managing colleagues’ expectations when I work part-time

A reader writes:

I’m a project manager and have recently reduced my hours to 20 hours per week (I’ve just returned to work after six months parental leave). My hours are spread over three days and I have an early start, so I leave work well before the end of the traditional work day.

I deal with many different people in various roles in the course of my job, sometimes very briefly, so many of my colleagues won’t know that I work part-time, and I’m concerned about not meeting expectations for response times.

I’m considering setting up an automatic reply in Outlook to let people know my working days and hours, but this is way more complicated than it should be! I either have to manually turn this on and off each day (which I might forget to do) or have the reply on all the time; if I use the standard out of office assistant the words “Out of Office” are added to each message it sends, which I don’t want if I am in the office; and if I use rules and alerts I can remove the words “Out of Office” but then it sends a response for every email, not just the first in the thread.

What would you recommend in my situation? Is there another way of handling expectations I’m missing? Or am I overthinking the whole thing?

If you were always working with the same group of people, I’d tell you to just send them all a one-time reminder and be done with it, but since it sounds like this is going to come up with random new people all the time, I’d do three things:

* Add your hours to your email signature, so that it’s a constant reminder for people:

Clarissa Plufferton
Project Manager, Warbucks Enterprises

Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, 7 a.m. – 1 p.m.

* Use the auto-reply feature in Outlook. Resign yourself to having to turn it on each time you leave for the day and turn it off when you arrive. Set up some automatic reminders for yourself until it becomes habit. Use it to auto-send a message that says something like, “My regular hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, 7 a.m. – 1 p.m., so I’ll respond to you when I return to the office.”

It sounds like Outlook has some restrictions that make this function in a less than ideal way, but none of what you listed sounds prohibitive. A little annoying, yes, but not prohibitive.

* Figure out whether your schedule is likely to lead to any problems if someone does need a faster response, and figure out how to field those situations preemptively. For example, do you need something in your email signature that directs all queries on X to a colleague? Or maybe you just need to raise this whole issue with your manager and be sure that your’e both on the same page about the fact that some people might send queries that you won’t be seeing for a couple of days (and ensure that she’s thought that through and is okay with it).

Anyone have any other tips?

{ 96 comments… read them below }

    1. HigherEd Admin*

      Yes, but can you set it to be recurring? I know how to set my autoreply to begin at say, 5pm on Thursday and end at 8am on Tuesday, but unless I turn it back on again the following Thursday, it won’t automatically resume. Unless I’m missing an Outlook trick?

    2. OP*

      Thanks Katie, do you know how to do this? I spent quite a while asking Dr Google and couldn’t find a way. I know how to set it to apply for a set date range (so I only have to remember to turn it on and set the date, it turns itself off), but couldn’t work out how to do specific days and times.

      I’m okay with turning it off and on but as Traveller comments below it will reset each time I do so which means that people I work closely with will get it once for each period I have it on, rather than just the first time they send me a message. Those people aren’t the ones who need the message!

          1. OP*

            Thanks Judy, I did look but the main downside is that with the rules, unlike the Out of Office assistant, every sender gets a response for every email. The OOO just sends the message the first time a sender emails so people I work with frequently might still get one message a week but no more. :-)

      1. Colette*

        If you work three days in a row, could you set the time for your OOO to be sent when you come in?

        In other words, instead of disabling the OOO when you come in Monday, change the date/time when it will be send to Wednesday afternoon. That seems like the easiest way to remember to change it – I know I’m really bad at remembering to do something right before I leave.

        1. OP*

          Oh true! That’s smart, I’ll do it earlier in the week. Even though you set the time it just seems like a thing you do right before you leave so I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks!

          1. M-C*

            When you first come in the morning, you could get used to turn off your out of office message, and simultaneously turn it back on for the same afternoon. With the caveat of course that it means you should remember to adjust it if during the course of the day it becomes apparent you’re staying more or less than usual on that day.

            1. Nikki T*

              I didn’t read them all yet, but I’ve been doing this everyday for four years. A calendar reminder pops up each morning telling me to reset the OOO to turn on at 5. Resetting it on when I come in has been much easier than remembering to turn it on before I leave.

  1. TOC*

    I have a colleague who works part-time (30 hours spread over Tu-Fri) in an environment where nearly everyone works FT, emails are exchanged at a fast pace, and she’s in touch with an immense array of external people. She does exactly what Alison suggests here. She has an auto-reply on her email set for weekends and Mondays letting people know she won’t be responding until Tuesday. She also has her office hours noted in her e-mail signature, and I’m sure her voicemail greeting (I never call her) also mentions her hours.

    1. Judy*

      I certainly would put it in the email signature, but I’d not necessarily expect someone to read it. :)

      I replied to an email about a certain product, saying, “Just ship it to me”. My mailing address was in the signature. I received a reply “What address should I ship it to?”

      1. HigherEd Admin*

        To be fair, I wouldn’t automatically assume that the address in your signature was the correct shipping address for the situation.

        1. Rita*

          I think in that case the question should be “Should I use the address in your signature, or something different?” not “What address should I ship it to?”.

              1. Jake*

                But “What address should I ship it to?” is less typing. And frankly, if I got an email from someone asking me to ship it to them, without specifying address, I would not be inclined to put a _lot_ of effort into communication with them, since they’re clearly not trying with me.

                1. jcsgo*

                  Since they’re “clearly not trying”? But the person already put their address in the signature… That seems like trying to me? It was even planned well in advance, since it’s in their signature.

                  I tend to read the “clearly not trying” (or just oblivious and/or responded too quickly) as the person who misses seeing the address is already spelled out in the signature line.

                  (Not to be snarky, but it’s even less typing to not need to respond and ask “What address do I send it to?”, because you already saw the address in the signature line… ) :)

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Yes, that would have made a lot more sense, Rita. It sounds like they skimmed the email and didn’t think to even look at the signature block.

        2. LBK*

          +1 – especially for shipping, since a lot of places have different receiving addresses for shipments vs. regular mail.

    2. M-C*

      Yes, I think the email signature and voicemail message are really the solid foundations of everyone knowing what’s going on, even the people who don’t know her or haven’t caught on that she’s now part-time.

  2. PEBCAK*

    I went part time for a while, and I just stopped caring if I met expectations for response times. The people whose expectations mattered (i.e. my boss and my close team members) knew the situation, and the rest could wait.

    1. jcsgo*

      I find that is my continual issue. I need a lesson in “Caring At Work 101”–discerning when it should matter and when it should roll off your back. And HOW to let it roll off your back.

    2. Matt*

      This. I’m full time, but we are a flex time environment (6-9 a.m. to 1-10 p.m.), I’m an “early bird” (I do usually 7 -4 and leave earlier for the weekend on Fridays), many of my coworkers are “late birds”, starting a few minutes before (or even after) 9 and staying forever in the late afternoon / evening. Needless to say, almost every day when I arrive in the morning I have several missed calls and emails – no big deal, but I’ve come to a bit of a reputation of “you can never reach him”.

      Of course there are also coworkers who appreciate that I’m in early (sometimes even the “late guys” when I’ve already fixed the latest problem when they come in :-) and ask about my whereabouts when I’m later … so I probably should be working 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to satisfy them all ;-)

  3. Traveller*

    If you are working with the same people a lot, please for the sake of their sanity, do not turn on and off your outlook out of office reminder every day.

    Outlook will normally send 1 announcement to each sender, but the count restarts when you turn off and on your ooo announcement.

    I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to get up to 3 reminders every week that my colleague only was part time.

    Tell the people who matter.

    1. Natalie*

      Outlook lets you only send OOO to people outside of your organization, which would mitigate this issue for OP’s co-workers at least.

      1. Colette*

        How does Outlook determine your organization, though? There are lots of people in my company who I don’t work with often but who might email me when I’m out.

        1. Natalie*

          I’m not exactly sure, but I think it’s everyone using the same exchange. So anyone @company dot com is considered “in your organization” and everyone else is not

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        No, that’s something that your company IT department set up on your Outlook server. Some of them have that restriction, it’s not that unusual, but some of us can set up one autoresponse message for those outside of our company and a different one for coworkers (which it determines by whether they’re in the Outlook email directory).

        1. Natalie*

          Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about – you can send it to only inside your org, only outside your organization, or both.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Derp! I transposed the word “only” in my head, so I thought you said that Outlook ONLY lets you send to people outside your org. (I think the fact that some companies restrict OOO use to one group or the other recently came up on an Open Thread here, too, which is probably why my mind went there.)

    2. A Reader*

      Frustrating sure, but it would get the point across wouldn’t it?

      I would agree with the email signature idea as well as the out of office reminders for maybe one day of the week. If you are always out on one of the same days each week, use that day to do it.

      Likewise, if your hours are always the same on the same days each week, you could set up meetings with a recurrance that show when you are in and when you are out. You wouldn’t need to send to everyone, just yourself and they can look at your calendar to know if you are in or out. (Assuming of course most peole are internal and have access to see at least that much info from your calendar. If they are external then it won’t help.)

      1. OP*

        Thanks – I set my Outlook working hours to show when I’m not available, but a colleague pointed out that’s only good for meetings, as most people won’t look when they’re sending an email – at least in my office, there are more likely to be a couple of follow up emails or calls.

        Email signature sounds like a good bet (though unfortunately we do have a reasonably large, mandated, image dominated signature so not sure how many people will read it).

        1. Natalie*

          Could you put the hours on the line above the giant image signature, so it looks separate from your actual signature?

          1. OP*

            Hmm, I’ll look at that when I’m back in the office. My name, title and contact details sit to the right of the giant image so might be a bit weird but I’ll have a play. Thanks!

            1. M-C*

              If the signature can’t be improved, you can configure your keyboard so a weird set of keystrokes (ctrl-F11-O?) types out the whole desired message, which you’d have to include at the end of the body of your message. But really, it should be possible to diddle with your signature, ask your friendly sysad for help if necessary :-).

        2. The head is the best part*

          For the sake of completeness: is there any kind of company directory or index of employee profiles where you work? If so, it would be good to put your work hours etc there. It has the advantage that people who want to contact you may start by looking up your profile – so they’d get the info before emailing or calling.

          Speaking of which: did anyone mention adding this information to your phonemail message?

    3. Anonsie*

      I can imagine because I work with someone who has to do this on a similar schedule, and it is really aggravating sometimes. It’s a real inbox-clutterer for the people you work with the most.

      That said, I don’t really have a better solution, so mildly aggravating or not it may be the way to go.

      1. HigherEd Admin*

        On your end, you could set up a rule that automatically sends these auto-replies into the trash.

        1. Anonsie*

          But then when it actually has information I needed (schedule change, out on vacation, new person to contact for urgent stuff) I wouldn’t get that. OOO replies are good when you need to convey that information periodically, when it’s changing every week it’s really frustrating. I suppose if the OP never has new info then that would work fine.

      2. OP*

        Yeah, the catalyst for me writing to Alison was that one of my close colleagues complained when she emailed me (and then went to work out how to set up a rule to trash my auto replies) so I was trying to work out the least irritating solution.

        1. Anonsie*

          If yours is always going to be the same then that would probably work best, though if your office is anything like mine be prepared to walk like A LOT of people through the process of setting them to auto-trash.

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            Is there a way to do a combination of auto-reply and rule? Like, I know the rules solution is no good because then everyone would get a response every time. But is there a way to set a rule that makes exceptions to your auto-responder? I mean: set up the auto-responder, and then set a rule that says “If message comes from Colleague X, do not send auto-response”?

            1. Andrea*

              I’ve done this to avoid auto-replying to lis-servs when on vacation, so the OP might be able to list people she’s in touch with regularly. I also work odd hours and I found it made a huge difference when I changed my voice mail to have my hours and an alternate number to call. People who send emails and expect instant answers are often also the people who phone to see if you got the email :)

              1. OP*

                I will investigate this – I couldn’t initially see an easy way to make it work. You can make exceptions for the rules (exclude specific people), but don’t think you can for the OOO. Would be great if it’s possible though so I’ll do some more Google-fu. :-)

        2. Jennifer O*

          If you can’t find an elegant solution other than turning on/off OOO to reach the people you don’t work with often, there’s another option.

          How about comping up with an elegant solution for the people you work with *most* often? For example, figure out exactly how they could trash your auto replies without trashing your other email, write up the instructions, then share it with the people you work with most often.

          That way, people who need the OOO message (those with whom you have less contact) will get the info they need about your availability, but you won’t aggravate those with whom you work most closely.

  4. Lindrine*

    How blocking out the time on your calendar when you aren’t the office (I’m not sure if outlook lets you change your work hours for the calendar but you can set up a recoccuring “appointment/busy block). I mention doing this in addition to the email signature since in my case people would be trying to schedule me for meetings when I am not available.

    1. LBK*

      I think the concern is more about responsiveness – if someone sends an email at 4PM on Tuesday after the OP has left and won’t be back until 7AM on Friday, they’re unlikely to check the OP’s calendar before getting annoyed at a lack of response.

      1. Anonsie*

        People keep saying that, but I absolutely do check people’s calendars when I’m waiting on a response from them to make sure they’re actually available.

        1. OP*

          I have changed my working hours in the calendar but don’t think a lot of people check that if waiting for an email response – I’m with you, Anonsie, I do, but have heard enough people venting about slow responses when I know someone’s out on leave to be worried about it!

            1. Judy*

              I’ve scheduled meetings many times when someone with a free calendar replies that they have a doctor or dentist appointment during that time.

              I’ve also been invited to meetings when half the people invited were already going to another meeting at the time.

              Many people don’t manage their calendars.

            2. jcsgo*

              Totally agree. This is something my boss is driving me a little bit nuts with… he’s insisting it is our responsibility to make it work. I’m thinking, shouldn’t we adapt our strategy? Or point out to the individuals nicely that this system works great, but only if we each manage our part of it? It is a struggle though, seeing as many of the people I work with are volunteers. I get that they’re not all up on the latest way to update Google calendar, when they’ve got their job and loved ones as higher priorities. Sure does make it a challenge though :)

        2. LBK*

          It would never occur to me to do that, nor have I heard of others doing it. And if the person is external, I wouldn’t even be able to. I think you’re probably one of few who would do that.

    1. OP*

      It is a great idea – only problem is that people don’t get my signature until I’ve emailed them – so if they email me for the first time outside my working hours they don’t get to know why I’m slow until I’m back on deck.

      1. Lindrine*

        Yeah it sounds like it may be more a matter of managing expectations of response times. I think it is harder to do that in a big organization as far as people knowing your availability, but could the person you report to work on setting expectations with other people, and could you use them or someone else as a fallback person in your signature?

  5. AnotherAlison*

    Congrats on getting this arrangement. A part-time PM would never fly with most of our clients (unless by part-time you mean *in office* part-time and responding to emails full-time). A full-time, in-office PM barely satisfies some of them.

    That said, we do have a one person on our team who works 9-2:00 and a couple who work 4x10s. They block out their outlook calendars to show their normal in-office hours, and everyone they work with has been told their schedule so if we don’t get a response, we immediately remember why. We also use Communicator, so when you start to send someone an email, you can see they have been offline for 6 hours (or whatever) before you send it.

    1. OP*

      Yeah, I am lucky – and also accepting that while I’m keeping these hours I’m the PM who’ll get the low key, non client facing projects. Which is fine with me – I get to keep doing the job I love and spend extra time with my baby!

      We also use communicator, which does help – it also automatically picks up your Out of Office message if you have it switched on. :-)

  6. Jenny*

    Hi everyone – I just received a text from a friend (who is a recent grad) after an interview she had today, and she’s not sure if it’s paid or a volunteer position (she accepted without asking). I think Allison answered a question about how to approach this with the employer, but I can’t find it. I appreciate any help! Thanks :)

  7. Lily in NYC*

    My office no longer allows people to go part-time after coming back from maternity leave because it was such a nightmare to try to schedule meetings and work around their calendar – we already have packed calendars and it just became impossible to schedule important meetings when one of the attendees is out two days every week. But to be fair, we are a very fast-paced office with tons and tons of meetings that we have no choice but to attend (we report to our Mayor and if his office wants to meet on a certain date you can’t really say no).
    I feel bad for the new moms here that would like to go part-time but it’s just not feasible in this office. But we do pay employees’ salaries during the entire maternity/paternity leave, so we aren’t 100% evil. More like 80% evil.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        We have two part-time mailroom staff and I know of one part-time admin who has been here for 35 years and doesn’t even know how to use a computer so no one cares if she’s in the office or not. This is out of 400 people.

  8. GigglyPuff*

    You can set up Tasks in Outlook that allow for reminders to help you remember to set-up your out of office reply, and they can be reoccurring. And if you’re only going to be emailing with people in your office, I’d also try adding a line, like “please reference my calendar with expectations towards a reply” (or whatever), and make sure you share your calendar with everyone. But adding the times onto the signature seems to be a good start, and maybe leave a schedule up in your office/cube too so people don’t stop by and/or waiting for your when they’re looking for an answer.

    1. GigglyPuff*

      And when I mean share your calendar with everyone, I mean send out an email instructing them on how to set up it up so they can see it in Outlook alongside their calendar (not just seeing it when they want to schedule an appt.), it’s super easy to see more than just your own calendar at once.

      1. OP*

        I will set up a task to remind me, I love that feature. :-) My calendar is already shared, too – but that’s a good idea about letting colleagues know how to see it.

        We’re a hotdesking organisation so the schedule at my desk doesn’t work, sadly!

  9. LBK*

    I think the email signature idea is a good one – listing available hours and upcoming planned absences in email signatures is required for our customer service reps, and it seems to work pretty well for managing client expectations.

    In addition to that, I’d look into delegating access to your inbox to a coworker so they can skim it a couple times a day while you’re out. It doesn’t have to be anything intense – maybe once around 10 and once around 3, and they would just look for anything where someone is clearly expecting a same-day response and reply with “Joe doesn’t work on Wednesdays, but he’ll respond to this when he gets back on Friday”. This is also something our customer service reps do (although they’re expected to provide complete responses) and it’s immensely helpful both internally and externally.

  10. OP*

    Thanks Alison for your answer! I’ve been struggling with this balance – I love my job, and that they’ve given me the opportunity to work part time, so don’t want to let them down but also don’t want to end up working on the days I’m not being paid to because that defeats the point entirely (which is not to say I’ll never look at my emails, but I will limit that and won’t respond until I’m back in the office unless it’s truly urgent).

    I really appreciate everyone’s feedback – I know my perspective on this is currently skewed because I want this to work well for me, so appreciate the various pointers. :-)

    1. jhhj*

      Could you have a template for responding to emails that feel urgent, along the lines of “I will be back in the office at [time, date] and respond to your email then”? Even if you do that up to 2x a day (once around 9, once around 4), it will clarify things for people who need it, and it will probably not take long before people don’t need the reminders.

  11. Student*

    Prioritize and delegate. Not everyone who expects an instant response actually merits one.

    Make your hours clear to your key stakeholders (bosses, clients). Make your hours clear to your key project team members. Everyone else can stand to wait 1-2 days for a response.

    Most importantly, start delegating tasks that require higher availability to someone else! You can’t do them well. Someone else on your team probably can. Set your expectations and guidance, then let someone else handle it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Good one. If you know Marcie does X reeally well, set it up with her that she will field all X questions.
      The best you can do is develop a plan for the recurring problems or the foreseeable problems. If you know that Y is not going well on Wednesday, then perhaps sent up a contingency plan with someone who would be willing to keep an eye on situation Y.

  12. M-C*

    OP, I think you’ve gotten very good advice from the crowd here about the practicalities :-). But I’d just like to add a small aside to it – you’re already working part-time, would it be at all possible for you to put in your hours more within the regular ones? I realize that might mean a lot of rearranging for a new baby’s entourage, and also that many people prefer to come in early because of commute time issues. But it sounds like you’re not getting maximum visibility for the work you do put in. Some things like getting your partner to drop off the baby at daycare, followed perhaps by spending a bit longer but steady time, possibly working, on public transportation, would give you a lot more mileage with the colleagues…

  13. The IT Manager*

    This is culture thing that may or may not be welcomed in your culture, but my team members send an all day calendar invite to each other for times they are OOO for appointments or regularly scheduled days off. This is more like an every other Friday off schedule where it is hard to keep of track if they’re off this Friday or next Friday. You put is all day so it ends up at the top of their calendar, you make sure that the time is marked as free (so it doesn’t block their calendar), and for yur time off you just set it as a recurring appointment.

    Reason it may not work for you is that this is only for team memebers who might quickly learn your working hours and not really need reminders.

  14. BadPlanning*

    “I deal with many different people in various roles in the course of my job, sometimes very briefly, so many of my colleagues won’t know that I work part-time”

    Do you have a list of these people — or at least a subset of them? I would send out a short email to them (BCC, of course, if they shouldn’t know each other’s email) and list your hours and an appropriate person to contact if they need an immediate response outside of your hours. Although, I could see that being too spammy — it would be okay at my job to send a note to people whom you work with on and off, but wouldn’t be aware of a schedule change.

    No one will commit your exact times to detail, but it might help trigger them to think “Oh wait, wasn’t OP working part time? She’ll probably answer soon” if they start to wonder why you haven’t answered. Plus, if one person in an area knows and someone else complains that OP is “slow” to answer, then maybe they’ll remember OP has part time hours and can assure annoyed person that the OP will answer when at work.

    Email signature is what people seem to do around here. Our OOO system would spam you a lot if you turned it off and on. We also have a internal online directory where you can post relevant data and I know people post work hours there, if they are non-standard.

  15. AR*

    I have a similar question as I work less than 30 hours a week in my current position but I was hired in as an “hourly staff” at a part time rate and low pay (I’m working in a different field after being laid off from my regular non-profit position and trying to make ends meet, for back story): How do you manage people’s expectations regarding work load when the full-time employees aren’t pulling their own weight and passing off responsibilities to you? I really don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I have no problem working hard and helping others out, but it’s getting frustrating to see people who make three times what I do not meeting their deadlines or lightening their workloads on underpaid, over educated staff. I’m happy to have a job but sometimes it feels like I’m just being used since I’m “overqualified” (my boss’ words, not trying to flatter myself) for my new position.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Is this something you could potentially parlay into a promotion to one of those positions, if you pick up the workload and do well at it (within your hours, and while doing your other tasks)?

      1. AR*

        Initially I thought so, but as time goes on I don’t think that will happen. I don’t want to be viewed as lazy since I am more than willing to take on more responsibilities and I have received tons of positive feedback from my colleagues and supervisors about the work I’m doing here but I also don’t want to be taken advantage of or have people take credit for my work, which has been happening lately. Since it is only part time I am still actively looking for a full time position that’s more appropriate for my experience and within my field, museum studies, but times are still rough for some of us. And finding a full time job after an abrupt lay off isn’t happening as quickly as I hoped.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      You may just have to tell the people who are slacking NO point blank. “I am sorry, I still have other things on my agenda and I am almost out of hours for the week.”

      Or maybe you could ask the boss how she wants you to prioritize such requests. Is she even aware how much of this is going on? This could help you. “Boss wants me to stick with X, so I am sorry, I can’t help you.”

      Look for opportunities to say things like “I can help for 15 minutes but then I must get back to this”, and point to the task in front of you.

  16. AllergicToDrama*

    Another tangential question: any tips for managing interactions with full-time co-workers who are resentful of a new part-time arrangement?

    After a stellar review I asked to go part-time so I could go to school. The office is wildly inconsistent with protocols and things largely come down to who HR dude likes best. HR dude likes me a lot, partially because I was a rockstar for 2 huge projects but definitely also because of luck. I was allowed to reduce my weekly hours by a day and also work a day from home, with 3 days in the office. It’s still a pretty full schedule, and with school it’s basically a 60-70 hr week.

    I’m getting the cold shoulder from co-workers who are justifiably upset that I get leniency from the same place that is inflexible with them. It doesn’t help that I am a newish young single childless woman, with presumably few important commitments. There’s a lot of gossip, some assuming wrong information, and even my only friend here admits frustration/resentment. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells everywhere, even when I’m supposed to be “off.” HR dude is stirring the pot, because even when he likes you he’ll throw you under a bus.

    I usually keep a realllly low profile; people hardly saw me anyway–is it better to continue this? Try to be more visible and responsive? Is there any way to soften the mere fact of my reduced schedule & workload to coworkers? The change only slightly affects one person in the office, but I’d like to smooth things over generally since I’m going to be here a while longer and no one likes to be the pariah.

  17. Owl's That*

    That sounds like an awful environment and I’m sorry you’re going through that. I think the best thing is to hold your head up high and concentrate on doing a great job. Ignore their pettiness. You’re studying which is a huge commitment to you, yet they are behaving as though you’ve been personally chosen to have tea with the Queen.

    If you don’t already, consider taking up a new hobby (yoga, swimming etc), or even just going for a brisk walk every day to burn off your nervous energy.

    I think you need to show to them that you’re confident and their criticisms don’t matter. Practice confident body language and make sure that you’re never, ever apologetic about anything related to being part time (eg never say ‘Sorry, I can’t do this by midday tomorrow as I’m not in until Wednesday’. Instead, say ‘I don’t have capacity this afternoon but I’ll make this a priority when I come in on Wednesday’.). Don’t feel like a pariah. Feel like someone doing a good job and eventually the meanies will find something else to fret about (or maybe start doing their work).

    I would also be careful with your so-called work friend. If they were a true friend would they be saying things like that? Don’t let them complain to you. Next time they bring up their frustration say something like ‘I hear your concerns. Why not speak to HR regarding possible flexible work arrangements?’ It’s important to put the onus on her to speak with HR (even if she’s not going to succeed and you both know that, you have to show that she can’t continuously rant to you). If she continues whining, say that you need to take a look at the Franklin report and return to work.

    Finally, the low profile isn’t helpful if people don’t know you very well, which could be leading to the wrong information and gossip. Why not bring in some cheap snacks one day for the office and say something about cheering people up in the cold? Why not try occasionally having a quick water cooler chat with someone you don’t know well? You’ll be surprised at how much impact going out of your way to be friendly has on work relations.

    1. AllergicToDrama*

      Thanks! I really like your advice about non-apologetic phrasing.

      It’s really the work environment that fosters all this awfulness, not my coworkers/friend. For comparison: my friend’s husband was in the hospital two weeks ago and HR dude (who actively sets her up to fail) totally put her through the wringer. She ended up sacrificing pay and working longer hours to make up for going to take care of her family. She’s the most valuable resource here, works like crazy, and just can’t catch a break. When the office plays people against each other the bad feelings are hard to avoid.

      There’s nothing I can do about the politics, but you are right that I should just own my schedule and work, be cheerful, and it will hopefully blow over.

  18. AmyNYC*

    Just chiming in to say that Outlook out of office auto replays are RIDICULOUSLY complex to set up. Not impossibly, but frustrating since it should be so simple and I have to Google it every.damn.time.

  19. Ed*

    I would do the email signature thing but also blackout out days in your calendar. My office heavily uses free/busy time in Outlook so I would schedule yourself as out of office on Tuesday and Thursday and then make it a reoccurring event. You could do the same with the days you’re there but leave early schedule a reoccurring out of office event from 3 -5 PM on M, W & F.

    I get where OP is coming from (PM is not an ideal position to do part-time) but I would get annoyed if I was constantly getting OoO responses just to remind me of someone’s hours.

    For the email sig, I would do something like:

    Please note my new hours: M/W/F 8AM-3PM. If I missed your email, I will reply as soon as I’m back in the office.

  20. Sarah in Boston*

    Does your company use MS Lync as well at Outlook? I find that I use it for checking people’s availability a lot (at least the one who use it). It also has optional fields for setting location and will set that you are Away or In a Meeting based on your Outlook calendar. Of course, this only really works if you have a critical mass of people using Lync for YMMV.

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