my exempt employees are confused about how to manage their own time

A reader writes:

I manage two groups of employees. The first are paid hourly, and personnel matters are governed by union contract. The others are salaried professional staff, who have individual contracts with our employer. This group is compensated and evaluated based on results, not how many hours they work. Our leadership is very clear that salaried employees should work about 40 hours a week, but results are what matters. It’s also very clear that there is no “comp time” for these positions. For example, if I work late Monday through Thursday, I still have to use PTO if I want to take Friday off. Administrators tell us that if we give salaried employees comp time, we run the risk of having the positions reclassified into the union, so it’s a somewhat sensitive topic from an HR perspective.

I have a spiel for explaining this to my reports, which goes something like: “You’re evaluated and compensated based on your results, not how many hours you work. I expect you’ll be here about 40 hours a week. Sometimes you’ll find you need to work more, sometimes you might need to work less. If you’re getting your work done and don’t leave your team hanging, I trust you to manage your own time. Just let me know what you’re doing so I’m not trying to find you when you’re not here. You don’t earn comp time in your position, so the amount of time you’re here one day has no bearing on how many hours you’re here on other days. If you’re sick, use sick time and don’t work. If you’re taking vacation time, don’t work.”

This seems super clear to me, but based on employees’ reactions, it’s not. I’ve had this talk about five times in one year with one of my staff. The last time was after she took a sick day, then told me the next day that she’d checked work email for an hour because she “got bored.” She wanted to know if she could subtract the hour from her sick time. I’ve also told her she’s free to take a long lunch, come in late, leave early, etc., as long as she’s getting all her work done. She still sends me requests for a couple hours of PTO at a time to do this stuff. Counter-example: if it’s 3:30 on Friday afternoon and I’ve done what I need to do for the week, and happy hour calls, I just go.

Another manager I know has similar issues. One of his employees requested “comp time” after working through a weekend. The manager told the employee he could take PTO, but there was no comp time for his position. The employee had a full-on meltdown with crying, yelling, etc. Part of our frustration is that we’re trying to encourage them to be independent and self-directed and they’re not handling it well: something we see as a privilege is received as a burden.

As far as I can tell, the inconsistent interpretations are driven by individual personality and past employment experiences. Many employees do understand, and manage their time as expected. I try to model the behavior I expect, and I manage performance through formal evaluations and weekly one-on-one meetings. What could I be doing to help everyone have a clear and consistent understanding of what “results-oriented” means in relationship to their work schedules and PTO?

Your expectations are clear to me and make sense for exempt employees.

I see two different issues here: employees who don’t understand the overall concept, and times where rigidly adhering to the no-comp-time policy will be genuinely demoralizing.

On the latter, it’s frustrating as hell to work all weekend to meet a deadline and then try to take off that Tuesday to get a piece of your weekend back and be told that you’ll have to use a day of your limited PTO to do it. It will very quickly make people resent that they went the extra mile, and it will make them less inclined to do it in the future.

I get that your company doesn’t want exempt employees using comp time, but I’d really try to come up with a more informal system if you can — not in a “break the clearly stated rules” way, but under the umbrella of how you’re already managing people. To me, it seems perfectly consistent with your overall practice to say to the person who just worked all weekend, “Hey, you just worked all weekend, so does your workload allow for you to wrap things up for this week on Thursday?” That’s not comp time; that’s them managing their own time, doing good work, putting in roughly 40 hours a week (in this case, more), and keeping you in the loop — exactly what you laid out that you wanted.

(I’d argue that comp time would be more like “you now have two additional PTO days to use at some point in the future.” My suggestion above is just helping the person to find room in their schedule later that same week, or maybe the next one.)

Then there’s your employee who’s basically acting like she’s non-exempt despite being exempt (taking PTO for a couple of hours here and there, wanting to be compensated for an hour of email during a sick day, etc.). With her, you’ve got someone who clearly doesn’t understand the whole concept. I’d sit her down and:
1. Say explicitly that you don’t think she understands how exempt workers are treated on your team (so that she’s aware that there’s a disconnect — otherwise she might not realize this is something she needs to re-sync herself on).
2. Lay out the spirit of the policy. For example: “You are a responsible adult and I trust you to get your work done and manage your own time. You aren’t an hourly worker, and you don’t need to use PTO to make your hours perfectly hit eight every day.”
3. Give her concrete examples of what that looks like in practice. For example: “Please do not use PTO for a long lunch” … “As long as your hours are roughly averaging at 40 for the week, you don’t need to use PTO for a few hours here and there” … “If I’m ever concerned that you’re not putting in enough time at work, we’ll talk about it before it ever becomes a real problem” … and so forth.

If that doesn’t work — and it may not, because some people are rigid thinkers or just really used to other systems — then I’d just reinforce the message by reminding her when you see it happening (“you don’t need to use PTO for this,” “you need to use a full sick day, like we talked about,” etc.). And of course, model it in your own behavior, like not giving people a hard time when they duck out early for the day when their work allows it (sounds like you’re already on top of that, though).

One other thing: Framing this all as being “results-oriented” probably isn’t making things any clearer to employees who are already confused. If you say “I care about your results and not your hours,” then it can feel contradictory to say “but you should be averaging 40 hours a week.” I get why you’re mentioning that — you want to give people a sense of the time you expect them to put in (and which presumably it takes to do their jobs well). But really, I think the confusion here is just about how PTO works, and so I’d keep your messaging focused there.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. Master Bean Counter*

    The best answer to working all weekend and want a day off in the week I’ve seen is having a policy that if you’ve shown up 5 days a week, then no PTO is needed for a mid-week day off. Because if they are coming in on the weekend they are still putting in their hours for the week.

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      “The best answer to working all weekend and want a day off in the week I’ve seen is having a policy that if you’ve shown up 5 days a week, then no PTO is needed for a mid-week day off. Because if they are coming in on the weekend they are still putting in their hours for the week.”

      This is what I am wondering as well – for some reason it seems like the boss/HR are seeing the work week as Monday through Friday, with Saturday and Sunday just, what, bonus days they get for free from the employees?

      It’s not comp time to work Sunday through Thursday instead of Monday through Friday – it’s just a shift in the 5 days that person is working that week.

      If you are worried that would leave you with too-few people in the office during the week, then make it so that working a weekend day in lieu of a “regular” business day requires approval in advance. Especially if it’s easy to see what work was done that day.

      Since there is a Union on site, try to think of it like shift work: I have relatives that work Third shift, and at some plants that’s Sunday through Thursday, 10pm to 6am. Their “weekend” is Friday and Saturday.

      As for leaving early/coming in late as needed – it might help to set “core hours” – like I need all hands on deck from 9am to 3pm; long lunches are OK as long as it’s only one of you a day, blah blah blah. If they can hear from your lips that leaving at 3pm is OK if their work is complete, instead of just “oh you know, if your work is done just head on out!”, that might make it more clear.

    2. Nobody*

      Well, a lot of employers have a Monday through Sunday work week, so if you work Monday through Friday and then also work the weekend, you’re working 7 days in that work week, and then a new work week starts on Monday and you still have to work 5 days in that work week. Maybe you can take Tuesday off in that second work week, but then you’d have to come in Saturday or Sunday to get your 5th day.

      It doesn’t seem to work that way at this employer, though — it seems like they expect everyone to be there Monday through Friday, regardless of whether they need to work some extra hours on the weekend to finish something.

  2. vic*

    “if it’s 3:30 on Friday afternoon and I’ve done what I need to do for the week, and happy hour calls, I just go.”

    While she may feel fine doing this as the boss, many people are not comfortable leaving early if they have worked extra hours earlier in the week. Many, including me, are sensitive to the perception of “he always leaves early on Friday,” because while the boss may know we worked late all week, others may not.

    1. Roscoe*

      Exactly that. I feel like if I duck out early on a Friday, even when my work is done, then there is a perception there that may not be something you want to put out. Also, management doing stuff doesn’t necessarily mean its truly ok for regular workers to do that same thing.

      1. Justin*

        But at what point do you (the employee, not you, personally) have to say “the issue is with me.”

        It sounds like the company (and direct manager) have been incredibly clear. Your boss isn’t responsible for your personal anxieties – if I tell you it’s OK to have a beer on the job, it’s not my responsibility to nurse you through it if you have a hangup from previous employers.

        If the company was ambiguous, or there was a situation where people were getting disciplined for what had previously been explained as allowed, then I’d agree with you. But the company has been consistent with its messaging, the boss has been consistent with his messaging, and has also led by example.

        Your boss isn’t your parent, if they give you permission to do something and there’s no external factor forcing you from taking advantage of that permission, what exactly can they do to solve it?

        Reminder: In this company leaving early on a Friday does not mean you necessarily put in extra hours. Maybe Friday are hours 33-40, and you leave at 3pm, after 38 hours. That is fine and encouraged in this situation. Nobody is counting your hours here, the boss can’t stress that enough.

    2. Bwmn*

      I think this is where the OP can be a bit more proactive in explaining how to use the system to work best for them given inflexibility on other situations (i.e. comp days).

      Where I used to work there was a dynamic where we had to show up between 8-9 am and expected to leave between 4-5 – but everyone was expected to be in the office between 9-4 (while hitting 40 hours per week). In my position, I had to work a number of evening events where I would end up logging many additional hours. My mentor at the organization took me aside to tell me that in addition to working a number of 9-4 days – that if I ever showed up for at least 2 hours in the office, if I was feeling sick (or “sick”) that the way our system worked I could just take off and as long as I had enough extra hours banked (those hours stayed banked all year), I didn’t need to use a sick day.

      While that system was very specific to that organization, I think taking the time to explain to someone a system that may be appearing unfair (no one else at my organization had evening events) and how to make it work best for an employee is helpful. Because some employees don’t feel comfortable with leaving early on a Friday or showing up late on a Monday, sometimes that extra reassurance from someone higher up is valuable.

    3. Koko*

      That’s absolutely a risk in some environments. But it sounds from OP’s letter that the company culture there is the same for all of the exempt employees, not just OP and her reports. And those workplaces exist too!

      I’m actually in one now. People come and go as they please. The expectation is that you’ll generally be available to your coworkers no later than 10 am, and be able to provide a same-day response to any inquiry sent before 4 pm. So a lot of people come in after 10 or duck out after without taking PTO. 3:30 would be pushing it here – it would probably fly on Friday if you kept an eye on your email by phone until 4 pm, but it would raise some hackles if someone went looking for you at 3:45 for something they needed to wrap up their week and you were already gone.

      One thing I might recommend that OP consider – This is actually the second employer I’ve had that only lets you take PTO in half-day increments. So if you’re going to miss less than about 3 hours of the day the most common thing is just take the time you need without spending PTO, and you’ll probably end up working from home later to stay on top of your workload. If you need 3-4 hours, you take a half-day. If you need more than 4 hours, you take the whole day. Maybe for your employee who doesn’t understand exempt hour tracking even if you can’t make it a a policy you can give her this as an informal rubric – if it’s under X hours don’t bother with PTO, if it’s between Y and Z take a half-day, if it’s more than Z take the whole day, don’t ever work when you’ve taken PTO, and you won’t approve PTO in increments of less than a half-day’s hours.

    4. A Bug!*

      I feel like the problem there would be with the buttinsky employees, and should be addressed as such. If there’s sufficient transparency, maturity, and trust, the employees should understand that there’s a wide discretion permitted to employees and that the only time it’s anyone else’s business is if it’s causing legitimate issues.

  3. Mike C.*

    I’m confused here as well. If someone works late Mon-Thurs to get the job done, why is vacation time needed to not be at work on Friday? I get that there are going to be weeks where folks are working crazy hours, but if you’re going to hold to the idea that on the aggregate weeks have around 40 hours, there will be weeks with much, much less than 40 hours. How do those weeks work?

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        My industry LOVES to treat exempt workers like this. You can’t enter fewer than 40 hours into your time sheet, so if you busted your butt for 60 hours one week and want to take an extra day the following week, tough ta-tas unless your manager is either diligent enough to get comp time approved through TPTB (not an easy process) or tells you it’s OK to put the time either to a job or to a nonbillable but non-PTO number.

        It stinks.

        1. BRR*

          My friend is in a position with insane hour requirements and they need to be billed to clients. They have some ratio they have to hit for the number of hours a week that need to be billed to a client and their number of hours worked in that ratio is above 40. There have been times where she has over 100% because she might legitimately charge 60 hours to clients but their “expected” work week is 50 hours.

          1. SystemsLady*

            My last manager was obsessed with that ratio because for some (bad) reason he was being given bonuses for how high those numbers were.

            He wanted all of us close to at or above 100% and the official goal was 80%, and we’re in an industry where emergency calls and “oh btw we need this system we just told you about in next week sorry” are things that happens…

            Thank goodness my new manager thinks it’s ridiculous for every single person to be even above 90% for that exact reason.

            Anyway, it is necessary in this industry to log your hours, and with the (terrible) software we’re using for that you do need to charge 40 hours, but our new boss lets us charge days off to a non-PTO non-billable code.

            1. Afiendishthingy*

              I need to stop whining about my 55% billable requirement, don’t I? I spend a lot of time on required but non-billable stuff, like driving to see clients and documenting progress, but even so.

        2. ThatGirl*

          Yeah, this is my one small complaint about my job. On one hand, we’re salaried and told that if we need to duck out early for a doctor’s appointment or whatever, no big deal. On the other hand, we track our hours by project/task and those time sheets can only say 40 hours at a minimum — and work hours can only be reduced by PTO or company holiday. Very, very occasionally we get “bonus” hours from our boss that are logged as company holiday.

        3. MaryMary*

          At OldJob (white collar professional services) full time employees could not enter less than 8 hour per day into our timesheets. You didn’t necessarily have to take PTO if you went to a doctor’s appointment during the day, or came in late because of traffic, but you either had to make it up the same day or hope your manager didn’t mind if you billed some of the hours you worked on Monday into Tuesday instead.

          Most of us were working so many hours billing at least eight a day wasn’t an issue, even if we missed an hour or two during the day. The general expectation was that if you were gone for four hours or more, you’d take PTO, even if you’d billed 60 hours that week. I don’t remember anyone ever getting comp time, although there was a Misc-Other number that could occasionally be used if, say, you were given permission to come in at noon after an all-nighter, or if the division head told everyone to go home at 1:00 on a Friday.

        4. periwinkle*

          We have to enter charge line hours on our electronic timesheets every day. Luckily we have a charge line for “overhead” for staff meetings and other things that aren’t directly related to working on our projects.

          We do not have comp days (possibly for the same reason the OP doesn’t – much of the company is unionized even though we aren’t) but we do have flex time. Our manager doesn’t want his exempt folks working more than 40 hours a week so we are encouraged to flex our time around as needed. Worked on Saturday? Flex out that time over the next week by leaving early or coming in late or whatever. Nothing is tracked, so it’s not official comp time. Hourly workers get to flex as well to make sure that they stay within 40 hours. As long as we track our time ourselves and get the right numbers/charge lines into the system, we’re good. Funny enough, since we’re treated like adults there’s little if any abuse of the system…

      2. misspiggy*

        Excellent point. Also, would the OP be happy if all her staff achieved their targets in 40 hours by each Thursday and took every Friday off? If not, she needs to be much more specific about what coverage and time in the office should look like. Is it OK to take a long lunch break or leave early, but not to be out for half a day or more?

        More importantly, is the OP sure that everyone in the team has equitable results targets? If not, some people are going to have to work a lot longer than others.

        What should happen when crunch times require 60 hours in one week but a lot less in others? Is that weekend time just lost, or is it OK for the employee to claw it back gradually through a happy hour here and a doctor’s appointment there? If that’s OK, why is taking full days not OK?

        In my previous organisation we dealt with these issues by encouraging flexible office timings and allowing people to claim one day back for every two weekend days worked, if the weekend time had been authorised in advance. This was a nonprofit which worked many people into serious health breakdowns, but did at least recognise it.

        1. Lee Ann*

          Yeah. I’m in software where crunch time happens, and when that means working through the weekend my managers have always told us to take a day or two off afterwards to make up for it.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Yep that’s how most of the tech companies I’ve worked for do it and no one blinks an eye but if the Op also has union employees it’s definitely not an industry I’m familiar with.

      3. AnonymousaurusRex*

        My job is kind of like this as well. I’m exempt, but I’m expected to log 80 hours on my timesheet in a 2-week pay period. If I have fewer than 80 hours, I have to use PTO, if I have more than 80, well my loss. At least it’s a 2 week pay period, rather than all flex-time having to be done within the same week.

    1. Roscoe*

      Yeah, I mean theoretically if you have worked 10 hours Mon thru Thurs, by their policy, you shouldn’t need to use vacation time for Friday because you have worked your 40 hours. Its definitely not as clear as they think it is. What about a half day Friday? Does that work too, or is there an implied amount of time you can really leave early?

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Yeah, I agree. This is not clear, and I’m pretty surprised that you and Alison both think it is. Results are what matter, but they must work at least 40 hours a week (or 37.5, if they’re leaving at 3:30 on Friday or going to an appointment or whatever). They must work 37.5 hours a week if the work demands it, but if the work demands nothing on a specific Friday they must take PTO? It’s confusing, and it’s unfair.

    2. fposte*

      That’s the policy (law? can’t remember, too lazy to check) for state employees in my state. My guess it was because there was a perception (and maybe even a reality) that lots of people “worked” on the weekend with nothing to show for it and then took days off without burning PTO.

      Which does not make it a sensible policy, of course–if you can’t tell if your employees are getting stuff done on the weekends or not, that’s a management issue. But I think that’s usually the rationale.

      1. Journalist Wife*

        I think I work in the same state/field as fposte, and at my institution, I know that while exempt staff are supposed to log PTO (usually in 1/2 or full day increments), they are given accrual rates of PTO that are far higher than their non-exempt colleagues. So, even when they are expected to report PTO for substantial time away during the work week, as exempt employees they are accruing much more PTO than we non-exempt people are, and the reason given to non-exempt employees is that unlike exempt, they are not expected to routinely work extra nights and weekends when called for. So it’s worth considering whether the amount of PTO an exempt employee at OP’s business accrues/earns is equivalent to that of the non-exempt employees, or if it is more, to specifically offset that discrepancy.

    3. Koko*

      In the case of my office, it’s about the expectation that your coworkers can reach you during roughly normal business hours. We’re very collaborative and other people need you to be here to respond to their inquiries and keep their own projects moving. The company don’t want to incentivize someone to just decide to go on a 4/10 schedule and then their coworkers can never get answers from them on Friday. By making you charge PTO if you’re not going to be there at all, it discourages people from being habitually unavailable for 20+% of the workweek.

      That said, on a case-by-case basis, managers will often tell an employee who has worked an after-hours event or pulled long hours to meet a big deadline to feel free to take the day after the deadline or event off without charging PTO. It’s just that employees can’t up and decide to do it themselves, and it really only happens in the context of a big event/deadline forcing you to work the long hours, not just because you simply got on a roll Monday-Thursday and finished all your work for the week a day early by choice.

      1. Koko*

        I’ll add that it’s also the kind of workplace where if you were having a slow week and couldn’t fill 40 hours (pretty rare, but it does happen), nobody would care if you decided to work from home or do your online shopping and banking as long as you were responding to email and phone calls all day. That’s really the main thing they care about…not busy-ness but availability.

    4. Tamsin*

      Yeah, I truly don’t understand how this is makes any sense for an exempt employee. They got the work done. They worked more than 40 hours. And they still need to take PTO? To me it’s like the OP’s place of employment is actually treating the exempt workers as exempt — when it suits them, getting the cake and eating it too. It’s a weird setup, and I certainly understand why the exempt employees are frustrated.

  4. Juli G.*

    I have zero experience with unions so can someone explain what the worry is with that? Unions don’t get to just decide what’s exempt and non-exempt and I don’t get why comp time would contribute. Is this just a lame explanation for a frustrating policy?

    1. Mike C.*

      I was a little confused by that as well. The bargaining unit is defined by the work being done. How you charge them shouldn’t enter into it (unless there’s something sketchy going on with the way employees are labelled exempt) and there are plenty of unions with exempt employees in them.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think it’s they run the risk of having the positions classified as non-exempt so much as they run the risk of the positions falling under the purview of the union. I still haven’t heard of that with what’s essentially a perk, but union contracts go in all kinds of surprising ways.

      2. Pwyll*

        True, but the collective bargaining agreement could specify that it covers “all non-exempt teapot makers at facility x” and an employer could read that and be fearful that granting comp time could jeopardize the exempt status (by treating them as hourly workers) and thus sweep them into the bargaining unit.

        1. Mike C.*

          That would be absolutely bizarre, bargaining units are determined by the work done, not FLSA status. Work performed also determines exempt status, but bargaining unit and exempt status aren’t directly linked like that.

          1. Pwyll*

            There are lots of bizarre things in CBAs. I agree with you that exempt status shouldn’t be a determining factor in deciding who to include, but it’s certainly permissible for the union to define the bargaining unit in that fashion, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see it done. It could simply be an easier (in their own mind) way of saying “We’re representing your class B line employees, not your class A senior employees.”

            1. sam*

              not an expert anymore (I was a labor lawyer a million years ago, but that world has left me behind), but it could be a matter of this particular company only having exempt employees that fall into roles that would be considered some sort of “management” type role, which would typically be excluded from a CBA, whereas the non-management employees are also non-exempt and fall under the CBA. So if someone in a “management” role was behaving more like a “non-management” employee, that could be where the company is concerned.

              Without knowing more, it seems like it would be more of a correlation rather than a true 1:1 “management=exempt=non-CBA / non-management=non-exempt=CBA” situation, but I could see where, if roles were closely correlated along these lines, someone getting reclassified along one vector could create agita for those who have to keep track of all of this.

              1. fposte*

                Though it does seem a little weird to me that comp time would be a go for non-exempt employees and not exempt employees.

                1. Elysian*

                  Reading this letter, I questioned whether this was a US workplace or somewhere abroad. If the LW is not from the US, that might explain some of our confusion – unionization and comp time work differently in different countries.

                2. legowhiz*

                  It was my understanding that non-exempt employees could not get comp time–if they worked, they had to be paid for the time. Although I am not familiar with CBAs.

                3. non-profit manager*

                  Might depend on the state. In our state, comp time is addressed in the labor code. It is for non-exempt employees only and is in lieu of overtime payment (the employee has to agree in advance). This same code specifically excludes exempt employees.

                4. Pwyll*

                  Not from there, but I’d guess Washington State. They do indeed have a law that grants comp time in lieu of overtime, but many lawyers and scholars believe that law is preempted by the FLSA. So, at best it’s a legal gray area, and at worst it’s an invalid state law that could get an employer in big trouble if they were sued under the FLSA.

              2. non-profit manager*

                And to piggyback on Pwyll, lawyers in California have the same concern. Employers who go this route need to be careful to use this only if employees work more than 8 hours in a day, but less than 40 in the workweek. If they work more than 40 hours in a workweek, then they should be paid overtime compensation so the employer is not in violation of the FLSA.

        2. Observer*

          That makes no sense. You can’t redefine a person from exempt to non-exempt by offering them comp time. You you are not allowed to offer comp time to a non-exempt employee.

          1. non-profit manager*

            Sure you can, depending on the state. Additionally, federal law permits comp time in lieu of payment (at 1.5 hours for every 1 hour of overtime) for non-exempt employees of government agencies, though not employees of private organizations.

            The concern with redefining someone from exempt to non-exempt by offering comp time has more to do with the appearance of tracking time and thus paying by the hour. This is a concern in the state I am in, though maybe it is not a concern everywhere.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              You cannot offer comp time to a non-exempt employee in lieu of pay, unless it’s in the same pay period. In other words, you can adjust the person’s schedule that pay period so they’re not working more than 40 hours a week, and thus no overtime is owed. But if they do work more than 40 hours, you can’t “pay” them for it in comp time. That’s the case in every state.

              The only exceptions are, as you note, government employees.

              Federal law is fine with employers offering exempt employees comp time or requiring them to track hours. The restriction for exempt employees is only around docking pay.

              1. non-profit manager*

                You can indeed offer comp time to certain non-exempt employees in lieu of overtime pay in California. You need to offer 1.5 hours for every hour worked. If you are smart, however, you will only offer this if the employee works more than 8 hours in a day and exactly 40 hours in the workweek. Remember that California has a daily overtime requirement, which is why you can technically offer comp time in some circumstances and not necessarily be in violation of the FLSA. The California law allows comp time to accrue, which I think conflicts with the FLSA, so the smart employer will require the comp time to be used in the same workweek.

                California laws regarding exempt and non-exempt employees are more strict than federal laws (and probably most state laws), so while it is fine to track hours for certain purposes, tracking for compensation begins to make the employee look like he or she is being paid by the hour and thus non-exempt. At least that is how our employment attorney explained it to us. :)

                1. Elysian*

                  The FLSA only requires overtime to be paid if an employee works over 40 hours in a week. So if you’re offering comp time to a non-exempt employee working less than or exactly 40 hours a week — in ADDITION to actually paying them for their time worked in cash, because you can’t not pay them under federal law — then that would be fine. So yes, you could pay someone who worked 10 hours in a day 10 hours of cash at their straight-time rate and 2 hours of comp time at a half time rate (=1 hour of comp time total). That would be fine under federal law. But I’m certain that’s not the situation anyone is envisioning.

          2. Pwyll*

            The point isn’t so much that the employer is changing the definition via comp time, but that there’s a risk the union could claim that the employer mischaracterized the exempt employees, that they should have been considered non-exempt all along, and that as such they should have been members of the bargaining unit. If that’s the case, I do think the employer is over-reacting, but it’s not all that outlandish of a scenario.

    2. BRR*

      I can see that if the employer created a firmer policy, it might overlap with the union’s policy. The union employees might have a policy saying they have comp time and if the non-union employees get a similar policy they might be then considered part of the union or have the opportunity to join. Just my brainstorming.

      1. Mike C.*

        That can’t be it. There are tons of things in my workplace that I (non-represented) benefit from that were directly bargained for by the unions whose members I work with directly. For instance, even though I’m exempt, I’m paid for hours over 40 in a given week. I also share the time off at the end of the year, whose days were traded from all the other holidays throughout the year.

        I’ve dabbled in union organizing before, and the bargaining unit is really defined by the type of work done, not the benefits people receive. That’s why you see plumbers and engineers unions, not comp-time eligible or double-time after 10 hours unions.

        1. Winter is Coming*

          How can you be considered exempt and still be receiving overtime pay? That flies directly in the face of the FLSA exempt status.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Employers can choose to pay overtime to exempt employees if they want to. As long as they don’t deduct from their pay for working fewer hours some weeks, that’s fine. In other words, they can do more than the law requires for people, but not less.

              1. Judy*

                I worked at a company where the exempt engineers were given straight rate overtime if they worked more than 50 hours a week. So 45 hours, no overtime, 51 hours, 11 hours of straight time overtime. It was still rare to get overtime, and the stated reason behind paid overtime was to force the managers and project managers to not over-promise projects.

                1. Marketeer*

                  At my firm, depending on your title, exempt employees either get time and half or straight time OT. Senior staff doesn’t get paid OT, but they get yearly bonuses. Non-exempt obviously get OT as well.

          2. BRR*

            Exempt means they don’t have to pay you. Some companies do anyways. My cousin just got a job like this (curse her).

        2. doreen*

          But the “type of work done” doesn’t have to be as specific as “plumber” or “engineer”. The unions at my government employer are divided into different bargaining units based on a much more general description. For example, one unit includes all those with jobs that require a college degree- everything from teachers and social workers to doctors , lawyers, accountants and scientists. The exempt/non- exempt lines is drawn by salary grade for the most part- non-exempt jobs are below the line and exempt are above, but there are exceptions. But all non-management jobs are in the union. And the exempt union members don’t get comp time when they unexpectedly work late. ( It is acceptable to have a regular schedule of working 10.5 hours one day and 4.5 another if it’s based on the work rather than a personal preference) They can adjust their schedule within the same workweek, but hour-for-hour adjustments are specifically prohibited. And the reason is because that sort of adjustment makes it appear that a person is being paid on an hourly basis and might encourage the union to try to get that position reclassified as non-exempt.

      2. Juli G.*

        But if union employees had comp time and non-union don’t, isn’t also motivation to join the union?

        I admit to not being really into unions (although yesterday’s restaurant needed one!) but why would you unionize to keep the same benefits? It seems like you would unionize to get more.

        1. sam*

          Only certain types of employees are entitled to form a union. Second, simply belonging to a union doesn’t get you benefits – you have to be an employee that is subject to a collective bargaining agreement that contains those benefits. And if you’ve ever seen what employers will go through (both legal and illegal) to prevent unions from (a) forming or (b) negotiating on behalf of employees that have formed a union, it’s a lot harder than just “unionizing”. When it goes well, it’s a long, drawn out, painful process. Lockouts, strikes, replacement workers, pretextual firings, years of refusing to negotiate (just ask any of the public unions in my oh-so-liberal NYC!).

          And those are mild compared to, say, the early 1900s and Pinkertons simply killing mine workers who tried to unionize.

  5. AP No Noir*

    Where I work we are required to schedule ourselves for 40 hours every week and we must stick to that schedule. If I want to leave early any day I must first give 24 hours notice and second fill our a formal request to use PTO. Of course I can come in early or leave late anytime without any additional paperwork. The whole company is also on the point system so if I do leave early without the 24 hours notice I receive 1 attendance point. (10 points in a year and you’re fired.)

  6. BRR*

    Some people (myself included), are very apprehensive about an employer being this way about their exempt status. Many employers define exempt as at least 40 hours a week. With your speech, I think there’s a little read between the lines and some employees might need more directness (once again, myself included). To people like me, it sounds like something that might bite me in the ass later for flakiness. I work in a flexible work place and it’s so uncomfortable because I like more specific rules.

    I think using yourself as an example is great. Saying how you had to finish A, B, and C this week and then left early for happy hour and following that up with that is perfectly fine for your team to do the same. This is what it took for me. My director had to be super direct about it, “If you need to run a quick errand in the afternoon, go! As long as your results are good, that’s all I care about”

    1. INTP*

      Yeah, I see this issue too. The thing is that as worded, the OP is putting it on the employees to decide where the line is between a few hours here and there being no big deal and just part of being an exempt employee, and abusing the policy and not using your PTO when you should. That line might seem like common sense to someone but it varies so greatly between companies and individuals, plus there’s the fact that you have to learn this entire new custom when you transition from non-exempt to exempt, so I can understand not feeling secure that you will see that line exactly where your boss sees it. And if there is a mismatch on where you each see that line, then it’s better to use too much PTO and have your boss think you’re annoying than use too little and have your boss think you’re lazy or even deceitful. So, I can understand where the employee is coming from.

      I think being a little more concrete about expectations might help here. “If it’s less than two hours, you don’t need to take PTO.” “I prefer you use PTO in chunks of a half day or longer. If it’s less than that, I trust you to manage your time over the course of a week.” “While we can’t offer formal comp time, I don’t expect you to use PTO for anything less than 4 hours as long as you’re reaching 40 hours that week.”

        1. fposte*

          Yup. For a certain kind of personality–mine, for instance–not telling me the line makes me think that you’ll only tell me when I cross it, and I don’t want to be told that I’ve done something wrong when I could have just done it right in the first place if you’d told me what “right” was. So therefore I’ll be *extremely* conservative so I can be absolutely sure I’m not flexing too much.

          There’s probably a correlation between those of us who’d struggle with unlimited PTO, too, and would take more with an identified number of days.

          1. Sarah*

            I work at a company that offers unlimited PTO and the end result is that most people take fewer vacations, because they take a day here or there throughout the year as things come up and then they have no idea how much they’ve already taken so they’re worried about overdoing it if they go away for a whole week or more. A handful of people take WAY more PTO both day-to-day and in big chunks than most of the rest of the employees combined. It’s nice if you’re unselfconscious enough to be one of those people, I guess, and I don’t hold it against them, but we also unfortunately have a gossip-prone office culture and I hear a lot of snide comments flying around whenever one of the repeat PTO-takers is gone. It doesn’t help that most of them are higher-ups, so there’s the sense that they can “get away” with it because they’re not part of the rank and file. Even though the PTO rules are the same for everyone! I think having a generously large but finite bank of PTO would be better than having unlimited, because then you know that everyone *could* take the same amount, and some people just don’t, so it seems fair.

            1. sam*

              I’ve actually heard that about most places that move to “unlimited” PTO or maternity. In theory, it sounds really generous, but for most people, it creates an environment where there is no longer a norm or expectation, so other than outliers, most people end up taking less time than if they just had a designated bank of PTO days that they were given, because having a defined number of days actually signals to people “you are allowed/entitled to take this many days off”.

              Plus, of course, there’s no accrued PTO to pay out when someone leaves.

  7. the_scientist*

    While the rules make sense and are clear to me, I have to imagine that the “no comp time (even informally)” only breeds resentment. Not excusing a full-on meltdown (because, yikes) but it would be fairly demoralizing to work all weekend and then not be able to take a day off in lieu. It sounds like OP is trying really hard to be flexible but that there needs to be some sort of allowance, even informal, for extreme situations. Why not “off the books” time in lieu? Because honestly, if people regularly have to work weekends and then aren’t allowed to take time off to compensate for that, you are very quickly not going to have anyone volunteering to work over the weekend.

  8. Nobody Here By That Name*

    I like to say to my direct reports that the great thing about being exempt is that you get paid the same no matter how much you work. The unfortunate thing about being exempt is that you get paid the same no matter how much you work.

    The exempt gods giveth and they taketh away. Just depends on how busy you were that week.

      1. INTP*

        Yeah. I’ve never worked anywhere that it was normal for an exempt person to work less than 40 hours without using PTO. 40 hours is the minimum, not the average.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Right, that’s what it sounds like here. The employer is getting the benefits of having exempt employees (requiring that they work over 40 hours in a week/over 8 hours in a day without paying them more) without accepting the trade-offs (letting them manage their own time, including leaving “early” if the work is done). Ugh.

  9. jhhj*

    I’m not sure why it’s a privilege to get to work more than 40 hours without extra pay on any schedule you like so long as you come in every weekday plus weekends and evenings if needed. If you expect people to work on weekends (for their normal salary, nothing extra) but don’t let them take off weekdays in slow times (without using PTO), you’re not going to have many people interested in weekends anymore. It sounds like all take, no give.

    1. AdAgencyChick*


      The reason it flies in my industry (where this practice is RAMPANT) is that my niche of advertising pays quite well. So, you know that you’re signing up for sometimes nutso hours in exchange for a good paycheck.

      But if your company behaves like this and there’s not some other way to compensate employees who go the extra mile, they won’t volunteer to work weekends, they’ll find another place to work, or both.

      (I will say that this practice is one of the reasons I try very hard to avoid working on accounts that are launching a new product, which are typically the worst in terms of hours worked, *even though* I’m paid well. Why not be paid well and work on a more reasonable account?)

    2. sam*

      At least in theory, exempt employees make more money as a baseline than non-exempt employees. The baseline is a pittance by today’s standards, but when it was established, it was in theory, some multiple of minimum wage plus overtime that would make it unnecessary to earn overtime.

      I’ve never worked a 40 hour a week job – more like 50-60-70 hours a week (my record was over 120). Then again, I’m a NYC lawyer, so the pay is generally adequate to compensate me for the fact that I have no life. When I was at law firms, bonuses were also paid based on hours billed, so that was kind of an alternative way of compensating for hours worked – if you billed (not worked, but billed to clients) over 2000 hours/year, you got a very nice bonus. Mind you, billing 2000 hours generally required you to work about 2300-2500 hours/year.

  10. Elkay*

    I find this part confusing

    You don’t earn comp time in your position, so the amount of time you’re here one day has no bearing on how many hours you’re here on other days.

    Reads to me like I need to do at least 8 hours a day (to average 40/week) and if I worked 10 the day before I can’t work 6 the next day and call it even.

    1. LSCO*

      It sounds to me like you can work 10hrs one day and 6 the next.. but you can’t work 10hrs Mon – Thurs (thus fulfilling the 40 hours) and then take Friday off without burning a vacation day.

    2. KM*

      That’s the sentence that’s throwing me off, too, because, if they’re expecting an average 40hr week, then the amount of time you work one day DOES have bearing on how many hours you work the other days.

      Like, I get that if you’re just swamped one week, you can’t peace out after 40 hours and let all your projects die on your desk, but if you put in 60 hours during the swamp week and things quiet down after that, you should be able to claw back your time however you want without using PTO. This makes it sound like you’re not allowed to do that, and it’s not at all clear why.

  11. CaliCali*

    I think a lot of confusion comes with the company policy of needing to take PTO if you take a day off, even if you’ve gotten work done or put in extra time over the weekend. I realize that in spirit, taking a whole day off is different than skipping out a bit early for happy hour, but if broken down by time card, it’s really not that different, and if people are coming from non-exempt or hourly environments, it’s hard to reconcile.

  12. Rusty Shackelford*

    If you say “I care about your results and not your hours,” then it can feel contradictory to say “but you should be averaging 40 hours a week.”

    Not “can feel contradictory.” DOES feel contradictory. To me, anyway. You can’t say you don’t care about the hours, and then in the next breath explain that they’re not meeting your expectations for hours. You DON’T trust people to manage their own time if you have a minimum amount of time they’re supposed to be in the office, and that time happens to be on weekdays, no matter how much they worked on the weekend. I’m not saying it’s wrong to expect these people to maintain core office hours, I’m just saying it’s wrong to keep telling them hours don’t matter, when clearly they do matter quite a lot.

    1. fposte*

      I see what you mean about the contradiction, but I do think that’s a pretty unremarkable expectation based on the needs of most offices and the demands of most jobs.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Exactly. I don’t find the practice itself bad or confusing, but the way it’s being explained to the employees.

    2. Kyrielle*

      I read it as a poorly-phrased explanation of “We don’t care about your hours, but your workload is structured to something we think will take you about 40 hours most weeks.”

      1. Not Karen*

        But what if actually takes me only 20 hours a week for weeks at a time?

        Because that’s exactly what happens to me. In a truly results-oriented work environment, I should be allowed to go home (or if I need to be reachable, do non-work things at my desk).

          1. non-profit manager*

            Yes, we are stretched thin and if you are regularly meeting objectives in much less than 40 hours in a week, we would conclude that either your job is not needed, which would free up important funds, or we would restructure your workload.

    3. Koko*

      I think the issue here is that they don’t care about HOURS, but they do care about DAYS. Being unavailable for an entire day likely affects your department a lot more than being away for a few hours.

      So it’s probably fine to work 36 hours some weeks, because hours don’t matter, but you need to be there for a reasonable portion of the day all 5 days unless you’re taking PTO.

      1. OP*

        Yes to this. The exact number of hours really don’t matter. The days sort of matter, but the responsiveness matters most of all. The “results-oriented” thing isn’t so cut-and-dried when part of the results you have to deliver are a service.

        Among other things, all of these employees are responsible for delivering in-depth teapot consultations during business hours. If someone is out, they have to reschedule their teapot consultations or arrange to have a colleague fill in. Some of them have been hired for their expertise in specific kinds of teapots that clients really need help with, so that can be difficult. So the employee can’t decide for themselves that they’re only going to be available for teapot consultations arbitrarily when they feel like it. But they can say, “I did all my teapot consultations for the day and I’m beat! It’s 3:30, must be happy hour!”

  13. bkh*

    I’m salaried, and if I work 12 hours on Monday, I’ll probably work 6 on Friday, smile and say have a good weekend when I walk out the door at 3. If I heard a single word about it, I would never work more than 8 hours for you again and would actively be looking for another employer.

    Similarly, if I put in 40 hours in 4 days to hit your deadline, well, I’ll see you on Monday and no, I’m not taking PTO.

    So, yes, it is a personality thing and its something I make sure I align with before I accept a position.

      1. Sketchee*

        You just do it and stick to the consequences. The consequence of it being a problem after I’ve done it? I accept whatever they want to do about it while I conduct my job search. And make that clear. So far, I’m doing well enough that they take my offer and never bother me about it again. =)

  14. Sibley*

    Been there, did that. I had to do daily time entry based on projects (auditor – standard practice for the industry). I also had to have at least 8 hours entered every day, 40 hours per week. HR didn’t really look at what it was, just checked totals. So we’d sometimes “even out the hours” – totals were right, but if we worked late one day, sometimes we’d enter those hours in on Friday or whatever. All kept very quiet of course, but everyone knew that the staff did it. Sometimes we’d work tons of hours to meet a deadline, then “work from home” on Friday or whatever. Of course, I did actually do work, and a lot of it, at home.

    We also had a time code to use “hours not worked” – it wasn’t PTO, and was intended for the occasional appt. Had to be careful with that one though, because if you were using it too much then it could be a negative.

    1. non-profit manager*

      We quietly did something similar at my last job (professional services consulting), where a 15-hour day a few times a month was not unusual. The office manager, who started and left at the same time every single day, insisted we needed at least 8 hours each day on our time reporting. Even if we’d worked 15 hours the day before. So we quietly shifted hours on occasion.

  15. AndersonDarling*

    This makes my head hurt. “We are flexible” but “You better be here 40 hours a week.”
    If I was an employee there, I would understand that the company likes to feel good about themselves and says they are flexible, but I better not try to leave early.
    I’m wondering if the employee who put in for unnecessary PTO was reprimanded for leaving early. You can’t tell people they can manage their own time then pester them with “Where were you at 4:45 on Friday?”

    1. Dan*

      I’m ok with “we are flexible” and “you better be here 40 hours a week.” But only if the boss doesn’t care how I charge my time, and if I work 4 10 hour days, or make some time up on Saturday afternoon or whatever.

      OP’s company is really saying “we are flexible” and “you better be here every day”. Their marketing materials are probably better rewritten as, “we expect you in the office every day, but are a bit flexible on the exact hours.” That’s accurate for them.

      Tell a guy like me, who comes from an environment where I have two weeks to log 80 hours and it doesn’t matter how, “we are flexible” and you’ll see me working from home on a Saturday afternoon for ditching out early to go to happy hour all week. We’re gonna have some misunderstandings when I start working at the OP’s company.

    2. Decimus*

      I had an employer who did contradictory instructions along those lines. We care about results and it’s okay to occasionally leave early if you got your work done… but you were expected to put in 8 billable hours a day M-F (and not all our daily job tasks were billable). Really it just meant you did a minimum of 40 hours for your salary and were expected to put in more… which was definitely NOT how they sold the position in interviews. There was pretty much constant staff turnover and they seemed baffled as to why. They kept blaming it on new hires who didn’t understand industry practice. I went to them from one of their competitors – their work practices were definitely below industry standard.

  16. CADMonkey007*

    My general understanding is that the “flexible hours” nature of being exempt means you can flex 1-3 hours or so within a day and make up for it elsewhere in the week. Maybe you have a Dr. appt, or your car broke down, or your kid’s got a soccer match, or you took a long lunch. Once you start venturing into half or full days off, it needs to fall under PTO.

    The OT thing depends on your employer. Good employer will give you comp time off. Crappy employer tells you to suck it.

  17. Dan*

    “Our leadership is very clear that salaried employees should work about 40 hours a week, but results are what matters. It’s also very clear that there is no “comp time” for these positions. For example, if I work late Monday through Thursday, I still have to use PTO if I want to take Friday off.”

    This may be clear to AAM, but it isn’t to me. I’ve worked at companies with truly flexible schedules, and where I work now, they don’t care how I put my time in as long as I hit 80 hours in a two week pay period. IME, the term “comp time” is an accounting term for hours that carry across pay periods, not flexing hours within a pay period.

    You actually need to be more clear with your policy. If you’re expected to be in the office M-F, say so. Don’t say “results are what matters.” Also state how many hours you need to be in the office to avoid a PTO day. Do I need to work at least 4 hours on Friday to avoid needing PTO? 1? 2? Spell it out. I used to be one who hated draconian rules, but for environments where “what we say” and “what we mean” defer, (and reasonably so based on employees’ previous experience) then spell out what you want. And don’t complain about employees who routinely work half-days on Friday to avoid the PTO hit. Results are what matters, remember?

    OP’s company is better off with a policy that states that they have some flex time, but employees are required to be in the office each day and charge a minimum of 6 hours (or 4 hours or whatever) on a given day in order to avoid using PTO, but still charge 40 hours over the course of the week.

    Or go to a 40-hours/week or 80-hours/pay-period rule, and truly not care if people sometimes flex a Friday off.

    1. fposte*

      I think you’re making a reasonable point, as are other people about the contradiction. I think the OP may be struggling a bit because she has people coming at the issue from both sides–the “I need to take PTO for a long lunch side” and the “I want comp time” side–and she’s not hearing that the phraseology that explains that person #1 has more room is sounding pretty restrictive to #2.

      So I think the sticking-to-specifics advice is useful, because it deals with people coming at it from both sides. Use the word “flexible” only in context with how many hours you can authorize flexibility for, because people *hate* a hidden ceiling.

      1. Dan*

        I think one of my larger points is that “comp time” the OP’s company uses it is a misnomer. IME, “comp time” is a specific absence or billing code used across pay periods. I.e., you earn it by working more than 40 hours wk/80 hours pay period and “spend” it in a later period by using a “C” absence code (or whatever) as you otherwise would a vacation day.

        Rephrased, I’ve never seen the phrase “comp time” used to describe flexing hours in a pay period. That’s just flexing time. The way OP’s company uses the therm, they’re accounting for more than 40 hours a week — 40 hours worked M-R, and then 8 hours on Friday for not being there. Places that I’ve seen use comp time would show that as a 48 hour work week.

        1. fposte*

          The Feds use “comp time” pretty much in the way you haven’t seen it, though–it’s a term for time off within the work week as an alternative to overtime. It’s talking about non-exempt employees, of course, but what you’re describing as a norm isn’t a way I’ve ever heard it used for exempt or non-exempt employees. So I suspect this is industry-dependent phraseology, but I think the OP is okay to draw on the federal language.

          1. Dan*

            In my post, I wrote that you earn it by working more than 40 hours wk/80 hours pp. That’s akin to overtime as you indicate, no? When you talk about “an alternative to overtime”, that by definition means you’re carrying it across pay periods. So in lieu of time and a half after after 40 hours per week, I’m going to “bank” that extra time and treat it as vacation during some other pay period.

            One certainly doesn’t “earn” comp time working 10 hour days M-R and claiming Friday as a “comp day.” One earns comp time by working 10 hour days M-R, 8 hours on Friday, and putting 8 hours in the Comp time bank for use at a later date.

            We could be talking past each other, but you seem to be certain that comp time can be earned and used within a pay period. I’m suggesting that anything you do within a pay period that nets out to 40 hours week/80 hours pp has nothing to do with comp time.

            1. fposte*

              Are you talking about comp time as something you bank, looking at it from an accounting standpoint? That’s not the feds’ concern. They’re talking about comp time in lieu of overtime, which of course can happen in the same pay period–they’re forbidding employers to give me Monday off instead of paying me OT for working a full 8 hours on Saturday when I already worked 40 hours M-F. It doesn’t apply *only* to that pay period (maybe that’s where we’re getting lost with each other?), in that you can’t do that going across pay periods either, but it’s about the workweek (or, in states where it matters, the work day), not the pay period.

              1. Dan*

                Are you sure about that? If an employee is non-exempt, the employer very much can give them Monday off in lieu of having to pay overtime.

                I’m no labor lawyer, but have worked a variety of exempt and non-exempt positions. My understanding is like Elysian’s, in that private sector non-exempt employees don’t have the legal opportunity to earn comp time, their employer must pay them overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40. Either that or the employers give them the day off. If I’m normally scheduled M-F and come in on Saturday, my boss very much can give me Friday off and not pay me for it. (Ok, that depends on how the work week is structured.)

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Fposte is talking about the NEXT Monday, not the one in the same work week. You can give comp time in the same pay period, because that’s just keeping someone’s weekly hourly at or under 40. But you can’t give it to them in a later pay period in lieu of paying them overtime in this pay period.

          2. Elysian*

            The Feds actually have multiple ways of accumulating time – if you have a flexible work schedule there are “credit hours” that work in the way you describe – you usually earn them and use them in the same pay period. There’s also “comp time” that is earned in lieu of overtime, which is supposed to be time you can bank for future vacations, etc. So they have two different types of time for situations like this.

            1. fposte*

              To clarify, you mean if you’re a federal employee, right? I was meaning federal terminology around the FLSA, not actually federal workers–throw those in and the complications increase exponentially :-).

              1. Elysian*

                Oh, yes I meant federal employees. The FLSA doesn’t allow private employers to give comp time (and doesn’t care, by definition, about what happens to exempt private employees), so when it comes to comp time, the only industry that the law discusses it in is government work.

                1. fposte*

                  I think where Dan and I may be running afoul of each other is that some industries/fields/employers may bank comp time for exempt employees, so that it has an accounting significance there. But in my experience it’s just the way to talk about exempt employees not having to work a 48-hour week if they already worked a full day before Monday starts, more or less.

            2. Dan*

              This is the spirit in which I’m talking about comp time. For me, working 40 hours elsewhere in the week and taking Friday off is just “flexing” time. “Comp” time is something that carries across pay periods. in the way that Elysian describes.

              1. fposte*

                I was thinking about the two terms, and yes, I’m definitely in a world where we don’t use the phrase flex time for that. We don’t use it much at all, but to me it’s about coming into work 7-3 vs. 9-5.

      2. V.V.*

        “Use the word “flexible” only in context with how many hours you can authorize flexibility for, because people *hate* a hidden ceiling.”

        And that my friend fposte, is why I have hit a glass ceiling in my career.

        I don’t want to sound pretentious enough to make the assumption that I could go out right now and get another higher paying (than what I make right now as an hourly worker) exempt position, but it is a big reason that I really don’t consider them at all anymore.

        Aside from myself, I know far too many people who found themselves trapped in the “flexible” time trap.

        As I have mentioned (exhaustively) in the past, it is really hard to suss out companies that truly are flexible, and don’t have hidden layers and ceilings when it comes to this kind of issue. Ask too many questions about it during the interview stage, and you can forget a call back.

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      My company has our flex time possibility spelled out similar to the way you describe and it is really, really helpful.

      As a new employee it made it easier to understand that staying late on a project didn’t earn me comp time, but that our company was flexible, so that if you needed 1-2 hours to go to a doctor’s appointment, you didn’t have to take PTO.

      They also lay out that the expectation is that you are in the office M-F and if you are out a full day, you have to use PTO (no making it up). I miss the flexibility, but I’d rather know the company’s expectations on day one.

  18. Anonymous Educator*

    Most of the jobs I’ve had have been exempt, and they’ve all had small variations on how time off works.

    Reading this letter reminds me of a particular workplace I was in that did things this way for exempt employees:

    * You were required to work 40 hours a week.
    * If you came in for an hour and left him sick, that counted as part of your 8 hours for that day (you did not have to use sick day hours).
    * If you didn’t come in, you had to use a sick or vacation day.
    * Even though you weren’t hourly, you still had to submit a timesheet to be approved by your supervisor.
    * If you worked a weekend, you did not get any weekdays off or any time off at all.

  19. Rusty Shackelford*

    If you came in for an hour and left him sick, that counted as part of your 8 hours for that day (you did not have to use sick day hours)

    What an awesome way to encourage people to come in and spread the misfortune when they’re sick.

    1. vic*

      I think it’s more like, if you become ill during the day, we recognize that you did work part of the day and won’t charge you sick time.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yes, that was the intention, and I don’t think people really abused it (“I’m going to not use my sick days by coming in for an hour and leaving early”).

        1. Koko*

          I think the risk of abuse is pretty low for a company that provides a reasonable amount of sick leave. Most people at my company who have been here more than a couple years have more sick leave accrued than we’ll ever use and in fact lose some every year in the rollover. (This because most people just work from home unless they’re violently ill/heavily medicated and don’t have to use sick leave to do that.)

          When you get 10 sick days a year but on average you’re only using 3 a year, there’s no way in hell you’re going to drag your sick self into work for an hour just to save a sick day.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          That’s good. I’ve worked with people who would have had a field day with this policy.

  20. plain_jane*

    As an employee I’d be seriously confused.

    – you want me to work around 40 hours and manage my own time
    – but if I work extra long throughout the week, I can’t take a day in lieu (even if I’ve achieved all the desired results and am averaging 40 hours a week)

    In other words, I’m not _really_ managing my own time to be 40 hours over the week, because you care more about butts in seats during the work week.

    Based on your examples, I’m guessing what you mean is “I expect you to show up every work day and some weekends. You’ll work at least 40 hours a week, and usually more, but don’t expect to get a full day off in return for working 8-10 hours on the weekend. But, since I’m a nice manager, I don’t care if you show up a couple hours later or leave a few hours earlier if otherwise work gets done and you’re at or above 40 hours averaged for the month.”

    In reality, this generally means for the employee that they can probably get back about half of the overtime they do through a combination of coming in late, leaving early, and taking longer lunches.

  21. new reader*

    I’m not sure if it’s law or policy, but where I work exempt employees need to record PTO in half-day increments. Because we’re not hourly employees, we earn our PTO in half and full day increments and can only use them in that way, not in hourly increments. If I come in late or leave early for an appointment or just because I feel like it, I only have to record it if it’s more than four hours.

    As an exempt employee, I consider myself having a somewhat flexible work schedule, not that I earn comp time. I don’t track time worked over 40 hours/week and expect equal time off elsewhere. But if I know I need time off during a week, I generally work extra elsewhere in the week to ensure the work still gets done.

    I agree with the others that suggested incorporating a work week concept of a maximum of 5 days in the week, so that if an employee works on the weekend they can have time off on a weekday to keep their days worked that week at 5. And that this concept be considered as flexible, not compensatory.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      “I only have to record it if it’s more than four hours.”

      That’s awesome. At one of my previous Otha we had to take PTO in either 4 or 8 hour chunks. So even if I could just be 30 min-1 hour late for a doctor’s appointment, I would have to take 4 hours. Basically they just succeded in keeping everyone away from the office for extra time.

      1. Hlyssande*

        If that were me I’d be scheduling appointments mid morning instead of first thing so I could sleep in.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          People totally did.

          Or if they had to take kids to school, they would keep the early morning appointment and use the rest of the time to run errands and take care of personal things.

      1. TootsNYC*

        so if a company wanted to give exempt employees a weekday off because they worked a weekend, it would be up to that company’s discretion? It wouldn’t affect the exempt status of the employees?

  22. DD*

    Sounds like a pretty crappy place to work at, you’re unlikely to retain good employees with those policies.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s actually a really, really common approach to exempt employees; I think it’s probably the approach that most places I’ve worked have had. I don’t think it’s especially crappy at all, although I do think they need to revisit how they handle it when people work significant amounts of time over a weekend.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        This is more or less how my workplace functions. We are expected to be in the office during business hours, and we put in extra hours at home if a project needs to get finished. To compensate, it’s fine if we need to cut out early/show up late/take a long lunch, and we don’t need to take leave for that.

  23. Mark in Cali*

    I guess I don’t understand it either.

    “I expect you’ll be here about 40 hours a week. Sometimes you’ll find you need to work more, sometimes you might need to work less.”

    I think if you added “Additionally, you must be here Monday through Friday. If you want a weekday off, despite how many hours you worked throughout the week on other days, you need to use PTO.”

    That would clarify it for me, but maybe I still don’t understand what the expectation is.

  24. Anonymous Educator*

    You’re evaluated and compensated based on your results, not how many hours you work. I expect you’ll be here about 40 hours a week.

    I think the way you phrase this here has got to be causing some congnitive dissonance for your employees.

    You can’t say “not how many hours you work” and then immediately afterwards say “I expect you’ll be here about 40 hours a week” and then also dock a PTO day if they work 40 hours Monday-Thursday and take Friday off.

    Either your primary concern is 8-4:30 / 9-5:30 (or whatever your regular hours are) or your primary concern is results. Or you never have crunch times and everything can be done only during business hours (but it sounds as if that’s not the case).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes. I think the better way to put what I think the OP really means is: “I care primarily about your results, not the precise hours you’re clocking. That said, it would be tough to do this job well if you’re averaging less than 40 hours a week. You can manage your own time from day to day, but I’d expect your hours to come out to roughly that over the course of the year. We do require you to use PTO if you take full days off, but beyond that, I want to help you find flexibility in your schedule when you want it.”

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yes, not the precise hours you’re clocking is a much clearer way to phrase is than not how many hours you work. Clearly the number of hours matters, but there is a little bit of flexibility.

    2. TootsNYC*

      how much of the confusion is the word “expect”?
      It is the parental “expect”? “expect you to”
      or the predictive “expect”? “expect you will be”

  25. LSCO*

    Sounds to me like the policy here isn’t truly “results-only”, but more a culture of being flexible about start/finish times, so long as the average daily working time is around 8 hours. If that’s the case, then you need to phrase it like that to your employees, maybe even outline a set of core hours they need to be in the office for each day (you must be in the office between 11am and 3pm, or you must be in the office at least 4 hours per day). The 40 hours per week, but not being able to work late and take the Friday off is very contradictory and is possibly what’s tripping other people up. Framing it as 40 hours per week, with a minimum 4 in-office hours per day Mon-Fri, might make more sense.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes – I think the “results only” part seems to only flow one way. As in “you have to get the results, even if that means staying 60 hours some weeks, but if you are getting everything we assign you done in less than 35-ish hours we’ll give you more work even if it’s 2X what everyone else does”

      Honestly, this is what most salaried jobs are like. Very few say “oh, you can get everything your predecessor or peers do done in half the time? Ok, you can go then.” Most keep giving work until everyone is at (or beyond) what can be accomplished in a 40 hour week.

    2. Gem*

      This. I’m in the UK so the rules around exempt/non-exempt don’t apply but we have flexitime, with a set of core hours between 10am and 4pm.

      We have to log 7.5 hours each day, but as long as we’re in the office between 10 and 4, we can flex around that.

      1. Tau*

        I’ve got the same (also UK), just 37.5 hours a week rather than 7.5 a day, plus core hours stop earlier on Fridays. Since I have to travel quite a ways Friday afternoons I very much appreciate the ability to build up time earlier in the week so I can dash out the door before three.

        (Previously, it wasn’t even 37.5 hours a week, it was a flexitime bank based on 7.5 hours a day where we were just asked to try not to get too far into either debit or credit. That was amazing.)

  26. UK Nerd*

    In OldJob we were salaried, but the company would still nickel and dime us over times and PTO. We had to clock in and out of the building and ensure our clocked times were at least 40 hours. It was OK to occasionally take a shorter lunch break in order to leave half an hour earlier, but I had to get permission in advance from my manager. Doctor’s appointments had to be booked as earlier or late in the day as possible because leaving in the middle of the day meant using PTO – which could only be booked in blocks of 4 hours. That said, if we worked at the weekend to meet a deadline, we got overtime pay.

    It took me a long time to get used to the more laid back approach at NewJob.

  27. just laura*

    Agreed on the vagueness of “results-oriented.” Because you have a (rough) 40-hr/week requirement, you’re truly not results-oriented. You’re simply trying to communicate that the facetime requirement does not have to be followed to the letter. That’s great– but if you were actually results-oriented, someone could feasibly do their job in a couple days a week and as long as they showed up for meetings, etc. they’d be cool.

    Kudos to you for trying to figure out how to communicate this better.

    1. OP*

      The catch is that one of the major results people need to deliver is a service, which needs to happen during business hours at the client’s convenience. And some are managers, and most work on multiple teams. If someone figured out how to consistently deliver all those interdependent results in 30 hours per week without burdening anyone else, that would be cool with me.

  28. AmyNYC*

    Maybe I’m getting stuck on the wrong point, but This group is compensated and evaluated based on results confuses me. Do your exempt workers not know how much they will be paid until someone reviews their work/results?

    1. BRR*

      I believe that just means there are expected results for the position and as long as you reach or exceed that, the employer is happy. I believe the LW is comparing it to other employers where they care more about how many hours you’re there. Other employers might like the person who is producing less that works 60 hours a week versus the person who produces more that works 50 hours a week because the first person “puts in more hours.”

  29. Brett*

    Our organization uses a concept called A-Time (administrative time) for exempt employees. This is different from comp time (which is only used when someone has to work more than 40 hours because of a natural disaster).
    Comp time is formally tracked in the scheduling system similar to holidays and PTO (we no longer have sick time). A-Time is not.

    While A-time is entered into payroll/scheduling, it is up to the employee and the manager to track A-time between each other. They decide their policy for when it is earned and when it is used. The guideline is that A-Time should be used within 1 pay period. Another guideline is that A-Time is capped at 4 hours for a normal workday or holiday (a 12-hour day) and 12-hours for unscheduled work days (again, a 12-hour day).

    As an example, if an exempt employee who is normally scheduled M-F 8-4:30 had worked 14 hour this past Saturday, 8 hours on Sunday, and 12 hours on Monday (a holiday), they would earn 12 hours of A-Time for Saturday, 8 hours of A-Time for Sunday, and 4 hours of A-Time for Monday (a holiday). They would still have their holiday available to take a different day. The pay period ends on the 30th, so they would have until February 13th (end of next pay period) to use their 24 hours of A-Time. The manager would have the flexibility to give more A-Time for Sunday, but not for Saturday or Monday which are already maxed. The manager could also allow the employee to use the A-Time after the 13th (which is common).

    A-Time is still on top of exempt employees having generally flexible work hours, and is only a mechanism for exempt employees to flex their work days when required to work late hours or through weekends.

  30. De Minimis*

    Current employer has a similar system, I’m still trying to adapt to it after being a non-exempt government employee with a set start/end time each day.

    So far it seems like it basically means my boss expects me to stay as late as he does every night, and that doesn’t work for me. We don’t have comp time or anything like that. Our system also doesn’t seem to allow for “half days.” This can work in your favor or sometimes it doesn’t. Overall, I dislike it, occasionally being able to come in later or leave later doesn’t make up for the pressure to stay late, work from home when the office is closed, etc.

    1. De Minimis*

      That is, “leave early,” not “leave later.” Though my boss probably does think of being able to stay as late as you want to as a perk.

  31. F.*

    When I was promoted from an hourly/non-exempt position to my current salaried-exempt position (same company), I negotiated a raise that was the equivalent to $2.00/hr (annualized). However, due to uncompensated time worked over 40 hours per week during the first 18 mos., my raise actually turned out to be 3 CENTS per hour. I was working two (and sometimes 2-1/2) positions during most of that time.

    Meanwhile, some of our managers (who seem to have very little to do) almost never work more than 40 hrs/wk and often less, but they scrupulously take comp time for any time over 40 that they are here. And one exempt person, who also had to take on another position, went behind our boss’ back to the owner and negotiated straight-rate cash compensation for any time worked over 40 hrs/wk. I’m too honest to do something like that, so I must be really stupid. (sigh)

    1. fposte*

      Unfortunately, I think it’s pretty common for people promoted from a non-exempt position to a lower-salaried exempt position to outright lose money on the deal.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes. “Exempt” positions are very often abused for this reason. That’s why you get retail establishments where somebody is given a half-step of authority over their co-workers, keeps all their original job duties, and is told they’re now exempt.

        1. fposte*

          Yup. Congratulations, here’s your cut in income and the disdain of your former colleagues.

          That’s one of the things the change in the exempt threshold could remedy, since it really isn’t supposed to happen. But with the threshold so low, it’s pretty easy for it to occur.

  32. TotesMaGoats*

    At OldJob, most of the folks who were “on the ground” were exempt but also wildly underpaid. We also could not do overtime pay or “comp time”. So, if you worked all week and the weekend too, you’d take a day off during the week but your timecard would note only your 40 hours during the week. It was under the table, yes, but the only way we could really help those staff members. And they appreciated it. For sick leave, if you came in and where here until 10am then you didn’t have to mark it as a sick day.

    I think what might be more of the issue for OP is that you need people in the office reliably. I wouldn’t want someone busting it to get done in 3 days, working crazy hours to be gone Thursday and Friday. When I actually need you in the office on those days. It might help to designate core business hours that way people wouldn’t ask about leaving early or coming in late.

    1. OP*

      Yep, I do need people to be in the office reliably. Thanks for the suggestion about core business hours. I could see that working.

      1. KH*

        We do “core hours” because our team is all over the US. So we have core available hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. which allows for the maximum overlap of all our team members for at least 2 hours a day. Outside of that range, you can flex your hours however you want. If you want to work 10-3 on Friday and make up those hours the rest of the week, no problem. If you’re going to be out during those core hours (lunch excepted) then you have to take PTO.

        I think also defining “comp time” vs “flex time” will help with some of the confusion. We tend to use the phrases interchangeably in my shop so if someone told me “no comp time ever ever” I would think I had to use PTO for long lunches, too, as I said below. Whereas if someone said, “no comp time during core hours or carryover into future weeks, but you can flex your hours however you like within that range” it would be much more clear to me what I could and couldn’t do.

  33. AnonAcad*

    I agree with others than the policy as-is is confusing. It’s either “around 40 hours a week, total, regardless of what days” or it’s “40 hours a week Monday-Friday plus occasional weekend work on top of that.” My work arrangement is the former – e.g. I might work 10 hours/day Mon-Thurs. so that I can take a long weekend to travel; or if I come in for a half day of work Sunday I also do a half day on Monday. If I don’t need to be in the lab in person I can choose to work from home or even take the day off and I don’t run it by anyone, I just do it. Maybe I make it up hour-for-hour later or maybe I get projects finished early and end up at 35-37 hours a week; no one cares as long as I get my work done.

  34. F.*

    We used to have a fairly lax unofficial policy that salaried-exempt employees could occasionally take an afternoon off without using PTO. The key word here is “occasionally”. A couple of people would abuse the policy and be in the office much less than 40 hours per week. As long as they came in the front door, they were paid for the day even if they left after an hour or two. We finally began requiring everyone to take PTO for those hours that they were out of the office. This is one of those circumstances where equitable does not mean equal. I felt that the achievers should be able to take a few hours off without penalty, especially since they may have worked more than 40 hours the previous week. However, the slackers ruined it for everyone. The slackers’ behavior should have been treated as a performance problem, but it was just easier for management to come down on everyone the same. (I really need to get out of this rabbit hole.)

  35. MaryMary*

    OP’s expectations for her exempt employees are pretty much the same as all the exempt jobs I’ve ever had, so it makes perfect sense to me. I think when people get stuck on employees being “valuated and compensated based on your results, not how many hours you work” but still being expected to work at least 40 hours M-F, they’re not necessarily considering what the “results” are. There aren’t a lot of exempt jobs that can be done totally independently and on any schedule (some writing or coding jobs…maybe?). Any job where the expectation is to work closely with customers, clients, vendors, or coworkers generally include some sort of expectation of availability and response time. Your “result” isn’t just project work, but communication and responsiveness. My clients would not be pleased if I worked really hard on one client’s project over the weekend, and then didn’t respond to anyone on Monday and Tuesday. We have an expectation of getting back to clients within 24 hours (or on Monday for Friday requests). So no one minds if I leave at 3 on Friday occasionally, or take a long lunch. But if I’m gone for half a day or more, I need to arrange for a backup and let my clients know I’m away. If everyone in the office had total freedom of when they put their 40ish hours in, it would be difficult to staff to meet our client’s expectations.

  36. KH*

    I think the reason behind your one employee using PTO for long lunches and things is the extreme emphasis on no comp time, ever, ever, ever. If someone was that emphatic to me about “no comp time ever”, I would think I had to use PTO for everything, too. I’d be terrified to take a long lunch based on working late the night before or leaving an hour early on Friday because I put in a couple of long days earlier in the week.

    Maybe you need to more clearly define what you mean by “comp time” vs. just flexing hours during the workweek.

  37. Observer*

    I haven’t read the responses, so I suspect that this has been said already.

    Please do NOT make people take PTO when they’ve worked a long week.

    Allowing them to use comp time would not push them into non-exempt territory. In fact, most types of comp time can only be used for exempt employees – if a non- exempt employee works over 40 hours you have to pay him in that pay period, at an overtime rate rather than having them bank comp time.

    On other hand, you don’t even need to get into comp time to deal with this. All you need to do is actually apply the “around 40 hours a week” rule to a whole week. So, if this week, someone managed to work 40+ hours in 4 days instead of 5, then just let them take the day off without going into the PTO bank. Same if they worked on a weekend – They are getting their time in and their work done.

    1. Cheddar2.0*

      Just a quick note on this: “if a non- exempt employee works over 40 hours you have to pay him in that pay period, at an overtime rate rather than having them bank comp time.”

      It does happen! I have 28 hrs of comp time available to me right now and I’m definitely not exempt. My work is paid for by grant funding though, which is think is part of why I get it.

      1. Elysian*

        It happens, but it is not supposed to (grant funding or not)! Unless you work for a state, local, or federal government, if you are non-exempt you must be paid for hours over 40 in cash and not comp time.

      2. neverjaunty*

        It doesn’t matter where the money comes from. Wage and hour laws still apply. You should be talking to HR and Accounting to get the money you are owed (and yes, if your employer is giving you comp time instead of pay they are obligated to give you, they are taking your money away from you).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Some people truly prefer the flexibility of comp time, and so choose not to speak up about it because they feel this works out better for them. However, Cheddar2.0, if that’s your stance, keep in mind that overtime would be paid at time and a half, whereas your comp time is probably only being paid at regular time.

          1. jimbs*

            When I got comp time at a government county job, banked comp time was worth time and a half whenever you got it. I much preferred this to OT since I didn’t have enough PTO for my liking. But just straight comp time, paid at a straight rate? Not right .

          2. KH*

            Honestly if I were given a choice, I would personally choose straight comp time over time-and-a-half pay. Obviously that’s me and my circumstance, though. Others would much prefer the money. I like the more flexible schedule.

      3. non-profit manager*

        Or it could be based on the state you are in. I am in a state with a daily overtime rule. Under certain circumstances, a non-exempt employee can agree to accept comp time (1.5 hours to each hour worked) in lieu of payment. But only for daily overtime and not weekly overtime. If the employee works more than 40 hours in a week, then FLSA rules require payment and not comp time.

        OR if you are a government employee, the FLSA permits comp time in lieu of payment for hours worked in excess of 40 per week. If you are a government employee (federal, state, local), this might be why you have comp time.

      4. Observer*

        Unless you actually work for the Federal government, it’s still almost certainly illegal. The problem often is that there is so much pressure to avoid overtime that organizations are pressured into hoops that make no sense – or are simply illegal, without even realizing it often enough.

  38. neverjaunty*

    OP, presumably the ‘no comp time otherwise union problems’ policy was something your company developed after consulting with labor/employment lawyers. What about approaching those lawyers with the situation as a problem to be solved? “I’d like to be able to have my exempt employees who put in weekends and holidays be able to take a regular weekday off right after, without using PTO. How can we do this?”

    And if your company didn’t actually have a lawyer tell them they have to do X, Y and Z because unions, and it’s just a “policy” that somebody came up with because they heard something on the Internet, well, you find that out too.

    1. fposte*

      There’s also the “game of telephone” factor. It was fascinating to me, when I rose higher in management, to see the actual explanations behind things I’d gotten baffling justifications for from people who had clearly misunderstood the explanations.

  39. Minion*

    This makes me wonder if there’s a danger of exempt employees being reclassified because they’re counting hours like the OP describes. That’s what we do here. The only people here that are exempt are Directors, but we’re expected to use PTO the same way a non-exempt employee would. So, in the example that the OP uses, with Sue asking for PTO for an appointment or an hour or two here and there is exactly how we do our time. Is this wrong? I really don’t want us to run afoul of the law.
    In a similar vein, we have an exempt employee who went down to 36 hours per week, and had her salary adjusted downward accordingly, but she’s still salaried and exempt. Which makes no sense to me. She works fewer hours and is very picky that she doesn’t go over her 36 hours each week, but she’s getting paid the same no matter what she works. I don’t understand how you can base someone’s salary on how many hours they work but still consider them exempt. Maybe I’m just completely misunderstanding the exempt vs. non-exempt issue.

    1. OP*

      Yes, the issue is that employees could be reclassified into the union if their managers are counting hours. It’s nothing to do with state law or anything, as far as I’m aware. Just our gigantic union contract.

      1. Mike C.*

        So even if you started clocking people in/out of the building to know who’s inside for fire drills they would suddenly become part of the bargaining unit?

  40. NJ Anon*

    I have not read the comments yet but my organization struggles with this concept all the time. It’s seems simple to me. When I started here they were giving comp time out to any exempt employee who worked over 40 hours per week. I put a stop to that but said that flex time, using time within the same pay period, was ok. They still don’t get it. I don’t know if they ever will.

    1. Roscoe*

      What is your flex time agreement? If someone works 10 hours on 4 consecutive days, can they take the 5th off? Is that made clear? I think there is a thinking that its clear to everyone when its just clear in your mind how you intend it.

      1. OP*

        I think one of the most important things I’ve gathered from comments that it would help if we stopped saying “comp time” and started saying “flex time.”

        1. Observer*

          Yes! You can reasonably put some limits on how people flex. But if you look at it as flex time with a pool of 40 hour per week, with a need for some core coverage time and unlikely need for heavy weekend work, that should be much easier to explain and less morale busting. Assuming, of course, that people really aren’t expected to do things like pull all nighter or weekend work on anything like a regular basis.

  41. OP*

    OP here. This has been great, thanks Alison and commenters! I love this blog.

    For those wondering about the specifics of our culture and work norms, read Koko’s comments – that’s exactly what we have (or aspire to, since it’s not happening for everyone).

    I like Alison’s suggestion about the next conversation to have with the employee who’s sending me incremental PTO requests. I think this will help. This is someone who’s new to exempt employment, and I think also very concerned about orderliness and fairness in general.

    For that other employee…it’s another department, so I should be clear that I’m not involving myself. I understand the comments that management should be sympathetic and just give him unofficial comp time, I really do. The thing is, management didn’t tell him to work through the weekend. I don’t know of an exempt employee being told they must work through the weekend to meet a deadline, or what have you. Requests like this are usually from employees who want comp time for professional development activities that take place outside normal business hours. Sometimes this involves travel and yes, of course it counts as work. Some managers were giving people unofficial comp time for this stuff, but were told to stop because of union conflicts. The issue some people raised about needing to maintain responsiveness/service during business hours is also at play here. If someone is at a conference for a whole weekend, taking two whole days off the following week would definitely require finding someone to cover for you.

    It’s totally possible that the scary union stuff about comp time is someowhat overblown and a CYA thing. I could call our HR contact to find out the reality behind it. I do know that I’ve been absolutely forbidden by our leadership to offer anything to exempt employees that sounds like I’m offering them hours off for hours worked. Aside from that, it’s negotiated at the state level so I’m not in a position to effect any change.

    I like the suggestion someone made of asking, “Since you were working so much last week, would your workload let you leave early or come in late a few days this week to give yourself a break?” I think that would be the “permission” some seem to need, and wouldn’t get anyone’s knickers in a twist about compliance.

    1. Sketchee*

      Sounds good, I agree with the commenters with making explicit any circumstance that would require your intervention as a manager and which wouldn’t. Any employee is going to be concerned that management’s walk isn’t going to match the talk. Being an “adult” simply doesn’t mean the same thing to every manager and your employees need to know what that means to you specifically =)

    2. AcademiaNut*

      The other thing I would do is make it clear about weekend work. Something along the lines of “Your work should fit into a normal work week – if you find you have to work through the weekends, talk to your manager about whether you’re being assigned too heavy a workload”.

      The basic policy of M-F with some travel/overtime but flex time for appointments, long lunches, and leaving early on occasion, but having to take PTO for a full day makes sense and seems fair, *if* significant weekend work is not required. If they do need to work through weekends to reasonably get work done for a deadline, but are also expected to work a nearly full week before and after, that’s more of a burden than a perk from the employer.

    3. YawningDodo*

      Late to the party, but I really think it would help to stop thinking of it as “comp time.” It’s not a matter of paying out compensation for extra work in the form of PTO; it’s a matter of balancing the work week to equal a total of forty hours (or in the case of my workplace, balancing the two-week pay period to equal eighty). Comp time is PTO that can be saved for later use; flex time is only usable within the same pay period.

      The way it’s done where I work, we can flex time (not comp time!) within a pay period if we have our manager’s prior approval. That means I can’t just spontaneously decide to work four ten hour days and ditch on Friday without telling anyone, but I *can* work four tens and take that Friday off if I go to my manager first and confirm that it won’t create an issue (we’re expected to keep regular hours otherwise, though we can run off for errands, etc). It sounds like taking a whole day off like that is a no-go for you guys because of a constant need for availability during core weekday hours, but in a situation like that I’d expect (or hope) to be able to go to my manager ahead of time and get permission to at least flex my time into shortened weekdays following a weekend workathon.

  42. AllieJ*

    I find the “we measure you by results” and “you must get in 40 hours” and “we trust you to manage your schedule” to be contradictory.

    I find this really confusing and challenging when it varies manager to manager within the same organization. I’ve had 3 supervisors at my current job and each have dealt with it differently. My position frequently requires evening and weekend work as well as normal business hours. Boss #1: Flex within the 40 hour work week (Monday – Sunday) but not between weeks. So if I was going to work on Saturday I could only take off during that same week. Boss #2: Flex within the 80 hour pay period, no questions asked as long as work is getting done. Weekend work counts the same as weekday work. Boss #3: Work 8 hours each day Monday-Friday. Allowed to flex within the day (if I have to work until 8pm, can come in late), but not within the week. Working weekends and holidays are “just part of the job.” Of course there were times when I went above 40 and 80 hours when the work called for it with all of the supervisors, but being asked to work weekends and late nights with no consideration during the week means I’m actively looking for another job.

  43. saneworkplacesrock*

    the CEO at my last job apparently had nothing better to do than to track the hours that everyone in the office actually worked—he would come to me (as the direct report for these people) and question every entry on every time sheet–“well she said she came to work at 8:30 on Thursday, but she didn’t actually show up until 8:40, so she needs to take PTO for that 10 minutes.” I finally quit when he insisted that I have someone take 1 hour of PTO to make up for a short day, when the woman had led weekend seminars for us for the previous 2 weekends and hadn’t had a day off, and had booked more than 60 hours each of the previous 2 weeks.

    I work now for a company that actually has a comp time policy for exempt employees and I have to say that morale and productivity are quite high. Managers manage their employees’ workloads and working more than 40 hours is rare. We get things done and people aren’t dragging in here looking like they have been totally used up. When people do have to work, they don’t mind because they know they can take time off later. It’s a totally different culture and I love it.

Comments are closed.