when flexible schedules hurt other coworkers

A reader writes:

My colleague and I work in a particularly specialized area in our firm. There are the two of us, plus our director, who is not a specialist.

My colleague, Mary, recently returned from having her second child and asked to work 10 am til 3 pm, 5 days a week, which she got. So she’s down to 60% of standard hours. She is out of work on the dot of 3, and as far as I know, she is not doing anything in the evenings — some client materials cannot leave the office, but she also does not seem to be answering any emails or doing any online research.

Good for her, you might say — but the problem I have with this is the staff of my mini-department is down from 2 to effectively 1.6. The work coming in has not decreased at all. I have all my existing clients to work on, plus those of Mary’s who phone with urgent queries after she has gone, all those for whom some travel is required (including several who used to be Mary’s), and most of the new inquiries, since I am the person who is in the office at the end and at the beginning of the day. My “office hours” are 9-5:30 and before Mary went part-time, 85% of the year I would be out of the office by 6. Now? I’m working lunch and leaving by 8 at the earliest, plus my travel has doubled.

I find myself becoming increasingly irritated at Mary for assuming that she can leave on time and that I will just deal with work that comes up when she is gone for the day. I have said to her on more than one occasion, “Look, I cannot do this for you. I have XYZ of my own to finish,” to be met with either “But my hours are shorter now” or “But if it does not get done we will lose the client.” And unfortunately, if the clients dry up, so does the job.

I am even more irritated at my employer, who agreed to Mary’s working part-time without considering that that meant I would be doing not only my job but half of Mary’s. My director tells me that he made the point that neither he nor I saw this as a workable solution, but apparently the head and HR wanted the firm to appear to be family friendly. Both of us have asked whether in that case we can have another part-timer, which has met with baffled looks.

I used to really enjoy my job, but this cannot continue. I have already registered with a couple of recruitment agencies. Do you have any other suggestions?

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

Also, a note about my articles at Inc.: If you’re outside the U.S. or using an ad blocker, Inc. may ask you to register in order to read more than one article there. That’s because they otherwise aren’t able to earn any revenue from those page views, which they’re of course dependent on in order to continue to exist.

{ 238 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat*

    I actually to thing Mary is doing something wrong here, which is pulling the “you have to work late; we’ll lose the client” spiel. If there’s work to be done outside of core hours (whatever they may be for an individual) they should be splitting it and they should both be making the case that there need to be more resources to management. Dumping all overtime on your coworker because you know they’ll handle it because you both lose your jobs if you don’t is pretty sleazy.

    1. adonday veeah*

      I hate the situation that LW is in, but I disagree that this is Mary’s problem. She negotiated and got a work schedule that works for her. She’ not to blame that management said yes. She’s honoring her own needs and their commitment to her. LW needs to step up and do the same.

      If I were in this situation, I would go to my boss and ask for a deadline by which this will be fixed.

      1. Cat*

        I think that’s a good idea for the OP but f you’re in a business where responsibility for clients is shared I think trying to manipulate your coworker to take on that much of an overtime share is a problem too. Mary and the op are both screwed if they lose the clients – it shouldn’t just be the op’s problem until it’s fixed.

          1. Cat*

            That doesn’t mean you abandon your coworkers while making it very clear you hold then responsible for doing enough work that you keep your job in the meantime.

            1. Cat*

              To expand further I’m also in a job where if clients aren’t happy, the work dries up, and we’re out on the streets. In the long run you can adjust if so that people’s schedules are reasonable most or the time. In the short run, you can’t guarantee that everyone is working their ideal hours all the time. If one person bears all the burden of that, it makes the work unbearable. By all means they need to be making the case to management that this isn’t sustainable. But it’s not feasible for the OP to just stop working in the meantime and it should be be feasible for Mary to never work a minute of over time when the OP is killing herself either. It is going to lead to a terrible team relationship and probably the OP quitting. Management has failed here but coworkers really need to stick together in these situations in the meantime. It’s not a case were projects can just be out off unless they make a deliberate and joint decision to “fire” some of their clients.

            2. adonday veeah*

              “But if it does not get done we will lose the client.”

              I’m wondering if you’re fixing on this poorly-considered wording. It may be that Mary is just as overwhelmed with management’s failure to handle this as LW.

              1. Cat*

                Maybe. In my job we would lose the client and that’s everybody’s problem and everybody needs to be taking responsibility for that. But that isn’t everyone’s job.

          2. Allison*

            While I think Mary should try to be pulling more of her own weight rather than leave her coworkers with extra work, it’s ultimately the manager’s job to figure out how she should accomplish this, whether she needs to be more efficient/productive while she’s in the office or whether she needs to check in from home in the evenings.

            Mary asked for the reduced hours and she got them, and it looks like she got them with no guidelines as to how she should manage her workload, and no one’s checked in with her to say “you still need to be doing this” so she may not realize the full extent of the burden she’s put on the rest of the team.

            1. JGray*

              Thank you for saying this!! I agree that ultimately this is on the manager to figure out how to cover Mary’s work now that she is “part time”. I also don’t think that it is fair of Mary to say to the LW that whatever needs to be done or we will lose the client. We don’t know what has been said to Mary but it sounds like there has been a lot of assumptions that the LW should just pick up the slack which is unfair. I also have to wonder if the LW would be allowed to do a reduced schedule if asked in order to spend more time with the family. At my old job, there were two people that had babies before me and each of them got to take the 12 weeks of FMLA and then come back part time and bring their babies to work. When it came to my turn I was allowed the 12 weeks of FMLA but was told that if it wasn’t part of FMLA than I couldn’t have a reduced schedule. I was able to bring my baby with me to work but it still was not fair in the unequal treatment that was given for the same situation.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I’m not clear if Mary is also supposed to be checking email and doing some work from home?

          1. Annonymouse*

            In the original update Mary was supposed to fully manage her own reduced portfolio of clients and do some work from home if recquired.

            The fact she is dumping everything on OP was not supposed to happen.

            But onto other people in this situation:
            Management should either spread the extra existing work/clients between the department or hire a temp or part time person in a smaller company.

            It shouldn’t fall to one person to be doing the work of 1 1/2 or 2 people for a permanent solution.

      2. 6 months Preggers*

        No, she negotiated and got a work schedule that works for her. So did the OP – her hours are 9-5:30. But she stays until 8 to get things done. Mary gives her the spiel that she has to do the work or the client will be lost – which is BS. If the work has to be done, Mary should also be helping.
        This, from the perspective of a woman who is 6 months pregnant and will probably ask for a flexible working time myself. But that doesn’t mean I expect others to pick up my slack. In my mind flexible working time means I don’t have to be physically in the office for specific periods of time. If something needs to be done, it needs to be done, but I don’t mind getting it done at home after I’ve put the baby down for the afternoon nap/to bed for the night, or whatever.
        Obviously I could have a completely different perspective if my baby is a bad sleeper…

        1. 6 months Preggers*

          Sorry, to clarify – I am going to request flexible work time. That’s because I’m fairly certain in my department of 2 plus my manager, that I could get the same amount of work done in 5-6 hours a day that I could in 8, because a fair amount of the day is spent… between projects, on AAM, talking to my colleagues, etc. That just happens in an office. It’s like Parkinson’s law – work expands to fill the time allocated to it. If I know I have 10 things to finish in 5 days, I’ll make sure that those ten things, that are my responsibility, are completely in those days whether I complete them during the time I negotiated to be in the office, or I complete them at home while my baby is sleeping.

          If I was already stretched to the max and so stressed out that I knew that I couldn’t do my job in 6 hours instead of 8 (or was regularly working later even than I was supposed to already) I would never request flex hours. I’d know I was in the wrong industry! I could go work retail part time if I want a part time job.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Yes, please do print this comment (as well as any other comments/posts about parenting) to read back once you have a child. I promise, nothing is funnier/sadder to a parent than remembering the things we expected pre-parenthood…..

          Whatever flexible working time is in “your mind”, the situation here is that management approved a particular flexible schedule for Mary. That schedule is putting a burden on the OP. It is management’s job to fix that problem, not Mary’s job to throw her schedule out the window.

          As one commenter pointed out below, the ugly joke of ‘flex time’ in the US is that is so often ends up being a full time job with part-time pay. Oh, we know you’re only supposed to be working 60% of your hours, but you need to do X, Y and Z and you don’t want to burden your co-workers, do you?

          1. 6 months Preggers*

            I certainly plan to try to stick to it as much as possible! But I am well aware how many people *say* they will do one thing and then when it actually happens the reality is different.
            But, if you see below, Alison shared the follow up from 2012. I was pretty sure I’d read a scenario like this – and I’m pretty sure it’s ingrained in my psyche as How This Type Of Situation Should Be Handled. I’ve been thinking of JUST this as I’m thinking of how I want to address a flex-time. Again, I don’t plan for it to be reduced hours of work, I plan to have reduced hours of psychical in-office presence.

            1. Laura*

              I agree with neverjaunty, your world will flip upside down once you have your baby. It’s easy to say “Oh, Mary really should pick up her slack and work remotely to cover everything”. But the reality is that management approved her schedule being 10 – 3. I’m guessing that Mary needs to be home at a specific time to pick up her kids from school/daycare and take care of them. I cannot imagine taking client calls with the 18month old running around.

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Again, I don’t plan for it to be reduced hours of work, I plan to have reduced hours of [physical] in-office presence.

              But if Mary negotiated for reduced hours, not just a reduction in the time that she is physically present, then she shouldn’t erode or negate the deal that she was able to make. The company needs to figure something out that works for the department (including both Mary and the OP).

              1. 6 months Preggers*

                She didn’t though – Alison refers to the follow up post below (original post is from 2012). Mary got reprimanded for only doing 60% of the work – she was supposed to just have reduced in-office time and still complete 100% of her responsibilities. Mary ended up resigning over it.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  The LW presented one problem (Mary’s new schedule caused her hardship) which actually turned out to be a different and bigger problem (Mary had a different schedule, lied to OP about it, and would not have caused the hardship if she followed her schedule).

                  That doesn’t change Mallory Janis Ian’s point to you. If an employee negotiates for a particular flexible schedule, and that causes hardship to co-workers, it’s not the employee’s responsibility to go above and beyond her negotiated-on schedule to solve what is really management’s job to fix. And the “well, just do the work anyway” attitude is EXACTLY why people are skeptical of asking for flex time; they suspect (usually, correctly) that they will be pushed to do more work for no additional pay or credit.

                  BTW, as a parent with flex time, do not be at all surprised if you get co-workers resentful that you don’t drop everything and attend to emails and such when you’re home, because they think you’re just home with a baby all day so what could you possibly be doing. :P

                2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  Yeah, I saw later that it turned out that Mary wasn’t holding up her end of the bargain. I still believe that in general, though, if an employee has negotiated reduced hours, they shouldn’t dilute that by working full-time hours for part-time pay or get guilted into not taking the deal that they received.

                3. Hotstreak*

                  @Mallory Janis Ian, shouldn’t that apply to the 40hr/week employee as well? I don’t see why the 30hr employee gets to leave on time and the 40hr has to work all the unpaid OT. Seems that they should split it proportionally. Both employees negotiated specific schedules that are unsustainable, and if they both react as you have suggested, the work will not be completed.

                4. 6 months Preggers*

                  @Mallory Janice Ian I do agree with you too, that if what she had negotiated was a reduced schedule/reduced workload the company should have been responsible for alleviating the problem on the OP. But, I made my comments in light of knowing what the follow up was.

                  @Neverjaunty – I am certain some people might resent it, but to be frank if it doesn’t work out for me then I’ll just come back to full time. Nothing like that would be written in stone, if it is approved. IF the situation isn’t working I’d figure something else out. Though, I don’t plan for it to have a reduction in any of my work – but when I’m faced with the actual scenario I could have something unforeseen (like people who have a special needs baby or something… wow knocking wood here Eeeekkk!) that means that the work that I have wouldn’t work for me in the long run. It’s all about figuring it out.

          2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            My goodness, yes! It’s like the insurance commercial with the husband continually stating his nevers (never getting married, never having kids, never driving a minivan) yet appreciating each surprise over the years.

            When I think back on how I planned parenthood and work 10+ years ago to my situation today? Lightyears away. Lightyears.

            1. 6 months Preggers*

              Oh gosh, currently that commercial makes me cry. *Never* at work… at least Never anywhere but the bathroom at work!

              1. DNW*

                That commercial always makes me wince a little at the end- “I’m never going to let go…” After all the other things he said he’d never do but did, does that mean he gets hit by a car in the next scene that they don’t show us?

                1. Nina*

                  Yeah, that commercial really doesn’t work if you apply the analogy at the end. If he says he’s never letting go, then the last scene could be him walking out the door….

                2. Anx*

                  OT: So this to me is an example of an ambiguous ending, and I don’t think it’s necessary illogical to end it there, but this is reminding me that I wince all the time while watching commercials. I feel like syntax and grammar rooms must be changing really quickly, because I find so many commercials don’t make logical sense based on their scripts. Particularly whenever a “if” and “but” statements are used.

                3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                  In our house, we’re convinced the unseen scene at the end is the husband and wife in divorce court.

                4. teclatrans*

                  Yes, yes, yes, this drives me buggy. I get teary eyed as it goes along, but then my literal mind throws a record scratch in. Thankfully I only envision divorce and estrangement..

                5. 6 months Preggers*

                  OH NO that makes me cry so much more then!
                  However, I interpreted it as he finally came to terms that this is what he wants, he’s happy where he is.
                  It is about insurance though. That as your family grows you need more insurance – life insurance – so that if something happens to you you’re taken care of. So maybe the alluded to next scene is truly he dies. I don’t interpret it as divorce or anything like that.

            2. reaching for the sky*

              I see red every time I see that commercial. I always said I was never having kids. Nobody believed me, except the doctor who tied my tubes when I was 22.

              I am 39 now. No kids, no regrets. Every day I am happier I did what I knew was right for me.

        3. De (Germany)*

          “But that doesn’t mean I expect others to pick up my slack”

          But Mary isn’t slacking. She’s working the hours she’s agreed to, and nothing in the question indicates that she is slacking off during those hours.

          1. 6 months Preggers*

            Read below, Alison shares the follow up. Turns out Mary was slacking – she was supposed to not have a reduced work load, just log on at night and finish her work. Which Mary didn’t do. Which got Mary a ‘talking to’ and led to Mary resigning.

            1. De (Germany)*

              I read it now. So basically, when Mary was granted a part-time position, she was still expected to work more than 60 percent. She should have spoked up, sure but it’s not all her fault.

              1. 6 months Preggers*

                Yea. Seems to me like the agreement was between the company and Mary and not properly communicated. And Mary conveniently was able to take advantage of that by pushing the remaining 40% of her work onto the OP. So in the end, I think Mary is just as much to blame here as the company. The company should have realized this may have happened and properly communicated it so that Mary couldn’t do this scenario. If the OP had known that it wasn’t a team ‘pot’ of work – that each were still responsible for their own share – Mary wouldn’t have been able to pawn it off on her.

          2. BethRA*

            No, but she does seem to expect her colleague to work well beyond what said colleague agreed to, and while the situation is the employer’s fault, I find that rather obnoxious. It’s one thing to set boundaries around your time, but hypocritical not respect other people when they try to do the same.

        4. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes, and I’m sure when you return from leave, if you still have the same client load but are on reduced hours, you’d be conscientious enough to get with your boss and coworkers how things need to be redistributed, not just be like “oh well I didn’t get to those last 50 customer emails, guess my coworkers will have to stay late and take care of it for me”

      3. AMB*

        I completely agree. LW’s frustration should be with her employer, not Mary, especially because LW maybe does not know Mary’s whole situation (maybe Mary’s second child has colic, is sick, is disabled, or plain just won’t sleep, and that is why Mary has not be able to work at night while the second child is still so young). With that said, Mary’s responsibilities remain Mary’s responsibilities, so LW should focus on doing her own work and let the employer figure out how Mary’s client’s after 3 p.m. calls will be dealt with.

    2. MaryMary*

      Situations like this are also how employees with part time schedules can get screwed over and end up working 40 hours (or more) to try to keep clients and coworkers happy while getting paid to work part time. It’s good that Mary (no relation) sets boundaries, it’s sleazy of the company not to realize they need to staff the 40% of her workload that she is no longer responsible for.

      1. Cat*

        It is but it’s also not reasonable for someone with a full time schedule to work 140% of the time and Mary and the OP are jointly responsible for the clients right now.

          1. Mabel*

            I agree. And couldn’t the OP handle this by following Alison’s advice of bringing it to the manager and then if nothing changes, ask the manager to prioritize the work because it can’t all get done in the hours the OP should be working? I understand why the OP didn’t want to leave work un-done just because it was the end of his/her work day, but until s/he stops staying late to cover everything, it’s easy for management to decide that the situation is working just fine.

      2. Lola*

        It’s good that Mary sets boundaries, but it’s sleazy that Mary manipulates/guilts the OP into a burnout.

        1. Kyrielle*

          THIS. Instead of guilting OP, if Mary wanted to stick to her hours, her better approach would be to say something like “I’m sorry, I know this is overwhelming. I really can’t give more time – I am grateful for whatever you can pick up.”

          And yes, clients might get lost, which management chose.

          (That said, this is one from the archives, and the “more reader updates” at the bottom of the article includes as #5 an update to this one – and Mary was even more out of line based on something the OP didn’t know, so it was partly Mary’s problem. But that’s not in the letter since OP didn’t know it then.)

    3. AnotherFed*

      I agree it isn’t Mary’s problem to fix the hours, but the guilt trip of “you have to do that or we lose the client” when she leaves exactly on time is really crappy to do to her coworker. Even saying “I’m not able to do that tonight, I’m out of hours for the day” would communicate that she’s sticking to her hours *without* adding the guilt trip to the coworker.

  2. BadPlanning*

    I have a coworker who would say this is a “let things fail” scenario. Why should the upper management change anything when things appear to be working (regardless if “working” is burning out employees)? Of course, it has to be orchestrated. “Hey Boss, there are 2 hours left in the day. Mary’s gave me Thing 1 to finish that needs to be done, but I need to finish Thing 2 that was my highest priority. Should I do Mary’s Thing 1 or my Thing 2.”

    1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

      THIS. Mary seems to be okay with working until 3 and then letting the chips fall as they may. OP should follow suit by leaving at 5:30. When things start falling through the cracks, things will change. Until then the company is getting a great deal — why would they change anything up if everything is still getting done?

      1. 6 months Preggers*

        Yes, I think so – but it sounds like the OP has said that couldn’t be possible given that if a ball dropped there wouldn’t be any work/jobs. Unless there is a *little* ball that could be dropped…

      2. Katieinthemountains*

        Mary probably also has to pick up that baby by 3:30 or get charged by the minute. I doubt she can ever stay later if she’s made childcare arrangements based on this schedule. I think the best bet is for the manager to try to get her to agree to check email and do a little more work after the baby goes to bed to take some of the burden off OP while a workable travel schedule is devised.

        1. 6 months Preggers*

          Yes but she can get back online after she gets home/the baby goes to bed to finish what she needs to finish.

          1. einahpets*

            As a mom working 40-50 hours a week with a 2.5 year old daughter and who is also six months pregnant, I am still amazed at how much judgement people who haven’t been put in the situation yet can easily slip in. Of course, I had ideas of what I thought parents should be able to do before I became one myself. But I kept my mouth shut. And now that I know what it is actually like and am living it day to day? I still keep my mouth shut. Parenting is hard and what ‘should’ be easy aint always so.

            Yeah, there are plenty of times when I do log into work after my daughter goes to bed to finish something I couldn’t in the office — but if I was doing that every night especially after getting my company to agree to a reduced work schedule? HECK NO. This was a management issue (reduced worker hours yet no reduction in workload) that management needed to address, even if Mary had done things differently.

            1. reaching for the sky*

              Exactly. No kids here, never will have them either (don’t you dare start with me). I don’t give others’ parenting advice, unless you try to make your kids/parenting *my* business, when your choice to have kids affects my life (which it largely does not).

              1. Jean*

                Relax. I don’t see anyone here trying to “start with” you. In fact, I almost responded to your earlier comment (about deciding never to have kids, getting your tubes tied at age 22, and having absolutely no regrets 17 years later) as follows:

                “This is true reproductive choice! How wonderful you were able to choose what was best for you!”

                I’m not being snide here. I mean it with all my heart. Freedom is being able to choose when, how, whether, and/or whether NOT to become a parent. I have always been grateful to have been born into a time and place in which I can freely make my own reproductive decisions.

                1. reaching for the sky*

                  It’s very, very rare to successfully get oneself sterilized that young. I was incredibly lucky. It was barely a choice at all, in that I know so many people who could never actualize the same decision. After a lifetime of having people yell at me and even physically hurt me a few times because I don’t have and don’t want children, I’m sure you’ll understand my defensiveness.

                2. reaching for the sky*

                  Also, “deciding” not to have kids is kind of a misnomer- it was never a consideration, not something I actively “decided” against.

                  Not to nitpick.

                3. reaching for the sky*

                  I guess you must live in a different time and place than me. In my reality, where I live, we do not have that freedom. I have more of it because I have $$, and health insurance (and I did back then too, it was my first priority when I got health insurance, even before a checkup!)… but I know so many people who couldn’t find someone to sterilize them. They cannot choose what is best for them.

              2. einahpets*

                Yeah, I don’t judge people in terms of whether they (decide to)* have kids or not. Sorry if I gave you that impression?

                *And part of the reason is that sometimes it isn’t even a choice. I had a miscarriage between my daughter and my current pregnancy, and comments like ‘finally! is getting a sibling!’ really get to me. I have never really made my miscarriage a secret to family / friends, but some people just don’t think about the fact that there are lots of things that can go into having a child. Some of which are completely out of our control and all of which are none of their business.

                1. ThatLibTech*

                  The comment may have been a bit aggressive, but it’s actually quite normal to have a lot of backlash thrown at you if you state with surety that you don’t want children (and I agree that no one here was actually saying that). It’s a really crappy “normal” to have to encounter when making such a simple statement.

        2. Anx*

          If that’s that case, I would think that she should have negotiated a schedule that would have her scheduled with more cushion to pick up her kid (I suppose she could have requested it and that management could have pushed for the 60% office time).

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Great point, The works getting done so mgmt is probably like “yay win win”, but if the Op just left at her normal time more often since she presumably has a life too, then it may get mgmts attention when sh&@ isn’t getting done. Overall the whole thing was poorly executed.

    2. Ad Astra*

      A carefully orchestrated ball drop is sometimes the only way to get the additional funding/staffing/whatever resource you need. If the company is saving money by paying Mary only 60% of her previous salary, there’s a real incentive to keep doing the same amount of work while spending less on labor to make more money. You’ve got to demonstrate that this isn’t working.

    3. adonday veeah*

      A bout of the flu where LW can’t come in and isn’t accessible for a few days could clue management in to how precarious this situation is.

      Not, ahem, that I’m suggesting LW do that…

    4. KT*

      This exactly. To upper management, hiring another part-time is met with baffled looks because they don’t see the need–the work is getting done just fine!

      The OP needs to check in at 3:30 and say–the days is winding down and I can finish up X and Y, but there’s now ay I’ll get Z done. Which of these should I save for tomorrow? And then LEAVE at 5:30.

    5. Case of the Mondays*

      Doesn’t work in all industries. Law/accounting/medicine – basically anyone with a professional license, you owe an independent duty to your client. You let the ball drop, you get sued. For lawyers, the firm is on the hook too. So, you know a ball was going to drop and you didn’t stop it from happening, you are liable too.

  3. Mike C.*

    First, try not to be irritated with Mary. While on the surface she’s the one who put you in this position, the reality is that it’s your employer who put you in this position, by agreeing to reduce your team’s resources without making any adjustments to accommodate that.

    Yes, a thousand times this. It’s not Mary’s job to ensure proper staffing, it’s the manager’s job to ensure proper staffing. It’s easy to feel angry at the person leaving at a culturally early time, but if work isn’t being completed, it’s on management to see why.

    1. Cat*

      But she’s telling her coworker to deal with it or they’ll lose the client. Mary should be making the same case to management her coworker should, not trying to blackmail OP into ruining her own life.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        This was my take away from the letter as well.

        Mary is not completing her work in the allotted/agreed upon time and asking her coworker to pick-up the slack.

        1. Myrin*

          I’m not sure we can assume Mary isn’t completing her assigned work. The letter talks about dealing with “work that comes up when she is gone for the day”, so, as per OP’s example, clients of Mary’s calling after she’s already left which is not something Mary can realistically do anything about. It doesn’t sound like there’s any work actively assigned to either the OP or Mary, just that the overall workload has stayed the same and that some clients “belong” to Mary and some to the OP.

          That being said, I agree with Cat’s point above. I’m a strong promoter for people actually leaving work on time and if Mary is down to 60%, it’s her absolute right to leave at 3 (obviously, if she’s in the middle of doing something when the clock strikes 3, she shouldn’t just throw her stuff away and run out but finish it, but you get the gist). However, it’s not cool to kind of guilt-trip OP by basically saying OP has to do the work or they’ll lose the client; that kind of reeks of “Haha, sucks to be you!” to me.

          1. Myrin*

            Ah, okay, reading the update Alison linked to below about how Mary actually agreed to fully finish all of her work and, if needed, make up for “lost” work in the evening, I have to take some of what I said in the first paragraph back.

          2. 6 months Preggers*

            We have a west coast office. Sometimes we have work that comes up before they’re awake – and if it’s something that only someone there can handle, it just waits for them (granted 3 hours is different). But, the opposite is also true. I often will see emails from them at 8 or 9 pm on my phone, and unless it is a DIRE emergency, I get to it first thing when I get into the office. Pretty much anything below a 7.5 on the scale of 1-10 with 10 being a Sony hack I wait until the next day. Our reasonable assumption is that something between 1-5 should be completed within 1 business day (8 hours). Something 6-8 should be completed/addressed (may take longer to complete) within 1/2 a business day. Something 8+ should be addressed immediately (though it may take longer to complete).

            The west coast office knows if they send emails after 2 pm locally that they’re supposed to ‘rate’ them. So, even if it’s a client issue, the work isn’t going to dry up if the response is within 1 business day. And that’s the longest response that we would EVER have.

            1. 6 months Preggers*

              And, if a request comes in at the end/after one business day, we treat it as if it came in at 8 am unless it’s a 9 or 10 on the scale.

              1. 6 months Preggers*

                Also I work in advertising, not IT – so it’s a subjective rating scale that we use to determine the urgency of client/internal needs to help with the communication between the two offices.

    2. Jerry Vandesic*

      Agree completely. The only thing you need to do with regard to Mary is refuse to take things off her plate if she doesn’t have the time to do them. The alternative needs to be that they fall on the ground, not on your plate. If your employer wants to be family friendly, they need to find a way to handle the 40% of the work that is no longer being covered.

    3. neverjaunty*

      And it’s to management’s benefit to shift the blame to Mary. Divide-and-conquer is a lot easier than actually spending money and effort to fix a problem that management created and perpetuates.

      BTW, in situations like this it’s not at all unusual for management to play someone in Mary’s situation off against her co-workers, too.

      1. adonday veeah*

        I don’t think this is something “management” does. I think this may be something individual people, who are poor managers, may do.

        1. Mike C.*

          There is certainly incentive to blame outside causes for poor working conditions rather than acknowledge reality or be accountable for one’s one decisions in how to manage or otherwise run the business.

  4. TootsNYC*

    There’s also this:
    “I think it’s great the company wants to be family friendly. When are you going to be ‘friendly’ to -my- family? My family–even if it is a household of one, it is a family–is being negatively impacted by being required to spend -more- time in the office.”

    The other thing I was once told by a wise person is: Make it visible.

    So every time you do something for Mary’s clients, keep track. Bring it forward.

    1. TootsNYC*

      “And your manager needs to really push on this issue — it’s his job to push for what the department needs to function smoothly, and to explain it in a way that won’t produce baffled looks (i.e., explaining that neither of you see it as a workable solution isn’t enough; he needs to to show them exactly why).”

      The underlined is why I say, “Make it visible.” You are on the front lines; you have the first crack at the information and evidence your manager needs to make this case. Provide it for him.

    2. Jeanne*

      This is what I was thinking. Why is a baby the only family we are friendly toward? OP has a family, even if it’s just her and the cat. She deserves some balance in her life including sleep and fun. She needs to say out loud that babies are not the only acceptable family.

      (Sorry. I have a little chip on my shoulder that not being married means I can be the one who has to stay late.)

      Also, is OP’s boss taking on extra duties. If not, why not?

      1. 6 months Preggers*

        I agree! I am pregnant now but until I was I hated that people would assume I didn’t mind working late because I didn’t have kids. I had a boyfriend/date/dog to get to – then a husband/dog. For years we weren’t sure if we wanted kids and then we finally made the plunge… eek! … but I never want to push that one someone else. IF something is so urgent that people need to stay late – I will *work late* I’ll just do it at home. I’m asking for flex hours for physical presence in the office. I don’t plan to get any less work done.
        Again, these are great PLANS but who knows how things will actually shake out. But just saying that I am of the same opinion even though I might be affected by these opinions in the near future!

        1. TootsNYC*

          When I was a new mom, I worked with a young woman who was single. This was one of her big complaints; she really influenced me.

          One of her comments was, “If the only family that counts is a husband or a baby, how am I going to get a husband or a baby if I’m expected to work those hours?”

          Of course, her underlying point was: “I have a life too, and mine should count as much as anyone’s.”

          But I think, it doesn’t really matter who has “a life” and who doesn’t–you both have a work, and that should be equal.

          1. 6 months Preggers*

            Yes, as I reference in another comment – we got married somewhat later, I dated a lot while in my early career. I hated that the general consensus was that it was OK to shove stuff on me because I didn’t have a family.
            I had a dog, who needed a walk and needed to be let out. Then, I had dates! Luckily I found a boyfriend/husband who also values hard work. We’re in a good swing where we know we work hard all week – but our weekends are 100% ours. My boss knows I don’t mind working late during the week at the moment as long as my weekends are not interrupted, I get stuff done.
            I realize that will all change when I have my baby because you don’t have a baby only on the weekends. So, I’ll probably switch to doing work on the weekends as I have time, if necessary. But, I probably should work on my boundaries more anyway. #workaholic

  5. Anony-Moose*

    Ugh, this could be me (although thankfully to a lesser extent). Three-person term. My peer went down to 3 days a week and ALL the administrative tasks shifted to me. We’re paid similarly and have the same title, but my workload dramatically increased as did my responsibilities.

    And every time I’ve brought it up I’m reminded that Coworker’s responsibilities haven’t been reduced. No, but they’ve been slowly and systematically reassigned to me. They’re also unavailable when there are inquiries, crises, and changes that need to be made. It’s just nuts. But i’m a high performer so the work just keeps getting piled on.

    In the meantime I’m planning on relocating within the year and instead of just job searching to get away am asking myself how I can be a high performer who also has great boundaries so this doesn’t happen again. (I’m all ears if anyone has questions!)

        1. Anony-Moose*

          Yes. Unfortunately the answer is always “you are the most skilled/the fastest at this so I need you to take care of it.” Especially when those are tasks outside of my job description but within my skillset. I’m the go-to problem solver and I appreciate the trust and approval I get from my superiors, but it is frustrating to say “this isn’t working for me” eight different ways and have it shot down!

          1. AdAgencyChick*

            Do you then respond with, “Okay, I can take care of it, but then I have to put X, Y, and Z on the back burner”?

            1. Anony-Moose*

              Yep – I’ve learned so much being here with y’all. What has happened is that all of my actual job responsibilities are pushed to the bottom of the to-do list by my manager so that I can design a pamphlet/write a letter/create a report/whatever admin job I’m doing at that moment and then when we meet as a team she’s surprised that I haven’t booked more client meetings, etc.

              I’ve said “I can handle A, B, and C but just to be clear it means I can’t do X, Y, and Z and that will impact our bottom line. If I don’t have ample time to focus on X, Y, and Z now, I won’t meet my yearly goals. If you want me to focus on A, B, and C this week, I can do that, but I just want to be clear that I’m pushing X, Y, and Z back. ” And the conversation is always “Yeah, this isn’t ideal, but…”.

              I had about a month where I WAS really able to focus on my job and my numbers were amazing. My team asked me what was different and I said “well, I wasn’t distracted by other projects and I was able to spend significant time on X, Y, and Z this week and look what it yielded.”

              A lot of this is just not going to change (it’s systemic in our organization) but like I said, I’m really focused on how I can push back/carve out boundaries here AND in the future, so I appreciate the feedback from the AAM community!

              1. Chriama*

                Have you had a conversation about the *pattern* of requests? Boss, in the last 6 months I’ve received 12 requests for tasks x,y,z. When I spoke to you you said I should prioritize them ahead of my regular tasks a,b,c. Last month, when I focused on a,b,c, my metrics were [good_number]. When x,y,z take precedence, my metrics are [bad_number]. This has been going on for the last 3 months, and it’s going to continue happening unless you decide that my priorities can go back to a.b,c and find a way to deal with x,y,z.

                I think it can become very easy to say in the moment “it’s not ideal, but…” but if you show a pattern with solid numbers, the boss will be more inclined to listed (not least of all because you can prove that you’re a good worker but boss’s prioritizing is the issue, so it makes her look bad).

                1. Wanna-Alp*

                  Yeah, having some solid data will do a lot more to “show” the problem, rather than just “tell” what the problem is.

                2. Jules*

                  I’ve also BTDT and recommend that you be very, very specific with priorities. So right away when they ask you to do X, you reply that you’d be happy to do X, but it means that they need to find someone else to do Y, because you can’t do both, and who should you pass Y on to?

                  If my experience is anything to go by, they’ll then say, ‘well, just let Y slide until you’ve finished X’. At which point your response is, ‘ok, I can do Y after I’ve finished X, but that then means we need to find someone to do Z, because I can’t do both. Who should we tap?’

                  And then you need to stand firm – if they don’t find you someone to do Z, it doesn’t get done. A few lessons later, they’ll be better at prioritising your workload.

          2. 6 months Preggers*

            Are you me?
            This happened to me when the previous other member of our team left for another company. Before she was replaced, we had 3 months with a part-time person (who was in the role in the past and retired) while we were hunting for her replacement. So, I had to pick up a lot of slack and I was very stressed. I didn’t really feel like I was doing anything WELL but doing everything OK. Which isn’t good enough for me…

      1. neverjaunty*

        “I’m reminded that Coworker’s responsibilities haven’t been reduced” – but this is absolutely false. If they are being reassigned to you, and if you are expected to pick up any balls Co-worker dropped, then yes, they are de facto being reassigned to you.

        Unfortunately you can have great boundaries and that means nothing if you have no power to enforce them with your employer. Your best alternative here is to find a new job. Having worked at this kind of business, there is nothing you can do if their attitude is “we don’t really care about you or about reasonable treatment of our employees, as long as the work is done”. They’re relying on your sense of responsibility and work ethic to make up for their crappy management. Leave.

        1. Anony-Moose*

          Neverjaunty, thank you! You’re right. They’re just being reassigned to me and it’s a bit maddening that no one but me seems willing to acknowledge it!

          I’m trying to do the best job I can right now, while thinking about our move across the country in the Spring. So now I feel like it’s a bit of an experiment. I know I’m going to move on, so I’m observing everything I can for when I work with a new team and eventually manage a teamm.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Have you asked them to formally add them to your work plan or job description? That might get their attention , as well as the metrics.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Never be good at anything you don’t want to do.

      I’m serious. Start letting balls drop, and be vocal about the fact that they are dropping because you’re being asked to go so far outside of your normal duties. “I’m sorry, I haven’t been able to get to Admin Task XYZ because I’ve been cranking on the ABC project.” “As long as you’re okay with the Notmyjob Report potentially having mistakes in it, I can do it, otherwise I can’t commit to that timeline.”

      Do your own work with alacrity and excellence, and the work that should be somebody else’s with less care. When the person who is waiting for that work gets mad, if it’s your manager, you can respond with, “It’s just not possible for me to do a perfect job on that and still cover A, B, and C. Do we need to reprioritize?” If it’s not your manager, you can respond with, “Unfortunately I need to focus on the ABC project, so this is all I can give you right now. Should we talk to Boss about how to get you what you need?”

      Basically, if you keep accepting the extra work, TPTB have no reason to change. By making it uncomfortable for them to ask you to solve the problem by being the work garbage disposal, you give them an incentive to find a different solution.

      1. the gold digger*

        Never be good at anything you don’t want to do.

        This is why, in The Old Days When People Smoked In The Office, unless you were applying for a job as a secretary, you never put your typing speed on your resume.

        1. HM in Atlanta*

          Amen to that. 77 wpm is my special secret. (Also, wpm autocorrects to women. I think that’s more than a coincidence)

      2. neverjaunty*

        While I don’t disagree, what will probably happen is that TPTB will punish Anony-Moose. They’ve loaded all the work onto Anony-Moose because s/he’ll do it, and because it’s easier to lean on Anony-Moose to keep being an overachiever than disciplining the other employee or trying to find a way to redistribute the workload (say, by hiring another person).

        1. Anony-Moose*

          I love AdAgencyChick’s assessment here and it’s so right. And then of course neverjaunty, you’re right too. It’s the paradox of the high performer being held to a different standard.

          I did let a ball drop a few weeks ago (and actually Coworker saved the day for me…we have a great relationship and I’m really glad that she’s been able to establish her boundaries so well). We had a deadline on a day I was out of the office and I communicated to all the stakeholders involved that I needed the materials by the Friday before it was due or they’d need to meet the deadline with out me. Thursday I check in with two people. “Sure it’s all going fine.” Friday I check in with two people. Monday I get an anxious text about whether deadline has been met and what I’m going to do about it. In this case, Coworker stepped in and covered for me, otherwise it would have been a disaster. No one else acknowledged the shit show that had occurred.

          It was a revelation. Do my job well and assume that no one else will do anything well. I just hate operating in that type of CYA world!

        2. AdAgencyChick*

          Maybe. My experience with doing this is that it leads to one of two things:

          a) Best case scenario: TPTB realize they can’t keep doing what they are doing, make a major change.
          b) More likely scenario, which is what Anony-Moose describes in other replies: the ball gets dropped and either some mild grumbling occurs (“we know this isn’t ideal, but…”) or someone else swoops in to save the day — but *no serious consequences fall on Anony-Moose*. I think the reason this happens is that, when the ball drops, people know deep down that they’re asking too much of someone and therefore the correct response is not to come down on that person with, “Do all this extra sh!t or your job is in jeopardy!” (Deep down, they probably realize that replacing the person who’s been doing the work of 1.5 to 2 people with a NEW person is going to make the situation worse, not better.)

          But — and this is the key — either way, when I’ve been in this situation, it’s no skin off MY nose. Mild complaining, but I still get to go home at a decent hour? Fine with me!

          1. neverjaunty*

            While I still don’t disagree with you, these scenarios only work when you have management that is just clueless and is actually well-meaning. My own experience in this situation is with management that knows perfectly well, not just ‘deep down’, that they’re asking too much of their responsible employees, but simply don’t care. Usually it’s a combination of not wanting to actually make Goofus Wakeen do the damn work (sometimes because they just don’t want to be bothered actually managing) and knowing that Gallant Wakeen actually has a work ethic.

            This is especially true when ‘balls being dropped’ doesn’t just mean a boss’ boss being unhappy or causing inconvenience, but things like causing actual harm to clients or problems with outside regulators. And this kind of management also seems to miraculously find a spine when it comes to yelling at Gallant Wakeen for not doing twice as much work, or for finding somebody to blame when the consequences of a ball getting dropped are serious.

            So yes, agree that Anony-Moose should be very clear and push back, and where possible, let their co-workers dropped balls stay dropped. Just, having BTDT, you can’t fix managers with a bad attitude. And $5 says Anony-Moose’s managers will be just astonished when she moves on.

        3. Formica Dinette*

          You make a good point. I wonder if it would make a difference if Anony-Moose started sloooowly letting tiny balls drop.

      3. Brandy in TN*

        I was told years ago (this is bad) to not start something up because it will eventually become a duty.

        1. Anony-Moose*

          I don’t think it’s bad. It’s an unfortunate truth. And it 100% holds true with me. If I step in to help with a report, write a letter, help the admin, it’s now my job. If I *suggest* something that would help streamline our department, it’s my job.

          I had an incident a few months ago. There was a problem with our department and another department (important records weren’t matching up and they needed to) so I suggested a new process that could help. Great. Now it’s my job. I do it, and constantly push for feedback. No feedback. I request check-ins from both departments. No responses. I take weeks to do it on my own with no help and turn it in. A day late. All hell rains down about how it’s late (no joke, scathing emails and yelling).

          That was the last time I offered to take any initiative. It is actually really hard for me. I want to do well. I want to contribute. I want to identify problems and help come up with solutions. I’m not willing to be yelled at like a 4 year old ESPECIALLY when it’s not warranted.

      4. TootsNYC*

        “Never be good at anything you don’t want to do.”

        This is the textbook definition of passive aggression.

        And it is why I maintain that “passive aggression” is not actually evil or wrong. It’s a specific tactic, and it has its place.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Unfortunately, this is what you have to do with some companies. When they fail to understand that you cannot do 13 hours of work in an 8 hour work day, companies draw out this behavior in people. People have nothing else left that they can do about their work loads.

          A while ago, a friend was telling me about a work situation. A retiring employee had to write an ad to hire someone for her position. This retiring employee had a tremendous work load. The reason is a long story, however, her work load was huge. She wrote the ad and threw everything in the ad that she could possibly think of. It was not surprising when not too many people applied for the job. That might be framed as P/A, but it is also the truth. When TPTB do not listen, strange stuff starts happening.

          1. Jean*

            What’s more demoralizing is when PTPB eventually replace Retiring Employee with more than one employee…or with one better-paid employee.

            Okay, I’m going to stop being cynical now.

  6. KAM*

    Alison, any chance you can email this LW for an update? I’m curious to know how this got handled.

    I agree that Mary’s attitude isn’t very collegial and I wouldn’t find it acceptable, but I do think this is a bad management issue at its core. The attitude that comes across here from the bosses is that no kids = no family, which just isn’t true.

      1. Jeanne*

        I read the update. The more I hear, the more I think I want some of the UK laws that protect workers. Or the Canadian ones. It can feel so dog-eat-dog here. But then I guess you wouldn’t have a column.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Don’t worry, I’m sure in the UK and Canada there are plenty of managers who ignore those laws :/

          Interesting update, and how wonderful that OP’s management took a look at the situation! And Mary is a jerk.

          1. Blurgle*

            One difference is that (at least where I live) it’s *much* easier to contest illegal working conditions than it seems to be in the US, so employers have less incentive to ignore the rules.

        2. Not Today Satan*

          Yeah, I’ve gotten really into the labor movement lately, and a lot of it is because of this blog/the comments on this blog. (I know people in unions have problems too but… a lot fewer imo!)

      2. 6 months Preggers*

        So glad to see that update. I could have sworn I had read about a similar scenario, but being that it was years ago I wasn’t sure if I’d read it here or not. Given that my Opinions about how I will request a flex schedule will be that I’ll finish my work at home, just not physically be in the office as long are in line with what the HR department at that company wanted, I’m pretty sure I read both the original post and the follow up and they’ve somehow become ingrained in my psyche. (had to google that because I could swear it should be spelled engrained but Chrome disagreed).
        Also, I’m fairly certain a flex schedule will be OK for me. I work in a male-dominated industry/company and am the only person in our office under 40 now, and they often mention that they’re family friendly if the topic comes up. I do a lot of telecommuting just whenever I feel like it now, like sometimes if it’s raining I don’t feel like putting pants on (have to tell manager that it’s happening but it is never denied). I don’t have any worries about asking for it, but again, I don’t plan to ask for a reduced workload just reduced physically present hours.

        1. einahpets*

          I guess my advice as someone who has been there (stayed at a full time workload — and actually got promoted! – when my daughter was born, working at a place that is family friendly / flexible with hours and telecommuting) — know that it isn’t easy and there will be times when you do drop the ball at work or on a project (because it happens, no matter your best laid plans). There are sometimes just not enough hours in the day.

          Also there will be whole weeks where you probably are not going to feel like putting on pants any day, so unless your work is OK with you going completely remote for a week at a time – my advice would be to work out a tentative plan on the days you are going to TC versus come in to work before you take leave, and stick with it except on very rare occasions*. When I first went back with my daughter, I worked 3 days a week at home (1 more than most of the folks in my dept) and then after ~3 months, I transitioned back to 2 days a week. If I just made the plans to work that extra day at home every week and didn’t tell my manager about it until the day of? That might have been weird.

          *I give myself the chance to say “I’m not feeling well, is it OK if I TC today even though I had planned on coming into the office?” to my manager every ~2.5-3 months or so (chalking it up to I work better with my mental sanity intact), which works out OK as now there are probably 1-2 other days in a typical month where I have to ask otherwise for the flexibility. Anymore than that would look weird.

          1. 6 months Preggers*

            Yes, given that I’m 6 months along these discussions are starting to happen now, and we’ll have a plan hammered out together that is mutually agreeable before I take maternity leave.
            That being said, this is just physically in office on normal weeks. On a lot of weeks I may be traveling for a whole week at a time so the point would be moot. (I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to pump/keep up with it with the type of work I do so I’m just not setting the bar very high with that and assuming I won’t be breastfeeding past my maternity leave. If it works out, great, if it doesn’t, I don’t expect it to so I won’t be *as* sad.(

      3. NickelandDime*

        Why do I feel it only became a problem to them when the OP complained and more or less threatened to leave? It didn’t seem to be a problem when Mary wasn’t doing her work. Like they didn’t know!

        Stuff like this makes it bad for working parents. I would love to have flexible hours and would happily fire up my laptop after Bedtime to do it. Of course, that would get the side eye here.

        1. 6 months Preggers*

          Because they didn’t know, because the OP was picking up all the slack. 200% of work was supposed to be done, 100% per person. Mary was doing 60% and OP was doing 140%. The company didn’t see the difference.

          1. Zillah*

            I don’t think management should get off the hook that easily. Either they noticed and didn’t care until the OP threatened to leave, or they weren’t paying close enough attention to notice that the OP was in the office an extra three hours a day and no longer taking lunch. Neither speaks highly of them.

          2. NickelandDime*

            I don’t believe they didn’t know. They just didn’t care until she/he complained and threatened to leave.

      4. 6 months Preggers*

        Can you post this in the body of the above? It puts a lot of it into perspective and a lot of us are conjecturing whether it’s Mary’s fault or the company’s – when it turns out Mary actually WAS supposed to be doing her own share of the work, not 60% of her work.


        1. MashaKasha*

          Right, that was a shock to me too. Turns out, Mary was supposed to keep up with her reduced workload, was not keeping up, was dumping it on OP and blackmailing OP with “but if you don’t do this, all our clients will leave” and the management, who had told Mary that she’d have to complete her workload in the first place, didn’t care! That’s a totally different story!

      5. 6 months Preggers*

        Any chance you can include that in the body above? It helps to clear up some of the points people are debating in the body.

        I certainly think that if a company allows a colleague to have a different work schedule they need to publicize it. It sounds like the OP didn’t know that Mary was supposed to continue doing 100% of her workload because Mary never told her. Something like that should have clearly been communicated so that Mary couldn’t get away with pawning off work on the OP.

      6. Kas*

        Thank you for posting that! I’m now wondering if the baffled looks from senior management that OP got when they requested a part-timer were because Mary WAS supposed to be doing some work from home, and management hadn’t realised that OP’s overwork was due to Mary’s shirking.

  7. JM*

    Mary has gotten a sweet deal and I think I speak for a million parents (and non-parents) out there that I am jealous.

    However, Mary is not an island – what she does clearly affects the success of her department. The managers should understand this. IMHO, she could at least be asked to return phone calls and emails after 3 p.m., especially if they are urgent calls from clients. I mean, she’s working 25 hours a week, but she’s getting her full salary, presumably, so it shouldn’t be too much of a burden to do a little work from home.

    I suspect OP would be happy with even a small effort on Mary’s part and the manager’s part. I sympathize with OP — tough situation to be thrown into, with unrealistic expectations heaped on OP.

      1. JM*

        That’s the clincher for me — if Mary is getting 60% of her former pay, then I put less blame on her for the situation. In that case, the company’s payroll has been reduced, and they need to either give OP a raise for the extra work, or hire a part-time person.

        1. MashaKasha*

          According to the update, her workload was reduced as well to match the hours (and supposedly the pay).
          She was still not completing all of it.

    1. Ad Astra*

      See, I had presumed she was working 60% of her previous schedule and making 60% of her previous pay. If that’s the case, it would be crazy to expect a part-timer to function the same way as a full-time, exempt employee. They’re not paying her enough to take on work outside the agreed-upon hours, while (in theory) they are paying OP enough to take on additional work.

      BUT if you’re correct and Mary’s still being paid the same as before, it’s pretty tough not to expect her to at least be answering emails and phone calls outside the office.

      The company has effectively reduced Mary’s hours. Was that the intent, or were they simply trying to be more flexible about Mary’s full-time schedule? That would ultimately shape my view on the situation.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        I also assumed 60% salary for 60% hours, in which case I understand why Mary is being firm about her limited hours. In some fields, it’s common for new parents to go on reduced-salary/reduced-hour schedules and then wind up working full-time schedules anyway but for less pay. Law firms are notorious for this (and usually that means that not only is the new mom getting paid less, but her “part-time” years aren’t counting toward the partnership track).

      2. Lily Rowan*

        The problem as I see it is that part-time work is a fixed number of hours, while full-time work is 40+. And that plus can be whatever it needs to be! It gets tough when the two people are effectively doing the same job, but only one of them can be asked to go above and beyond.

        1. fposte*

          This is in the UK, so I don’t know the rules there, but in the US, it is indeed possible to be part time and exempt, and therefore not have fixed hours.

        2. Sarah*

          In Canada it’s also possible to be a less than full-time employee (ie: 60%) and still be exempt. At least it is for a professional firm – I can’t speak to other exempt categories.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Also, at many jobs, dropping to 25 hours/week would put you at the threshold where you no longer receive benefits – if so, the company is also saving the cost of benefits for her.

  8. Serin*

    Alison’s answer doesn’t really seem very hopeful — seems to boil down to “A better-than-average manager can make this case to upper management in such a way that they’ll see the need for better staffing. If a better-than-average manager is not what you’ve got, start polishing your resume in your copious spare time.”

    I think generally high-level management will have a policy of ignoring claims of understaffing until it costs them something. So, as commenters above have said, make it cost them something.

    1. The IT Manager*

      I got to be honest here, the LW’s manager dropped the ball. Same amount of work, same number of people, but one works less than the other. Either things drop or the LW is the one picking up the slack and working those extra hours. If LW was already working 40/40+ hrs a week, the manager should have proactively told LW what was highest priorities were and what should be let to slide.

      I might have recommended the LW just leave work at 6pm like she used to, but if manage is not willing to solve a problem that is theirs to solve then an employee’s only option is to quit. You can see in the update that the threat of doing so got management’s butt in gear. And also that the manager was doing a bad job because Mary wasn’t being held to the agreed upon standard of supporting her reduced portfolio even if she had to work in the evening.

  9. MaryMary*

    I wouldn’t present it as an ultimatium or idle threat, but I would emphasize that you don’t find the current arrangement sustainable PERSONALLY. I can’t count how often nothing is done about a staffing issue until someone quits, and then two people are hired to replace the one who quit (and solve the original staffing issue).

  10. AdAgencyChick*

    First of all, OP and Mary had a lame manager. This person should have been able to see ahead of time that a significant cut in hours for one person in a department of 2 means a significant increase in workload for the other person, or else that balls get dropped. Which is not to say that this means the manager should not have approved the request, but she should have had a plan in place for how to handle the resulting reduction in Mary’s productivity. I get that in some situations, someone might be able to work so much more efficiently that she can get everything done in 60% of the time, but this is a client-facing job with travel — how could the boss have just thought, “It’s fine, OP will take care of everything”?

    In OP’s shoes, I would go to the manager and have exactly the conversation Alison describes about how this is not a sustainable situation. And then my course of action would probably depend on what solution the manager chose. If the solution is that manager takes on some of the excess work, great! It’s someone else’s problem right away. If the solution is to hire another person, then I would press hard for “okay, what do we do until then?” (Because hiring someone almost always takes way longer than you want it to!) And if the non-solution is, “This is the situation and you need to make it work,” I would probably respond with, “I plan to do what I need to do to service my own clients. Anything on top of that, I will accomplish what I can in a 45-hour work week, with a reasonable amount of travel, but I can’t continue to give more than that.” As long as OP is a valued employee — and she’d better be, because it sounds like the department would be screwed without her — I think she could say this without endangering her position.

    And then I’d start saying no to requests. I’d quit answering the phone if it’s Mary’s client and I were working on something else. (Yes, I’d answer if I weren’t busy.) Say no to travel requests that are too much of a PITA. I think with the kind of wishy-washy manager who expects that “the situation will work out on its own” (i.e., OP picks up all of the slack), sometimes the only thing that works is to let some balls drop. At the time OP wrote the letter, management wasn’t feeling the pain of their own poor decisions, so they had no impetus to change. They get one irate client call, though, and all of a sudden it’s time to fix the situation.

    1. AnnieNonymous*

      I’m wondering if management actually shouldn’t have approved Mary’s request. IMO the better solution would be for Mary to have been moved to a different position or department at an equivalent level but that isn’t so time-intensive. The way I see it, Mary simply can’t do her old job anymore, and everyone is playing dumb except the person who’s doing the work for her.

      1. em2mb*

        “The way I see it, Mary simply can’t do her old job anymore, and everyone is playing dumb except the person who’s doing the work for her.”

        I think that point is really key. I love the idea of flexible schedules and reduced hours as people are beginning their families (or taking care of elderly relatives or taking more time to write that novel or train for that marathon). But the bottom line is while this will work in some industries, it’s a non-starter in others. And you bear some responsibility for knowing whether it’s the case in your line of work.

  11. Faith*

    The company has definitely dropped the ball here. This reminded me of the discussion that I had with my boss after I got back from my maternity leave. He asked me if I would want to go on a reduced hour schedule. I asked him if that would mean reduced work load, or just reduced number of hours to finish the same amount of work. We both agreed that for my role this was something not feasible, and settled on a flextime arrangement where I can work from home as needed and I can shift my core office hours, so that I am at the office from 7 am to 4 pm.

  12. AnotherAlison*

    Family friendly?
    Seems only to Mary’s family.
    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

    1. BTownGirl*

      It really can get annoying, I agree. I have coworkers who are on schedules similar to Mary’s and, luckily, I’m able to pick up the slack. One of them, however, is obnoxious. I was able to leave early one day to attend one of my nephews’ hockey tournaments (it was a huge deal and I hadn’t taken a personal day in forev-ah ev-ah) and this woman had the gall to be annoyed that I was taking off for this reason. I know, I know…you’re a parent and your life is so much more important than mine.

  13. Wilton Businessman*

    I agree that this is not Mary’s Problem, but Manager’s Problem. The OP needs to bounce Mary’s things to the manager so he understands what is involved. Yes, OP will eventually end up doing them, but at least he will know what the workload is.

    Personally, I’d take this as an opportunity to enhance my own brand by automating Mary out of a job.

    1. Mike C.*

      Personally, I’d take this as an opportunity to enhance my own brand by automating Mary out of a job.

      Hahaha, I’m glad I’m not the only one here who has thoughts like these.

  14. AnnieNonymous*

    Hmmmm…I disagree that this isn’t Mary’s problem. It seems like dealing with late hours and having open availability (for phone calls and email) is part of the job, and she is no longer fulfilling her responsibilities. It’s management’s job to make sure Mary is fulfilling those responsibilities, but Mary is fully aware that she is getting away with letting her responsibilities slide. Even worse (and this is a major pet peeve of mine), she’s acting like she doesn’t know that the OP is dealing with a major burden on her behalf. If Mary’s denying that things aren’t running smoothly, the OP isn’t going to get the help they need.

    1. Jerry Vandesic*

      “It seems like dealing with late hours and having open availability (for phone calls and email) is part of the job …”

      That’s the rub. It appears that Mary and her manager have negotiated a change to her employment so that late hours and open availability are not part of her job. That’s absolutely fine. The problem is that the manager didn’t then find a way to handle the work that was taken away from Mary (and figuring that out IS part of the manager’s job).

      1. AnnieNonymous*

        The point is that Mary knows this and is being a jerk by hiding behind the rhetoric of “but my hours are different now.” She doesn’t seem to have informed her clients of her changed availability. If some issues would be solved or assuaged by “dude, just be a better person,” it’s not a simple matter of it being management’s problem to solve. If you don’t feel some guilt that someone else is picking up a significant amount of your slack, that’s not good.

    2. the gold digger*

      dealing with late hours and having open availability (for phone calls and email) is part of the job

      I was wondering the same thing. If Mary used to walk in at 8 and leave at 5 every day before and never stayed a second late or did any emails from home, then reduced pay for working until 3 and only 3 is fine.

      But if the job before required her to work more than 40 hours a week – and that was part of the deal – then she needs to have the same flexibility now. Or she needs to be at 60% as flexible as she was before.

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        “Or she needs to be at 60% as flexible as she was before …”

        Not necessarily. It all comes down to what she negotiated with her manager as part of her change to part-time. She might have negotiated a strict 24 hours of work per week despite having worked more than 40 hours per week in the past. That’s possible, and reasonable for her to do. But it’s not reasonable for the manger to ignore these changes and expect that OP take on the extra work to make up for Mary’s new schedule.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Management agreed to Mary working a particular schedule. If that wasn’t going to be workable given the responsibilities of the job, then management should have acknowledged that and made different arrangements, or redistributed the workload (perhaps with a temp or another part-timer). OP is not dealing with a burden on MARY’S behalf. She is dealing with a burden that management created.

      I’m really bothered by the idea that Mary is “getting away with” something by having negotiated for a particular work schedule – which, as others have noted, almost certainly comes with reduced pay and work advancements – and then actually sticking to that work schedule.

      1. Myrin*

        I completely agree on principle but reading the update to this letter (Alison linked to it above), it seems like the original agreement between Mary and management was very different from what Mary then ended up doing! But generally, I’m completely onboard with what you’re saying!

      2. AnnieNonymous*

        I’m not a fan of the (frankly odd) thinking that your workday happens in a vacuum. If you’re literally working less and you’re aware that your coworker is struggling to get things done, you’re a jerk if you decide that it’s not your responsibility to care.

        The stuff you do has an effect on your coworkers. To hide behind the “gotcha!” of “it’s actually management’s issue” isn’t the point. You knew what you were requesting, and now you’re acting like you don’t know. In my experience, the people who have the attitude that they’re going to do whatever they want as long as it’s been approved by management are the first to cry foul when others stop giving into requests for non-required accommodations. Mary owes it to her coworker to come clean to management about the fact that this situation isn’t working out.

        1. neverjaunty*

          I don’t think it’s a “gotcha” to point out that the failure to appropriately handle Mary’s reduced workload is management’s problem. Presumably Mary’s managers were not so stupid as to think that 40% of her work would magically vanish along with 40% of her hours, so there needed to be provisions made to deal with the hours/work she’s no longer there for.

          Yes, it would be better for a co-worker in Mary’s situation to say “That sucks, and I’m happy to present a united front with you to our manager on finding a way to make sure you’re not overloaded”. But it’s also not the co-worker’s responsibility to say “Oh, wow, I mean I took a pay cut to get that reduced schedule, but sure, I’ll be happy to do more work for free since management won’t hire a temp.”

        2. Mike C.*

          This places the blame of overloading employees with work (especially exempt employees) on each other rather than those who actually have the ability to change it. It’s not your fault if your employer decided to cut staffing by having folks do the jobs of two people just for extra profits.

          What happens when you’re on vacation and someone else calls in sick? Are you saying that you should be expected to drop everything you were doing to report to work in some fashion, and that it’s your own fault for taking time off if you don’t?

          This sounds like a circular firing squad to me.

        3. TootsNYC*

          Yeah, I think Mary had a responsibility to be saying to Manager / Management: “How are we going to serve my clients when I’m out? They’re my clients, they’re the reason I have a job, and I’m in charge of making sure they get what they need.”

  15. em2mb*

    I’m all for work-life balance, but I’m really struggling with this one. It’s not like the nature of the work has changed substantially since Mary went on maternity leave and came back to work reduced hours. Surely she knew when negotiating with her boss that not being in the office before 10 or between 3-5:30 was going to be a challenge given the demands of this job. She knows the amount of work to be done hasn’t changed, but she’s going to work 60 percent less? If being to leave at a certain time was NEVER guaranteed, of course that’s going to breed some resentment from the coworker(s) that remain.

    This is always an issue in my industry (media). The nature of the news is it doesn’t always happen between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. In my current job, we’re all pretty much on a business hours schedule, with the expectation that you’ll occasionally need to pinch-hit and work a long shift to cover something that happens after the work day. Our boss is very good about making sure we get an equivalent amount of hours to take some other time. But the evening/weekend work absolutely falls disproportionately on some reporters – the ones without kids. It gets tiring when you’ve been the one who had to change your plans three times in a row when there are people who haven’t worked an evening shift in months.

    And that’s really on managers. If you work in an industry where flex time and reduced hours are nonstandard, approving them is just going to hurt your employees who don’t get those benefits.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      This type of environment is the kind where I REALLY wish salaries were more transparent — and calibrated to duties. If you’re not willing to take on night and weekend work in an industry that often requires it, then your salary should be lower than someone else doing the same job as you who is willing to do it.

      I realize this will never happen, as any company that did this would have discrimination lawsuits out the wazoo, but I wish this were the way it is. I know I’d resent employees who refuse to stay late — whether it’s to take care of a kid, to pursue their love of community theater, WHATEVER — far less if I knew that our compensation reflected the value that the company gets from having an employee who’s more available.

      1. em2mb*

        On one hand, I LOVE the idea of a pay differential for those willing to go the extra mile. But at the same time, I wouldn’t completely want to lose the ability to say “no.” I do put my foot down on occasion. Like, I’ll reschedule yoga since I can go to a class later in the week. Dinner with my parents is a little harder to move on the calendar, so I’ll be more adamant about being unavailable.

        I guess I just always wonder if the (handful of) employees who adamantly refuse to stay late in my office realize they’re in the minority. I know my boss notices it – she’s always picking up extra shifts rather than always come to us to work off-hours – but do they realize it? Do they just not care? I know I would if I were them. This is the best-run, most compassionate, human, reasonable newsroom I’ve ever worked in, and I’ve worked in a lot. It’s not a job I’d want to lose.

        1. Kyrielle*

          At $PreviousJob this was handled really well – flexibility was indeed expected, to respond to certain sorts of issues that could come in at all hours. So each person with a specialty had weeks on-call where they had a cell phone and would be reached after-hours if needed. There’d be a specialist in X on call, a specialist in Y, etc.

          You got a small monetary bonus for that week, and for each call you actually handled. And you knew not to schedule your parents visiting from out-of-town during that week, too! The extra beauty of it was that I (with small kids, not ideally compatible with being on call often) could give away on call shifts to someone else because *there was money tied to the risk of being called*. (We had two coworkers who loved taking on these shifts, one with a major house remodel underway and one with student loans to pay off. Neither had commitments that made it terribly difficult, and both were happy to take on shifts.) If no one wanted more shifts, but you had a particular week that was bad, you could usually trade it away. (Thanksgiving and Christmas were hard to get rid of, though.)

          1. Mike C.*

            Yeah, this is rather standard with shift work, and hazardous work as well. It’s not really not that difficult to implement, but that means paying people more and we can’t have that.

    2. Ad Astra*

      This letter also reminded me of my experience working in media, so I really dig this comment. I did notice the night shifts falling disproportionately onto employees without kids — though, for us at least, a large component of that was each reporter’s beat. It’s no mistake that the guy with two kids was doing enterprise and business stories while the kid fresh out of college is covering arts and entertainment. I also noticed my manager leaving early for every soccer game or cross country meet while the rest of us missed out on concerts, spouses’ events, dad’s birthday dinner, etc. It was really frustrating.

      Reporters’ only protection is the fact that most of them are non-exempt, and it’s difficult to force them to work more than a few hours of unpaid overtime. Once you’re exempt, the expectation is to be available from about 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Once, when I was “voluntold” to work a Saturday shift, I asked if I could have that Friday off instead because I had been planning to move apartments that weekend. I was surprised I had to fight so hard for the privilege of a 5-day week, and I know the situation shaded the way my manager saw me.

      1. Mike C.*

        I find it interesting how it seems that the current generation must go through the same fights as the previous.

  16. ali*

    “This is not sustainable.” is my favorite phrase these days. I’m happy to go above and beyond and cover for someone else for a little while. But eventually, it will start draining me, especially if I’m not getting compensated for it, and my quality of work will suffer.

    Thankfully my boss understands this and he returned with another great phrase. “I’ll tell sales we are at capacity and all projects have a 4-5 week lead time” (we are usually 2-3, so he’s getting me breathing room).

  17. Althea*

    I feel like I try to make this point whenever parental leave comes up for discussion in any forum – the ‘if you are picking up slack from a coworker on leave, you should have a problem with management who failed, not the coworker.’ I rarely feel like people agree, and I’ve not understood why. If you were newly hired into a team and found you were understaffed, would you be mad at your coworkers? Or mad at management? I don’t get why people seem blind to this.

    1. Mike C.*

      I agree with the sentiment entirely, but I think when you’re stressed out it’s easier to look for immediate causes rather than take a long term view to see what the actual root cause of the problem is.

      1. neverjaunty*

        I suspect a lot of people find it more emotionally satisfying to blame co-workers when they don’t like them or the life choices they’re making.

        1. Brooke*

          It has little to do with liking the co-worker or their life choices… it’s the fact that said co-worker and/or their life choices are having an impact on OTHERS that gets irritating.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Isn’t that always true? “Darn that Wakeen for actually using his vacation days so I have to cover for him! Why, I never take a vacation! He’s such an inconsiderate jerk!”

            Unless a co-worker never gets sick and never does anything (like take vacations or tend to an injured pet) that impacts their work in any way, which is pretty rare, co-workers’ life choices ALWAYS are going to impact other people at their workplace. The problem is when management privileges some people’s life choices but not others.

    2. AnnieNonymous*

      I think people resent the idea that parenthood trumps everything else, especially when it places an additional burden on those who have nothing to do with the pregnancies/parenting in question. Yes, parenting is demanding, but you’re presumably doing it because you WANT to. Hopefully, it’ll be the most rewarding thing you ever do. Well what about me? I’d like to take some leave to do the things that I find rewarding, but instead I’m covering for other people so THEY can feel fulfilled. Sometimes these things are never paid forward, and it sucks when you’re being loaded down with everyone else’s leftovers as a “reward” for being dependable.

      I doubt America will adopt the standards of Europe or Canada any time soon, but even if they did…Americans who are currently of childbearing age are also choosing not to have kids because the economy is so lousy. We’re going to be dealing with a lot more of these debates as people stop having so many kids; I’m not sure that year-long, paid maternity leaves will become a thing in the States for at least a few more generations. The educated and enlightened people who push for social change aren’t all that concerned about parental leave, since they’re not having kids anyway.

      I wish I’d known that this letter was from a UK reader. That changes my reading hugely.

      1. neverjaunty*

        I’d like to take some leave to do the things that I find rewarding, but instead I’m covering for other people so THEY can feel fulfilled

        I felt this way every time I had to cover for a young, single, childless co-worker who called in “sick” with a hangover, or took off for a Cabo vacation or the holidays and left work for me to pick up. I felt this way as a mother of an infant, working a graveyard-shift job, where my single slacker co-worker would call in at the last minute because he ‘wasn’t feeling it’, and I had to rush through any kind of break and eat between customers at the counter. I especially felt this way at jobs where, like a lot of mothers, I had to show I was twice as hard-working and reliable as my co-workers so none of my bosses mentally put me on the ‘mommy track’ and dismissed my contributions.

        This isn’t about parents vs. non-parents. It’s about bad managers. Good managers understand that all employees need time off, all employees may have life events that require flexibility, and all co-workers need to take turns picking up the slack for each other, rather than work simply falling on whoever is least adept at avoiding it. Good managers don’t play employees off against each other by suggesting to the non-parents that having kids warrants special treatment, while telling the parents (really, let’s be honest, the mothers) that they better not let their families interfere with a second of work time.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I’d like to take some leave to do the things that I find rewarding, but instead I’m covering for other people so THEY can feel fulfilled.

          YES. I have felt this exact feeling so many times — and yeah, that other employee’s fulfilling thing was not always parenthood.

        2. Brooke*

          Your childless-coworker examples are awfully …negative. We’re not all hungover, single, or heck, even young. :)

          1. Myrin*

            Well, neverjaunty didn’t talk about all childless coworkers but rather the particular ones she mentioned in her comment. Which is exactly the point she made by pointing out that this is not about parents vs. non-parents.

      2. Jerry Vandesic*

        “I’d like to take some leave to do the things that I find rewarding …”

        I’d suggest just going for it. If there is something that you really want to do, from art to helping out at an animal rescue organization, just do it. Make time for the things that are important to you. It’s up to each one of us to prioritize what we want to do, and then push to make sure that the important stuff happens. That someone else might have done this for themselves isn’t relevant.

          1. einahpets*

            What type of protections are you talking about? If you are talking about maternity leave, that is actually part of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which protects jobs for a lot more reasons that just parents with a newborn. It is UNPAID, job-protected leave for a number of mostly medical causes.

            When my mom was going through a scare with potential cancer? She was able to use FMLA leave time to attend appointments. When a coworker of mine adopted a family of four kids? She was able to use FMLA leave to attend court dates and also get everybody moved in and settled. When one of my coworkers parent was diagnosed with terminal illness, she was able to use FMLA leave to spend time caring for and saying goodbye to that person.

            I don’t think most people would fault the government for having a policy that protects individuals from having their job taken away / demoted for medical issues or caring for someone unable to care for themselves, especially when it is limited, temporary, and, again, UNPAID. We also have policies in place that protect service members when they are away serving overseas, which I guess you could put into the category of ‘following a passion I personally didn’t choose myself’, but I don’t see anything wrong with having those policies in place, either.

            1. Anx*

              Although non-parents are protected under FMLA as well, FMLA still doesn’t cover all employees.

              I don’t think I’ve every worked a job where I could take time off under FMLA. I did however have a stipended position that adjusted my requirements and job duties to accommodate an illness.

              1. einahpets*

                Yeah, I know that FMLA has limitations. My husband actually wasn’t covered under FMLA when we had our first child; he hadn’t been working at his company long enough. Technically, my husband’s work didn’t have to give him unpaid time off – but in his industry it is pretty standard to give parental paid time off, so they gave him some time / paid time off and surprised us both on.

                I guess I don’t understand the issue that AnnieNonymous is raising in the above comment that I replied to. Do people really think that the government should provide some sort of job protected leave for all people for any reason on an annual basis (lovely idea but not sure it would ever work)? Or that there shouldn’t be at least some form of protection for times when a person does have take time off to be a caregiver or for illness?

                1. em2mb*

                  I think the challenge is that we have a partial, incomplete system for parental leave in the U.S. Unlike in countries where maternity/paternity leave is a right (and long enough that companies can hire temps and replacements to fill the gap), the work at most U.S. companies continues while employees are out on FMLA, with coworkers picking up the slack. Even if someone’s out for a reason that you understand – be it a sick parent, spouse or new child – doing someone else’s job for them *is* tiring.

                2. Anx*

                  I think there are situations where it would put an undue burden on smaller employers. And I could imagine it’s really tough to guarantee a new hire’s position afterwords.

                  What is pretty crappy is when you have two part-time jobs and no protections at either. It’s especially frustrating when 80% or more of the employees are part-time workers when full-time work is available. And so when you lose your job because you had to quit for something serious like disaster remediation, pregnancy, illness, or caregiving, you could end up with a serious gap in your resume.

                  But, on the other hand, maybe you’ll have been replaced by someone who need the job more desperately.

                  I think one the problems with our piecemeal system now is that people who work for companies that grant paid time off or have federal protections are sometimes too removed from the issue and don’t think that there’s a problem in want of a solution. I also think many of our policies are products of a time where part-time employment was more commonly the result of a choice or when unemployment rates were lower.

          2. Natalie*

            Family status is only a protected class for housing, and even if it was a protected class for employment is would cut all ways. *All protected classes* apply to everyone, as we all have a race, sex, religion or lack of, family status, etc.

        1. reaching for the sky*

          Yup. Go for it. Nobody else will do it for you.

          I mean, it’s unfortunate that getting blasted every night is more socially acceptable than volunteering in the evenings (as I found out the hard way- everyone else on my team is a parent and they make literal fun of me for missing their drunk “nights out” because I prefer cycling or volunteering. They also make fun of me for not drinking and are confused that I don’t drink because “That’s all I did before I had kids!”)

          But if I don’t make time for what I want to do, it will never happen.

      3. einahpets*

        I feel like the issue you are pointing to here is less parents vs nonparents and more crappy coworkers vs understanding coworkers, honestly.

        I’d say half my department are parents. Is that same half of my department always the half that needs coverage? Nope. I’m a mom, and I’ve spent the last 2 months covering for one project’s lead or another project’s lead while they take their summer vacations, etc.

        Also, this: “The educated and enlightened people who push for social change aren’t all that concerned about parental leave, since they’re not having kids anyway.” is not entirely true (and maybe a little insulting?). I’d say at least 80% of my friends who would have had kids in previous generations ARE having kids, they are just having them later. Whereas our parents generation of ‘educated and enlightened’ had most of the childrearing in their mid-to-late 20s, I am seeing my friends having kids in their mid-to-late 30s. And maybe having a few less kids, but that is a cost of living / affordability issue for many (not anything to do with leave).

      4. reaching for the sky*

        I’ve left jobs because, as the unmarried* childless one, I was expected to work long hours.

        That is not the expectation everywhere. Not all companies are like that.

        My main complaint about my current job is that the team goes out drinking several nights a week and I feel obligated to join them…except I don’t drink, and never have. They are all parents BTW.

        1. reaching for the sky*

          *I’ve been in a happy long-term relationship (11 years this December) but because we’re not legally married, it doesn’t count.

      5. Not So NewReader*

        It takes a lot of work to shed those feelings. It can always seem like someone else is getting a better deal and we can convince ourselves of that. One thing that has helped me is I tell myself someone is looking at me and thinking that I have the better deal.

        What helped even more was to put myself in jobs where I found the work personally gratifying/rewarding. I cannot stand on an assembly line and put screws into widgets all day long- that takes strength/endurance. I don’t have that type of strength/endurance, I do have a deep respect for people who can do that because I now understand that they have something I don’t have. I can cover an area of work and be satisfied that the people who need my work to be done are getting the proper attention to their concerns. So even if everything is going wrong around me and half my cohorts are not pulling their weight, I can continue on. It’s important to put yourself in a place where you do not spend a lot of time thinking about what others are doing. Select places where you can focus on your own area and you can shine. If that is not possible at the moment, find ways to redirect your own thoughts to your own area of the work. This is a very worthwhile exercise, because, like I said at the beginning, it is so very, very easy to convince ourselves that other people are getting a bigger piece of the pie.

        1. reaching for the sky*

          It is very difficult to shed those feelings, when you’re sleeping 3 hours a night pulling your coworkers’ weight. I found it easier to shed the job in favor of one with better management, and shed the meaningless extra hours in favor of more meaningful pursuits. Of course, if you find your job fulflling, it’s different.

      6. reaching for the sky*

        I can understand your resentment. I understand the resentment at the “noble parent” vs. “childless boozehound” dichotomy- all my coworkers are parents AND boozehounds, and make fun of me for not joining them (it’s like middle school all over again). I can understand, frankly, not giving a flying f*ck about others’ parenting/pregnancies/children. I sure don’t, as long as they’re happy. But I would suggest there are some inaccuracies in your position, and to read the various responses you’ve gotten.

        1. AnnieNonymous*

          There are no inaccuracies in my position, to the extent that these are things that have happened to me in my real life and I’m not okay with having my real life invalidated in favor of a more acceptable rhetoric.

          I think this is one of those situations where the blood is a little too rich for my participation. I’m reminded of a commenter who noted, with extreme astonishment, her bewilderment at the fact that anyone ever submitted a job application without a cover letter.

          The stances reflected on this site regarding things that are technically (and legally and realistically) huge perks are very alienating to people who would maybe like to participate in the conversations by sharing their own stories. It is very easy to speak the liberal byline when you have a cushy job at a company that qualifies for FMLA and is able to grant things like flex time. 98% of people in the US do not have jobs like that. It is exhausting to see the voices of a more widespread view get consistently shut down by people who hold minority positions and opinions and who don’t even realize how rare their situations are.

          All due respect to Alison, but I’m out. I’ve tried to engage, but I just end up feeling like I’m being ignored and talked down to for not being in a certain tax bracket.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Please stop trying to paint this as you being a representative of a noble, silenced minority when it’s really just that people disagree with you.

    3. Shell*

      Mary’s tone rubbed me the wrong way, and here’s why:

      As a fellow worker, I understand that it’s management’s responsibility to divvy out workload among the workers. If Mary negotiated reduced hours (presumably for reduced pay) and is enforcing her boundaries, fine. I understand that she wants to enforce her boundaries, same way I want to enforce mine after my work hours end.

      But it’s her cavalier, manipulative “but if you don’t do X, we’ll lose the customer!” as if it automatically will fall on OP to pick up the remaining work no matter how much stress it causes the OP. Mary has been working here a while, she was not blind to the workload nor the lack of new staff to pick up the remainder of her hours. She knew that OP and the rest of her coworkers are put under more pressure and demands. And while that’s certainly management’s responsibility to distribute (increased) workload so staff don’t burn out, Mary’s tone here also implies an amount of guilt-tripping to me. Mary’s not saying “if you don’t do X, we’ll lose the customer” to management, is she? No, she’s doing it to her fellow–already overworked–coworkers, as if it’s automatically their responsibility to keep the accounts (and consequently, all their jobs) afloat just because she decided to go part-time.

      There’s a world of difference between “sorry, I have to pick up kidlet, I’ll try to help with whatever I can when I come in tomorrow” and “but it’s YOUR responsibility to deal with it!”. And that’s not even touching the OP’s update that Mary was indeed slacking. Yes, the overall responsibility is management’s to deal with, and they bear the fault, but Mary’s tone would definitely rub me the wrong way. It’s management’s fault, but Mary is not helping by rubbing it in.

      1. JeJe*

        I really think you’re inferring a lot about Mary’s requests of the OP. If someone said to me ‘We’ll lose the client if we don’t do…’. I’d consider it against my other priorities, not feel guilted into committing to 40% more work.

        The OP could’ve said no and suggested they discuss the issue of time sensitive requirements with management (Which most likely would’ve solved the slacking problem).

        1. Shell*

          To me, the difference is repetition.

          If Coworker Jane says to me “hey, do A, B, and C” and I reply with “nope, can’t, I need to do X, Y, and Z” and Jane says “but A, B, and C have to be done otherwise we might lose the client”, followed up with “but my hours are shorter now”, I would take the first few instances of that scenario as a genuine problem. And I agree that Jane and I (or even just one of us) discussing with management might have solved the problem. Might.

          But for whatever reason, this pattern has been ongoing with the OP for a while. So Mary knows that OP has a ton of things to do, and OP has been pushing back several times with “but I need to do X, Y, and Z. But Mary is still rebutting with “A, B, C needs to be done lest we lose the client” + “but my hours are shorter now (i.e. I’m not doing it)”. Repeatedly.

          Presumably X, Y, and Z are things that need to be done and are not going to disappear. Presumably, X, Y, and Z are things of reasonably high importance, because otherwise OP wouldn’t keep pushing back on Mary’s A, B, and C, which are tasks important enough that a client’s portfolio rest on it. Assuming OP is a sensible person, repeatedly pushing back on A, B, and C by citing X, Y, and Z means that X, Y, and Z are pretty damn important tasks too.

          I think it’s fair for the OP to be irritated at Mary if she keeps asking the same question and expects a different answer every time. Shouldn’t Mary mention something to management as well? Something like “hey, so how are we going to divvy up what was my work, because I’ve been asking OP about this and OP has said many times that she is very busy and can’t take this on?” Yes, management bears the ultimate responsibility for this, but failure to acknowledge how swamped the OP and the rest of the team are makes Mary sound tone-deaf at the very least. At fault, maybe not. Irritating, yes.

          Repeating the same question and expecting a different answer, as if the OP’s job duties will magically disappear so she can jump to Mary’s tasks, would be pretty irritating in my book. Again, I take no issue with Mary leaving on time and enforcing her boundaries. I think that’s fair. To me, tone is what makes the difference here.

          That said, tone is very hard to read over the internet, and I’m a cynic.

          1. JeJe*

            I was getting the sense from the letter that after Mary’s ‘We’ll lose the client…’ or ‘My hours are shorter now…’, the OP was too willing to acquiesce. My interpretation of the tone was that Mary was setting clear and firm boundaries about her hours, which I wouldn’t blame her for since she is probably giving up pay and benefits and to get them, and the OP is (was) not setting limits on what constitutes reasonable workload.

            Now, it turns out Mary was not taking full responsibility for her clients as her manager expected of her. Her workload may have also been too high for her part time hours and she was afraid she’d lose her flexibility if they found out or maybe she was just slacking. Either way, suggesting they ask their manager for direction on setting priorities would have solved this real quickly, possibly by Mary completely taking back her request. I really don’t see why the OP choose worked massive overtime for the sake of keeping clients on a word of a peer and not a boss and I don’t think it’s Mary’s fault that she did.

            1. Shell*

              I think OP was gullible to take on that much on the word of a peer. But Mary acted poorly. Obviously if she was deliberately slacking (which, as it turns out, is the case) she sucks. But even in the best case scenario, if her workload was legitimately overwhelming her part-time hours, it’s on her to kick that back to upper management and say “hey, I can’t do this” and have management redistribute the work (maybe to OP, maybe to others). The solution is not for Mary to dump it on OP under the table and start a “but this has to get done lest we lose the client” guilt trip. Maybe a chat to management would’ve solved this problem. But since the duties were originally Mary’s, I think Mary has just as much ability as the OP to initiate the conversation about how unsustainable the situation is.

              I agree, the ultimate fault lies with upper management because they had the responsibility/authority to deal with the situation and they were the one with the most information about Mary’s situation, OP’s job description/workload, etc. But even the most charitable interpretation has Mary as severely tone-deaf to me. Yes, the OP can and should’ve pushed back more on upper management, but I think Mary–had she been a responsible employee, which turns out was not the case–had equal ability and responsibility to push back on management when she saw that her stuff was beyond her means to do, not just dump it on OP under the table.

              Of course, in an ideal situation with decent management Mary should’ve been able to say “going part time” and management will parcel out the remaining work in a reasonable manner, but as that was not the case I still think Mary bears at least as much responsibility as OP (if not more) to push back on management and go “hey, this is not sustainable on my part time hours” while OP says “hey, this is not sustainable on top of my original work” at the same time.

  18. Argh!*

    When my job was totally changed to something I wasn’t qualified for, I decided to stay for 6 months thinking I would either have a good experience (and not have to move or mess with my retirement fund) or a good story for my interviews. I wound up with a good story, which you alluded to in your answer. I left because I had no weekends off for two months and saw no end to it. By telling my interviewers this, I had a reasonable reason to leave, plus letting them know they couldn’t count on exploiting me that way.

  19. Jax*

    The problem with flexible schedules is that unless the person was HIRED IN as a part-timer, the entire office looks at that employee as a special snowflake who made a big fuss and got what s/he wanted from management.

    The bitterness comes from that fact that everyone–whether part-time, full-time, flex-time–is overworked. The company can’t be running on a skeleton crew, and right now most companies are. As a mom who has a bit of flexibility (an hour later start time) I love the concept, but I don’t think this a perk many companies can offer without hurting morale and taxing every other staff member. It also starts a snowball of requests and you end up with 3 overworked people out of 10 working consistently on Fridays–or a whole bunch of people irritated that their requests were denied but so-and-so…

  20. JGray*

    After reading the letter & the update the major thing that stood out to me was the fact that the manager seemed to know what was going on in regards to the overworking of LW but wasn’t informed that Mary was supposed to be fully managing her own portfolio. I can understand the LW frustration with Mary- even though misplaced sometimes its easier to take it out on the easiest target. And it sounds like the LW asked for help but was not taken serious until they could say I now work x amount of extra hours and have to do all these extra things. I think that in this situation there was a lot of miscommunication. Management should have told the LW about the arrangement that Mary made in regards to reduced hours and the portfolio management because than the LW would have felt comfortable passing things off to Mary. For me just because I have kids doesn’t mean that I get to always leave the office right when I am supposed to or don’t have to ever do extra work or automatically get a flexible schedule. Kids shouldn’t be used as an excuse for why you can’t do something at work because you should have been informed of the majority of your duties when you were hired. Everyone has lives & obligations outside of work.

  21. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    This raises an interesting larger question: For exempt employees, what exactly does it mean to negotiate a reduced schedule? As a full-time employee, I work the hours I need to work to get the outcomes I want to get. If I negotiated with my employer to work only 30 hours a week, how do I handle the inevitable times that my work requires more than that to be done effectively? Maybe it’s more about negotiating a reduced workload (and the clearly-stated expectation that this will result in fewer hours worked), but still building in the reality that work doesn’t take exactly the amount of time we anticipate that it will.

    1. doreen*

      The only way I’ve seen it ever actually work is in jobs with really clearly defined workloads- a full time caseworker has 60 cases, while a half-time caseworker has 30 or a half-time salesman has accounts that order half the volume of the fulltimer’s accounts. But people with those arrangements don’t generally expect the job to take half of a normal 40 hour week – they expect it to take half the time that the full workload would take. Which might be 20 hours some weeks and 30 or 40 in others.

    2. reaching for the sky*

      Yeah, if you’re exempt (I am too) it’s more workload based than ass-in-seat-time based, which makes this tricky.

  22. DebbieDebbieDebbie*

    This was the question that led me to AAM! Googled for a similar problem that I was having at the time and found this wonderful community.

  23. reaching for the sky*

    OP, not all companies are like this. Yes, society values parenthood above all else (hence why my “friends” told me “I hope you die in surgery” when I had a tubal ligation, but I’m supposed to congratulate them for having kids) … but not all companies enforce this with their working hours/schedules. Mine is honestly pretty fair, you can flex for certain things (e.g. doc/dental appts) but all the time or at the expense of other coworkers.

    1. reaching for the sky*

      …but NOT all the time, or at the expense of other coworkers.

      BTW, my mother still gets out of work early saying she has to see her children or “has children to take care of”. I’m almost 40. My brother is 34. We see her about twice a year.

    2. Grapey*

      Glad to say in my northeast city, parenthood is becoming far less exalted. I’m 30 and able to find plenty of coworkers/friends that have no desire for children (not just in the “we’re waiting” camp), and my work is wonderfully flexible to ALL people.

      Also, your friends seriously suck. If you still have them in your life and see their children, make sure to be the weird aunt that says “No, you don’t actually have to have kids.”

      1. reaching for the sky*

        I’m not an aunt. Well, my brother has children, but they aren’t my kids so I don’t have anything to do with them. I was just pointing out the societal double standard, that I’m supposed to congratulate people who wished death on me.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Pretty sure that when people wish death on you, you’re allowed to cut them out of your life completely. What a pack of glassbowls.

          I would like to move to this parallel universe where actual parents are exalted, rather than the vague idea of ‘parenthood’ being given lip service. Then we wouldn’t have women being shunted to the ‘mommy track’ and assumed to be less committed and valuable simply because they have children.

  24. Not So NewReader*

    The moral of this story is do not cover for other people. OP was covering for Mary, her boss and upper management. In short, OP probably felt like she had the entire company on her shoulders.

    Mary should have been able to figure out that she was not completing the reduced work she agreed to and taken it on herself to go to the boss to find out what to do. (Monday morning quarter backing: Some companies seem to have difficulties reducing a person’s work load, once the work load has been established. Just something that I watch out for in my work life.)

    OP could have left Mary’s work incomplete or gone to the boss with a list of tasks that were needed and asked what to do. When the boss failed to back her up, then documentation or specific questions were in order. (Do I do A or do I do B? I have one hour left today, which would you like?) Unfortunately, OP just keep doing the additional work and growing more and more upset. The situation went on too long.

    The boss could have realized there would be a problem with going from one employee to 2/3 of an employee and pushed harder. The magic words might be “we are losing clients/jobs/work”.

    The higher ups never checked to see how the new agreement was going with Mary or if there were any additional problems. And they failed to listen when the boss said, “I think there is a problem here.”

    Sadly, sometimes it is up to the lowest person in the ranks to push back the hardest. It’s been my observation that sometimes bosses can agree with what I am saying, but they need the words that will motivate TPTB to make changes. The burden sometimes falls on me to find those motivational words. The irony is not lost on me, the person who is working the hardest to prevent a meltdown is the one who has to clearly explain that a meltdown is eminent, as if this person has time to explain while putting out ten fires already in progress.

  25. Narise*

    I would send an email listing out the current issues and need to work overtime and send to my boss. Explain this needs to be addressed as they cannot continue to do this much work. Make sure to include this question: After 3 each day I am the only one available. How should I prioritize my work with client requests?

    Give them three days to address the issue. If they don’t address it or say it’s not going to change then send a follow up email stating that after Friday October whatever I will no longer be available to work after 6 pm. When a client calls after 3 and you can’t address it because of other demands, send it to your boss- “Hi Bob this needs to be addressed today and I have xyz to complete and cannot address today.”

  26. Joan*

    I always love your advice, but I was shocked to see you use the term “manpower” in your response. Please consider using the gender-neutral “staff power” next time.

    I do love the site otherwise. Thanks!

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