropriate for society to find it acceptable to judge someone’s choices in this way. Over time, hundreds of people telling you how you should be living your life really, really wears on you. People making judgements that you are “immature” or “flaky” because you have not started a family may not directly hamper your career, but it very well might cloud their interactions with you. I am single by choice, which seems to indicate that I am going to be a spinster. I thought we stopped judging women (and men) as spinsters and barren and all that garbage a while ago, but no, it is still alive and well.

        This hasn’t been very clear, but I don’t know how else to say it: when people tell you that the way you are living your life is wrong, that’s something worth fighting back against.

        1. J-nonymous*

          “[T]hat’s something worth fighting back against.”

          To what purpose? To reform their thinking? Noble, I suppose, but unlikely. And probably not appropriate in the workplace.

          To set boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable commentary on your personal life? Absolutely. Tons of agreement there.

          1. Poe*

            I’ll go with “noble” even if unlikely. Quite frankly, if one person realizes that what they are doing is unacceptable (and the unacceptable part IS the commentary, they can think whatever they want but don’t let it come out of their mouth) then my duty is done. I realize that I could just live my life quietly in my own way and ignore everyone, but I do hope that 50 years from now a single woman with no kids will not have to hear everyone’s opinion on her ring finger and her womb.

      2. Mike C.*

        It angers me to feel pressure from others to take on a huge responsibility for no other reason than “because”, when as an adult I shouldn’t otherwise have such personal issues questioned in public. It’s the suggestion that my family doesn’t actually exist or is of little relative importance because of the lack of children, and thus neither is my time nor my life. On top of that is the belief that I have an obligation to bear/raise children, and that by not doing so, I’m being selfish, not living up to the standards of my gender and am less worthy as a human being. That’s why it’s an attitude worth fighting.

        Telling people to “try letting it roll off you” is rich. Don’t you think this was done before? Do you really think this is the first time folks have been called names or have had uncomfortable social situations and have no tools for dealing with them? It’s personal because it invades a highly private part of one’s life, a part that is culturally never spoken of in causal, public settings.

        I ask you, why shouldn’t we fight it?

    3. Nerd Girl*

      I look at life like a cake. It’s pretty tasty without icing, right? But add the right kind of icing and it becomes amazing. Some people like buttercream, some like whipped cream, some like powdered sugar. That what kids and career are: icing on the cake of life. The suburban life: spouse, kids, house, PTO…those are all part of my icing. It makes my cake super tasty. It’s not an icing everyone has a stomach for. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean that their icing is any less full of flavor.

      1. Heather*

        Perfect! My childfree life is buttercream. Kids would be whipped cream, or even worse, that fake “bettercreme” crap. :)

        1. Rana*

          Hey, now. I think it’s more that yours is a lovely light zesty lemon buttercream, and mine’s currently a chocolate buttercream. :)

          Both are tasty, both are good – but if you’re not a person who likes chocolate (or lemon – I happen to like both) then it’s silly to insist to you that it’s better, let alone that you’re a terrible person for not liking it.

  51. Isabelle*

    I see a different side to this. Are all of these parents single parents, or people with absolutely no family, friends or social circle willing to help them? I’m guessing they’re not.

    Take a working couple with children. One parent works for an employer who is very strict about attendance, the other parent works for a lax employer. Guess which parent is going to take care of the bulk of child-related absences? I think the problem isn’t parents vs. non-parents. It’s a lax business environment where employees have learned that actions have no consequences – repeated performance improvement plans and no firing?

    OP, you need to lay down the law. Your sentence “the problem gets better for a while and then returns” says it all. It means they CAN make adjustments, they are CHOOSING not to because your company culture has allowed them to get away with it. Be clear about what you expect from your staff, be compassionate to anyone with special circumstances, but most of all enforce consequences.

  52. Elizabeth*

    As with anything, I think both sides

    If they’re requesting only local meetings or the projects you have require those kinds of commitments, then it’s not unreasonable to state that travel and/or summer work is part of a particular project, and when looking for a person/people to lead it, you’re looking for someone who can handle that type of schedule.

    Same with hours. I was exempt at my last job, but we were still expected to put in at least 35 hours a week. I don’t know what your organizational policy is, but if people are consistently skimping on their hours (for whatever reason, kid-related or not), I think it warrants a conversation and disciplinary action if it continues. Just make sure your expectations are reasonable–I’ve worked in non-profits my entire career, and while we have crazy busy weeks/periods and accept that as coming with the territory, most people (with children or not) don’t want to put in more than 40 hour weeks on a regular basis.

    The one part of your post that did rub me a little wrong was the “they take full advantage of vacation and sick leave.” It may not have been meant that way, but it came out a little grudging. As others have noted, they’ve earned that time per company policy and it should be granted without ill will.

    All that said, OP, if most of your employees have been with the company for 10+ years, I doubt it’s a horrifically awful place to work, and your points seem reasonable. I’d take one more look at yourself as a manager and your company policies to make sure you aren’t making unreasonable work demands, but assuming not, don’t be afraid to broach the subject. Your employees who are parents chose to work and have children, and it’s up to them as adults to make sure they can meet the responsibilities that come with both commitments. Freak things happen, but if it’s really and regularly affecting your company’s work (and the workloads of their co-workers who have to pick up the slack), then it’s an issue that needs to be broached.

  53. spek*

    I don’t understand how “family friendly” enters into the equation. Everyone has commitments outside of work that they value, whether its a new baby girl, training for a triathalon, continuing thier education, or maybe just addicted to their X-Box. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. Other than extenuating circumstances like a very sick child, or other family member, or a personal health issue – these kind of problems need to be looked at in a much simpler manner:
    1. Are the hours demanded by the job unreasonable? Over 50 hours (60 in some industries, 40 in others)? If so, then the employee may need help.
    2. Does the pay reflect the level of commitment required by the position, according to indistry norms?
    If they are well compensated employees that are only mailing in 30 hours per week, regardless of family or other commitments, then they need to step up or move on. If they are underpaid or overworked or both then adjustmens should be made.

  54. J-nonymous*

    I tend to get a little irritated by sweeping claims about the performance of employees with children, but I recognize that you (OP) have a small workforce, and 4 employees’ behavior is not an indictment of all working parents.

    That said, you’ve mentioned how you’ve addressed the issues with the employees individually. Have you tried discussing this as a group? There is a specific amount of work to be done in a given period of time, and a number of new initiatives, while there are only a finite number of employees with–let’s be honest–a pretty specific set of hours that they can reasonably work.

    Maybe as a group it’s time to figure out how to collaborate within the team to get the work completed (top priority) while ensuring no one set of employees (childless or having children) shoulders the brunt of all work hours (high priority) and still allowing for engaging and rewarding work to be shared by all employees (also high priority).

    I think if you have this conversation with all your employees, without couching it in terms of performance problems, you could find that you get really good suggestions about how to tackle these challenges. You’d need to be willing to listen–really listen–to what your employees have to say about it.

  55. Jamie =^_^= (in lieu of avatar)*

    I’m curious as to when the work issue started. If they all started having kids about 5 years ago, has it been going on for years or is it recently that it’s gotten bad? Because sometimes things aren’t a big deal when it’s a couple of people, but when it’s everyone it isn’t sustainable.

    And are they demanding not to travel or just requesting the local events? Because if they are just requesting, but not refusing to go out of town when assigned that’s normal. People can request their preferences as long as they don’t balk when they aren’t given their way every time. Are you alternating the local events so that those who prefer that have a turn (and not just parents – whoever requests them.)

    I do have to say after reading all the comments there does sound like something more is going on. That’s a lot of people to stay for so long, which is a testament to your org, but stagnation does happen if people aren’t given opportunities for new challenges and the ability to stretch professionally…especially with inherently high achieving employees. Burnout was mentioned up thread and it’s very possible it’s a contributing factor.

    Paying over market at a very prestigious place, as OP mentioned in the comments, can create a golden cage for formerly high achieving employees where they are bored or stagnating with the job itself but it’s very hard to leave for less money. Maybe this doesn’t fit – but it’s something to think about because it’s not likely that this kind of long term performance drop (as opposed to short time when the baby is first born or any major illnesses/issues) being so pervasive doesn’t have other contributing factors. After all, most offices employ a significant percentage of parents.

    1. Elsajeni*

      Because sometimes things aren’t a big deal when it’s a couple of people, but when it’s everyone it isn’t sustainable.

      I was thinking about this, too. Since the OP mentions that they want to be a family-friendly workplace, and since it’s such a small workforce, I’m wondering if what happened was something like: five years ago, the first of their 20 employees has a baby. Hooray! Congratulations! Everyone is excited! And the company, not really having had policies or plans in place for how flexible they can be with new parents, errs on the side of over-flexibility — because, of course, they want to be family-friendly, and after all it’s only one person. But as more and more employees have kids and need to use those policies, it starts to become unsustainable, until you end up at… well, where the OP is at.

  56. Ms. Anonymity*

    The OP doesn’t say what kind of work environment it is. If you don’t offer flex time, maybe that’s something that could be done with a core set of hours that everyone must be in the office. You could offer it to everyone, those with and those without kids, and trust them to do the work that needs done. As for choosing when they’re going out of town, or taking on projects, that needs to stop. Have a rotation so it’s fair to everyone in the office, communicate it, and set a new expectation that this is the way it is. Good luck OP!

  57. Michele*

    I’m going to start with the end of your message, OP, and I’ll preface this by saying that I’m a (somewhat) new parent himself, with a 16 month old, so I suppose I’ve got a vested interest here: You claim that you want to be a family-friendly workplace, but some of the things you said prior to that indicate otherwise. Becoming a parent changes things – most things – for most people. For better or worse, work will simply never be the most important thing in a person’s life once they become a parent, but LOTS of people can and continue to be top performers with the right kind of flexibility.

    So if you want to be family friendly and best facilitate the kind of high-performance culture you’ve long enjoyed, here are my recommendations: Give up on the notion of there being any such thing as late and early in the work place. Institute a flex-time policy where you have pre-defined “core” hours that enable ALL employees (not just parents) to decide how they’d like to structure their workday. My company has core hours from 9:30 to 2:30, meaning all employees need to be in the office between those hours, but what they do on either side of that is at their discretion, so long as they’re in the office for a full 8 hours. Since 9:30-2:30 is only 5 hours, that means employees can flex up to as much as 3 hours on either side of that. So, as an example, I arrive in the office at 6:30am and leave at 3:30. My husband has similar flexibility in his job, so he arrives in the office at 9:30 and leaves at 5:30. This provides great flexibility for our family, enables each of us to spend a good chunk of time with our child each day (which is important, since little ones tend to go to bed at 7pm), and minimizes the amount of childcare we need to use. This flexibility does not impact our employers in a measurable way because we’re both professionals who largely work on projects, and we each spend plenty of time in the office for the sake of meetings and such. Clearly, this may not work in an environment where the “when” of work actually matters.

    Another way you can create a culture that is truly committed to enabling employees to achieve work-life balance is to institute Flex Fridays. My company enables employees to work half-days on Fridays, so long as they meet their billable hours requirement by noon on Friday. So many employees work 9 hours per day Monday through Thursday, and then work a half-day on Fridays. I have scheduled every single doctors appointment my son has ever had for Friday afternoon, which means I’ve never had to take time off for them, because I was already off to begin with.

    Finally, you can empower employees to work from home. So many employers push back on this notion, even though most employees ALREADY work from home at least sometimes – but usually on their own time in the evenings or on the weekends, rather than during regular business hours. Do you need to let people telecommute 100% of the time? Of course not. But perhaps provide each employee (all of them, not just the parents) with the option to work from home 2 days per week. Choose one day that is off-limits, so that ALL employees will be in the office for the sake of critical meetings, but otherwise, leave it up to individual employees and their managers to decide what works best.

    These kinds of changes may be hard for you to swallow, but THESE are the things that make truly family friendly workplaces. Not just that….they make them EMPLOYEE friendly. Simply letting people leave early on occasion without reprimand, but then taking to the internet to complain about it….that is NOT family/employee friendly. That’s lip-service.

    For the record, I work in HR. I’ve been a part of the change-process in implementing these kinds of measure, and in my experience, providing employees with this kind of autonomy and flexibility goes a VERY long way in terms of breeding goodwill and facilitating a high-performance culture. But you’ve gotta do it across the board: no special treatment for parents, because that will breed the exact opposite of goodwill amongst everyone else.

    1. Rana*

      That’s the sort of workplace in which I would love to work! For me, flexibility in how I handle my time has always trumped pay – it’s why I stayed in academia so long, and one of the things I value most about being self-employed now. The the most frustrating jobs I had were bad not due to unpleasant co-workers, or unreasonable bosses – though those one were not enjoyable, no – but because for me the worst thing is butt-in-seat expectations when the workload doesn’t require it (meaning lots of dead time being bored for lack of things to do, even after pushing for more work, or feeling frustrated that the reward for being efficient and productive was boredom for the rest of the day instead of time off). I’m a sprinter when it comes to work – I go full-out for short bursts – and the usual drip-drip-drip pace of most 9-5 workplaces just kills me.

  58. amp2140*

    Also, be careful about what criteria you use to classify as non-productive. My brother is 16, and my dad still needs to pick him up from school (no bussing). His boss once spoke to him about leaving to pick up my brother, and my dad replied “I never take lunch, I always stay late, and I often work on the weekends. On the days I pick up my son, I’m just taking my lunch break between 3:30-4. I’m almost always online before 4pm.”

    Granted, this was from a crazy hardworking guy to a boss that expected the performers to work like maniacs and the coasters to take it easy.

  59. Amtelope*

    I don’t think you can define yourself as “family-friendly” and simultaneously expect people to work long hours (if you’re satisfied with your employees working 40 hours, disregard that, but that’s not the impression I’m getting), never be unavailable for travel, refrain from coming to work late or leaving early, and miss minimal work due to sick kids, school closings, etc.

    I’m not saying expecting those things is wrong. I’m saying that family-friendly workplaces and high-pressure, leanly staffed workplaces with long hours and a lot of travel are two different kinds of environments, and it would help both you and your employees to make decisions about which one you want to be. For comparison’s sake, I work for an education industry company that makes being family-friendly a high priority: I work 35 hours a week, am encouraged to use personal time to attend my kid’s school events as well as staying home when she’s sick, can work from home one day a week, and can easily leave early or late. (And others use the same flexibility to help care for aging parents or sick partners, so it’s not just a benefit offered to parents.)

    If your priority is being family-friendly, I would suggest hiring more people so that it’s not a problem when people miss work frequently to take care of kids, and taking a hard look at whether you’re expecting people to work so many hours that it makes it hard for them to have other priorities in their lives besides work. If you can’t staff out of town or summer meetings with your current employees, you might try to hire specifically for those roles, and see if shifting travel away from current employees helps lessen their stress and improve their morale.

    If being family-friendly isn’t a priority for you, I’d push more aggressively with the PIPs (as several people have suggested, make backsliding the same as failure to improve), and have serious talks with your lowest-performing employees about whether this is still the job they want. Encouraging them to move on to different jobs that might fit their current stage of life better — and giving them good recommendations when they’re job hunting — would be a better outcome for everybody than firing them.

    But in that case, please stop calling your company “family-friendly” — that’s just confusing to job searchers who are looking for a flexible environment that won’t require long hours and won’t begrudge employees using their sick days to take care of kids. And accept that the people who were a good fit for your organization when they were just out of college may not be a good fit for it now.

    1. Looking for a Solution*

      What makes you think I demand long hours? No one works more than 40 hours per week- Most shave 5-6 hours off of that by coming in late and leaving early. My priority is turning out good work and meeting our contractual obligations. I would also like to be a fair and generous employer but am not afraid to enforce expectations. You missed the heart of my query- I would like to honor good people and the investment I have made in them, there is a reason they have stayed around for 10 years- it is a great place to work. They would probably say the same. They have just become self-absorbed and lost perspective.

      1. Greggles*

        You said you are a “fair and generous employer, but I am not afraid to enforce expectations”, but you’re not enforcing expectations. Enforce them! If you’re putting people on PIPs and they don’t meet expectations, graciously show them the door. I am concerned that they aren’t coming to work on time or missing almost a full day a week. In one of your other posts you stated that they miss 5-7 hours a week. What are you doing about that.

        In the business world, no matter how great a job or company or an employee is, things change. If your team has been the same for 10 years maybe change isn’t a bad thing. Disruptions isn’t always bad, it’s what managers are supposed to manage through.

        I truly hope you are able to resolve these issues and get this behind you.

        Good luck!

      2. Zahra*

        Solution, we had a slight problem at work with people taking some flex advantages as a given, telling their manager the morning of that they had a big project to finish and would stay home that day. The company I work for is very flexible, with core hours and virtually unlimited sick time. If your heater broke, your kid is sick, you haven’t slept during the night and would like the possibility to nap a bit during the day, etc., you can still call in the morning and say you’re working from home or taking the day off. However, they are now requesting that time off for “deadline looming” be requested at least 24 hours in advance. I don’t yet know how they will enforce this, but they had to correct the course a bit.

        Even though you are in an non-profit organization, you are running a business. A business cannot indefinitely extend flexibility and reduced hours with some impact to the bottom line. As much as you love them, you need to figure out if you can reconfigure the job descriptions or who needs to leave so the situation comes back to normal. The other solution is to have a “great picture” discussion with them and outline the general trends (with some data to back up the documentable pieces). “John, I want to address a trend I see and I hope we can find a solution. During the last X years, I’ve seen you become less enthusiastic about work. For example, whereas you used to Y, it doesn’t seem to interest you anymore. There’s also the tendency to work reduced hours. You have, on average, been working 35 hour weeks for the last 6 months. I understand the constraints of childcare, but I need my whole team to be working full weeks and feel enthusiastic about work. What changed and what can we do to bring you back to a more engaged state, working full weeks?”

        You also need a larger conversation with the whole team. The basic message being that there are X projects to lead during a year, Y trips to be taken for some reason, and that a) people who volunteer do get proper rewards for it or b) people currently doing it cannot do it sustainably and everyone needs to do their part. You should say that people who are not comfortable or happy with the requirements are welcome to come to you to figure out a transition plan while they look for something that fits their needs better. And then follow through.

      3. Mister Pickle*

        I think that some people are making the assumption that you ask for long hours because until now, we really didn’t know what kind of hours you expect.

        This has been an interesting topic of discussion, and for me the one thing that rises above all the rest is, frankly, the lack of hard data. Do you have hard data – actual numbers – to show how many hours your employees are working / not working? And do you have hard data that shows a lack of quality and good work? And how do you know that the issue is actually parenthood?

        I’m sincerely not trying to be confrontational or obstructive. It’s just that a lot of people have put some good thought into this topic, but overall there are no obvious answers, and I think it stems from a lack of a solid statement of the problem.

        1. dawbs*


          When you’re saying 40 hours, does that mean 40 hours in the office? or 40 hours all told?

          Honestly, the problem is rather nebulous, so the solutions are too. If the problem can be spelled out, solutions will be firmer too.

        2. soitgoes*

          I agree. My thoughts basically amount to, “If the employees are really slacking, you need to hire new people. If they’re not slacking and the work is just piling up, you still need to hire new people. Stop pinching pennies and hire new people.”

      4. danr*

        Thanks for mentioning your expected work hours. I think some of the conversation would have been different if you had stated that upfront. Long work days are sort of expected these days and real 40 hour work weeks are unusual.
        My question is… is there any hope for movement in your organization? Or, have all of those employees spent ten years doing essentially the same thing? Having worked at a company where longevity was the norm, I know that some people felt very comfortable doing the same job for years, while others took advantage of opportunities to move around within the company and do different things. If there is no opportunity for movement, the “slackers” may really be burning out.

      5. Bunny*

        I can’t speak for everyone, but when I read your letter I had the exact same thought as everyone else. There are certain turns of phrase that tend to be code for specific work environments:

        “high-achieving, high energy” = willing and able to work 12 hour days, 6 days a week
        “reputation for above-average results” = everyone is expected to give 110$, 100% of the time
        “no room for mediocrity” – specifically in relation to people having children and working fewer hours = we consider normal human life (sleeping, having family, having a social life) to be mediocre, specifically, rather than “normal”

        Put all of that together, add in the fact that you’re a very small (20-ish people) non-profit which generally already have reputations for being places with extremely high workloads, high demands on staff and subsequently high staff turnover and, without specifics about work hours etc, it paints a very specific picture. One where the idea that you’ve had the same 20 people working for you for a decade sounds like a recipe for severe burnout.

        That said, you’ve made it clear now that this isn’t the case – if 40 hours per week is the standard in your company and people are taking excessive time off, then yes this needs to be addressed. That said, solutions are still going to be very similar to what has already been mentioned.

        1. Accept that staff turnover is a thing that happens. Almost no one stays in the same job for life, and if you’ve made each of these people so indispensable that replacing them feels like an insurmountable challenge, then that is a problem. As others have said, people die unexpectedly. People who seem happy in their jobs get head-hunted or have to quit because their spouse was offered a great promotion hundreds of miles away. You need to ensure that your company is equipped and prepared for people to leave. That might mean starting to hire some part-time assistants for some of your staff, if the budget allows for it, so those assistants can learn job skills and be available if needed. It might mean cross-training your staff, getting Bob who does job X and Jane who does job Y to cross-train each other in some of their own responsibilities so that, if one of them has a day of sick leave, the other can cover their work at least partially.

        2. Document the specifics. Each staff member should have their own personal employment record which tracks work targets. projects, sickness, lateness and other things that indicate overall job performance. And each one should be reviewed in the specifics. It’s not good enough to worry that it feels like Sam has been taking a lot more time off since they had their kid. You need to be able to quote hours and days. And keep track of it.

        3. Clear escalation procedure that is actually followed. In my old job, it worked like this: Two warnings. Then a PIP. PIP involved laying out the problem clearly, setting specific, measurable targets for resolving it (Sam will not take more than one day sick time in the next two weeks) and regular reviews that are scheduled. The PIP itself remained on the record for one full year. If improvements in the PIP were not forthcoming, or if someone backslid before the year was up, their situation would be reviewed. What reviewing meant could be fairly flexible according to the specific circumstances. If the employee failed to improve after solutions were offered, they were booted. No matter how long they’d worked there.

        4. Flexibility. A company cannot call itself “family friendly” if it is not able to offer some flexibility. When my mental health took a severe down-turn, and I was not able to meet the requirements of my PIP with regards to sickness absence, we reviewed my situation. One of the solutions offered was that I reduce my contracted work hours from a 5 day working week to 4 days, taking Wednesday off, so I only ever had two days of work in between days of rest. It also allowed me to schedule my doctor appointments and therapy without missing work. Another colleague who recently had a child halved their contracted hours from a full working week to only working mornings for the first six months after her maternity leave ended, and both mine and their pay adjusted accordingly. The nature of that job didn’t allow for working at home, but if it’s possible for you to offer staff the choice to work part of their hours at home and part in the office, that might be a solution. In extreme circumstances when a valued employee was unable to continue their current role but had skills and knowledge that was valued, they would be fast-tracked to a different department where they could thrive.

  60. Fun-&-Games*

    I’m a bit jaded by the fact that I lost my job more than a year ago, and before that it had taken me 3 years to even find a good one after shutting down my own business, but here are the thoughts I keep coming back to:

    Can’t show up on time and have to leave early on a frequent basis? Well, be prepared to step aside for someone else that will commit to the responsibilities of the job. I have 2 kids and I miss the security that came with my 60-70 hour work weeks and predictable paycheck.

    Your kids, your friends, your dog etc are no concern of your boss. At work priority #1 is work. Your family can be YOUR number 1 priority, but no business should be expected to put your other responsibilities in front of your job, especially if it is a burden on other employees.

    Yes a business should be willing to make SOME accommodations, but I’m talking about an occasional sick day.

    In this economy it just isn’t fair for someone to expect an employer to constantly tolerate missing work when there are scores of people waiting in the wings to take his or her place.

    So, to the OP, perhaps its time to put in place a policy of “no special treatment” and put down firm limits. Harsh, no doubt, but maybe you’ll have to make an example of the worst offenders to get the others in line. Also, are the culprits salaried? Can you make some of the jobs hourly to make people think twice before not putting in the time?

  61. Postalslave*

    Everyone is assuming that the OP has a corporate culture where 70 hours are the norm and taking advantage of generous sick time means calling in sick when you have the flu.

    Let’s assume the best of the OP, that the expected workweek is 40 – 45 hours a week and generous sick time means unlimited paid sick days.

    OP has employees calling in sick twice a week and working 6 hours a day, because they have to drop off junior at school and then pick him up promptly at 3pm. OP’s team is more concerned about Johnny’s soccer practice than the Pensky file and as a result, business is not so great. What does OP do??

    OP, if this is your situation, fire them. There are lots of people looking for work that are kore than willing to out in a standard weeks work for fair compensation.

  62. Anon for This*

    Reading through this thread has made me grateful for my organization, which is one of those “high achieving, high energy,” way more than 40 hours a week places. We have that standard (which I don’t agree with, but thems the breaks), but our managers approach us like the humans we are and make things work for us.

    So, I have a colleague who just had her second child. She’s at my hierarchical level within the organization, but due for a promotion (based on experience and achievement). She’s been a leader in pushing our organization to make our work more manageable for people with regular outside commitments (like kids/classes/elder care/etc.), especially regarding travel (which is extensive for most of our staff), and she’s been able to negotiate some concessions for herself over the past few years. Now that she has two, she’s facing a choice: She feels she just can’t do the amount of travel that she used to, and she’s going to take a hard line with the organization on how many weeks away she can take. At the same time, our manager is thinking through how we can best use her skills and experience in a way that works for her, in a role that doesn’t require as much travel. Her choice is likely going to limit the promotions she can get and the projects she can take on, but it isn’t going to limit her career with the organization. She is worth keeping, and worth being flexible with.

    That doesn’t feel to me like she’s getting away with something. It feels to me like my organization is treating her like an individual, just as they treat me like an individual. I’m happy to travel, but I really need to shift out of the sort of direct program logistics work I’ve been doing – I’m just not successful enough at it. I’ve proven that I’m worth investing in, so the organization isn’t chucking me out because I don’t want to do this specific job anymore – they’re letting me find something that works for me.

    (I have tons of complaints about my job, so don’t think things are all peaces and roses over here. But they get this right for sure.)

  63. JMW*

    Consider pulling your staff together for input in this. List the issues without judgment:
    – some people are working less than 40 hours per week
    – some people aren’t as productive while they are at work as they used to be
    – some performance issues may be because there are so many new parents, and it’s a demanding and tiring balance for them
    – the workload isn’t always fairly distributed between parents and non-parents
    – together we need to to create a work culture that is supportive of work/life balance for everyone, distributes work fairly, gets the work done, and doesn’t cost the organization more financially

    In an initial meeting, let them make suggestions and write every one down without judgment. Don’t try to make decisions. Take the suggestions, figure out what you think might work, and put together a proposal for them. If you can get consensus, this becomes your new guideline. Then be really consistent with your implementation.

  64. snuck*

    Way too many comments to read them all (that’s the OP’s job, not mine!) … I’ll just chip in and maybe the OP will see something useful?

    As a newish parent (who used to work in high pressure project management/IT/electrical engineering environments) I can say it’s exhausting, tiring, difficult. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel when the kids finally make it to school, until then I know I’m in sleepless night / constant body fluid land with a dependent leech or two. (lovable, but still parasitic)

    Another thought is the complacency that creeps in over long periods of time in the one job. It’s hard to maintain enthusiasm and passion for that long, and you can’t expect commitments that were made ten years ago still stand now – you aren’t married, this isn’t for better/worse.

    How many hours are you working? How realistic is this? If a lot of your employees aren’t meeting it then is the employee/expectation fit not a good one? Do you want to lose these employees and their knowledge?

    I can see a few options – review the expectations and hours – can you take on some junior staff to do the more time consuming roles and leave the expertise and knowledge in the hands of the experienced? Can you change the way you work – family friendly can include work from home, work unusual hours, work to project (not a number of hours) etc. Consider changing your employee composition – having a lot of employees all in the one life-space has it’s ups and downs – 10yrs ago you were all inexperienced and hard working without other commitments, now you’ll likely get loyalty (those mortgages have to be paid) but distraction (be careful not to fall afoul of discrimination laws here). Talk openly with your employees – ask them how they can see this working, what they think needs to change… listen… if they are valuable enough to retain for 10yrs and have this great skillset then they are worth listening to.

  65. soitgoes*

    People follow each other’s lead. They slack off because they see everyone else doing it, and they think, “I can get away with checking facebook as long as I still check it less than Tina does.”

    I have mixed feelings about whether a decline in general productivity is something that’s inevitable and should be acceptable, but I do think the OP needs to come up with a new way to manage her expectations for constant traveling. If that’s always going to be part of the job, the OP needs to remind the employees that they can’t stay there if they won’t fulfill this responsibility. Otherwise, they’ll have to pick a consistent rotation of travelers, give them raises, and leave the parents out of it permanently

  66. Purr purr purr*

    Sounds like the employees want a better work-life balance now that they have families and I think a lot of people can understand that. Perhaps it’s time for the company to change or maybe it’s time to replace the employees if you’re looking for people willing to work their life away. It also seems a bit unfair to complain that employees are taking their contractually given vacation time so either the policy needs to change or OP just needs to accept that’s the way it is. Personally I’m much happier working for a company that allows me to have a work-life balance and I’m more productive and more willing to go above and beyond for them.

  67. Sam*

    This is a small organization, and half of the organization has had kids in the last five years. So literally half of the staff is parenting infants, toddlers or preschoolers (at best!) which are arguably the neediest, time-suckiest, productivity-drainiest stages of childhood development. Perhaps the organization getting hit with all of this at once is amplifying the problem a bit and making it feel like a “Parents! Am I right?” issue more than an individual issue. Put all together, it looks like only one new parent is doing well. But if we looked at them individually, it could be that, of course the behavior of the other 9 has changed, it would be unusual if a new parent didn’t have some additional sick days or make use of the flexible benefits afforded to him in the first few years. But the true “problems” might only be with 3 people, for example. It just looks like it’s all 9 of them because all 9 of them are taking more time off than they used to, but you wouldn’t have noticed it being a problem except that it feels like one when it’s everyone, and there actually are a few that aren’t coping with the changes well and actually need some performance management.

    1. Cam*

      I was thinking the exact same thing. I think the issue isn’t necessarily that they are parents, but that they are new parents with very young children. Little kids get sick a lot (and contrary to popular belief, you can’t send them to day care if they are sick), can’t be left home alone on a snow day like a 12 year old might, and cause a lot of sleepless nights for parents. I have a feeling that a lot of these employees will be doing much better in a couple of years when their kids are school-age, more independent, and sleeping through the night. Not to say that OP should ignore performance issues for the next couple of years until the kids are older. But if these are otherwise highly skilled, valued employees, it might make sense to offer some of the flexibility that others have mentioned earlier (hiring more staff, offering part-time work, let them come late/leave early if the work is getting done otherwise, etc) with the hope that they’ll have more energy and drive once they are no longer dealing with crying babies at home.

    2. hildi*

      “…parenting infants, toddlers or preschoolers (at best!) which are arguably the neediest, time-suckiest, productivity-drainiest stages of childhood development.”

      No truer words were spoken. Good points all around.

  68. Not+So+NewReader*

    “I travel a lot and stay very busy and do not have time to micromanage them, but they take advantage.”

    This concerns me. We have talked about absentee bosses many, many times in this forum. So you have a fair idea of what happens when the boss is not there very much, the place goes into melt down. If you are so busy, how do you know for sure what they are and are not doing?

    Most of them have been with you since the start? How much has the workload multiplied? And how many people have added to meet the increase? What about equipment updates, are they still working with the same stuff they started with?

    It could be that you have one bad apple and the others are resentful that nothing has been done so they are acting up also.
    It could be that your concerns about micromanagement have placed you too far away from them and they do not feel your leadership.

    I see a lot of use of the words “I” and “they”. Did you use to be an “us” and a “we”? It’s odd how pronoun choice can make people feel pushed away. I am not trying to pick on word choice here, I am sensing a disconnect between you and your people. I can hear it in your writing. Do you trust your people? You mention that they take advantage- could it be that trust across the board is deteriorating? Lastly, do your people still buy into the mission of your organization? Or has that changed somewhere along the lines?

    Don’t answer here. Just mull it over and see what you think.

    1. JMW*

      This is very insightful. Made me think about our team and what folks really need from a manager. The longer I manage, the more I realize its similarities to parenting. Attention is an essential component to success.

  69. tesyaa*

    Missing 5-7 hours out of 40 per week isn’t shaving hours, it’s slacking off, in a major way. Can the OP document this? Maybe some workers are working through lunch and counting that as makeup time? If that’s not acceptable, explain this policy clearly. Five hours per week is coming in an hour late every day – that’s a lot. Seven is ridiculous. If the face time is important enough that they can’t make up hours on nights and weekends, these people truly are taking advantage.

    But before doing anything drastic, I’d want to clearly document the hours they’re missing. It’s easy to think “I don’t see Sara, she must be late again” when Sara just ran out for ten minutes to take a call from her child’s teacher. I am frankly doubtful than 9 employees are slacking off to the tune of 5-7 hours EACH per week. But if they are, it’s a serious problem and I would think some or all of them have to go.

  70. DKerwood*

    Multi-part response.

    1) So out of 20 employees, 10 (half) now have kids and 9 (all but one) have significantly changed their work habits? This in itself is fishy to me, because parents have been working since before recorded history. A 40 hour workweek is doable with kids, even with the occasional problem like a babysitter mixup or school closing. Makes me wonder if the workload is unsustainable when you have a life beyond work.

    2) Asking to come in later and actually coming in late are different things. Sounds like the OP isn’t being clear with expectations. I know that I can’t come late to my job (beyond an emergency) because my job starts at 7:30 am. Period. I can’t ask for anything different, so I don’t. The only way I would ask is if I thought it was a reasonable question that my boss would consider. Be clear with your employees that this is when work begins and ends. Put this in writing. (As an aside, does your NPO need to open its doors, either figuratively or literally, at 8:00am? Would it be just as effective opening for business at 9:30? Could you stagger employee start times to open at 8:00am and close at 5:00 or 6:00? In this way, you might be able to accommodate employee requests and even extend the service of your organization.)

    3) Ditto with the out of town meetings. Why is the OP even listening to these requests? Either the meetings are necessary or they are not. If they are necessary, then the employee needs to go to them. If they are not, then the company needs to either do away with them or create incentives to participate in an unnecessary but suggested exercise. These expectations need to be put in writing, because the employees apparently feel they are negotiable (and the OP is proving them to be such by listening to the requests).

    4) I wonder if the OP’s workplace is a goal-oriented workplace. In my teaching job, I have goals that must be completed whether I’m there or not- sick, vacation, or otherwise. If that means that I’m up at 5:00 writing substitute plans and creating things for my students to do (in between bouts of puking), then that’s what I need to do to meet my goals. Last year I was out 7 days when my daughter was born, so I worked for several weeks beforehand to prepare materials and complete tasks ahead of time so my goals could be met. I also contacted the school (phone, email, and in person) every day to make sure everything was running smoothly in my absence. In other words, while my workplace is obviously concerned about the hours I put in (7:30-4:30 generally, with quite a few evening and weekend commitments as well), they don’t care if it takes 0 hours beyond that or 100 hours beyond that to accomplish my goals… instead they just care that goals are accomplished and deadlines met.

    5) To that end, I submit that since becoming a parent for the first time three years ago, I’ve actually become a better worker. When I started teaching, I did put in 60-80 hours a week at the school. I was often the last to leave and the first to arrive the next morning. And yet, I didn’t get much accomplished. I had no hard time constraints to work with, so it didn’t matter how long it took me to finish a project. Thus, I’d sink hours into projects that weren’t really a high priority and spend too much time over-thinking details that weren’t important. Since becoming a husband and subsequently a parent, my work time is much more focused. Instead of having all night to do a task, I now have 45 minutes, and guess what? I get that done AND get a head start on tasks for tomorrow. Again, this is due to having a goal-centered workplace.

    6) Finally, I would advise the OP to be very careful about their managing style. It appears that a) they are not being decisive enough about their employees’ roles and responsibilities and b) might be being perceived as condescending or at least less than supportive of employees’ lives outside of work. Establish some firm boundaries with your employees and take appropriate action when they do not measure up. And yes, that might mean that they are unable to adequately continue their current job. That might mean that you redefine their position and redistribute responsibilities (and, if necessary, pay) to meet your employee’s new priorities in life… or it might mean that they need to find a new job with fewer responsibilities.

    1. DKerwood*

      Some further musings…

      I found it odd that you were able to hire a staff of 20 wherein none of them had children yet, but a high percentage of them WANTED children within the first five years, so I have conceived of two likely scenarios:

      a) You hired a bunch of young people fresh out of college.
      b) You hired a bunch of your friends fresh out of college.

      In either case, this really is just a part of dealing with people growing older. The nice thing is that as their passion for their children runs deeper, their passion can grow in other areas. If you make your work environment pleasant and meaningful, the passion can be for your business.

      One more thought- whether you hired a bunch of young strangers or a bunch of young friends, you probably served more as “buddy” than “boss” these first five years, and it probably worked just fine. As your staff is growing up, however, you’ll have to do the same and learn how to really switch hats from friend to manager. That’s probably why you’re having trouble laying down the law and why they’re comfortable asking for all the accommodations- everyone sees you more as a friend than the authority.

  71. Mother Before Manager*

    Here’s the thing… If you EXPECT them to work 60-70 hours a week and that’s spelled out in their description then you have merit to document and inevitably terminate them. If you are just upset that they used to pour their heart and soul into the job and voluntarily work more than the expected 55 hours a week (or whatever it is) then you probably don’t have grounds to terminate. I used to work close to 70 hours a week, voluntarily. I loved my job (and still do) but I had a baby this year and there isn’t anything more important to me than my family right now. I am in at 8:00am and out at 5:00pm. I know that I might not get that next promotion because I’m only doing what’s expected of me and not above and beyond and I”m okay with that. I also take full advantage of my PTO because that’s what it’s there for. I have never used my vacation in the past (while others were when I didn’t have kids) but now am taking a little more time off because I’ve saved up all my time, the company allows it. I’m not going to let my family suffer… especially if under the terms of my employment, I’m allowed to take the time off needed so they don’t have to. I hope someday you are able to enjoy the trials and tribulations of having a family and can understand what it’s like to have a tiny little human rely on you and only you. It’s amazing!

  72. JaneJ*

    In order to be family friendly, you’re going to have to offer some flexibility. It’s pretty much the chief need for working parents. And having flexibility would be a huge benefit to them. Is it possible for you to offer some kind of other benefit to the staff picking up all the extra slack. Like a bonus based on the amount of extra work or out-of-town meetings they do? Technically the parents would be eligible for it as well; it would be their choice not to pick up the extra work, so I don’t view it as unfair. Basically, a certain portion of your staff gets the benefit of flexibility, and the other portion gets a different benefit. Does anyone think something like that would work?

  73. Gail L*

    I’m too late to be part of the conversation, but in a way I feel like this is simple. The manager needs to make sure she’s expressed the expectations for minimum work, whether that is 40 hours or 60. And other expectations, such as making up for lost time, whether it’s due to child care or some other emergency. It also needs to be expressed that if the parent org offers X vacation but the manager doesn’t want the employees to take it… then she needs to say that she only wants X-whatever vacation to be used. OP, I have found your expectations to be unclear in both your letter and your responses. If you aren’t clear here, are you sure you are being clear in discussions with employees?

    Mainly, however, this should be moot. None of this measuring of hours and vacation time should matter to you at all, if you have appropriate *output* measures for your employees. Sure, sometimes outputs are too squishy to measure. But you need to have something. What does it matter if someone is working 30 hours per week if she does everything you expect of her, including volunteering for new projects? The times you should be reviewing hours then become a review of whether or not to raise your expectations and give out additional projects…

  74. Emmers*

    I haven’t read all 500+ comments yet, but I will bet you ONE MILLION SPACEBUCKS that this boss’s idea of “getting in late and leaving early” is “working 9-5 and only Monday-Friday.” AKA “the normal schedule for reasonable humans.”

  75. MT*


    Looking for a Solution
    September 15, 2014 at 4:57 pm
    What makes you think I demand long hours? No one works more than 40 hours per week- Most shave 5-6 hours off of that by coming in late and leaving early. My priority is turning out good work and meeting our contractual obligations. I would also like to be a fair and generous employer but am not afraid to enforce expectations. You missed the heart of my query- I would like to honor good people and the investment I have made in them, there is a reason they have stayed around for 10 years- it is a great place to work. They would probably say the same. They have just become self-absorbed and lost perspective.

  76. Kathy with a K*

    “Our parent company has a generous sick time and vacation policy which they take full advantage of.”
    Statements like this always annoy me. Is the sick time and vacation policy just for show, to lure in new employees? Or are they actually an employee benefit? I just finished five years of working for a boss who didn’t want us to take vacation, sick time, or leave work to go to the doctor. I feel like a fool for putting up with it for so long.

  77. Us, Too*

    I think it’s time to critically examine your own role in team performance when half (!!!) your team can’t meet expectations. I can think of only a few things that can cause such disfunction and every one of them points to a management issue:

    1. You are hiring the wrong people. (management issue)
    2. You aren’t staffing enough people (management issue)
    3. You aren’t training people effectively (management issue)
    4. You aren’t setting clear expectations (management issue)
    5. You aren’t managing poor performers out of the organization (management issue)
    6. You have just been put onto a team with poor management and have to fix it (previous management issue)
    7. Your expectations are out of whack with reality (management issue)


    OP – look inwards here. Something is wrong, but it’s not your staff. If it were one or two folks, yeah, it’s them. But when it’s systemic – that’s an organizational mgmt issue.

    1. Us, Too*

      Forgot to add – I think it is worth examining, OP, whether your reluctance to lose “experienced” resources may be part of the issue. That’s a sure fire recipe for an underperforming team. You need to figure out how to onboard new people effectively so that you can remove this factor from the equation as much as possible.

  78. Helen*

    I think that you might need to find out if there is anything you can do, maybe your company can offer babysitting so the parents don’t have to worry about finding a babysitter. Other than that you may have to get strict and say if you come in late and leave early your vacation will be docked or if you don’t have vacation you will not get paid.

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