receptionist leaves early every day and spends too much time not working

A reader writes:

I have an employee who is constantly leaving five or ten minutes early every day. She is the receptionist/admin assistant for our office but was hired by and reports to me.

If someone brings her something to mail or send out via FedEx at 10 minutes to 4:00, there is total panic about how she won’t have time to do it. And I constantly hear how she came in 10 minutes early. I don’t want an employee sitting at her desk with her keys and pocketbook ready to go for the last 10 minutes of her day.

Of course, if I mention the fact that she spent the first half hour she was here chatting with people, she denies it. And then she leaves the office for a full hour at lunch time, comes back and spends 20 minutes making her lunch in the kitchen, and then eats at her desk. I think this is totally unfair to everyone else. I don’t understand her point of view at all, and I’ve had it with her not working till 4:00.

So … tell her, and stick to it, and enforce consequences if it continues.

You’re her manager. You get to set standards for what flies and what doesn’t. You have to, actually.

You’re treating this like you both have to agree. It’s better if you both agree, but it’s not required.

So: Tell her that she needs to work all the way up until 4:00 and that you don’t want her getting ready to leave until her work day is actually over. Tell her that if she takes an hour for lunch, she needs to be back to working at full capacity when that hour is over, not preparing lunch in the kitchen. And tell her that you need her at her desk working when her work day starts in the morning, not socializing with coworkers.

If she denies she’s doing any of this, say this: “I regularly see this happening. But we don’t need to debate that; I just need you to understand that going forward, it needs not to happen.” And then, if you see it happening again, you ask her in that moment to come talk to you in your office, where you say, “What I just saw was what I was referring to when we talked about how you need to be at your desk working at the start of the day, not chatting with coworkers. Can you commit to that going forward?” (You should give a certain amount of slack on that, though, because practically speaking, most people chat with their coworkers at some point during the day, and some of them do it in the morning. I’m assuming the issue with her is that it’s way too much, but it’s worth noting that.)

If any of this continues to happen after you lay out your expectations, then you handle it like you would any other performance problem — up to and including replacing her if you decide the behavior is serious enough.

{ 487 comments… read them below }

  1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    Is something else going on where you feel like you have no power over her? Because you are her manager, so you don’t need to understand her “point of view” or anything like that when it comes to her not fulfilling her assigned duties.

    Bear in mind also that not disciplining a problem employee looks bad for the whole office and it’s frustrating for other employees, too. Abdicating managerial responsibilities with a shrug and handwave is hard to watch. Example from my own boss: he’s the owner and president of the company, yet when we had a problem employee not doing her job, he shrugged and said “I can’t force her to do it.” You can–that’s the role of manager.

    1. Gene*

      One of the tenets I live by is, “The only thing you can force me to do is die. Everything else I do by choice.” So really, he couldn’t have forced her; what he could do is give her the choice, do your work or go away.

      One of my other ones is, “Today is a good day to die.” My wife asked to not say that out loud in her hearing anymore. But that’s another discussion.

    2. Robin*

      We have a staff assistant the sits in our reception area. She is supposed to greet visitors and let me know when someone is here to see the big boss, keep office supplies stocked, etc. She literally spends the entire day staring, as if in a stupor, at her cell phone. She has loooong conversations with every other employee who walks into that area to use the copier, check the mail, etc. When our boss is away, she ALWAYS asks to leave early “because she has nothing to do”. When supplies are out and we ask about them, she points to the supply closet key and tells us to get the stuff ourselves. I am pretty new here, she has been here for almost 3 years. I guess it’s acceptable to have a job where you sit an socialize all day. I just don’t get it. PS – This women is in her mid-forties. She’s not a twenty-something year old.

    3. cncx*

      As someone who used to be a receptionist, we had a hard deadline of four for fedex so that the driver would arrive before COB and if it was anything more complicated than a letter we had already sent to an address in the system, i can definitely see how ten minutes would be cutting it short if i had to make a proforma, check the address (sometimes managers gave me wrong addresses and i had to google…). Not saying the other points are not valid, but the ten minute fedex thing might be where she has a leg to stand on.

      1. cncx*

        Dont know why this showed up as a reply to a top-level- sorry about that! Wasnt a critique of the comment at all-meant it to be its own.

    4. Annonymouse*

      True, you can’t force her. But guess what? You also don’t have to keep her employed.

      People will do what they’re allowed to get away with. Most people are fair and reasonable and won’t push the boundaries and others will and try to get away with doing as little as possible.

      You have the later.

      Set the standard and hold her to it. If she can’t find someone who can.

      There are plenty of people out there that would love to have her job and be a dream to work with so why are you putting up with this?

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    You don’t have to understand her point of view. It’s a job description not couples counseling.

    The time to negotiate her job duties was during the interview process where you could screen her out. But this is the job she signed up for so this is the job she needs to do.

    Unless there are extenuating circumstances, like a large workload or harassment or conflict, then what she thinks doesn’t matter.

    1. TootsNYC*

      The time to negotiate her job duties was during the interview process where you could screen her out. But this is the job she signed up for so this is the job she needs to do.

      Well, an employer can re-negotiate the terms of employment. And the employee can decide she doesn’t want that job anymore.

      So the OP doesn’t need to feel that he can’t do anything to change the requirements. He just needs to make them clear, and be sure they’re legal (paying the receptionist for all the time that she works).

    2. Bibliovore*

      OMG!!!! “It’s a job description, not couples counceling.” This is exactly the phrase I needed as I was dealing with a problem employee who felt I was being “unfair” for requiring her to perform the tasks of her job description.

  3. Jackson*

    Thanks for the feedback. I did speak to her about it already and she has gone back to working till 4:00. But don’t get between her and the door at 4. She’ll run you over on her way out. I guess I just don’t understand that way of thinking. There are times when I leave right at 5:00 because I have some place to be. But most days I leave between 5:30 and 6:00 because I’m in the middle of something and want to finish it. Or because the President or one of the VP’s who are still here need something. As the Controller I’ve never been one to fly out the door right at 5:00 so I was wondering if I was being unreasonable. I certainly don’t expect others to stay late on a regular basis. But one foot out the door at quarter of was really annoying me.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      Is she paid hourly?

      When I was an hourly employee I was a pretty strict clock watcher and was done as done as the clock hit 5 p.m.

      1. ADL*

        This is my question as well; if she’s an administrative/receptionist, then I’m assuming she’s hourly. So she’s paid until 4 p.m., not 4:30 p.m. If you want her to stay until 4:30 p.m. (or anytime after that), then she needs to be compensated as such.

        1. Dan*

          Well… if she’s hourly, she’s paid for the time she works, not “until 4pm” I think the larger point you’re making is that if OT is verboten, then yes, she better be out the door within 8 hours. If the boss is willing to pay overtime under certain circumstances, those times need to be very clear… and preferably ahead of time. While the boss thinks she’s following the law by paying the employee until 430 (and the boss is following the law) if these are always last minute things, the employee is thinking, “I plan to be here until 4pm, and when the boss wants me to stay late at the last minute, it’s a headache.”

          There’s a big difference between companies where the clock gets watched, and those where it doesn’t. Particularly when employees are exempt, many don’t mind staying late because they have flexibility on start times.

          1. LBK*

            But it’s not just a case of whether she’s getting OT pay or not and if she is, the issue is instantly resolved – it still matters whether she actually *wants* to work OT. The reason you get paid more for working over 40 hours is because it’s atypical and should be treated as a special request. It’s an acknowledgment that beyond 40 hours, you’re working more than a normal week, so the employee gets paid more to make up for it and the employer gets charged more to discourage them from forcing it.

            Now, if it’s a basic expectation that she’s going to work whatever hours are necessary even if that means going into OT, then that’s a conversation that needs to happen. But I don’t really like the implication that as long as she’s correctly receiving OT pay, she should be fine with working it.

            1. announcergirl*

              I see this totally different. Some of it, I think, is a matter of perspective. This person is a receptionist, whereas, the OP is a comptroller. These positions are vastly different in that one might be considered a job and the other a “career.” Yes, you should be intrinsically motivated to do your best no matter what the position and maybe yes, you should want to put in the extra effort it takes to get the job done. BUT expecting someone who is just coming in to get a check to have the kind of work ethic and dedication to the company, that the OP is suggesting, is unreasonable. However, that is the debatable part of this situation.

              The non-debatable part is this: She is an employee; and, as such, she doesn’t get to make the rules. She has set work hours and must be made to abide by those. It is unacceptable to arrive late, talk, leave early, have an hour lunch and take more time fixing lunch in the kitchen. That is stealing time. Period.

              1. Vicki*

                “It is unacceptable to arrive late, talk, leave early, have an hour lunch and take more time fixing lunch in the kitchen.”


                But if she gets up and walks out the door at 4:00:00, that’s perfectly reasonable.

                In a flexible, exempt, job, you don’t get dinged for doing errands at “lunch time” and then eating lunch when you get back. In a flexible, exempt, job, you don;t get dinged for talking to co-workers or arriving 10 minutes late.

                This is not a flexible, exempt job.

                OP – if you’re going to insist she Be At Her Desk at 08:00 sharp and not a minute later, that she use her lunch hour for lunch and Nothing Else, then you’re going to need to understand that she’s up and out the door at 16:00 and not a minute later, 8 hours to the second after she starts.

                You can’t insist on precise desk times and then expect someone to stay late out of some mistaken belief in “work ethic”.

                1. Jodi*

                  Well, OP still hasn’t answered the question as to whether this employee is hourly or salaried, which is why I think there are a lot of different scenarios/reactions/feelings floating around.

                2. NaoNao*

                  OH MY GOSH yes. I have had so many bosses that expect one to be at one’s desk at whatever o’clock or 5 minutes early, and the pay is either hourly or tracked to the minute in a timesheet, and they seem to not understand that it goes both ways. If you’re watching the clock, I am too!

                3. Nicole Michelle*

                  OH good point. It’s only fair and balanced. Plus I wonder if there’s a context he could understand as to why she’s leaving promptly. Me? I take a bus and if I’m not out the door by a certain time, I’ll miss my bus and have to wait a long time for the next one (it may not seem like much to some, but considering I have an hour commute, it can make a difference between getting home by 7 and 7:30 which is huge for me, if I’m leaving at 5:30). Anyways, also maybe she has to pick up a child or a family member from work and she knows she needs to leave right away for it?

                  I figure maybe there are reasons people leave so promptly and if he needs there to be flexibility in terms of when she leaves, maybe let her know. I’m imagining calls could come in as she’s preparing to clock out, I’m figuring it’s best on her part to not ignore that factor? (Flashback to my dreaded customer service days when I know I clocked out at 5 and the last three minutes were unbearable…but I still would have to take the call if it came in at 4:59!)

                4. Kassy*

                  ^THIS. Although personally, I found teachers/professors to be much more frustrating about this than supervisors.

                  “Class starts PROMPTLY at 8:00…” and then something like “You are dismissed when I dismiss you, NOT when the bell rings/at 8:50.”

                  Um…no? Pick one.

                5. Annonymouse*

                  It depends though Vicki, are you eating at your desk once you get back or taking an extra 20 minutes every day after your break to do it?

                  Even in my salaried job I’d get dinged for that because I’m supposed to be working.

                  Throw in the fact she is the receptionist, which means someone has to cover her break, which results in that person being 20 minutes late for their break or no coverage for 20 minutes I can see why they’d be annoyed.

              2. LBK*

                The non-debatable part is this: She is an employee; and, as such, she doesn’t get to make the rules.

                Right, and that’s why I said in my last paragraph that if those are the rules, then it’s fine to expect her to follow them. But the OP doesn’t even seem clear on what he wants the rules to be, so of course she doesn’t know how to follow them. He says he doesn’t expect her to work late, but he also expects her to still be taking new work requests up until 4…which will almost definitely require working late.

                This is all tangential to the actual topic I was discussing, which was the idea that the only issue is whether or not she’s being paid appropriately for overtime. If overtime wasn’t part of the original job expectations (or wasn’t explained to her as being such) then it’s not unreasonable for her to be expecting to work only until 4 or to be miffed if that expectation has changed without her being informed.

                1. JoJo*

                  Maybe she needs to leave at 4:00 sharp to catch a bus or be on time to pick her kids up at daycare.

                  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to start winding down for the day 10 minutes before the end of a shift.

            2. Dan*

              I was taking issue with the previous commenter’s assertion that the receptionist “is paid until 4pm.” No, she’s paid for what she works. Period. Not until a certain time.

              I don’t agree that working more than 40 hours a week in a non-exempt situation is “atypical” and “should be treated as a special request.” Many of my non-exempt jobs allowed for a significant amount of OT… far from atypical. That said, there are places that will only pay when hell freezes over. They usually make that clear to their employees though… but those places will find employees lining up at the door at quitting time, because hey, the boss ain’t paying me any more than 40 in a week.

              I don’t think that I implied the employee should be fine staying late. Heck, I made it clear that I thought unexpected overtime at the last minute is likely an inconvenience for the employee. More so if it’s very little time (so little extra cash) but creates a bunch of extra headaches such as transportation, day care, you name it.

              1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

                I have to sign-off, in advance, for one of my non-exempt employees to work overtime.

                It’s helpful when last minute request comes through because they can say, “I’d love to help you with X, but let me check with Not the Droid to okay the overtime.”

              2. LBK*

                Many of my non-exempt jobs allowed for a significant amount of OT… far from atypical.

                Maybe atypical is the wrong word – it’s outside what the standard should be for the length of a work week. The spirit of overtime laws are to establish that non-exempt employees shouldn’t have to work more than 40 hours but to understand that sometimes the business will necessitate it. As such, the employee is rewarded with additional compensation for working beyond that expected 40 hours. Now, we’ve certainly pushed that norm so that the actual average number of hours worked is probably at least 45, if not 50+, but I don’t think that moves the bar from what the work week should be.

                1. Vicki*

                  Especially given multiple studies that show that productivity goes down substantially after 50 hours.

                2. Anna*

                  I think atypical is appropriate. There are a lot of jobs that have regular overtime, and there are tons more that don’t. Where I work, OT is a very rare occurrence because it would cause us to go over our contract budget if it weren’t strictly monitored.

      2. Karyn*

        Yeah, and in some companies (or even some states – California was one of them!) – you’re paid OT by the day, not just by the week. So when I worked in CA, if I worked past 8 hours a day, I’d have to be paid time and a half for that day. I was a strict clock-watcher then. Not so much now, even though I’m hourly – I clock my 35, but sometimes I’m in at 9:30, sometimes 9, sometimes I leave at 4:30, sometimes 4. But if she’s being paid to stay til 4 and leaves exactly at 4, then you can’t hold that against her.

        1. K.*

          I’m hourly now (full-time onsite contractor) and I always submit pretty much exactly 40 hours each week. My rep from the staffing agency has emailed me to tell me to make sure NOT to go over. (I haven’t.) Going over means time and a half overtime, which the client has to approve. (It’s verboten to work and not submit time.) My boss has a habit of calling me in at the end of the day to debrief so sometimes I’m there past 5, and I have to take a longer lunch or come in later the next day to make up for it. (I haven’t been hourly in a while so I have to get used to clocking out after 8 hours. I can’t – like, am not allowed to – bring work home either. Forced work life balance!) So if the receptionist is hourly, I have no beef with her leaving after 8 hours.

          1. Jadelyn*

            It’s not forced work-life balance so much as it is that they are liable to pay you for all time worked, including at home. Taking work home is the same as working OT, from a payroll and compliance perspective.

            1. K.*

              Right, I get that. But the fact that they’re loath to pay me overtime for working more than 40 hours a week forces a work-life balance that hasn’t always been there in my previous salaried positions.

          2. Tau*

            I’m in a situation much like this – I’m also an on-site contracter and I have to submit precisely 37.5 hours per week, any overtime has to be approved ahead of time between the client and my manager at my parent company (ergo, the bureaucracy involved is tremendous). It requires a lot of juggling sometimes, especially because I can leave early Fridays if I’ve built up enough time during the week, but I do enjoy the free time and the fact that I have iron-clad reasons not to let myself be pressured into unpaid overtime.

        2. announcergirl*

          She was leaving before 4 and even before that, she was preparing to leave – not working.

      3. Rabbit*

        I’m a salaried employee, and because I can get my work done before 5 PM, I’m generally out the door at 5 PM on the dot. In fact, at my current company, the hourly employees are the ones who languish after-hours (there is no oversight or care for overtime pay, so it benefits them). I want to go home after work is done.

        1. LBK*

          Same – now that I’m salaried there’s no benefit to me staying late if I don’t have to, so you better believe I’m out the door at/before 5 on days that permit it.

    2. Is it spring yet?*

      Worked with a women like this. End of day she would be walking out the front door at exactly quitting time. This was a salaried position. Was talked to and then would at least wait to leave her desk till quitting time. This was relativity early on in her career. She worked at this company till she retired.

      1. Vicki*

        Why is this wrong?
        She was paid salary. If the job was exempt, it Does Not Matter when you leave as long as you get your work done. A salaried job does not mean 40 hours on site. It means Get Your Work Done.

      2. my two cents*

        My new co-workers laughed when I told them it was like that at my previous job. All eyes were on you if you tried to leave even 5min before 5. It left a bad taste in my mouth every time I had to spend a week for some conference or had to sacrifice an evening to do a webinar for the team in India.

        It shouldn’t matter so long as the work is done. I won’t specify just YOUR work – there are plenty of scenarios where your particular contribution(s) may be completed but it’d be a real dick move to leave the rest of your team when you know you could help them out a little.

      3. Analyst*

        I’m salaried and out the door at quittin’ time too. Since my three-year-old has no way of getting home without me and school’s about to close. If something is Big and Important, I log back on from home to take care of it, no big deal. But please don’t hate on those of us with family commitments that mean we have to be punctual.

    3. Carrie in Scotland*

      Does she have some sort of commitment that means she leaves dead on the hour?

      1. Ekat*

        Right, maybe she is travelling by public transport and needs to leave on time in order to catch a bus. If I leave 5 mins late it adds a lot more than 5 mins to my commute because it means I miss one bus and have to wait much longer for another one or else take a different bus that goes a longer route.

        Yes, she shouldn’t be packing up before 4pm if there is still work to do and she’s paid to be there until 4pm, but you shouldn’t expect her to stay late just to look good.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I feel like everyone is making excuses for the receptionist by imagining scenarios where she’s the victim. From what OP wrote, it sounds like she is too social and not all that concerned about doing her job. The lunch thing especially bugs me. I’m an admin as well, and I need to be where people can find me, not spending an extra 20 minutes after my lunch hour making food in the kitchen.

          1. Mike C.*

            Being too social has nothing to do with being out the door at quitting time. Furthermore, the complaint that she’s out the door right at the end of the day smacks of the “pieces of flair” issue – if 4pm is the end of the day, then why is the OP upset that she’s leaving at 4pm? If she needs to be there longer, then 4pm isn’t the true end of the day.

            1. Lily in NYC*

              That’s only one thing the OP mentioned. I’m talking about how she chats for a half hour in the morning and then spends an extra 20 minutes in the kitchen after her lunch hour. Everyone is focusing on this one little part instead of the entire picture.

              1. Terra*

                It’s worth pointing out that it takes two people to chat and in some ways may very well be part of her job if her job/company/handbook mentions anything about “fit” or “collaboration” or any of those other buzzwords. People can and do get fired for not being the kind of person who chats to co-workers. As such I can see a very real argument that the chatting shouldn’t be addressed as such at all, they should focus on her work and how it’s being affected. If she’s failing to answer calls/emails/customers (ostensibly because she’s chatting) then it should be addressed. If she gets loud while chatting and is distracting then that should be addressed. But there should be a concrete work related reason why the chatting is not okay not just some arbitrary “I think you spend too much time on it but can’t think of anything you should be doing instead” claim. And if you are going to crack down on chatting you need to do it with everyone.

              2. Preux*

                Because that part is the part that everyone objects to. I don’t see any reason for everyone discussing the 4PM issue to preface all their comments with ‘but of course she needs to take reasonable lunches and not spend excessive time chatting at work’.

            2. Naomi*

              The problem with being out the door at exactly quitting time is it usually means ending work a few minutes before quitting time, since it takes a few minutes to gather your stuff and leave. When I worked hourly the procedure was to clock out at quitting time, then get my purse, chat for a minute on my way out, use the restroom etc.

            3. my two cents*

              this reminds me of the Amazon workers who had to stand in a security line before and after work, but they couldn’t clock in until after, and had to clock out before it.

              the chit chat and lunches need to be addressed regardless, but the OP’s expectations of start/end times may be unreasonable if she’s non-exempt.

            4. MarNar*

              I think the issue isn’t that she’s leaving at exactly 4pm- it’s that she gets there 10 minutes late, spends the next 30 minutes socializing, leaves work for an hour during lunch, comes back and then spends an additional 20 minutes actually eating her lunch, and then packing up to leave 10 minutes till 4 and walking out the door at exactly 4pm. It’s a pattern of bad behavior.

              If an employee came in on time, limited her socializing, and took the appropriate amount of time for lunch, no one should have an issue with her leaving at 4pm on the dot.

              1. Anon13*

                I think you’re misreading one line of the letter. The employee doesn’t arrive 10 minutes late, she arrives 10 minutes early, which she uses as an excuse/reason for why she’s packing up at 3:50.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          That or maybe she’s picking a kid up from daycare and has to get there by a certain time. But still no excuse for the excessive chatting, lunchtime, etc. The picture the Op describes sounds like she’s really pushing the envelope.

          1. Artemesia*

            A person who has to leave to catch the bus or pick up the kid from daycare will negotiate with the boss about taking a shorter lunch break in order to leave slightly early if possible — not be taking two lunch breaks and sitting there packed up with computer off at 10 to 4.

          2. my two cents*

            the chit chat and lunches could also be a little bit ‘that B over there eating crackers’ if OP is soured over the abrupt stop time.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        That’s what I was wondering. When I was picking my kid up after school, I wanted to be out the door on the dot.

        1. Lynn Whitehat*

          I was thinking the same thing. Maybe her kid’s daycare ends at 4:30 or something, and she better not be late.

      3. BRR*

        I think this should be considered (it’s the situation I am in) but with the receptionist that doesn’t sound like it’s the case.

      4. sam*

        I was wondering something similar. At my old job, my secretary would regularly leave ten minutes early – I didn’t really care, but when we merged and a whole bunch of new nit-picky rules got put into place, she would get dinged for it regularly. But the reason she would leave was because she lived all the way out in Coney Island, and if she left 10 minutes early, she could catch an express bus, which made a *significant* difference in what time she got home. that 10 minutes basically chopped 45 minutes to an hour off of her commute.

        1. Q*

          I have a person like this. If she leaves 5 minutes early, she saves 45 minutes on her commute. But she explained that to me and asked for the exception. Of course, she also comes in a bit early every day and works hard when she is here so it wasn’t a problem for me. If she was late and lazy too it would make a difference.

          1. Anon13*

            I generally agree with your comment, but I think you’re misreading one line of the letter. This employee arrives 10 minutes early, not 10 minutes late.

      5. NK*

        If she does, it would help to communicate that to her employer. She doesn’t need to let them know the nature of the commitment, but I think it will help with her employer’s understanding if she says, “I have a commitment after work (or need to catch a bus, or whatever) that requires me to leave promptly at 4. If I need to stay later, I’ll need to arrange that in advance.” Or something like that. Bosses are humans too, and the reasonable ones will be fine with that, especially with a receptionist who generally should not need to work late. Of course, that still means the receptionist needs to make herself available for work until it is time to leave.

        1. MarNar*

          Exactly. Most people (I hope?) are reasonable and understanding, and if I had an employee that needed to leave at a specific time due to a long commute, I would be fine with it, assuming that the employee is otherwise in good standing. It seems like here there is a pattern of bad behavior regarding working time: coming in late, taking extra long lunch breaks, spending too much time socializing, and complaining that tasks are asked of her near 4pm (but not at or after 4pm from the sounds of it).

          1. Anon13*

            I think you’re misreading the letter (though it’s possible I’m actually the one misreading it). This employee is arriving 10 minutes early and not 10 minutes later. It doesn’t excuse the other issues, but I’m wondering if may be she thought the hours were more flexible.

            1. ScarletInTheLibrary*

              The employee is stating she arriving early in defense to her leaving early. We don’t know if the employee is actually arriving early or is Try to cover their butt. And arriving early does not equal starting work early. I like to get to work fifteen minutes early, going to the bathroom, getting coffee, and chatting with coworkers. Just because I’m in the building early does not mean I am automatically at work early.

      6. Angela*

        It reminded me of myself when I had to leave exactly on time or get charged extra by my daycare.

        1. Kassy*

          Even if the employee is hourly, the daycare charges for picking up a child late may make it worthwhile. Even if it’s $3.00 (a common amount) for being 10 minutes late, unless the receptionist is netting $18 an hour, that’s not a worthwhile thing to do.

    4. Chriama*

      As the receptionist, is she paid hourly? Because I don’t think it’s fair to expect her to stay until 4:05 or whatever just because it offends your personal sensibilities if she’s only paid until 4. In the context of all the other stuff like taking long lunch breaks and spending a lot of time chatting with coworkers makes it sound like she’s just not a very good employee for whatever reason. But I think you also need to recognize what things are legitimate performance issues and what’s a personal peeve that you just need to let go.

      Final note: I remember a letter like this where it turned out that the employee was dependent on public transport and so had to leave at a certain time or the commute was awful. If her role makes it possible for you to allow her to come in a little early so she can make her bus or whatever then I think it’s worth checking if that’s the issue on her end.

      1. Chriama*

        And it might not just be a commute issue but something like picking kids up from daycare or any other after work activity that has a strict deadline. My point is that if you can be flexible then it’s worth checking with her to see if there’s a reason she needs that flexibility.

      2. Adam V*

        4:05? I disagree there. I do think it’s fair to say that until 4 PM, you keep your computer on and your purse put away.

        If we were talking 4:30 (or even 4:15), I’d agree. But if you’re hourly, and I’m paying you for the full hour, I expect the full hour of work, and if it takes you a few minutes after that to gather your things together before you leave, then that’s how it goes.

        1. Chriama*

          I meant stay at her computer until 4:05. Obviously packing up happens afterwards, but if you don’t unpack much during the day it might not even take a minute to be out the door (especially if you’re in a hurry) and it’s not reasonable to expect her to slow things down for your personal preference.

          1. Adam V*

            I agree with that, and I wouldn’t have any problem with her saying “sorry, it’s past 4, I’m already clocked out” and sending tasks over to her boss, or telling someone they’ll have to wait until the next day.

        2. Terra*

          I believe there was an actual court case that decided that if turning off your computer is required by your business then it counts as a work function and is chargeable time so it may be reasonable to start the shutdown process a bit early.

          1. K.*

            My instructions for clocking in tell me to count the time it takes to clock in and out as work time.

        3. Sketchee*

          I think it’s fair to say that. And if that is the manager’s expectation, then he would need to talk to her. As the comments here show, we can’t assume everyone is on the same page. This manager can’t assume that she knows his thoughts on the subject.

        4. JoJo*

          How much work do you think someone can do in 5 minutes? I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous.

      3. Myrin*

        As someone who’s dependent on public transport, I must admit I never really get the puzzling over “maybe she needs to catch the train!” arguments whenever they come up here – because if that’s the case, shouldn’t the employee just tell their supervisor about that? I did that before when my starting time was at four but due to the train schedule, I’d only be able to arrive there at five or ten past four with the train before that arriving a full hour earlier. I talked to my boss and he agreed to have me start at quarter past (although I later started taking the earlier train and going grocery shopping beforehand). Problem solved.

        1. Blurgle*

          And if the supervisor has called the bus the “loser cruiser” in her hearing, or belittled people who take public transit?

          1. The Butcher of Luverne*

            But the OP never said anything about belittling the employee. How is this germane?

            1. Tiny Dancer*

              The only possible way something could have happened is if the OP proactively mentioned it in their letter?

          2. Apollo Warbucks*

            A british prime minister once said anyone who still catches the bus at 26 can consider themselves a failure at life.

            1. Merry and Bright*

              Well, that includes me then! Wasn’t sure if I’d heard this. I played a guessing game then googled. Got the right party but wrong prime minister.

        2. MarNar*

          In this case though, there seems to be a pattern of behavior relating to working time: coming in late, but leaving at 4 on the dot, and basically taking two lunch breaks (or an extra long lunch).

    5. Mallory Janis Ian*

      If there isn’t anything that she needs to do, I don’t see anything wrong with her leaving exactly on time every day. Our non-exempt people around here leave right on the dot at 5:00 pm every single day. That being said, her preparations to leave shouldn’t prevent her from doing any work the last ten or fifteen minutes of the day, and she shouldn’t be acting as if someone handing her a package during the last ten minutes of the day is an imposition on her; she is still on the clock, after all. The people around here who leave promptly at 5:00 never do anything to give the impression that they aren’t available for work. If a package needs to go out, they get the package out with no complaints. It sounds like your assistant has a bad attitude.

      1. Chriama*

        I would also say that if people are giving her something to mail at 10 to 4 and it takes 15 minutes to prep a package to be picked up then that’s an unfair imposition as well. The last 15 minutes of a non-exempt person’s day aren’t for starting new tasks, and if I was the receptionist I would put a deadline of 3pm for anything that needs to go out that day.

        I’m not defending the employee’s behaviour but just pointing out that these attitudes, in isolation, aren’t necessarily indicative of a bad work ethic.

        1. Adam V*

          Yeah, it depends on the task. Mail a package? That’ll take me past 4 PM. Print 10 copies of something? No problem.

          I would give her instructions on what to do when she knows a task will run over – maybe she can roll it over to the next day, or she can bring it to you to do (since you’re going to be there until 5 or 5:30 anyway), or else come to you and get permission to work (and get paid) overtime for those 15 minutes.

        2. Ekat*

          Right, if you know the employee finishes work at 4pm then you shouldn’t bring her something at 10 mins to and expect her to stay late to handle it, you should get it to her earlier or accept that it will get left until tomorrow. You need to give her enough time to do her work, not dump things on her last minute and expect her to stay late, especially if she’s not paid for that time.

        3. Renee*

          This is what I was thinking. I do a lot of shipping, and it irks me to get something to go out ten minutes before I leave because there is a question of whether it can be done in ten minutes, and there’s no accommodation for things going wrong (FedEx down, printer jammed, phones ringing, multiple requests, etc.). Usually I can get it out, but it’s not unreasonable to expect to get those tasks with plenty of time to get them done before quitting time.

          1. Meg Murry*

            Yes – OP, have you processed a FedEx shipment before? Because it often takes longer than 10 minutes to get the box packed up, get the correct address, including zip code and phone number, call for a pickup, etc. And that’s assuming I wasn’t planning to finish anything else in my last 10 minutes of the day. When I was doing shipments for anything beyond a letter, I made it a policy that I had to KNOW about the shipment no later than noon, and it had to be in my hands, ready to ship by half an hour before my end of day – and if they couldn’t meet that, they had to explain the “emergency” status to my boss and let her make the call.

            Now, if you want the receptionist to be able to occasionally stay beyond 4 pm (and either get paid overtime or be allowed to come in late or leave early a different day) that is a conversation you need to have with her. You could say “occasionally, your job will require you staying to finish up a task, that could take up to around 4:30 or so – and you will be paid overtime for doing so. Do you have an after work commitment that means you have to be out of here at 4 on the dot, or could you commit to staying later on occasion?” – and then if she says she can’t stay you can decide whether that is a problem for you.

            However, as I said before – showing up to the receptionist that you know leaves at 4 pm with a package at 3:50 is super rude, and I don’t fault the receptionist for not staying if no one has told her that the package would be coming, and I could see how not putting her foot down about walking out of the door at 4 pm could very easily slide into staying until 4:20-4:30 every day – and couple that with a previous manager that said “no overtime, EVER” to create your current situation.

            1. Jess*

              Agreed! Many, MANY times back when I was an admin someone would wait until the end of the day to bring me stuff they wanted to FedEx, assuming it was no big deal because what’s complicated about mail? But the kind of shipping we actually did was always a big deal.

              I had to confirm the address, call across time zones to let the recipient’s admin know a package was coming, hunt down our 40-digit internal billing code for the shipment, weigh the stuff, calculate the approximate cost to ship and enter it in our accounting software, nicely wrap the things if they were gifts, box the stuff up, create the shipping label, calculate the cost of the items, fill out and print the customs forms, and then because pick up had already happened hours ago and I didn’t have a car, lug the heavy boxes to the FedEx office a 25 minute walk from my office, sometimes making multiple trips because I couldn’t carry everything at once. Bringing packages to my desk at 4:45 and saying you wanted them overnighted to Japan or whatever meant that instead of being at work for another fifteen minutes I wouldn’t be finished until at least 6:30.

              I didn’t mind doing it – it was part of my job after all – but I did kind of mind when some people seemed to think all mail was created equal, and that putting together a FedEx shipment to Hong Kong of a thousand dollars worth of hardcover books shouldn’t be any more complicated or time consuming than sticking a stamp on a birthday card and dropping it in the mail box.

            2. cncx*

              So much this. A fedex can be an involved thing to do depending on what is in it, if the sender has packed it up for you, if the sender even got the address right (my bosses rarely did…and then i had to call for thr phone number of thr recipient)…rarely was it something i could just finish on my way out. And like you said, maybe i had something else to do the last ten minutes of my day and showing up with the package when they know she has to leave is rude. I would work with people doing short deadlines, and they would warn me at lunch, for example, to prep the envelope, then give me what they needed to send at the end. That would be ok, not just showing up at my desk.

        4. LBK*

          Yep – and as I mentioned below, this is also part of why jobs like reception require getting the F out of the office once your shift is over before you get caught in some last minute request.

        5. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          We have a 4:00 p.m. cut-off for these types of tasks with our Admin, specifically for this reason.

          Her last hour is her “alone time” as my boss calls it (that’s a whole other story), and really is the time for her to work mostly uninterrupted and finish up any projects for the day.

          1. Kassy*

            “Alone time” is a weird term, but I don’t think it’s such a weird concept. In our office we have “quiet hours” for the first two hours of the day, allowing people to get paperwork/data entry done before the chaos starts. It seems reasonable for someone like an admin who has time-sensitive tasks to have a similar block at the end of the day (allowing for OCCASIONAL exceptions).

        6. Ihmmy*

          absolutely! and not sure how Fedex works, but our package shipping company does pick up so we have to wait at the office for someone to come get it. It’s not going same day if you give it to me fifteen minutes before I’m done… lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

          I suspect some of the concerns the OP lists are quite valid given the staff members role. But some are probably overdoing it a bit. I usually change into my outdoor shoes five minutes before the end of my shift. It takes seconds and I can do it while still at my desk, covering reception. I’m not going to start a giant new task with ten minutes left in the day. I usually plan for the last 15-20 minutes to be tidying up my area and checking what will need to be done the next day – surprise tasks dumped on my desk intrude on that, and I can’t just do them after I’m done prepping because by then my shift is over. But taking extended lunch breaks is not a good use of time. And chatting with people… reception positions are generally assumed to be friendly and chatty with all the other staff people. We get in trouble if we aren’t smiley enough.

          I guess.. as long as her work IS getting done in a timely fashion, not every single second has to be devoted to work and only work. Social glue is important in an office too, it’s what builds a sense of team, what lets people work well together.

          1. anonanonanon*

            I’ve never really understood the big issue of changing shoes before you’re officially off the clock, as if it’s some huge time sucking event that distracts from work. I’ll change from heels to flats while still at my desk and it takes 30 seconds. Even in the winter, pulling off/on snow boots doesn’t take more than a minute.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I once had an important family obligation that meant I needed to leave work at a specific time–5:30, no later, in the middle of our monthly Crunch Week.

              I was jammin’ to get as much done as I could (though I’d made special arrangements for my deputy to cover for me, and a freelancer to assist).

              I had a small gap at about 4:30, and I thought, “I’ll change back to my sneaks now; that’s 90 seconds I don’t have to spend digging them out from under the desk, etc.”

              The “get things done”/production person (not my boss) came to me and scolded me about “we can’t meet our deadlines if people make personal plans during Crunch Week!” I think my changing my shoes early triggered it. I told her, “Sometimes in your personal life, there are things that are the equivalent of the Crunch Week. I was here last night until 11pm; I’ll be here tomorrow until 11pm. I’m here every Crunch Week. One time, I need to leave a half-hour past quitting time.” She mentioned my sneakers, and I said, “I’m not leaving until 5:30–I’ve said that repeatedly today. I changed my shoes so I could work up until the very last second before 5:30!”

              20 minutes later, 4:55, she’s got her coat on and is leaving, waving, and cheerily saying, “Good night, everyone!”

              I was in our mutual boss’s office before her elevator made it to the ground floor to say, “Don’t you ever let her talk to me like that again.”

        7. Anonyhippo*

          I agree. I hope this commenter isn’t expecting her to drop off packages at the post office on her own time (i.e. unpaid). I’ve known that expectation to happen and an additional 5-20 minutes extra unpaid a day is really unfair and not appreciated.

          If so, you need to allow her to leave “early” so that the drop off is occurring during paid time.

          1. Karyn*

            This was my life for two years – I worked for accountants, and I would always have to take the mail to the post office, which took an additional 15 minutes after I was clocked out. Never got paid for it. At 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for approximately 48 weeks a year (let’s say 4 weeks off for vacation, holidays we were closed, sick days, etc. combined), I should have earned an extra $2100 over those two years…

        8. Stranger than fiction*

          Only an imposition if they don’t intend to pay overtime, but doesn’t sound like the Op is concerned about paying a bit of overtime if something like that needs to get done. If she’s shutting down, so to speak, 10-15 minutes before 4:00 it seems like she’s really focused on getting somewhere at a specific time.

        9. kckckc*

          The old end-of-day “dump and run.” This is what happens when people shift the work on their desk to someone else’s so they can leave with a clean slate for the day. Sucks for the person that gets dumped on.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        It takes me seconds to gather my things, and if I need to grab a phone call or whatever during that time, I can. But at Exjob, a package could easily take another twenty minutes, especially if I had to pack it. We had a cutoff of 3 pm anyway that was mandated by FedEx–all packages had to be ready by that time, because the driver could show up anywhere from 3 to 5 pm. I routinely had people bring me stuff afterward. It was annoying as hell and I got flack for pushing back or refusing packages. If I had had to leave shortly after that time, it would have been even more annoying because I would have been late getting out of work most days.

    6. Who watches the Watcher's?*

      I second Not the Droid. I’m hourly and you betcha I don’t stay any longer than what I get paid for. Because if I do stay, I usually don’t get paid for it and if the higher ups see too much OT I get in trouble for it as well. My company does not like paying OT at all.

      Plus, my job isn’t my life. I have other things I want to do. So my employer only gets dedicated hard worker me for 8 hours and that’s it.

      1. Christine*

        +1 on the “my job isn’t my life” comment.

        I think there’s a valid concern about the employee not being able/willing to do work when she’s on the clock, but getting resentful about her leaving at 4 on the dot? I mean, what do you want her to be doing at the end of the day? Leisurely strolling out and chatting with co-workers? Hanging around for 10-15 minutes to see if extra work comes up? If she’s done at 4, she’s done at 4. Maybe she has outside commitments. Maybe she just wants to go home and do things she actually enjoys. Sometimes a job is just a way to pay the bills, and it doesn’t seem fair to hold it against people if they want to leave as soon as their scheduled time is up. If she’s scheduled until 4, then that’s when her obligations to be at the office are done. If you want her to stick around longer, change the schedule.

        1. LBK*

          Maybe she just wants to go home and do things she actually enjoys.

          Yes – I hate this undercurrent in American workplace culture that begrudges someone just plain not wanting to be at work when they don’t have to be.

          1. Adam V*

            That doesn’t appear to be the problem here, though. The problem is her *not* working when she’s paid to be (or at least that’s how I’m reading it).

            1. LBK*

              Well, if she’s slacking off during the day as well, that’s different. It’s the idea that if she doesn’t have any specific reason to leave exactly at 4 then she shouldn’t care about working a little late. Cutting out of work at 5PM on the dot so I can go home and sit on the couch watching Netflix is perfectly valid as far as I’m concerned. I shouldn’t need an excuse to validate why I want to leave at the end of the day as long as all my work is done.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Except that she IS slacking off during the day. In that case, somebody running out the door at the dot becomes just one more damn thing showing she does as little as she can get away with, whereas it wouldn’t be a big deal in a diligent employee.

                1. LBK*

                  Oh yeah, I’m not saying that you ignore the stuff she’s doing during the day. Just that I don’t agree that you get to add “doesn’t want to work past the end of her shift” to the list of evidence, because that shouldn’t be a ding against someone. It should be completely normal that someone doesn’t work after their work is done, and it’s only because of this old-fashioned, warped “work every free hour you have” ideal that you’d even consider it to be a negative.

                2. Apollo Warbucks*

                  but bolting for the door everyday is a data point / sign of the employess attitude it’s not that she is leaving on time everyday it’s that together with the slacking it crates a poor impression of the employee.

                3. Mike C.*

                  Slacking off during the day is a separate problem from leaving right at the end of the day. Linking them together doesn’t make much sense from a business perspective.

                4. JB (not in Houston)*

                  The OP clarified that she’s working until 4 now, but he doesn’t understand the mindset of someone who wants to leave right on the dot. So it seems like there are two problems here: (1) an employee who had to be told not to slack off and (2) a manager who doesn’t understand why an employee would want to leave right on time. Neither is good.

                5. LBK*

                  @Apollo – But my whole point is that I don’t think leaving at the end of the day is a data point at all. Wanting to leave when you shift is over is not a sign of a bad attitude or that she’s slacking, especially if the OP hasn’t established with her that it’s a basic expectation of the role (which he hasn’t, per comments below). I’m more than happy to work extra hours when I need to, but I’m not going to hang around at the office after 5 just because it makes my boss feel like I’m more committed.

                6. TootsNYC*

                  “In that case, somebody running out the door at the dot becomes just one more damn thing showing she does as little as she can get away with, whereas it wouldn’t be a big deal in a diligent employee.”

                  Agree with this.

                  And I think that’s what’s been going on, and is -part- of why the OP is judgmental about her leaving so directly and rapidly come 4pm.

            2. Miss M*

              Agreed. She is given a full hour for lunch. To add 20 minutes on top of that to prepare lunch is a lot of nerve.

            3. Kyrielle*

              I think that was the original problem, and it’s escalated to not-quite-BEC status now. Being upset that she sails out the door at 4 pm is part of the near-BEC status, not a reasonable response. Being upset if she has work to do and isn’t doing it (and it’s reasonably doable, not a package dropped off in the last few minutes of the day) is reasonable.

              It’s worth calling out that leaving at 4 pm on the dot is okay, and if it’s not okay then the schedule needs to change, because the focus on what she needs to fix needs to be on things that *need fixed*, not things that are irritating because of / on top of the other issues, but are not actually any form of problem.

      2. BRR*

        To “my job isn’t my life.” I am 110% in support of this, but it sounds like the receptionist has surpassed wanting a work life balance and is slacking a little bit. There’s a little bit of piling on the LW but there’s nothing in the letter that justifies it.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I think we’re responding to comments that are not in the letter.

          I think almost everyone is in agreement that the things in the letter are absolutely fair for the OP/Jackson to insist be fixed.

      3. StudentPilot*

        So much this.

        And….my work has had me for 8 hours, plus the 1-hour commute there and back (1 hour each way)….I’d like to spend some time with my family. (Cats, I’d like to spend some time with my cats.)

    7. anonanonanon*

      When I was hourly, I would be out the door at 5:00 on the dot because if someone asked me to do something at 4:55 and it took 15 minutes, I wouldn’t be getting paid to stay until 5:15. As a salaried employee, I stay until my work is done, but if I’ve finished everything for the day and have nothing else to do, I’m out the door at 5:00.

      But I work in a company now where people leave exactly at 4:00 or 5:00 or 10 – 15 minutes before, so it’s not all the unusual. No one stays later just because someone higher up is still in the office and may need something.

    8. misplacedmidwesterner*

      This is the way we explain it. You work until 5pm (or 4, whatever) so you WORK UNTIL 5pm. At 5pm, you close your email, turn off machine, clock out, whatever and then you get your coat on, pocketbook together, put on snow boots, and leave. Same thing in the morning, if you start at 8am, then 8am is “pencils up time” (to borrow a school term). That is the time you are at your desk ready to leave. If that means five extra minutes early to get here, your lunch in fridge, hang up coat, etc, then that is what it is. Some positions can have more flexibility, some can’t. It sounds like this one can’t. So explain it to her bluntly and enforce it.

      1. LBK*

        I don’t like this reasoning, though, because then it puts people in the awkward spot of having to say “Yes, I’m technically still here because I had to put my boots on, but it’s 5:05 so I can’t help you.” Otherwise “working until 5” and getting ready after suddenly becomes working until 5:30. If you’re going to go that route, you need to have a really strong culture of backing people up on not working after 5 or you’re looking at a cesspool of resentment.

        1. Blurgle*

          I think that might not be obvious to someone who lives in a warmer climate. It takes me a good ten minutes to get ready to leave in the cold of winter.

          1. LBK*

            Velcro boots have been life-changing for me. People joke that I’m wearing kid shoes sometimes but it’s totally worth it for cutting my boot-equipping time down from several minutes to a few seconds.

        2. TootsNYC*

          But that person should be empowered to say, “I can’t help you, because I’m off the clock already.”

          Of course, I think that person would not want to have the OP for a boss in that case, bcs the OP is still miffed that this woman leaves promptly at 4.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This. You simply say you are off the clock. Employers that expect you to work until x time, generally frown upon getting ready to leave 10-15 minutes before x. This means you are stuck there explaining to people you are off the clock. It’s part of the job and comes with the territory.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Except “Can’t you just do this one thing really quickly? I won’t tell!” and then the pissy face when you say no, sorry.

              I used to get that pissy face at Exjob when people would ask me to do stuff on my lunch hour. When I was clocked off. NOT at my desk, even–sitting in the break room with my personal laptop and headphones on. Eating. No matter how politely I told them I would take care of it when I got back, they still got pissy.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                That’s on them. I understand it can be wearing to deal with the pissy face, but at that point they are looking like a very tall five year old to me. I get the pissy face and I feel less inclined to help them under other circumstances. Which is my down fall, I should be able to shrug it off and forget it.

        3. Xanadu*

          The best part of my job was getting lectured that I should take the final half hour of the day to myself to wrap things up, plot out the next day, and get ready to leave so everything got stopped at a neat place and I didn’t feel rushed.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        It can depend on how much needs to be done before “pencils up.” When I was in the call center, my 9am check in time meant I’d better be hitting “ready” on my phone and all set to take a call at 9:00:01. In practice, that meant getting to my desk at least fifteen minutes early to start up my computer, log in to all the programs I needed to have up and ready before I took my first call, including a couple things that required phone authentication (and therefore required me not to be checked into the incoming queue yet) and etc etc… And somehow that’s not working?

        1. LBK*

          It’s a bit muddy now with the recent Amazon ruling, but IIRC it has actually been ruled that non-exempt employees have to be paid for time doing things that are integral to the core responsibilities of their job like waiting for their systems to boot up (the specific ruling in question was about putting on a special uniform that had to be done at the employees’ work).

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Yep… that was raised. We were told we were “allowed” to hit the queue before we had all our programs started — but it had better not affect our performance at all. Meaning that if you need to log into four programs for a particular call (not unusual) then you’d better be able to do it super fast and with no asking for the caller to wait.

            In other words… yeah no.

        2. Call Center worker*

          The call center I worked for got in trouble with the DOL and now has an automatic amount of time added to certain call types (they did a time study of how long it took to get ready to take a call and the average time is auto added to each day) and then other programs have a “login” code that the CSR logs into until they are ready. It’s way better than before when the CSRs were expected to have their computer on, and logged into all programs needed to hit ready right when their shift was supposed to be starting.

        3. Jonno*

          Yes! I remember when I was in college I took a call center job. We had machines (and this was in 2005) that had DOS based and windows based programs, so we had to constantly switch between them. There was a day (and I only worked 20 hours a week, hourly pay; shift was between 4 and 9 pm) where I was booting the computer up (and we were told to be in 15-20 minutes early because the computers were universally slow) and about an hour after my shift started, a manager called me to discuss my tardiness. I was confused, so he made me sign a slip. My tardiness was from 4:00:00 to 4:00:02. That’s right, I was two seconds late signing into the 9 programs across two operating systems on computer from the 90s. I hadn’t even taken a call yet until probably 4:30.

          I quit on the spot.

      3. kckckc*

        Unless you are in a customer facing role, there is no good reason to be such a stickler about a couple of minutes either way. Some days I work until 5, other days I work until 4:50 or 5:20. When my work is done, I go home. Unless you are in a customer-facing role, there is nothing that happens at 5 that can’t happen at 8:30 the next morning.

      4. JoJo*

        How much work are they accomplishing in 5 minutes? Is the company going to crash if people start winding down for the day at 4:55?

    9. LBK*

      Any job where one of your major responsibilities is just to be present in case someone needs you requires a hard cutoff, otherwise the work will never end. I’m sure she could stay there until 10pm every night and someone would still find things for her to do. We’ve had letters like that – people who are supposed to be done at X time but get stuck every day because there’s always one last thing to be done.

      It’s different for you because your work is more about what you get done than when you do it or how long it takes you. But for her, one of her tasks is “be in the office until 5”. After 5, that task is complete, so as long as she has nothing else that has to be done that day I don’t see why you’d expect her to stay.

      1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

        I am silently throwing you a parade for that last paragraph.
        I’m someone who doesn’t mind staying a few minutes late, but some days I don’t wanna! I want the same courtesy as any of my coworkers who get to leave before closing time, but because I have to answer phones I understandably can’t… but be sure that I will be trying to leave as early as I can on some days, just like everyone else! My early-as-I-can just happens to be at 5 pm.
        I totally don’t mind helping out someone who needs something done last minute, like if my boss is trying to catch a flight and just can’t easily do it themselves. But that’s me helping them out, because that person and I have cultivated a working relationship that means going beyond sometimes.
        It’s possible this receptionist was trying to avoid someone who has a habit of end-of-the-day requests?

      2. Kelly L.*


        I have had people leave work for, like, my ghost? I’ll be gone for the day, everyone knows I’m gone and what time I left, everybody knows I get in the next morning at 8, and when I do come in the next morning, I’ve got a task on my desk that someone left there at 9pm that they want done before 8am. Lucky for them I get there about 20 minutes early because of bus stuff–but I like that unofficial time to settle in and eat and caffeinate! Who did they think was going to copy the thing at 9pm??

        1. LBK*

          Heh – fortunately the people I work with now keep relatively normal business hours, but when I was dealing with a lot of external clients/partners, I was always amazed at the number of people who would send me an email at 10PM and then send an angry follow up at 6AM the next day that they hadn’t heard back yet. Sorry, I was…sleeping? Like a human?

    10. Stephanie*

      Do you guys allow overtime? When I’ve been in hourly jobs, I could get in trouble for working too much (or overtime was only approved at specific times), so I definitely left right at the end of my shift.

    11. Allison*

      Hey now, just because *your job* means you sometimes need to stay late to get something done doesn’t mean everyone in the office has a job like that. I’m definitely out the door by a specific time each day, usually because I have a commitment in the evening but also because my job doesn’t usually have time sensitive work that I need to complete before I leave for the day, and I’m paid hourly, and I come in early. And no, I’m not leaving other people with work to finish up, nor am I holding up any processes from getting done in a timely manner.

      I really hope you’re not watching someone leave and saying “oh you’re leaving now? Gee, must be niiiiiiiiice, I still have so much work to do . . .” seriously, it’s not gonna make people realize the error of their ways and improve their work ethic, it’s just going to make you sound like a jerk.

      There are jobs that involve staying in the office until the job is done, and there are jobs that allow for people to have a relatively firm quitting time each day. Your job falls in the former category, that doesn’t mean you get to make snide remarks about the people whose jobs fall in the latter category.

      Also, has she ever mentioned why it’s important to leave at 4? Maybe she does have a commitment in the evenings she needs to get home for, or maybe she has kids – maybe one of them needs to be picked up or dropped off at a certain time and she needs to be the one to do it; maybe she wants to hit the road before the traffic becomes horrific, or she wants to catch a specific train because the later train is considerably later or really crowded. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why a person would want to leave at a certain time when it’s possible to do so, it’s not always a simple matter of poor work ethic.

      1. BRR*

        I’m not getting that at all. The letter talks about a pattern. It’s also not that she’s leaving at 4:00, it’s that she’s leaving before 4:00.

        1. Allison*

          OP posted an update, employee stays until 4 but now OP is frustrated that employee leaves at exactly 4, because OP usually stays late.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Personally, I would stay. But everyone is not me. And that is what I would suggest to OP, that not everyone is like you, OP. I have had some jobs where I could not stay because it would be illegal. Other jobs, I stayed and finished what I was on.
            She’s doing what you asked her to do, OP. Please don’t expect her to mind read that she should stay late like you. Please don’t assume that she has the ability to stay late, either.

        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I did speak to her about it already and she has gone back to working till 4:00. But don’t get between her and the door at 4. She’ll run you over on her way out. I guess I just don’t understand that way of thinking.

          The OP addressed it in one of his comments.

    12. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

      If she is being payed hourly, then it’s her right to leave at 4 on the dot (unless you’re paying overtime). If you would like her to work more in line with how you do, then you should pay her a salary.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I don’t think a receptionist can be classified as salary exempt because they have no managerial duties, or is that yet another California thing? (sorry thermal, I just chose your comment to chime in after seeing so many about this)

        1. Natalie*

          There are other tests besides managerial duties, but you’re right that a receptionist is unlikely to qualify for exempt.

          1. Gaara*

            There’s like a zero percent chance that a receptionist is exempt under the FLSA or state law.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              I must have been illegally exempt, then, for the four years I was a receptionist in California…

              1. Gaara*

                Very likely, yes. You should speak to a wage and hour attorney if you want to know for sure, or if you want compensation for unpaid overtime. Misclassification happens frequently. Sometimes the employer is merely ignorant rather than trying to rip you off, but either way it’s illegal.

                1. Karyn*

                  Yep. And just giving someone a title that sounds managerial doesn’t work, either. For instance, giving someone the title of “Chief Operating Officer,” but requiring them to check with the company owner before doing anything to make major changes within the company (e.g., switching suppliers, IT companies, or hiring/firing employees, etc.) doesn’t make them exempt.

        2. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

          The way that it works in my state is that your job duties far more relevant than your title when considering if you qualify to be exempt. In other words, the Department of Labor has to determine if the job duties qualify. How I have seen this work in practice is that the receptionist is promoted in a way that expands upon their duties to qualify them, and accepts a salary that increases their pay accordingly. There are actually other tests besides just managerial duties, some that evaluate based on the autonomy of the employee.

          Having said that, if there is no desire by either party to expand/alter the employees duties to make them qualify as exempt, then I’m afraid that the OP is stuck with the non-exempt situation.

    13. Anon for this*

      Because for many people it’s just a job. They clock in do their work and then clock out. And it’s okay it’s just a job. It doesn’t need to be more than that for everyone.

      As long as her attitude is good and she’s getting her work done, then I’d try and let it go if she’s staying until 4p.m. Finding good administrative assistant/receptionist is challenging. It’s a pretty thankless job in general.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        She’s not, though; that’s part of the problem. She’s chatting into the morning and taking twenty minutes to fix her food AFTER she comes back from her lunch break.

        1. Preux*

          Not relevant to the comment. ‘Anon for this’ was replying directly to the OP’s follow-up that they don’t understand people who leave right on the dot, in general.

    14. Cafe au Lait*

      Oooof, that’s super tricky. I have a coworker who leaves on the dot every day. Since that’s her quitting time, she shouldn’t be forced to stay past 5. Yet she’s always packing up/changing into her exercise clothes 20-30 minutes prior to leaving. I recently asked her to grab an item from the closed stacks (i.e. non-public access library stacks), and she looked at the time before she agreed.

    15. Grace*

      I wouldn’t assume that an employee who has to leave on the hour is not committed to the job. Employees may need to be at public transit stops at a certain time or wait longer for the next connection (I had to wait 1-hour if I missed my commute bus), have a child to pick up from daycare and be charged for being late, have a college night class, and other perfectly valid reasons for punching out on time.

    16. Liz T*

      Her “way of thinking” is pretty clear–she doesn’t particularly like her job, and will do as little of it as she can without consequences.

    17. Scaredy Cat*

      Isn’t this kind of unfair though? You don’t leave her any flexibility regarding her start time and lunch hour, but expect her to be flexible with over time? So yes, I’d say that’s unreasonable.

      I do often stay over time, but this is so much easier to do when I know that if I stayed till 9pm one day, I get to come in later and leave early the following day (or the next week). That is not to say that I never stayed over time without any kind of compensation (be it monetary or time), but you can be certain that I was really resenting having to do so.

    18. Bunny*

      Well, the first and most obvious reason I can think of might be if she uses public transport to get to/from work. Last job I had where that was an issue, I could either flee out the door at dead-on closing time and just catch the bus I needed. Or I could be 5 minutes late for that bus and spend an hour in the freezing cold at the bus station, and as a result miss the connecting train, leaving me home usually over an hour and a half later than normal.

      Or she could have a child or dependent who needs to be picked up at a certain time, so needs to be on-time for that.

      Or she could have just finished her hours for the day and be ready to leave.

      It is normal for supervisors and senior staff to stay later than their usual hours quite often – at least that I’ve seen. It’s one of the reasons why senior staff are compensated with higher income, and why they are often salaried rather than paid hourly. For staff that are paid based on an hourly wage rather than a monthly salary, you work the hours you’re contracted to and no more, unless you’ve been asked to work (and get paid for) overtime.

      The morning chats, the leaving early and the extra-long lunches were a problem. If she’s now completing her 8 hours and not leaving early, that performance issue is no longer a problem. I don’t see what the issue is?

    19. Willow Sunstar*

      It depends on the job. I am hourly and leave at 4, but not before. But my company has fired people for working unauthorized OT.

      On the plus side, I do office support in a grocery retail environment. So sometimes, dealing with fresh food, you do have to stay late to processes things in the computer system. People get very crabby when shipments can’t be received. But my boss is good about granting OT if it is needed, and I do work it when I need to.

      Does she have kids? If so, she could actually need to be leaving at 4 to pick them up from daycare, etc. But then she should mention that as a reason.

  4. neverjaunty*

    As AAM said, this is not a negotiation. You’re the boss; if you set specific working hours, she needs to be working those hours.

  5. TootsNYC*

    I can’t really bring myself to complain and a clock-watching attitude in someone who’s paid hourly, and who is in a position that is not particularly seen as having a path upward.

    This is not “family” or “social life,” where there’s some emotional tie-in. This is a job. You’re paying her to be there just until that time.

    Now, if there was a pathway upward (like, the receptionist -could- become an assistant, which pays more, and then could become a junior sales rep, etc.), I can’t really fault them,b ut I sure as heck wouldn’t consider them for any promotion.
    And if that’s the case, the OP can absolutely say that.

    To me the not-working-during-the-day bit would be the biggest problem for me, not the “out of here at quitting time” thing.
    I suppose if I were willing to compensate her for occasionally working until 4:30, I might make that a condition of employment at the time I’m offering the job: “Most days you’ll be done and clocking out at 4:00. But occasionally there will be something that comes late, and you’ll be needed to stay, and paid for it, so I expect to see that happening.”

    But I’d also come down pretty hard on people who don’t get their act together to drop off FedEx packages until 3:45. I think that’s only fair, if you’re expecting her to stop charging you money (i.e., done working for an hourly wage).

    1. TootsNYC*

      And I might work w/ her to develop some routine/efficiencies that mean a package handed to her at 10 mins. to quitting time can still get out quickly, without costing her so much time.
      But I have a feeling that she’s not particularly efficient in general (except for getting out the door).

    2. some1*

      I disagree. Receptionist is a Butt in the Seat job. If clients come in or call between 8 and 4 then she needs to be available during that time.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I’m not sure why you’re disagreeing. I don’t think we do disagree. Maybe you got the threading wrong, or didn’t read my whole post?

        I think she should be there during her hours. And working during those hours.

        But I don’t think she has any obligation to work BEYOND those hours.

  6. Dan*

    Is the real problem the employee’s overall productivity, or the 4pm issue? I think you have to pick one. The later can be wrapped into the former, but if the conversation is framed as “I need you working until 4” following it with “and stop talking to your coworkers in the morning and taking long lunches” really sends unclear signals.

    If your real concern is that you’re paying the employee for 8 hours and only getting six hours worth of work, frame it that way… because those ten minutes at the end of the day play into it.

    1. LBK*

      Well, it sounds to me like part of it is availability/attentiveness to the role, which is a valid concern for a receptionist. If she’s missing calls or visitors because she’s away from the desk chatting for 20 minutes every morning, that’s reasonable to bring to her attention. I think this is one of those exceptions to the “as long as she’s productive it doesn’t matter” idea because in this case, availability is one of the key metrics of her role – her productivity is directly linked to whether she’s at her desk or not.

      1. Dan*

        I think we’re both saying the same thing. Yes, usually we mean “productivity” as in “getting work done”, and not “sitting at your desk.” But for a receptionist, her productivity IS at her desk.

      2. Anon13*

        I’m not seeing anything saying she’s away from her desk chatting, though, just that she’s chatting. In my experience, a lot of receptionists spend time chatting with employees (while sitting at the front desk) as employees arrive in the morning. It sounds to me like OP believes the receptionist shouldn’t be doing this.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      This is a common trap that I have seen quite a few bosses fall into. They think that a person could be more productive if they work their EXACT hours. So the boss starts clock watching.
      My read on OP’s letter is that the employee needs to be more productive. Why not just tell her that she needs to be more productive and let HER figure out how to make that happen?

      Anytime I have seen this play out, the boss watches the clock like a hawk. The employees watch the clock like a hawk. And no one wins. Morale tanks.

      Please do not confuse “working the exact hours” with “being more productive”. The two are not the same. OP, if you want her to be more productive then tell her what she needs to be doing. As it stands now you look like a micromanaging boss and I don’t think you actually are, but you have fallen into this roll unknowingly.

      A good rule of thumb is that you do not get more work out of employees by timing their arrivals/departures/breaks. You will have a better measurement of what she is doing by making sure daily tasks are done and other work is done on a routine basis. Focus on the work itself and have clear and consistent expectations.

  7. Jackson*

    She has no kids and no other commitments. She doesn’t take public transportation. If she did, I adjust her hours so it wouldn’t be an issue. Her husband doesn’t get home from work till about 6:30. And she’s been here for 2 years and her work is excellent. I’m not saying she has to stay late every day. I just want a focused person who is actually working instead of one who has one foot out the door and won’t do anything for the last 15 minutes that she’s there. I mean, really, if she gets to her car at 4:03 instead of 3:52 what is the issue? And this is a new problem that just started about a month ago.

    1. Chriama*

      What part of it is the new issue – the clock-watching, or the overall time stealing? Either way, talk to her! You’re her manager, and you don’t need her permission to manage her.

      1. LBK*

        You’re her manager, and you don’t need her permission to manage her.

        This sentiment in letters always kinda cracks me up. “An employee I manage is doing a thing I don’t like. What do I do?” You…manage them? Is this not clearly outlined in the job title?

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Sometimes that’s harder than it seems though, especially if your own management doesn’t back you up.

          1. LBK*

            Oh, definitely. It’s more in letters like this where there doesn’t seem to be anyone stopping them.

    2. addiez*

      One of the things that Allison talks about a lot that I think is a good point – is it just irking you that she leaves two or three minutes earlier than you like, or is it affecting her work? If, as you say, her work is excellent, is it worth just accepting that this is part of the package?

    3. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      So manage her. Sit her down and discuss using Alison’s suggestions. What’s stopping you?

      And people are making valid points–15 minutes before leaving can be not enough time to finish a new task. I’d have a cutoff time for things like that if I were her. Talk to her. Manage.

    4. justsomeone*

      If it’s a new issue that’s only been going on for a month – maybe ask her what’s changed? “Janice, you’ve been here for two years and up until a month ago we didn’t have X and Y issues. What’s changed?”

      Maybe she’s now going through a divorce or something so her lunch breaks are used to run related errands, or a family member is sick – you won’t know unless you ask. You can still manage, but you can manage more compassionately if you take an interest as to /why/ something has suddenly changed.

    5. Hlyssande*

      If it’s a new problem, have you sat down to ask what’s going on? Clearly something happened or changed that affects her work behavior.

    6. HMM*

      But none of those outside factors make a difference. I don’t really care if someone is leaving at 4 on the dot to make public transport or to make their weekly manicure or to take care of their ailing grandmother or to just go home and stare at the wall. What they do outside the office is not my business as a manager. What is my business is that they meet the expectations that I’ve set forth for the job to be done. If you need her to be in her seat working until 4 then tell her that clearly, but it seems like you’re taking this personally as opposed to just giving clear expectations, then following up with discipline if necessary. It’s likely she honestly does not know this is bothering you if she is, as you say, an otherwise excellent worker. What excellent means is up to YOU – your comment and your submitted letter appears to be at odds.

      1. Rebecca*

        Caring and compassion is part of being a good and productive manager. A bit of consideration for outside factors can be the difference between retaining a quality employee and having huge turnover in that position. You *should* care–it gives your employees an incentive to perform better.

    7. Murphy*

      But her shift ends at 4, right? Yes, she owes you work until that time, but she owes you exactly zero minutes of her time after that.

      While I agree that your get boss and get to set the rules (and a receptionist being there and working until the end of the day is totally fair), you may also want to consider if she’s overall unhappy at work. When I’ve been in jobs I’ve hated I’ve done what was expected of me but no more. Staying late? Hells to the no. I’m not saying it justifies her behaviour, but finding out if something is off may help solve multiple issues.

    8. Kate M*

      Are you sure she has no other commitments? If it’s a new problem that just started a month ago, that would suggest to me that she has something going on (doctor’s/therapist appointment after work that she might not feel comfortable talking about? A new class at night?) Some might be more worth working around than others, but just because you don’t know about any other commitments doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any. And if she’s been a stellar employee for two years and only the last month has been off, then that’s something to take into consideration.

      That being said, if you need someone in the seat from 8-4 on the dot or whatever, then that’s what you need, so you still need to talk to her about it (as well as the other issues). But I wouldn’t base how long you think people should be at work based on what commitments they have that you know about – maybe I have a commitment that I need my butt to be in bed at 5pm that night for my mental health.

    9. Jinx*

      Honestly, her personal situation (kids, husband, etc) is irrelevant here unless she’s cited something as a reason she neesd to leave. I’m also childless with a husband who routinely works late, but if I don’t have anything to do I’m out of here at 4. Some of us look forward to going home. :)

      It sounds like her attitude is more of an issue than the time she leaves. I’m curious, would her end of day clock-watching be less of a problem if she wasn’t also spending time away from her desk and taking a long lunch? It sounds like several isolated problems are getting rolled into one big problem ball.

    10. LBK*

      For roles like this that consist heavily of ad hoc requests, I think you need to build the schedule and expectations such that there’s a gap between when you expect her to stop taking new requests. Then you need to give her the authority to enforce that cutoff and back her up on it as needed. That way she has built-in time to deal with requests that come in at 3:59 so she’s not stuck working past when she’s supposed to and people understand that her presence at her desk doesn’t mean they can still ask her to do things same-day.

      I would shy away from trying to compare your roles. I sense a bit of resentment that you get stuck working longer hours sometimes, but you also (or at least you should) benefit from less oversight about your time. It’s the trade off of having a butt-in-the-seat role versus a more flexible role.

      1. Dan*

        And the comptroller probably gets paid more. The more I get paid and the more I like my job, the more I’m going to bend over backwards for it. Nature of the beast.

        To your first point, one blue collar job totally knew what they were doing when it came to scheduling. This was a 24/7 operation without a predictable business flow. They scheduled employees for 8 hour and 30 min shifts every day, so there was always a 30 minute overlap. That 30 minutes was paid overtime, too. Lunch was “eaten on the job.” We didn’t have designated break periods, you just ate when the work accommodated it. (This wasn’t a sweat shop, except on rare occasions. We weren’t starving and had time throughout the day to take a breather.)

    11. Marissa*

      She doesn’t have kids or take public transport? So? She is obligated to leave on the dot at the end of the day. I’d talk to her about the lunch thing; but unless she’s missing important calls, I don’t really see that as an issue. Our admin uses her lunch hour for non-eating purposes and then eats at her desk when she returns. If her behaviour impacts her work, this would be problematic. If her work is excellent, this should not matter to you.

      1. JustALurker*

        Eating at the front desk is an office culture issue. I have worked in both cultures. But I agree with the leaving on time issue. One the OP is satisfied with the employees work product, leaving at 4 should not be an issue. If she is working up until 4 I don’t really see what the problem is. And yes there are some tasks that can’t be done in 10 or 15 minutes.

        1. Marissa*

          At our office, we don’t have anyone at the front. Our admin has her own office near the entrance. I can see how eating in the reception area can be a problem though.

    12. Anna*

      A few years ago I would have been baffled at that kind of behavior. I never in a million years thought I’d ever be that person, but I definitely became the employee you’re talking about at my last job. I would come in exactly on time and not a second earlier, leaving exactly at quitting time and not a second later — clear the door because I’m coming through at full speed!! I’d waste time just like your employee, only I was good at making it look like “work.”

      It wasn’t because I was paid hourly or anything. I’ve always liked being hourly because when I put extra time in I get extra money…I just really, *really*, truly hated my job, the owner of the company to be exact, so much that work was the bane of my existence and the second I got to work I was already dreaming about leaving.

      Not saying that your employee feels the same way, just sharing my anecdotal experience; it could be worthwhile to explore why this has started happening considering she’s been there for 2 years and it’s just now a problem.

    13. TootsNYC*

      She doesn’t need to justify “not staying beyond 4:00” to anyone. Not even to you, her boss.

      As long as she’s actually working until 4, she is fulfilling her obligation.

      I’m not saying she has to stay late every day. I just want a focused person who is actually working instead of one who has one foot out the door and won’t do anything for the last 15 minutes that she’s there.

      This comes across as though you DO think she has to stay late SOME days.
      Someone can be focused and actually working, and still wrap up at 4pm.

      i think you might need to redefine what is reasonable to expect of her in the last 10 minutes of her day. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect someone to take on a 15-minute project at 3:45 when their job ends at 4. Those projects should come to her before then, because they may take longer than 15 minutes.

      Maybe you need to adjust her hours (and pay her accordingly) so all those other people can get stuff mailed out. Maybe 4pm is too early to find yourself without the administrative support.

    14. Not Today Satan*

      What does her husband’s schedule have to do with anything?

      And, how much does she get paid? I’m guessing significantly less than you do as the controller. It’s reasonable to expect good work from her, but it’s not reasonable to expect her to be as dedicated to her job as you are to yours, if dedication to you means staying there past her shift without being paid.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I think OP was trying to answer a bunch of scenarios people posted as reasons she needs to leave on time, like “what if she has to pick up her husband at his job”.

      2. HumbleOnion*

        Sadly, my mind went to “She still has plenty of time to get home & make dinner for her husband.”

    15. Sualah*

      I’m not excusing it, but there can be a HUGE difference between 3:52 and 4:03, even with driving. If I am not out of my work’s parking lot by 5 pm, then I might as well stay until 5:15 or 5:20 because I’ll get home at the same time either way, and won’t have the frustration of the rush hour traffic. (“Rush hour” in my city not being anything that anyone from a bigger city would consider bad at all.)

    16. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

      I wish that I could accurately explain how HORRIBLE traffic gets in my area at exactly 5 pm.

        1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

          About once every two weeks I can’t take it and I just pull over for a quick beer / cocktail… get home at the same time.
          I wish I could just leave at 5 30, though, and avoid it altogether.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I started coming in at 8:30 and leaving at 4:30 (no lunch break) to avoid this because I have to drive through an industrial area to get to work and get home. TRUCKS TRUCKS EVERYWHERE.

            1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

              OH I would so prefer to do that!
              I’m just starting to work in the office-culture world, and I have gotten no less than a mild riot for suggesting I work a bit while at lunch. As a receptionist, my lunch has to be scheduled for the convenience of those who cover the phones while I’m away, but what if I *feel* like working at that particular time, and am comfortable with light snacking (hidden from view) for the rest of the day? I’m an exempt employee (yet still reception.. I believe my company bills for our time so that’s the reason we also track our hours?) so shouldn’t I get to work on my “own” time if I want to, as long as I am also working during the hours that I am required to be and when my coworkers are expecting me to be there? I wish I could even just leave 30 minutes early, but we get shipments up until 4:50 some days.
              It’s true that would open me up to burn-out, but I honestly think I really do have an accurate handle on when I’ve got enough on my plate and when some days I need to take lunch instead of working through. I wouldn’t mind answering the phone if I’m already sitting at my desk working on something else, but this strikes my coworkers as crazy-pants.
              But I guess I don’t like having what I do while on my own time (in a random little hour in the middle of the day that really doesn’t help *me* particularly de-stress because I am forced to leave my desk, as opposed to others, who can freely do as they like at their desks) debated, so I just leave during the day and run an errand while on lunch. No debate.
              Sigh, another post that went far longer than I intended. I’m working on this.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I used to have to be at the desk all the time too, when I was a receptionist. I took my lunch break because my shift was 8-5 and I really needed to get away from the phone during the day.

                Now I don’t have to take a lunch (and Missouri doesn’t mandate that I do), so I choose to eat at my desk while still working and leave a little earlier. My old boss was fine with it and so far my new boss is too–there is very little coming in before or after those times, and it’s almost never anything urgent. My team often posts stuff late at night or on weekends–of course being hourly, I can’t deal with that anyway. :)

                I do stay late when needed and then adjust my time the next day. If I have to go to an appointment and don’t want to use PTO, I work later to make up the time. The flexibility is one thing I really like about this job. They’re really good about that. It’s too bad more companies aren’t.

                1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

                  Very true!
                  That does give me some perspective, too; my company has been pretty awesome about working with me on PTO – I had a trip planned before I accepted the job (not actually PTO, as I wasn’t working for them then), I took my birthday off with a little less notice than was required (to be fair, we had recently changed our PTO policy to a much longer notice), and when I had to transfer my car title last minute because I procrastinated that thought off a mental cliff until the very last day my car was legally tagged, my boss generously worked with me to let me go do it that morning.

    17. Oryx*

      Just because you don’t know about any commitments doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any. My manager doesn’t know what I do after work unless I explicitly tell her. Maybe she goes to the gym after work. Maybe the hour so between her getting home and her husband getting home is her time to binge watch all the bad reality TV he won’t watch with her.

      Furthermore, what does her husband’s schedule have to do with anything? The fact that you’d even take her personal life into account here is a bit of an issue.

      1. Biff*

        I, too, found issue with that. OP is not really showing me any reason to side with them, and I usually try.

    18. Dan*

      Those “what’s the big deal” questions cut both ways. If she gets to her car at 3:52 instead of 4:03, what’s the big deal? Presuming she punches a time clock, then I’m guessing she’s not stealing from you. (If she writes times down on a sheet, that could be theft/fraud, but your concern seems first with her attitude and dedication, and not getting paid for work she isn’t doing.)

      The reality is, when I worked shift work, at 15 minutes prior to quitting time, I’m thinking about QUITTING FOR THE DAY. What’s left for me to practically do? Wipe down counters?

      In my professional career, I leave when I feel like it. Sometimes it’s a 7 hour day and sometimes it’s a 12 hour day. Most of the time it’s close to 8 hours.

    19. Biff*

      I realize that you might be writing this quickly, and probably while fed up, but you aren’t showing to an advantage here, at all.

      1. Whether or not she has other commitments, obligations or public transit considerations is not pertinent. It’s much better to assume that your employee DOES have obligations and considerations that they feel they cannot or should not share with you.

      2. If you are flexible with “Donna” and “Sal” because they have kids/elderly parent living with them, then you need to show flexibility to “Jane” or “Shawn” unless you have performance issues.

      3. Performance issues need to be genuine performance issues. If a job is to ‘reduce ticket queue by 100 each day’ and someone is reducing it by 120 each day, but never seems to get back from lunch on time… that’s not really a performance issue for that job, necessarily. It might be an issue if they are training someone, or if they man a special part of the queue that only they can answer, etc. But if their lateness has zero impact on the work that’s been laid out and the achievement of the goal…. it’s pointless to harp on it.

      4. There’s a huge difference between 3:52 and 4:03. If there wasn’t, you’d have no written in. However important those ten minutes are to you, they are equally important to her, apparently.

      1. Biff*

        To be clear, these are my thoughts. But if you run afoul with #2, you can put yourself risk for lawsuits.

    20. Gaara*

      If her work is “excellent,” why do you care? What problems is this really causing for you? Address those, and don’t worry about whether she has an eye on the clock.

    21. Honeybee*

      Quite frankly, the time that her husband gets home later and the fact that she drives are none of your business. The point to focus on is whether the additional 15 minutes are really affecting her productivity and the work you need done (and whether it’s actually 15 minutes, and whether she’s rejecting all work or just work that she knows will take longer than 15 minutes because she doesn’t want to be kept past 4 pm).

      If it’s a new problem, maybe something is going on or something happened that you’re not privy to. Not that that matters either, just saying.

      1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

        Yeah, I think it matters a lot whether she’s resisting ALL work from 3:45 on, or just tasks that could be reasonably assumed to take more than fifteen minutes to complete.

        1. Xanadu*

          It may be that the manager here typically hands her projects which are likely to take over 15 minutes (even if the manager thinks they don’t). So the perception to the manager may be “she doesn’t do any work after 3:45” when she really is just trying to be pragmatic about what she can accomplish.

    22. Not So NewReader*

      If her work is excellent, then why do you feel she is unfocused?

      Does she have tasks that are doable in 15 minutes or less? I know I run out of tasks that I can do in that short a time span. What would you like her to do in those 15 minutes before she leaves? Serious question, not snark.

    23. Otter*

      “She has no kids and no other commitments. She doesn’t take public transportation.”

      That doesn’t make her personal time any less valuable. Not making a judgment on the case on the whole, but people need to stop thinking that someone else’s free time is less valuable because of some preconceived notions of the person who is judging them.

    24. Angela Harris*

      OP, these new facts don’t matter. Maybe for hers its just a job and you are paying her by the hour. Her after work commitments or lack of are none of your business. Your business is what she does for those 8 hours at work.

      Even if she doesn’t have kids and has a late working husband the woman is entitled to be off at her scheduled time.

  8. some1*

    Omg. Did I write this in my sleep and forget?? I’m an admin in a smallish office and we have one other admin who doesn’t seem to get that she has a Butt In The Seat job. She used to leave early on the regular, go out for cigarette breaks once an hour, leave the office and not tell anyone (our office is secure and you need to be buzzed in) leaving me to pick up all the slack. Then when I would ask her to let me know when she steps away she took that as me telling her that she needed to ask my permission to use the restroom. Luckily my boss stepped in so it’s mostly stopped because I was soooo annoyed.

    1. KG*

      I understand. Our receptionist is 10 minutes late almost every day (not hourly, no public transportation, no kids). She also comes back from lunch 5-10 minutes late everyday. If you are the front desk you need to make sure you are physically in your desk as much as humanly possible. I feel strongly that she should be arriving 10 minutes early so she is ready to start work at 8, and it would be nice if she left for lunch at 11:50 and was back at 12:50 so she could greet people arriving for afternoon meetings. I’m less concerned with her getting ready to leave a few minutes before 5 pm and then leaving at 5 on the dot. My issue is more with her being present as reception during work hours. Reception has different standards than the average employee. Anyone that hasn’t had to do or manage reception doesn’t get that these minor things are huge.

      1. some1*

        The reason the leaving early with her peeves me is because she works 7-3:30 (even though clients and calls come in between 8-4:30 – don’t ask me how she got the okay for those hours when the majority of her job is answering the phone and checking in clients but whatever) so I’m already covering her main duties an hour a day. If she worked, say, 7:30-4 I wouldn’t care that much about her leaving 5 minutes early so often.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          At my old office the receptionist would get the post sorted out, do some filing and other jobs that didn’t involve customer contact.

          Could your receptionist be going things like that?

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Our last receptionist got fired for being late – he was supposed to be there at 8am but was at least 15 minutes late every day and there was no other way for guests to get into the office if he wasn’t there. He was late on a day that the Deputy Mayor was borrowing our big conference room for an 8am meeting. The Deputy Mayor was spitting nails because there were a bunch of big-wigs milling around outside the locked door to our lobby at 8am. I showed up for work at 8:05 and let them in and he asked me for the receptionist’s name. I didn’t want to tell him but I had no choice. I felt really bad but the guy had been warned multiple times about it already.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      I know! I’m trying not to get frustrated by a lot of the comments excusing her behavior – as an admin, we all work with someone like this and it’s maddening. I’m dealing with one right now and I’m fed up. She hides in our handicapped bathroom for an hour at a time, she disappears for long lunches, she calls in sick all the time, tries to work from home often for ridiculous reasons (not allowed here) and pouts if anyone asks her to do something. Her direct supervisor gave her priority work to do yesterday and she never did it! She has the immature “it’s not my job” attitude about things that really are her job. And she just applied for a promotion to a higher-level EA job, which there is no way in hell she will get. It’s like she’s delusional about her skills and attitude. Major victim complex. Ah, it felt good to vent because I can’t gossip about her at work.

      1. Mike C.*

        You have to understand that many of us have been frustrated in the past by managers who went way overboard in the other direction.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I’m an admin so I probably understand it better than most. However, all signs here point to a lazy admin, not to some “victim of The Man”.

          1. LBK*

            If she’s slacking off during the day, that is absolutely a problem. I think most of the defense here has been specifically about the “she can leave at 4 but I expect her to still take new requests up until 4, which might keep her here late” issue, which I’d think you can empathize with.

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              This. I definitely think there are behaviors that need to be corrected.

              What I’m bristling at is the idea that an employee (who is likely non-exempt) is not being enough of a team player by leaving on time.

              1. esra*

                Morale in my office is plummeting because of exactly this. Management has a real issue with people leaving before 5:30 even if their work is done. You want us to stay till 5:30? Make the hours 9-5:30. Sorry I’m not exceeding the recommended pieces of flair.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I was on board with OP until I saw that OP feels the woman does excellent work. I am not getting what the complaint is really. Perhaps the employee does not have enough work? It almost sounds to me like OP is angry because she leaves on time everyday. I will keep reading maybe there is more below here.

  9. Dan*

    Heh. I used to work with this kid (er, adult in his mid-20’s) who took the early end of a flex schedule. He’d work 6-2, long before most people got into the office. Then at 1pm, he’d say, “I’m leaving in an hour, I’m not taking on any new work for the day.”

    Well, I worked the back end of the flex schedule, so we only overlapped by 2 hours. When I was assigned to work with him, I quickly figured out how to automate his portion of the work. I proudly told the boss, “Hey I found away to work around X’s schedule! No more issues!” To which the boss responded, “What’s X supposed to do?” To which I responded, “Donno, don’t care, not by business, I’m not the boss.”

  10. SophieChotek*

    If she is hourly and there truly is an issue with people often bringing her FedEx (etc.) at 10 minutes to 4pm, and she really wants to punch out at 4pm (or has to pick up kids, or must spring to make that 4:15 bus, etc.), possibly the other staff also could understand that the person doing that also needs time to prepare shipment, etc., or if she needs to stay later, then of course, she should be getting paid for it (if hourly). Of course, if she is salaried, then this changes things.

    The other issues — double-lunch-breach, talking too much — are other things.

    But I’ve worked many hourly jobs and when I am off the clock, I am off the clock–if I need to stay and finish something sure I’ll stay as long as I am paid/OT is approved.
    In some cases I should not even be doing work (even if I was willing to work after my shift is over), because the company would not want to be held liable/have an issue if for some reason I was “working for free” and I was hurt on the job, etc.

    Besides the strict end-time, long lunch, and chattiness — does she get all her work done on time/done well/when it needs to be done by?

    1. TootsNYC*

      Also–maybe she needs to be empowered to start bugging people for the FedEx packages at 3:15.

  11. Allison*

    So wait, is she actually leaving early or is she checking out early and refusing to take on last minute tasks so she can be out the door by 4? You should tell her that you need her working until 4, and you need her to be able to take on last minute work even if it means having to work a little past 4 to finish them, and her evening schedule needs to be able to accommodate that possibility.

    1. Chriama*

      As a receptionist, that’s not a reasonable request unless you’re willing to pay overtime.

    2. Jinx*

      I think it’s better to try to enforce a soft deadline on things like that – for example, if the receptionist leaves at 4, then the latest you can drop something like that off is 3 or 3:30. It’s really not cool to dump something on an hourly employee at the last minute and say “just stay late, it’s no big deal”.

      My husband works retail, and customers routinely try to flag him down on his way out the door after clocking out. He says no and directs them to someone on shift, because he’s not getting paid for helping them.

      1. Allison*

        Is your husband able to take off, cover up, or change out of whatever designates him as an employee? Or are these customers flagging him down regulars who know he works there? In my retail days I did whatever I could to hide the fact that I was an employee once I’d clocked out.

        I also agree that a deadline for packages is probably a good idea, as long as it’s clearly communicated to everyone.

        1. Jinx*

          It’s a little of both – but his “uniform” is dark pants and a brightly colored shirt. He could probably hide it better, but it’s literally a twenty foot walk to get out of the building and at that store someone striding purposefully outside looks a little different than someone obviously on duty. But he’s got some really obnoxious regulars who give zero cares about whether he’s on shift or not, too. :P

          1. alter_ego*

            Yeah, I worked at a mall store that had regulars for a few years in college, and it didn’t matter if you were eating in the mall food court on your day off wearing something clearly not your work uniform, if they saw you, they would start asking your for help with their computer issues. I can pretend to care about you really well when it’s my job. When it’s not? Please don’t expect me to act the same as when I’m being paid to talk to you.

      2. LBK*

        This is why I used to always bring a jacket with me to work when I was in retail, even when it was sweltering outside – so I could throw it on over my uniform on my way out of the store and avoid being stopped.

  12. Erin*

    Okay, playing devil’s advocate here because I know firsthand how much it exponentially sucks being chained to the desk as a receptionist.

    -On the leaving early: Most likely other people sneak out early all the time, which is no big deal because they’re not covering phones. That might be worth acknowledging when you speak to her. You probably can’t change this – the phones do need to be covered during business hours – but it might make a difference if you say, “Yes I see the unfairness, but unfortunately phone coverage is a main duty of your position.”

    -On the mail/FedEx thing – It is truly annoying when you are trying to wrap things up for the day, working on your own projects…and someone comes to you saying, hey this needs to be done by the end if the day which oh by the way is 10 minutes from now. This goes double for someone in a position like this, where she is presumably assisting many employees, not just one, so there is the potential for her to suddenly create and put together multiple packages at the same time, all needing to get to that box before pickup. She may need to leave at exactly 4 and this pushes her passed that. No one cares that she needs to leave at 4, so she feels justified leaving a few minutes early when she can.

    In my office our receptionist takes mail and packages out at 3:30, and I watch the phone for her during those few minutes she runs outside. I would highly suggest letting her go this – take the mail out at a designated time every day, making sure another admin covers the phones during that time. Send out an email about it: “Going forward to ensure proper phone coverage, Lucinda will be taking out the mail and packages every day at 3:30, at which time Jane will watch the phones. Please get all mail and packages to Lucinda by 3:30, or we cannot ensure it will go out the same day.”

    -On the lunch thing: Everyone else gets to eat at their desk and use lunch time to run errands, but she can’t, because it looks weird for a front desk person to be eating. That being said, an hour should be sufficient to do both. (I have a half hour lunch and often have to eat while driving.) I find it hard to believe though, that she’s really spending *20 minutes* in the kitchen making lunch. How long can it take to heat something up or make a sandwhich? Is she then eating in the kitchen or at her desk? Is she able to cover phones and hear if a client walks in from the kitchen or is it too far away?

    If by 20 minutes you really mean 5, and if she’s not far away from the desk, I’d let that go. If it’s really 20 minutes and the phone isn’t getting answered that’s more serious. Which brings me to the chatting:

    -I also find it hard to believe she is really chatting with coworkers for half an hour in the morning. Does she stop talking to answer the phone? Is she still getting her work done? Are the employees chatting with her getting their work done?

    All in all, you have to push back on what you have to push back on, but acknowledging the crappiness of being chained to the desk while literally no one else in the office is might be a small thing that could go a long way.

    Let her take the mail/packages out at 3:30, though.

    1. Hlyssande*

      Ugh, the last minute FedEx thing! I’m the backup for FedEx overnights right now, so if the person who usually does it is out/away for whatever reason, I prepare them instead. It doesn’t take that long, but there’s one guy who has a habit of trying to intercept me as I’m packing up. The first time, I turned my computer back on and did it for him. After that, no dice. The regular FedExer says he does this to her all the time.

      Having a deadline is a great idea to allow time for those things to get done and still let the receptionist leave on time (especially if she’s hourly). That might be part of the reason she’s not starting new tasks last minute.

    2. BRR*

      I find it funny you say you’re playing devil’s advocate when I think trying to justify her behavior is the devil’s advocate side. I think your comment is the rational side by stating the expectations of being a receptionist.

    3. Sydney*

      I’ve seen people make lunches in break rooms that take 20 minutes. As in making a sandwich or salad from scratch (no lie! They pack in all the ingredients and chop everything up there) so it is definitely possible.

      1. Xanadu*

        Our breakroom also has one microwave for a floor of 50+ people so lunchtime is a nightmare :(

    4. boop*

      That’s a good point, actually. Who are these coworkers she is chatting with? Why is it okay for them to chat for half an hour every morning?

  13. Jackson*

    A FedEx label can be printed out and paperwork put in an envelope in about 4 minutes. I know. I do them myself if I need to send something out after she leaves. Is it really too much to ask someone to do that 10 minutes before the end of their work day? She says often how much she loves working here. We have a great group of people and the Owners are very generous. If we go home early because of snow we all get paid. If she is out sick she will get paid. If the company takes really good care of their employees is it too much to ask that someone care about the work enough that they can spend five minutes finishing something up before they run out the door?

        1. Gaara*

          She is definitely hourly because the law require that; if they aren’t paying her overtime it’s illegal.

    1. anonnnnnn*

      It’s still rude to ask someone to start a new project 5 minutes before they leave for the day, no matter how great the company treats employers and regardless of how quickly the project can be completed. If I leave at 5 every day and someone asks me to start something new at 4:55, I’d be pretty annoyed and wonder why they couldn’t have asked earlier in the day.

      1. The Butcher of Luverne*

        It’s not rude if it’s necessary to getting business done, though. If I was asked to send an emergency package at 4:55 ONCE IN A WHILE, I would cheerfully do it. Because 5 minutes shouldn’t make any difference to an employee who is otherwise treated well and respected.

        OTOH, Jackson — have you empowered her to ask coworkers to have all FedEx packages to her a half hour before she leaves?

        1. Jinx*

          You summed up my thoughts – how often is she getting a task right at the end of the day, and how business essential is it? Is the timing due to the nature of the business, or is someone waiting until the last minute to bring stuff to her?

        2. TootsNYC*

          It can be rude and necessary at the same time.

          It’s especially rude if it’s something that could have been done earlier.

          And if this is happening very often, then maybe her work day needs to extend to 4:15 or 4:30 (and she needs to be paid for it) so that you have the administrative support you need.

          If other people are working later than 4, and they need support during that time, then the company needs to be arranging their employment hours to meet their ACTUAL business needs, and not the hypothetical ones.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      The company taking good care of employees doesn’t obligate her to stay later than her scheduled time. I think part of the problem may be that you’re equating her not wanting to stay with her not caring enough about the work. Wanting to leave on time and go home to relax doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy her job and coworkers; it just means she doesn’t want to get stuck staying late every day because people can’t bring packages to her before the last minute.

      Regarding FedEx – I agree that it’s a pretty quick process. Is that the only thing she has to do at the end of the day, though? I work as a temp and cover reception pretty frequently, and there is almost always a list of tasks to wrap up at the end of the day. Where I am now, I start those at 15 minutes before my scheduled end time. If someone brought me a 5-minute task right at 4:45, that means I have to do that and my scheduled closing tasks, and I’ll be leaving 5 minutes late.

    3. HMM*

      Then tell her that. Honestly, you don’t have to defend anything to us, what is important is that you tell HER what you need her to do, and then if she doesn’t do it, discipline her. Sounds like you’ve let this build and become a frustration for you when you haven’t clearly communicated to her what the issue is.

      1. HMM*

        Follow up to add that while it may be obvious to you how to do things, it may not be obvious to her. So asking “is that too much to ask” is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if it is/is not too much to ask if you don’t ask (or tell) her to do it in the first place.

        1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

          I keep reading through these (esp OP’s comments) and going, That could be me, but I don’t know if any one would even bring it to my attention before it got built up to a giant THING. What if I disagree with the staying 10 minutes late every now and then thing? What if I have a valid reason I can’t on some days, and it’s difficult to explain when I want / need to get home sooner than other days? And what if I have suggestions on how to accommodate both of our needs, but I don’t feel like my boss would listen to me?

          Even if OP talks to the receptionist, she might not feel comfortable sticking up for herself because her role lacks the authority needed to prove the validity of her argument to her higher-up?
          I’m not saying that the boss shouldn’t have final say, of course they should dictate the expectations of their employees’ work performance; it’s just incredibly demeaning to know already that the argument is lost before you can even start it. Knowing exactly what is expected of me allows me to change my perspective in my argument; maybe my reasons for needing to get home early / right at 5 are not as important as the expectation that sometimes, my role requires me to stay later, and I could be understanding and respectful of that – but knowing about it and understanding it allow me to better coordinate my own schedule so that I can reasonably accommodate staying late.

    4. Murphy*

      Depending on their personal situation, yes, they may in fact be too much too ask.

      I’m a director and there are days I’m ending a conference call on the dot at 4 so I can get out and get my kid. My husband travels for work and when he’s gone I have to leave right on time or I can’t make it to daycare before close. It’s nothing personal (which is how you seem to be taking this), but just the logistics oh my life. Sometimes stuff gets left undone. Such is life. Everything will be there tomorrow. No one dies if I don’t return that last email. I’d keep that perspective.

    5. It'sOnlyMe*

      In some cases, it isn’t too much to ask, but at the end of the day….her finishing time is 4pm. That’s independent of whether or not she loves her job (and whether or not the employer is generous) she is paid until 4pm. And while a label may take an extra 4 minutes, if she does this every day, by the end of the month she has worked an extra 80 minutes that she isn’t being paid for. I really like Erin’s reply and totally agree with what she is saying.

      I’m one of those who will stay till I am done but I fully understand that that isn’t everyone’s choice. My cube mate is outta here the second that little hand hits 4, it’s just the way it is.

      1. Who watches the Watcher's?*

        Right! I think a big part of it is that no one really adds up all those minutes to see how much it really turns into! My employer has a computerized punch clock and if you have too many extra minutes you certainly hear about it!

    6. Cube Ninja*

      It isn’t a big deal, but if packages regularly need to be sent in the last 20-30 minutes of the day (if it’s once every couple weeks, that’s different), does it make sense to have someone on the clock only until 4PM, or do you really need to look at having coverage until 4:30? Is it an issue of time-sensitive work that absolutely must be done and out the door that day, or could it wait until the following morning?

      On the flip side, presumably you’re exempt – is it really such a big deal to drop paperwork into an envelope and slap a label on it? :)

      Sure, that’s not typically part of your job duties, but that’s also part of the deal with being a manager – if your hourly staff aren’t able to stick around because of their existing schedule and/or you aren’t approved for OT, that’s where you need to take ownership over the process to ensure the business need is met. If this is more common occurrence (ie: once a week, multiple times per week), that’s a bit different, but when it -is- part of the admin’s job duties, that probably needs to be part of the discussion, as in “I realize last minute things at the end of the day can be challenging, but unfortunately, that’s how the business works, so I really need your partnership on completing those tasks when they come up.”

      1. The Butcher of Luverne*

        That’s a great point. If it only takes 4 minutes, why shouldn’t other employees do it themselves once in a while?

          1. Michelle*

            Yes! I often do the Fed-Ex labels and if it has to be packaged, especially if it’s breakable, that can take much longer than 4 minutes.

            Honestly, it sounds like OP/Jackson is upset that the receptionist want to leave on time. Also, it seems that he has just let this build up.

    7. fposte*

      As Snarkus intimates, if she’s non-exempt, you can’t make her work longer without paying her more. Part of your problem may be that you’re thinking she needs to behave as if she’s exempt, and whether you want it or not, that’s not an acceptable thing for you to require and it’s not fair to be bugged by the fact that she’s behaving appropriately for a non-exempt employee.

      The packages thing may be a separate issue, but why not talk to her about it–not to scold her, but to find out? What’s the latest time she thinks she can prep a package while still getting the rest of her work wound up? Can you send that time around so people know? Does she regularly get more than one request at that time, and can she rely on you for backing if she makes it first-come, first served?

    8. DeskBird*

      That depends. Does she need to take last minute packages or mail to the Post Office/Fed Ex herself? At my old (small) company any last minute things that needed to go out that day meant I had to run them to the Post Office/Fed Ex myself at the end of the day. They usually let me leave five minutes early (not a second earlier) and it would take about fifteen until I finished the drop off and started home – and that really bugged me after awhile.

      1. Renee*

        I was wondering about that too. 4:00 pm is too late for a pickup where I am (except for the Ground guy, who will let me text him last minute). Maybe it’s a scheduled pick up, but at my office getting a package that late technically means it needs to get dropped off or it’s going the next day.

    9. Chriama*

      I feel like you’re not asking the right questions here. It sounds like you want her to be dedicated to the work and she’s not. That’s not a reasonable expectation. People are allowed to like their jobs *only* because of the fact that it keeps them fed.

      However, there seem to be some performance issues here:

      – Fedex: if people are coming to her 10 minutes before she has to leave, are there other admin duties that get disrupted? If so, help her come up with a solution (e.g. an earlier cutoff for packages). If not, tell her that she needs to be available for work until the moment it’s time for her to leave, and she can’t refuse tasks just because it’ll take her right to 4pm. However if the task comes in at 3:59, you need to be ok with letter her say ‘no’ because it’s almost time to go.

      – lunch hour: this should be clear. She can’t be away from the desk for more than 1 hour, whatever she chooses to do with that time. Tell her that and, like Alison said, lay down the law if she tries to pull that again. Things like heating up lunch in the microwave needs to happen during the break.

      – chatting with coworkers: this obviously depends on whether or not it affects her work or theirs. I think you might have to watch her a little closely for a couple weeks so you can point out examples of excessive chatting in the moment so she has a reference. But coworkers talk during the day, it’s normal. So try not to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction and micromanage.

      Bottom line: I think there are real performance issues here, but you’re conflating them with things that don’t really matter. I don’t think it’s fair to ask anyone to be devoted to her job or company as long as they’re doing good work. It might also just be the examples you’ve given, but I think you need to clarify in your own mind the things that she should be coached on and the things that you need to let go.

      Bottom line, tell her that you need 8 hours of work out of her and that she can’t be padding her lunch break, spending excessive amounts of time chatting with coworkers or shorting the day by 10 minutes. You need her at her desk and available to work, and that’s a reasonable request. But you also need to be ok with her *only* putting in those 8 hours, and leaving when it’s done. Don’t expect her to stay 10, or 5 or even 2 minutes past that time when she’s not being paid for it. It might help to come up with some procedures to make it easier for her to regulate her workflow, like designating the last 15 or 30 minutes of her day to wrapping things up and not taking on new tasks. It obviously depends on the responsibilities of her job, but when you’re expecting full time from her you should also not expect more than full time.

      1. Jinx*

        +1 This is a really great comment. From OP’s responses, I feel like she’s zeroing in on the receptionist’s attitude (or perceived attitude) instead of the problem behaviors. And I agree that some of the behaviors are problematic, but she needs to address those directly instead of circling around the problem talking about “dedication” and “caring about the work”.

        OP, look at it this way – have you ever seen Office Space? Your employee does “excellent” work, but you want her to wear more flair. The requirement is 4 pieces, and she has 4 pieces, but she’s not interested in wearing more on her own. Instead of telling her to wear 10 pieces of flair, you write into a career advice column saying you don’t understand why your employee doesn’t want to express herself.

        The same principle applies here, OP – if you have problems with specific aspects of your employee’s performance, then it’s time to tell her directly.

        1. Jinx*

          I see from a comment further down that you spoke to her already, so I wanted to update. In your talks, are you outlining A, B, and C as problems, or are you being generic. For example, are you saying “I need you to be at your desk more often” or “I need you to use your lunch break for lunch and spend less time chatting when you’re away”? When you notice these behaviors recurring, are you saying something in the moment?

          If you are doing these things and the behaviors are continuing… I’m not sure what to do from there. If she’s deliberately ignoring clear directions, that’s a bigger problem than anything else.

      2. TootsNYC*

        when you’re expecting full time from her you should also not expect more than full time.

        I had someone (exempt) ask me for comp time for a 15-minute time period.

        I said, “No, I don’t give comp time for amounts that small. You get that time back by being able to come in late, or take a long lunch, or leave early when things are slow. If you nickel-and-dime me on your end, then I would be free to nickel-and-dime you on MY end. And I don’t want to do that–it’s too damn much work, for one thing. But mostly, I don’t want to have that sort of attitude in my department.”
        I prefer for the nickels and dimes to flow back and forth when business needs dictate, like some “leave a penny, take a penny” jar.

        So if you want to insist that she work right up until 4pm every day even if not much is actually getting done (totally OK), then you really should expect that she is going to quit right at quitting time every single day.

        I get that she wasn’t even doing that; she was getting all the nickels and dimes, and you weren’t getting any. But you don’t get to demand more while she gets less.

          1. Kate M*

            But if she’s coming in 10 minutes early and then leaving right at 4, then she is actually giving. I mean, maybe she’s taking more when she takes a longer lunch than she’s supposed to or whatever, but it seems like you would give her credit for staying 10 minutes late, but don’t want to give her credit for coming in 10 minutes early.

            I don’t disagree that there are things to talk to her about – chatting with other coworkers IF it is impacting her work or others’ work, or taking a longer lunch, but the time in/time out seems like weird complaints when you actually look at when she’s in and out.

            1. TootsNYC*

              Here’s the thing with that:

              That 10 minutes early is not valuable to me (if I were the OP). I can’t do anything with that.
              Other employees aren’t even at their desks to use her services.

              I figure that 10 minutes is the buffer zone she builds in so as not to be late. She’s welcome to use that 10 mins. to get a cup of coffee, etc., etc.

              But the 10 minutes right before quitting time ARE valuable. They may be the most valuable 10 minutes in the day.
              So it’s not the same currency. She wants to give pennies while taking nickels and dimes.

              Add to that the idea that she’s taking dimes at lunchtime. And wasting enough nickels on chatting throughout the day that the VP has noticed and commented.

              She’s also taking nickels at the end of the day.

              If now and then she gave back dimes by staying a little later when something actually popped up, the OP (and the VP) might feel like the change was coming out mostly even.

              1. Dan*

                It’s not quite obvious to me that that’s the case either. OP implied that he would adjust her schedule if she had a “need” for it, which tells me that 4pm is a metaphore for the end of the day, not a specific time where coverage is a real issue. If the “business need” was to have the phones covered 9-5, I would think the question posed would have been, “I need my receptionist there until 5 sharp. She leaves a few minutes early, what do I do?”

                The issue OP keeps coming back to is her attitude — when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. He wants a “company person” who “stays late”.

                FWIW, in my professional capacity, I don’t bug my admins for quick administrative tasks. (I’m also not a senior person where those little tasks add up through the course of the day, and hey, that’s why I have an admin.)

                1. Sydney*

                  But what is there for a receptionist to do while staying late? Stay half an hour late IN CASE the phone rings? That’s ridiculous. It’s one thing if there is actual work occasionally and she’s been asked to stay late – things like photocopying, mail outs, whatever. But to just to expect someone in a customer service role to hang around – what for? It doesn’t work in that position. It works in other positions because those positions are working on reports, etc. They aren’t dependent on the phone ringing.

        1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

          Yes, but make sure you’re actually holding up your end..
          Had a job many years ago that liked to use the ol’ “It goes back and forth,” logic to explain me not getting paid to perform a job duty – and I wasn’t arguing, just asking how that worked.
          Guess what? Plenty went, including me covering for an intoxicated manager whose behavior was becoming an increasingly serious issue.
          Nothing ever came back, though.

      3. Chinook*

        “chatting with coworkers: this obviously depends on whether or not it affects her work or theirs. I think you might have to watch her a little closely for a couple weeks so you can point out examples of excessive chatting in the moment so she has a reference. But coworkers talk during the day, it’s normal. So try not to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction and micromanage.”

        Can I add that, as a receptionist, you are not always the person in control of the chatting happening at your desk? All it takes is one or two colleagues who don’t realize you can’t leave or tell them to get lost (and don’t take the hint when you are constantly being interrupted by phone calls and visitors that that means you are busy) and suddenly you are known as either a slacker who chats all day or the rude person who has to tell coworkers to leave you alone. I could have kissed one boss who actually disciplined one of my coworkers for taking up the receptionist’s time because he would come up and chat for an hour every day regardless of how busy I was and I couldn’t get him to leave (and it wasn’t like I could walk away).

    10. the gold digger*

      A FedEx label can be printed out and paperwork put in an envelope in about 4 minutes.

      When you have all the information. But if Wakeen hands her a ziplock bag of brownies and says, “Please send these to that IT guy who helped me out last week – Bob, I think his name is? Robert? You know the one – the one who does the sharepoint stuff? I think he is at HQ but maybe he works out of Salt Lake? You can look it up,” then it takes more than four minutes.

      1. Erin*

        This, and, I quite literally just walked by our receptionist and the FedEx label she was attempting to print was printing so the label was cut off.

        If something can go wrong it will. In theory creating a FedEx package should take five minutes and not push her past her leaving time but I don’t doubt that sometimes it does.

    11. Liane*

      1) How long will it take you to do several packages as someone above mentioned can often be the case? How long if the phone (which must be answered by you) rings?
      2) Fun fact: Even reports higher ranking than a receptionist get annoyed at managers when they are repeatedly asked to do things at 10 minutes until quitting time, whether quitting time is 4pm, 8pm, or midnight. So you might want to break yourself of the habits of dumping work on Receptionist at 3:50pm & letting others think it is okay to dump work on her at 3:50pm. Otherwise you are very likely to lose someone you–or worse, your boss–views as much more valuable to the company because you let this happen and they got tired of it.
      3) TL;DR: Take the advice to focus on being slow to start in the morning and the lunch issue and forget about her wanting to leave at 4 on the dot. And make sure she’s getting OT if she does stay over, and perhaps a thank you, if you can manage it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This. This.
        Why is she always getting packages at ten minutes to four? Maybe that is the problem that needs to be tackled. You are asking for her loyalty, but I am asking you, why aren’t you protecting her from these last minute crisis? If you want loyalty/dedication you have to inspire it.

    12. Ihmmy*

      “If the company takes really good care of their employees is it too much to ask that someone care about the work enough that they can spend five minutes finishing something up before they run out the door?”

      Occasionally, sure. Every day? For some of us yes. I care about my work… while I’m here. But once the clock notes the end of the day I’m gone, I don’t think about work again until I’m back in the office. My job is not my life and that’s ok.

    13. Macedon*

      Yeah, actually, it really is too much. If you’re counting seconds, she can count seconds. You don’t get to have it both ways. As for your company treating its employees well, good on it – that’s an incentive for her to stay with your current workplace, not to stay with your work place on (hour) terms other than the ones agreed upon.

      For the record, you’re not getting protesting reactions because you expect her to work her designated time, you’re getting them because in your first comment, you make it sound as if she’s being unreasonable with an attitude you just “don’t understand” for not letting anything “get between her and the door at 4”, while you choose to leave half an hour to an hour past your time. That part implies betrays a double standard, where you want her to be working the full time she has agreed to work, because that’s fair to your arrangement, and you can’t be flexible on your end on those hours… but actually, you want her to be flexible on her end about them. That’s not how that works.

      This is from someone who just did four hours in overtime, fyi.

    14. nonegiven*

      You need to set a deadline for the packages. Anything not meeting the deadline goes out tomorrow. They will creep a minute, 2 minutes, more. Set the deadline and stick to it.

  14. Jackson*

    To the Devils Advocate:

    1. There are only 10 of us in the office and no one else sneaks out early.
    2. The late mail doesn’t happen very often and if it is more than one thing, I’ll step in and take care of it. I’m always here to help.
    3. We have very few people walk in to our office because of the nature of the business and she eats at her desk every day. The kitchen is on the other side of the building and she waits for whatever she puts in the toaster oven to cook and chats with anyone who goes by so it is 20 minutes, not 5.
    4. One some days it’s probably more than half an hour because she’ll go to one office and hang out, then go to another to see how that person is doing. The VP has actually mentioned it to me.

    And she isn’t chained to her desk. She’s away from it while she files and does other things. When she’s working on other things the automated attendant gets it and people transfer themselves.

    1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      So what are you going to do? Are you going to discuss what you’d like to see (her staying until 4, not going over her lunch hour, etc.)? She can’t magically know there is a problem unless you tell her, so speak up.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          So you escalate things:

          “Katie, being fully engaged at work until 4pm is an essential part of your job. Is this something you’re going to be able to do? If not, we’ll need to think about getting someone for this position who is able to commit for the full workday.”

          And then follow through!

          1. TootsNYC*

            But if she’s “back to normal,” there’s no need to escalate anything.

            Except for OP/Jackson’s annoyance that she leaves right at 4pm.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              I took “back to normal” to mean that she was slipping into her old ways of not working until the end of the day.

      1. Allison*

        “She can’t magically know there is a problem unless you tell her, so speak up.”

        This. People aren’t mind readers. If someone is doing something that bothers you, or not doing something you want them to do, you need to use your words. I’m tired of this “I shouldn’t have to tell them, they should just know!” nonsense. At work and in my personal life, I’ve dealt with it too many times, and it’s really frustrating to be on the receiving end of it.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      This isn’t a debate to have with her. Just tell her what you expect. “Regardless of whether or not you came in early, I need you here ready to work until 4pm.” If she pushes back you calmly and firmly reiterate your expectations “I understand, but I need you here working until 4pm.”

      If chatting with people is an issue, then raise that as well. But this isn’t a debate in front of a judge. You’re her boss, you have the right and responsibility to give her expectations.

    3. Erin*

      Good answers! It sounds like her behavior and chattiness is out of sync with your office norms, to the point other people are picking up on it. And she’s not chained to the desk like others might be, so she doesn’t have that card to play.

      And I hear you on your comment upthread about the one foot out the door thing. I’d say something like, “I understand we pay you to be here until 4, and obviously if you need to leave right at 4, you need to do so. But it really sends the wrong message when you’re visibly packed up and ready to go at 10 of 4. No one else on the office does this and it’s noticable. If you need to leave before 4, you need to put in time off to do so.”

      Otherwise at this point I’ll echo others’ advice: lay out what you need from her, and stick to your guns, replacing her if need be.

      1. Jinx*

        This is a good way of framing it, because it shows that her behavior isn’t typical to the office culture.

    4. TootsNYC*

      all these things are definitely problems.

      You’re getting some pushback here, but I think what most people are focusing on is the “she should stay LATER than 4pm” and the “she shouldn’t leave us all thinking that she doesn’t care about us by leaving promptly.”

      These issues? Absolutely you can require them, and I think most of us think you absolutely should require this of her.

      It’s just that getting upset about leaving quickly AT 4 is not cool.

  15. Jackson*

    Many people seem to have gotten the impression that I have an issue with her leaving at 4:00. That’s not the problem at all. If she works 7 – 4 she should leave at 4. The problem is having someone with one foot out the door at quarter of who makes a big deal about someone asking her to do her job in the last fifteen minutes of her day. I can go to anyone else in this company and they can come to me and we’ll do whatever is necessary to help each other. If someone leaves her something that doesn’t have to go out that night they’ll let her know she can leave it till the next day.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      You’re making this harder than it needs to be!

      “Katie, I need you fully engaged at work until 4.”


      1. Jackson*

        I’m not making it hard at all. I feel I need to defend the fact that I actually expect an employee to work while they’re here. A lot of people who have written in seem to have that “I’m not giving my employer one minute more of my time or effort than I have to” kind of attitude. If you like your job and work for people who take really good care of you shouldn’t you give a minimum of 100% while you’re at work?

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Yes…but you might need to clearly lay out what you think 100% looks like.

          You seem kind of hung up on the fact that she should want to do these things. Who cares if she wants to. She can do it reluctantly as long as she’s doing it. Focus on her performance and output, not the reasons behind it, and I think you’ll find this is a lot easier.

          1. Jackson*

            You know what Katie – you figured out what is bothering me so much. Everyone else here wants to do what they do every day. They want to help each other. They want to get done whatever needs to be done. They want to do whatever they need to do even if it means they have to stay here for an extra 10 minutes. And I guess it bothers me that she hasn’t been like that.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But you say she does excellent work. So why does this matter? Are there specific ways you can point to in which it is impacting the results she gets in her work? (There may be, for all I know — but that’s what you’d need to focus on, not how she feels.)

              1. Meg Murry*

                Also, with the excellent work vs packing up 15 minutes early:

                I have 2 co-workers, I’ll call them tortoise and hare. Tortoise works at a moderate, steady pace. She does good, but not excellent work, but she does it steadily all day, 8 hours a day. Hare is an excellent worker, but I’d say I only get 4-6 excellent hours out of him – the other 2-4 are fair/mediocre to good, and he can get off task/goof off pretty easily – but when I need something done quickly and excellently, I know he’s my man.

                Neither of my co-workers are what I’d call bad co-workers, and I’d guess at the end of the week they probably produce about an equivalent amount of tangible results. But my boss is often frustrated at Hare’s goofing off at the beginning/end of the day, and Tortoise’s slow and steady pace. And to get to the next level, both of them will need to improve this slightly – but overall neither of them is anything near a BAD worker, and I’m happy to work with both of them.

                If she’s doing excellent work for 7 hours a day, and has a slow 20 minutes first thing in the morning, around lunch and at the end of the day, is that a problem? Does it equal out to 8 hours of “good” work? Does she need to just “fake it” a little more by appearing to care for those first and last 15 minutes – or at least, appearing less like she doesn’t care? As everyone else says – TELL HER this, don’t hold her to an X+5 expectation.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  I have had to time people’s productivity, and for most people it is a bell curve not a straight line. They start and/or end slow. They might lag in the middle of the day sometimes. Then they have productive streaks.

                  I am concerned that OP does not see that individual productivity is usually a bell curve and not a straight line.

              2. Gaara*

                I really want to know what Jackson means by “excellent work”! I feel like part of the problem here is failing to define what good work looks like and what the job responsibilities are.

            2. LBK*

              How many of those other people are non-exempt/hourly? How many of them get paid the same or less than she does? How many of them outrank her on the hierarchy?

              I think you’re applying expectations to her that are unrealistic for her role. With such a small office I’d guess she’s the odd one out in terms of the structure of her job, and you can’t expect her to operate like everyone else when she’s not being treated like everyone else in any other way.

              1. TootsNYC*

                Also–you are the Controller. That’s a lot of responsibility, a lot of initiative, and usually well paid. That’s often a big “buy-in” kind of role. For senior execs, there’s an expectation that they make the business their “cause.” (And they’re usually compensated that way, and hired that way, and they develop their careers that way.)

                She’s the receptionist.

                It’s a very different type of job.

            3. neverjaunty*

              It really sounds like you are at the B***h Eating Crackers stage with her rather than having specific performance issues at this point? And I’m going to take a guess that it’s because you have a workplace where everyone helps out, everyone is generous, and here’s the one person who is selfish and cutting corners and acting entitled.

              If you feel like she truly gets it now and understands that it’s not OK to take lunch-plus and to be mentally checked out at 3:45, let it go unless it recurs. If she’s pulling an attitude and acting annoyed that you expect her to save lunch for her lunch hour and so on, then maybe it’s a culture fit issue and you should look into a replacement.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  Yep. If I were this employee I would be looking for a new job. How can I do excellent work and not be committed to my job? How is that possible?

              1. Michelle*

                From OP/Jackson’s follow-ups, I say BEC, too.

                I’m not understanding why if she does excellent work he’s mad she wants to leave on time?

            4. KG*

              I understand. I have some comparable issues with our receptionist and a big part of it is her ‘attitude’. I just care more than she does. Most of my complaints are minor (but add up). If she cared more about her job and how her lack of caring affect how she is perceived (unhelpful, flaky) I think a lot of these minor annoyances would disappear. But the root of it is I wish she cared a bit more and put in that extra something.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I’m wondering if part of what’s going on is that these things are adding up for the OP/Jackson, and that maybe this woman isn’t really doing “excellent” work.

                (And just want to say: Yes, the issues described are legitimate issues; but not “leaves at 4pm on the dot.”)

            5. SerfinUSA*

              10 minutes a day, 5 days a week add up to over 40 hours per year. Hellanope am I giving that away, even if I like my job/coworkers/boss.

            6. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              They want to do whatever they need to do even if it means they have to stay here for an extra 10 minutes.

              I think a lot of us are getting hung up on the fact that you are upset that she doesn’t have this attitude and isn’t willing to pitch in beyond her schedule.

              This strikes a cord with me because I have seen way too many good junior employees burn out and leave when managers push the “if you really liked your job, you’d stay and help out.”

              My employees do excellent work in 8 hours a day, and honestly, if they are having to stay late (even 15 minutes) on a regular basis, I look at that as a problem with my management and an issue I have to work to fix.

              1. LBK*

                Yes yes yes. My manager actually makes executive decisions for me sometimes that I need to leave and finish whatever I’m working on the next day, because she wants to ensure I don’t burn out working long hours every night.

            7. Katie the Fed*

              Yeah, and I get that. I give my all at work, and it sometimes miffs me when other people don’t. But we can’t control other people’s motivations – some people are happy enough to just do a good job and be done at the end of the day. Other people put in a lot more effort. But you’re not going to change someone’s motivations – just their performance.

            8. announcergirl*

              Is it possible that you don’t really like her?
              I ask because there is some research that says that how you feel about someone, the level of “affinity” you have for them dictates how you take what they do and say. If you don’t like her, she could have perfect work and etc. and you would still be bugged by her.

            9. Chriama*

              I’m glad that you’ve identified that mental reasoning. I’m wondering what you plan to do with that info. Now that you’ve spoken to her and things seem back to normal are you ok with things as they are? Or does her attitude speak to a deeper cultural fit issue that you’re going to need to address?

            10. Tinker*


              If I were to rate my average degree of generosity (possibly normalized against my perception of available personal resources) across all scenarios and people, I don’t imagine I’d necessarily depart all that much from the average as far as how giving I am — but how that plays out in individual cases is highly uneven. Like — this person I would loan a couple thousand dollars and then forgive the debt when they can’t pay it, that person I won’t reach toward my wallet for; this person I’ll put myself into a highly stressful social situation over, that person I won’t answer an instant message from sort of deal. It depends on who the person is, how they approach me, and what our history is.

              In a lot of ordinary interactions I can’t necessarily name the factor that makes one situation different from the other, but one of them I can: Detecting the sort of attitude that you report yourself having here — essentially of being resentful that another person doesn’t have a closer personal connection such that they want to volunteer more of their efforts in a way that is fuzzy and not clearly defined — is something that makes the lid of my mental treasure chest snap shut with remarkable quickness. Conversely, I often find that the hard line I drew ten seconds ago suddenly gets a lot softer the very instant someone says “Sure, I absolutely will respect that boundary and support you in having it.”

              It feels threatening to be pressed for unclearly bounded accommodation from entities that I don’t personally trust — and personal trust here is not a logical thing that can be swayed by “I do this for the company too” or “That other person lets me do it” or similar sorts of arguments — I feel as if the unclearly bounded commitment is potentially an unbounded commitment, even if that doesn’t necessarily follow from the rational facts of the situation.

              In your situation — particularly given that from your description of the position, this person most likely has much less professional and financial power than you or I do (and such is a significant contribution to how flexible people feel like being, often times) — it could be similar that your unvoiced but potentially detectable sentiment that she should just want to do more, more, more, mmoooooooooooorrrrrrre??? is part of what is inspiring rigidity on her part.

              Creating expectations that are as clear and reasonable as possible (and “she should want to do what she does” is not an expectation that looks terribly pretty by that metric) is something that you should be doing anyway. But, along with that, it could be that there’s a negative feedback loop at play here between your desire for vaguely-more flexibility and her desire for a sharp and clearly defined end to her obligations.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                “I feel as if the unclearly bounded commitment is potentially an unbounded commitment, even if that doesn’t necessarily follow from the rational facts of the situation.”

                This is extremely well-put. In general, because I feel that I am treated well and I am proud of my projects, I am willing to put in extra time/effort at work; it’s something I choose to do. But… if I was told that my work ended at 4:00 but I got the impression that my boss really wanted me to be willing to work until 4:15 (in an unspoken ‘you should always do more than is required of you’ way), I’d be wary. Because I’d be afraid that the 4:15 would quickly become the defacto ‘real’ leaving time… and then the unspoken ‘above and beyond’ expectation would become 4:30. And so on, and so on. When expectations are vague, it’s remarkably easy to get on a treadmill where ‘excelling’ is always a step out of reach.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  especially because–if I’m remembering it right–the OP says that she stays until 5 or 5:30.

              2. TootsNYC*

                very interesting, and I agree.

                I am able to give my people a lot of leeway in terms of arrival, etc. Every now and then I mention to them that I’m able to do it because they never make me feel like I have to remind them to respect their jobs, or the company, or me. And when I really do need them, they voluntarily come through. Which makes it really easy to then say, “don’t rush in tomorrow morning; it’s going to be slow” or “why don’t you peel out early?” Or to grant their request for a flex in the schedule, ro a day off, etc.

                I assume it goes both ways–that they are more than willing to volunteer for extra duty, because I say things like, “I’m glad you take your lunch every day,” or “if you tell me that you have to leave, I will respect it.”

              3. Aly In Sebby*

                Tinker I always appreciate and value how well you dissect an issue – and then the humanity in it and spell out a clear plan that addresses vital aspects of each person in the situation.

                Getting that piece of unspoken boundary dynamic is really key here for OP/Jackson.

                Thanks for what you bring here!

              4. LBK*

                Glad I came back to follow up on this post – I love this comment. You hit the nail on the head about how the fuzziness of an expectation has an inverse relationship to flexibility and willingness to meet that expectation.

          2. Sunshine*

            Seconded. You can’t make her WANT to be there, and at the end of the day her feelings about it don’t matter as long as she’s getting the job done.

        2. LBK*

          If you like your job and work for people who take really good care of you shouldn’t you give a minimum of 100% while you’re at work?

          But do you not understand that expecting her to handle new requests right up until 4PM that would cause her to be stuck working later is actually giving 110%, not just 100%?

          I haven’t seen a really clear answer from you on what the expectations look like around dealing with last-minute requests, which is possibly why she’s made her own rule if she’s tired of getting stuck late.

          1. Jinx*

            Yes, this. I’m really getting an attitude dissociation here between OP’s opinion of her work (excellent) and her work ethic (ready to leave fifteen minutes early = bad). I’m not sure whether the hourly vs. salary question has been answered here, but if she’s hourly I really don’t think you can ask her to stay late unpaid.

            I like my job a lot, and I’ve stayed late in the past – when a deadline or emergency required the work get done today. But if it can wait until the next morning, I leave at the end of the day. I consider that giving 100%.

            1. TootsNYC*

              her work ethic (ready to leave fifteen minutes early = bad).

              Well, that’s OK; it’s the later comments about “leaving exactly on time, in a beeline for the door” that aren’t sitting so well.

              I’m OK w/ “work up until 4pm” and “don’t fuss over a task that arrives at 3:50, just get it done by 4.”

              It’s the judgmental “I don’t understand how someone can leave their work right on time.”

              I think the OP, in later comments, is conflating the two–not getting important things done because of the focus of gettin gout, and getting out right at quitting time. They’re not the same.

          2. maplesyrup*

            I think you hit the nail on the head here. OP, you need to decide whether, if someone goes to her desk at 3:55 with a new task, you expect her to:

            1) Do it, even if it means staying 5-10 minutes late


            2) Say that she doesn’t have time to finish that task today so she’ll do it tomorrow.

            And then tell her which one you decided. It sounds like you really want it to be option #1, but keep in mind that you’re essentially asking someone to work for free, so maybe you want to consider whether these last-minute tasks are really essential for your business’s productivity or whether mailing that package tomorrow is just as good. The other problems with her performance, I think Allison has already given you good scripts on how to directly address.

        3. the_scientist*

          But how she feels about the work actually doesn’t matter. Like, at all. You can’t mandate your employee’s feelings. What you CAN do is set expectations about her performance. If you need her to be away for her desk for no longer than an hour for lunch, you tell her that and offer feedback, and then progress to consequences if her behaviour doesn’t change. But focusing on how she *feels* about the work and whether or not she’s dedicated enough is wasting time.

        4. TootsNYC*

          She is now giving 100%, yes?
          None of us have any problem with this demand of course, and I think we’re all glad that you’ve spoken up, and that she is “back to normal,” as you said.

          Problem solved, right?

          Except you still don’t sound happy with her.

        5. Elizabeth West*

          Oh Lord no matter how much I loved my job, there is no way in hell I could give 100% all day every day for eight hours at a stretch. That would be exhausting. To each TASK, yes. But not constant working every second. At my job, people goof off so much it’s insane–but we all get our work done. Never assume someone is exactly like you or has to be.

          But if you need her to be at her desk except when she’s on task somewhere else, you need to tell her that. If you don’t want her to be standing in the hall chatting with Xerxes when she’s supposed to be at the desk, then you need to tell her.

      2. Chriama*

        Agreed, with the caveat that if this is new behaviour then it’s compassionate to ask if she needs to shift her schedule forward 15 minutes to be out the door before 4 (if that’s possible in her role).

    2. the.kat*

      After your explanation, I think you know what to do. Sit down with her and inform her behavior in the last 15 minutes of her shift is unacceptable and needs to change. It sucks to manage someone who isn’t performing to your expectations, but she needs to know and understand your expectations haven’t changed, even if her behavior has. Good luck!

    3. Marvel*

      Many people have asked, but you still haven’t addressed the issue of whether or not she’s exempt. Assuming she is non-exempt, I’m not seeing any indication that you understand the inherent problem with her potentially staying a few minutes late to finish work that comes in at the last minute. I think it would reassure many commenters if you addressed that. It may take you 4 minutes to mail something, but there may be other people with different needs whose packages take more preparation to send.

      1. Blurgle*

        I’m wondering if OP is not in the United States and doesn’t know what y’all mean by exempt and non-exempt.

      2. Renee*

        I think it’s pretty much impossible for a receptionist to be exempt. It wouldn’t fit under any of the categories.

    4. Allison*

      But you do seem to have an issue with her leaving at 4. You said it up thread, you stay until the work is done, because in your job you can’t leave anything unfinished, even if that means staying a full hour later than usual, so you don’t understand people who make a beeline for the door at quitting time.

      Seems like you’d rather see her running on all cylinders until 4, and then at 4 start wrapping things up and ask anyone if they need anything before she leaves, and maybe she should expect to be there until 4:15 or so most days. Does that sound about right? If so, that may be do-able, but if that’s what you want to see, you need to tell her that, rather than say “She’s supposed to do X, so I really expect X+5, why doesn’t she know that?”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        YES. If this is what you want, that’s fine, but you need to SAY it. You can’t expect her to read your mind. Say it, and then if she still doesn’t do it, then you have a problem. You have a playbook for “successful performance in this role” in your head and you’re not sharing it with her.

      2. Erin*

        Well put. We need to differentiate between, “I want you to willingly work past four if need be, because It’s The Right Thing To Do and others do it,” and “I actually need you, as part of your responsibility in this position, to stay a few minutes past four to ensure everything is wrapped up and no one else needs your assistance.”

        You want her to pick up on work norms and social norms to stay later when needed, but that’s obviously not happening. You’ll have to literally spell out what it is you need – need, not want – from her.

        1. LBK*

          And also to realize that the former isn’t a realistic expectation for people who aren’t aiming to move up (and also that it’s okay to not want to move up).

      3. Us, Too*

        Exactly. If my boss tells me that it’s fine that I leave at 4 pm, I’m going to use the last few minutes of my day to wrap up my work so that I can walk out the door at 4 pm. “leave at 4 pm” means just that to me: I’m out of my chair walking out the door at 4 pm. That means I won’t be taking on any last-minute FedEx shipments because I need to be finishing up that last email, clearing off my desk and shutting down my computer around 3:55 pm in order to “leave at 4 pm”.

        OP, you need to make sure you are clear in your own mind about what objective measures you expect her to achieve. Then, communicate them to her.

        It’s really unfair to tell someone you are OK with them leaving at 4 pm if you aren’t.

    5. TootsNYC*

      Here are the comments from you that are getting those responses (you’re sending some mixed messages with your language):

      . But don’t get between her and the door at 4. She’ll run you over on her way out. I guess I just don’t understand that way of thinking.

      I’ve never been one to fly out the door right at 5:00 so I was wondering if I was being unreasonable.

      I certainly don’t expect others to stay late on a regular basis.
      I’m not saying she has to stay late every day

      (this leaves the strong impression that you DO expect them to stay late SOMETIMES

      If the company takes really good care of their employees is it too much to ask that someone care about the work enough that they can spend five minutes finishing something up before they run out the door?

      1. Desdemona*

        Yes, very much this.

        Also that the updates show OP misrepresented the situation in the initial letter. He has an employee with a two year track record of excellent work, and of not having these issues. These issues appear, and his response is to present it as if she had always been a problem, who “constantly” leaves early, and “constantly” defends her problematic behavior by throwing up her early arrivals as though that justifies the problems. The way he phrased his initial complaint, making it sound as though that this new behavior is her default setting makes me wonder what’s wrong with the guy.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      OP, many bosses look the other way with excellent workers if they wind down their day 10 minutes early. Many bosses do not expect the excellent worker to maintain maximum productivity levels right up to the last minute of their work day.

      I am sure she loves her job. I am not sure she loves you, there is a difference here. Some how you want more out of her above and beyond her excellent work. I am not sure that she is going to be able to give that to you.

  16. Sadsack*

    Regarding the chatting. I can see it being a problem if she is away from the reception area doing it. However, if she is in her area when coworkers stop and chat, and she isn’t ignoring the phone or visitors coming in the door. I’d suggest you cut her some slack in this area.

  17. tiredokie*

    WARNING – Mini Rant…
    In the environment I work in I am paid salary but you’d better bet my butt is out my office door at 5pm. This is not to say that I haven’t worked late or worked through my lunch when needed, however, I am not given any flexibility in my schedule so I try to limit these times to when it is absolutely necessary to meet a deadline. I run the finance dept in an academic setting and have employees, however, we are expected to show up on time regardless of the circumstance, not allowed to work from home if needed (my job responsibilities would allow this), and need to take PTO anytime we are out of the office.

    With this type of arrangement I feel that I am simply “giving” my employer bonus time if I stay late because I have zero flexibility. I am definitely not paid enough to work extra hours and could make more at a job outside of academia. I have stayed here because of the benefits and job security. The part that makes this difficult is that there are quite a few of individuals at my level that do make a habit of constantly working late, I simply don’t worry about it unless I’m going to cut it close to a deadline.

    END mini rant…
    I do agree with the other posters that the receptionist is likely hourly – which is a totally different job classification than yourself, and should leave promptly at 4pm to avoid overtime (unless it is allowed). Obviously she shouldn’t be using company time to slowly pick-up her things and refuse to do minor tasks when her departure time is close. If this was another employee (not a receptionist) and had stellar performance otherwise I’d likely let it go, however, since there have been complaints it is time for her to buckle down.

    1. Not Today Satan*

      I agree with you. I am also salaried but might as well be hourly since I have ZERO flexibility. Because I am client-facing if I am ten minutes late I will hear about it. Because of this, I never stay late. Flexibility goes both ways. In any case, I hate the mentality that it ~looks bad to merely work your assigned hours.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      This reminds me of my old job that made you take PTO for everything and made you take it in 4 or 8 hour chunks.

      It was such a waste to make people take 4 hours to go to a doctor’s appointment :(

    3. Miss M*

      I agree but the thing is it sounds like she is wasting time on the clock being chatty in the morning and then spending an additional twenty minutes over an hour-long lunch to make lunch.

  18. Former Retail Manager*

    There is no mention of performance issues, just a refusal to take on last minute tasks and chatting a bit too much. So….I wonder if she has enough work? I’m not defending her actions if what OP says is entirely true, but if she has time to chat and take long lunches, then I wonder if she has enough work? Could giving her additional tasks to complete with time deadlines (i.e. I need this by 9:15am, I need this by 1:00pm) perhaps deter the behavior?

    If she gets all of her work done and still finds time for this stuff, then either give her more work or leave her alone. We used to have a secretary who was super efficient compared to all the rest of the secretaries in our office so the perception was that she just walked around and talked all day (which she mostly did) but all of her tasks were always completed timely and accurately. The boss finally just told her that she could read a book or study for her classes once her tasks were complete so she’d be at her desk and he didn’t have to listen to the other secretaries grumblings.

    Also, the mail this at 10 til 4:00 thing is no bueno. Unless it’s extremely urgent, I’d put it off until tomorrow if I were the receptionist too. And if it is urgent, why wasn’t it to her sooner? And as many others have said, I don’t blame her for wanting to leave on time if she’s hourly. Most hourly people are like that….can’t really fault them for it.

  19. B*

    I have to agree with everyone that you need to talk to her and not keep trying to defend herself here. As a COO you are most likely paid nicely, which helps to compensate you for staying later than your normal working hours. That is also the position you chose. She has chosen to be a receptionist and most likely enjoys the fact she can leave at 4:00PM on the dot. That does not mean she cares about the company any less than you do.

    Should she work up until the last few minutes, sure. But is it really annoying when anyone gives us work just as we are heading out the door – you betcha! You also seem to have a big chip on your shoulder with her that is unwarranted as you have never specifically laid everything out. As well, if this is something new that is going on perhaps something in her own personal life is askew she has not told you about. There is no obligation for her to talk to you about her personal life so perhaps you are also making big assumptions.

  20. politiktity*

    I’m confused about the mail issue.

    If you print out the label at 3:50, can it actually go out that day? Doesn’t that require a second run to the drop-off location, which is not a 10 minute task. Alternatively it just sits in the office until tomorrow, so 4:00 is a fake deadline. After 3:00, it’s increasingly difficult to get mail posted that day. I’ve occasionally had to wander to the one post office that’s open till 8:00 to get tax returns postmarked. It’s very inconvenient.

    A Controller is a highly compensated high stress position with expected overtime. If you’re only staying till 5:30, you are an outlier in the industry. I don’t think it’s reasonable to decide that the negative realities of your job title are transferable to a receptionist position. You are exempt from overtime laws for a reason, and you are well compensated for being there beyond 40 hours a week.

    Also, given 23 months of excellent performance vs 1 month of poor performance, I’d consider that there is something temporary going on in her life. Verify if that is the case. But while AAM tends to have managers unwilling to take on the cost of firing bad employees to find good ones, you seem to fall on the other side of the spectrum. 6-8 weeks of mediocre performance from an otherwise excellent employee going through a temporary rough patch is a pretty low cost compared to firing an employee and trying to find someone else.

    1. Jackson*

      It’s FedEx Ground Service, not Overnight. Anything we print a label for online is picked up the next morning.
      I personally take any outgoing mail with me when I leave at night and drop it in the mail box at the post office near my house.
      We are a small company of 18 people who do about 25 mil a year in revenues. I don’t need to work an 80 hour week. Me and my accounting clerk can get everything done in 40 to 45 hours a week

      1. Stephanie*

        If she’s non-exempt, she’d need to be paid for the extra time taking the package to the FedEx drop box. Just a heads up.

        1. Allison*

          Sounds like it would be easier to just make her exempt, then it would make sense to say she has to be in between certain hours but expect to stay a little later than 4 when the job requires it.

          1. Cube Ninja*

            Fortunately, employers don’t get to just “make” people exempt – it’s dictated by the role they hold. I can think of very few situations, even in a smaller company, in which an administrative assistant would be considered exempt.

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              We went through this last year and quite a few positions were reclassified as non-exempt.

              Ultimately, I think it was fair, but it has made for some confusing moments when you ask someone if they can stay for a few more minutes and they have to tell you they can’t.

              1. Dan*

                That doesn’t change the fact that in order to do a reclassification legally, several criteria have to be met. If I heard about a receptionist or admin that got reclassified as an exempt employee, that would certainly raise my eyebrow.

                Lots of companies flout labor laws. Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean people don’t break the law.

                1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

         example was about exempt positions who were properly reclassified as non-exempt…so I’m not sure what you are addressing.

        2. Anonyhippo*

          Exactly. Jackson, you seem to really misunderstand some pretty basic differences between her job and yours.

      2. Shell*

        Whether you need to work an 80 hour week vs a 40 hour week is really irrelevant. If you, Jackson, are exempt, you may (occasionally or not) need to work a little later to finish your work, drop mail off on your way home, etc. If your receptionist is not exempt, she needs to be paid for that time. Do you want to pay her for dropping off FedEx packages on her way home? If you need her to print a FedEx label before she leaves, great, but are you sure it can be done in four minutes? Has everyone has given her all the information she needs, no scourging for a different ship-to address, forgetting that one sheet of paper, whatever that makes her wait around for you past 5 pm?

        Part of being exempt is the expectation that you may have to stay a little later sometimes (or often). Non-exempt people expect that they don’t need to stay late unless compensated for it, and ideally warned about it in advance. Assuming she’s non-exempt, she expects to leave on time. If you’re regularly springing last minute tasks upon her and taking her to task for not being thrilled about said tasks two minutes before she’s leaving, I think that’s on you. It’s reasonable to think she’ll pitch in on a occasional basis past closing. If it’s a regular thing, then the current arrangement needs to change, not just her attitude.

      3. Blurgle*

        Just to clarify: Is her position non-exempt? Or are you not in the United States?

        If you could answer both these questions I think it woudl clarify matters somewhat.

      4. politiktity*

        So the 3:50 pm label printing is less of a necessary business deadline, and more of “proof she doesn’t love her job enough”.

        You are the Controller. You are well compensated to be engaged in the company’s well being to a much greater extent than the receptionist. You can expect her to fulfill her work duties. But you are being unreasonable if you think she should care about the company at the level that you do. It is in your job description. If you are compensated similarly to other Controllers, a considerable part of your income is tied to the financial success of the company.

        That is not the reality of her job, and if you don’t have rungs for her to climb, it’s possibly not the reality of her career.

      5. Mononymous*

        If it’s not being picked up until the next morning anyway, what’s the harm in her leaving the 3:50 package to wrap up and label the next day?

        1. Honeybee*

          This was my thought as well. This gets right into the issue of this being less about actual job performance.

  21. Mando Diao*

    The FedEx thing sticks out to me. In my last job, the FedEx pickup was ALWAYS late. It was an online business, so the shipping team’s entire job involved packing products all day long. In order to ensure shipping times, FedEx pickup was scheduled for 15 minutes before our closing time. The truck always showed up 5-10 minutes after the shipping team was officially required to be gone.

    This is an overly complicated scenario, but that’s the point. I completely understand why this employee panics when someone hands her a FedEx shipment ten minutes before she’s supposed to clock out. OP, if this is the example you’re giving, this means that FedEx-specific shipments are a fairly essential component of your business. You need to be aware that FedEx is always frigging late and complicated. Customers pay extra for FedEx, and delivery (within 5 days, I believe) is guaranteed by FedEx, though the onus is put on the person packing and labeling the shipment. If you miss the truck, or you have a typo in the label, or accidentally type something in the wrong entry space in the label-making software (which is terrible and not user-friendly), guess who’s getting in trouble? Yep, the receptionist.

    God I hate FedEx.

  22. HRish Dude*

    I hate when people do this, but I’m going to do it:

    Is it possible that she’s simply miserable at her job? A receptionist position most of the time has no upward mobility within a company and, after a while, when you constantly get shit on for all kinds of little things, they can build up into a severe burnout. See if she wants some different tasks or talk to her about what she actually wants to do without her feeling like she has to say “Be a receptionist” or get fired.

    As for watching the clock, if she’s a receptionist, she’s non-exempt. If you want her there longer than she’s scheduled, change her schedule.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      When I read the letter, I was amazed that the OP has a receptionist that has been engaged in their job for the past 2 years. It is easy to burn out in those positions.
      Honestly, if the receptionist is becoming unhappy with her job and the OP says, “I don’t want you leaving 1 minute early, being in the breakroom on the clock, or chatting with co-workers,” I bet she will find a new job in a week.
      I’d sit down and ask the receptionist what can be done to make the position more interesting, because you appreciate the employee and want to keep her happy.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Or, let her go.

        Honestly, that’s what I’d do. I’d look at it as an opportunity to find a different face. I really don’t ever care to try to coax someone to stay when they’ve hit B.E.C. status with their job.

        Or are just sort of mildly bored with it.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I was wondering too–maybe she’s just ready for something different. She may not be miserable, but it may be pretty boring by now.

      When the job gets to be all the same thing, day after day, people start to focus more on their outside lives. And so she’d want to get out of the office for that.

      They also start sliding into the social aspects, and they stop feeling the same obligations. They start taking it for granted, and it shows in things like too much chatting, lunch-hour “fraud,” etc.

  23. Interviewer*

    I have run all the way from my office to the county courthouse to file something at the last minute for one of our attorneys. One time I got there at 4:28. When I opened the door to the clerk’s office, I found about 20 workers standing near the door, with jackets on, holding purses, etc. They were not going to file-stamp my motion, and they looked really mad that I even made eye contact with them, let alone asked if someone could help. I went back in the hall to use my phone to update the attorney, and when the clock ticked to 4:30, the door burst open and everyone paraded for the stairs. It was a breathtaking. I guess my taxes don’t pay for overtime.

    But on the flip side, they’re also not paying for work right up to 4:30. No telling how long they had been standing by the door like that.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If that court gets audited and those clerks are working off the clock, the sky will fall. If you ever saw what an audit looked like, you would know why they were standing there. Just to get the computer started would put them on OT.

      1. Desdemona*

        It’s not your customer who failed to plan appropriately when they arrive at your business while you’re still open and they’re refused service. Any business owner knows taking care of the last few customers means some employees may have to stay a little late, and you plan their shifts accordingly.

  24. videogamePrincess*

    Hi Jackson,
    I’m wondering if you are having some issues with addressing the behavior rather than the attitude, because there is an issue with defining what your expectations are. You know what you feel like given her behavior (slighted, like she’s unenthusiastic, etc.), but you might have some issues defining what your precise expectations are. I’m getting this idea because you haven’t yet expressed to us specifically what you need her to do. Try doing this:

    Write down a list of specific behaviors (not attitudes) that you would like to see. This can go from “smiles when she sees people” to “stays until 4:15” to “butt in seat is a priority in this position because of xyz.” There should be a reasonable justification for everything, but you don’t need to present those justifications to her.

    Write down a list of clear limitations that might prevent your wish list from being fulfilled. This does not include subjective things like “she is a grumpy person, and so cannot smile when she sees people.” Instead think of more concrete things like “she is exempt and we do not have money to pay overtime, so she cannot stay past 4:00.”

    Combine the wish list and limitations together to make a list of concrete expectations to her. Write a plan for how you will escalate the situation if she does not comply. Present both things to her in a clear and unemotional way. Follow through. Don’t get defensive. You’re the boss, and you have a duty to the company. Carry it out as best as you can.

  25. AnnonaMomma*

    Sorry if this has already been addressed, but this to me seems like a larger issue with the way our culture sees work these days. I have been in both hourly and salaried positions and I always aim to leave on time. A majority of the companies I have worked for have had the unspoken rule that if you are not working late and not logging in from home and on weekend, you are the slacker. I have always managed to get my work time within my 8 hour work day, so leaving on time, even if it was just to go home and watch Project Runway, was and still is important to me.

    I actually had a manager from another department tell me once that it was not fair that I was leaving on time when her team was staying late. It made them feel bad, which was not really my problem. Especially since they spent a lot of time chatting while I was working. I had my work done, why should I have to stay late because their department was not able to leave on time?

    Yes, talk to this employee about her standard hours and needing to be focused and ready to work during her scheduled hours. That is a fair and valid conversation to have. But if her work is done, then you can not fault her for wanting to leave on time.

    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Yah, that’s ridiculous. You shouldn’t stay late to make others feel better – and for no other purpose.

      I value my time off as well, and I think it makes me a better/more productive employee. I’m willing to stay late when it’s needed, but I refuse to stay late just for the sake of looking good, or sucking up, etc. If another team needed help, I’d help them for sure – but it wouldn’t be an every day thing.

  26. seashell*

    I have to deal w/ a coworker who comes in basically 2 minutes before me but acts like they’re here an hour before, takes a 2 hour lunch break, and leaves at 3pm. I’m getting gray hairs over it. I know it’s my problem and I need to ignore and move on but wish someone gave a shit and made this stop.

    1. TootsNYC*

      And this is why I think the OP is absolutely right to address this!

      The VP is even saying, “she’s chatting with everyone a lot! Shouldn’t she be working?”

      And, even if her work is done, in this small company, that level of slacking off is going to be very noticeable. And then even something reasonable, like leaving right on time, is going to be colored by the “cheating w/ my lunch hour” and “chatting away the first half-hour of the day.”

      1. I Get That Reference*

        By definition, can you be “slacking off” if all of your work is done? If her work is done should she sit and stare at the desk so the VP doesn’t get ruffled?

  27. LiveAndLetDie*

    This employee needs it stated to her very clearly that “I am paying you for X hours of work, I expect you to do X hours of work.” If that’s 8 hours of work and she’s there from 7-4 every day (with an hour for lunch) it means she needs to do a full 8 hours of work between 7 and 4. Taking 20 minutes after leaving the office for an hour for lunch means she’s taking 20 minutes she should be working. I would state it clearly to this employee that she is expected to work when she is getting paid to work, and if she continues to shave time around the edges (first thing in the morning, last part of the day, extra time on lunch), she needs to be disciplined for it. It’s honestly a simple situation, I agree with Alison’s advice.

  28. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I wouldn’t have much of an issue with her leaving at 4 pm on the dot. But I definitely hear you on the lunch thing … it drives me crazy when people take a full hour for lunch, and then come back and take another 1/2 hour break to actually have lunch. I’ve been in a work place where two employees in particular would take the hour out, then come back, make lunch and eat it in the break room for another 45 mins or so, therefore taking almost 2 hour lunches every day.

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to tell your employee that while she’s on the clock you expect her to be working (rather than taking an extended break, which is what that lunch amounts to, or finishing her work day before the work day actually ends). Unless the chatting with coworkers is excessive, I’d leave that one alone, to be honest. Everyone does it and unless it’s disruptive to others or interfering with her work I wouldn’t be overly concerned.

  29. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

    Why do I get the feeling this is a tech startup? Why would you expect the receptionist to have the same passion and buy-in re: working late if you didn’t specifically hire for that personality type or characteristic? It sounds like you hired a garden variety “anyone will do” receptionist (nothing wrong with that) but really expected someone who was very invested and passionate in your industry who would go above and beyond despite the low pay and little room for advancement. Quite frankly, if you want the latter you need to recruit for it, hire carefully, be willing to pay above market rate, and have a plan for advancement within the company. Most people don’t stay in jobs more than 2-3 years anymore and let me tell you, being “just the receptionist” gets really old, super fast – even if you LOVE the work.

    1. AnnonaMomma*

      Agreed, and to the point I was making above.

      Especially with smaller companies, it can sometimes be difficult for owners or higher level staff to remember that just because they are intimately invested in an organization, that does not mean that each and every employee will have that same level of commitment. Yes, we all want to have employees who are invested and committed to their work, but you can not expect everyone to live and breath for their company. As long as expectations are clear and being met, you can’t fault a receptionist for not having the same level of commitment that an executive would have to a company.

      1. TootsNYC*

        A controller or a sales exec or a VP will be judged, when applying for their next job, on the business success of their company. If the business has been succeeding, that will be points in their favor.
        If the business has not been succeeding, they may have to find ways to mitigate that and make their case (“the owner wouldn’t invest in marketing”) so it’s not seen as their screw-up.

        A receptionist doesn’t get that same reward or risk. So the receptionist isn’t going to have the same level of buy-in.

  30. Shannon*

    I’m not sure I get why Jackson is upset with the receptionist for leaving promptly. She’s probably hourly. If you don’t pay hourly people, they don’t work. It’s not fair or realistic to expect her to hang around if she’s not being paid to hang around.

    1. TootsNYC*

      But I think Jackson -was- OK to get upset with her getting ready to leave a little early. And with her taking lunch after she’s already taken lunch. And with the general attitude (though that’s really hard to police!).

      1. Shannon*

        I agree. Stopping working before you’re off the clock, excessive socializing and eating in a customer facing role are not appropriate behaviors and have reasonable remedies.

        I just don’t know what expectation the OP has regarding the rushing out the door thing. Does Jackson want the receptionist to linger? To act like they don’t really want to go home? I am having difficulty envisioning what a reasonable resolution to this looks like.

        1. Sydney*

          And what does rushing mean? Does it mean turning off the computer at 4 and leaving? Because I don’t see an issue with that. Is the OP expecting her to walk around the office and say goodbye? Because that’s unnecessary.

    2. Yggdrasil*

      It’s telling that the OP has been asked the exempt question about six times and hasn’t responded. It’s not a trivial thing.

      1. Renee*

        It’s not, and I can’t envision a scenario where a receptionist could be classified as exempt. I don’t disagree that the receptionist should be attending to her work during her shift, but she should not be expected to stay late just to finish things up just because the owners are good to her (she gets sick time!).

        1. SL #2*

          I finally finished reading the comments here, and yeah, that sick time comment really, really got to me. Providing sick leave doesn’t merit a round of applause, nor does it mean I should be so grateful to the company that I work unpaid overtime with a big smile on my face.

        2. De Minimis*

          I think they could be if they were paid above a certain amount, and if the job description were configured to where it was leaning more toward “office manager…”

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well, in fairness to Jackson, she made all her comments in about a one-hour period and that was a while ago. I don’t assume letter-writers are hanging out here all day long, so she may answer if she returns.

        1. Renee*

          It does make me wonder though if she understands the distinction (although she may not be in the US where it matters). I work for a small company and the owner did not understand the distinction and just assumed that all of his employees were exempt, probably because he was always treated as exempt when he last worked for someone many years ago. In fact, only about half qualify. He still butts his head against it sometimes although overtime has never been an issue in reality. I’ve considered writing in about this. Like many small business owners, he’s got some ideas about how things should be that don’t necessarily comport with the government’s ideas of how things should be. This is exhausting, as I handle most of the compliance issues for the company, which he claims he wants me to do, but we have frequent arguments about what he should do vs. what he can get away with (and I am a very by the book kind of person). I get a similar feeling here, although it may just be a lack of awareness about who can be exempt.

          1. Mando Diao*

            I had similar thoughts too…in general, I’m one of the more vocal commenters when it comes to how small businesses function (or rather, don’t function), and this nonsense is pretty par for the course. Jackson and/or her higher-ups might be conflating “salaried” and “exempt.” Jackson also seems to have a block against internalizing the fact that, no really, she IS NOT ALLOWED to require the receptionist to stay past 4:00 without having a conversation about overtime pay. Jackson, it is the law. If you keep pushing this particular angle without authorizing overtime pay, the receptionist would be within her rights to report you to your state government, and you will have much bigger problems to deal with. Especially if, as I suspect, none of the other employees have official exempt classification either.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I’ve never been a fan of criticizing an advice-asker for not coming and answering all the demanding questions of commenters. It’s great if they do, but I don’t think it has any significance if they don’t (I don’t think “it’s telling,” at all). Nor is it fair to assume they’ve seen everyone’s questions.

        I just kind of hate that mood on a message board. I so agree w/ Alison on the point that, if we want lots of interesting letters to read and comment on, we shouldn’t be driving away people who might bring them to us.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, thank you. Letter-writers don’t even always read the comments, let alone respond to them. Some people just aren’t comment readers or figure all commenting sections are terrible ones.

          Even for letter-writers who do engage in the comments, there are a lot of comments here, many of them critical in tone. Some people aren’t going to read all of them (hell, I can’t read all the comments anymore).

  31. Parcae*

    You know, a lot of this discussion is making me realize how glad I am that our office manager/admin works a “late” shift. I almost never need his assistance at 7:30AM– everyone’s mostly just getting coffee and sorting through email, and the phones don’t ring much before 9, so we can all chip in and provide coverage. But if a deadline is looming at 5:30pm or someone needs to take minutes for a late meeting, he’s available to help. It takes a lot of stress out of the end of the day.

    I’m not sure if the rhythm of our office is unique, but if your staff is a combination of exempt and non-exempt employees, it might be worth looking at coverage and the possibility of staggered start times for those hourly workers. The fact that your official “office hours” are 8-4 doesn’t mean those need to be the hours of your administrative staff.

    Relatedly, we have a really great office manager. Worth his weight in gold. :)

  32. VX34*

    Legitimate Concerns:
    Excessive social time at work. Taking an extended “lunch time” after taking a “lunch” to go on errands. Possible attitude issues? I’m not really sure, when I read the “I don’t understand why someone would want to leave when they’re supposed to…” comment, I kind of didn’t catch everything about her attitude.

    I’m hourly right now, but my managers are really okay with me working overtime when the work is there to be done. I’ve worked 9 and 10 hour days sometimes to get stuff done, and I am okay with that because I’ve got support for doing the work, and I really like my job and what I do.

    But I’ve also been advised against “burnout”. They don’t want me to get burned out so soon in what is a young career for me.

    If I can leave right on time when my work is done, you better believe I do it. Because that’s what is supposed to happen. If I am supposed to work from 07:00:00 to 16:00:00, then, within reason, that’s what I am going to work. I’ll go above and beyond, happily I add, because I’m able to, and like doing it. But when I can work the exact 8 hours, I absolutely do. Because that’s what I am paid to do.

    If I were to be reclassed as exempt, which would require a promotion, I would probably end up working 9 hour days all the time…probably skip lunches, maybe work from home after hours here and there…as needed, if I felt necessary. But within whatever parameters being exempt in my employer’s organization would mean? If that means 8 hours, I am doing 8 hours.

    Too many people in this country are getting burned out, and literally sick from the overall, broad work culture in the USA People need to be allowed to – and this is a great shock – have a life outside of work. If they need to be exempt to meet the demands, classify – legally – and pay these people as such. If their position doesn’t require that, then don’t require them to behave like an exempt employee, or worse, an entrepreneur.

    Everyone doesn’t want to work like a business owner. If we did, we’d all own our own businesses. We don’t, so we don’t.

  33. Turtle Candle*

    Based on the comments, I think the LW is conflating two things.

    One is actual job expectations. It’s totally reasonable to say things like, “I want you to eat on your lunch hour, not at your desk,” or “I want you to wait to put on your coat and gather up your things until the actual end of the day,” or “In this role, some days you will have an end-of-day task that requires you to stay late, so you should expect that on average two days a week (or whatever) you’ll be leaving at more like 4:15 (or whatever).” (Although in that last situation, assuming they’re non-exempt and you’re in the US, you will need to pay the applicable overtime. That has nothing to do with the employee’s commitment; it’s just the law.) You just need to make your expectations clear and make it clear that they’re firm, not negotiable. And if she denies it, or the behavior continues, you need to make it clear that there will be repercussions.

    The other issue, though, is that it sounds like you don’t just want her to occasionally stay to 4:10 or whatever. You want her to want to stay to 4:10; you want her to want to go above and beyond. If my boss says “you need to be here till 4” but it turns out that they secretly want me to prove my commitment by voluntarily staying later, that’s going to really frustrate me.

    And honestly… I now voluntarily work extra hours sometimes because I want to make sure my projects are completed well (although I do get OT, as I am non-exempt–and my boss has made it clear that he will approve my OT if I need it). But that’s because I’m in a position where I feel a lot of autonomy and ownership of my projects, and where I get recognition when they come out well. When I was doing reception, telephone support, etc. type roles? No, I didn’t feel that kind of ownership, and so no, I didn’t “want” to stay late. I would if I was told to, but I wasn’t going to just do it for the love of the job… because without that autonomy/ownership, I just didn’t love the job the same way. I don’t think that’s terribly unusual. For a lot of people, a job is just… a job, and IME people in support roles or ‘lower-level’ roles are more likely to feel that way than people who have roles that are more autonomous. So for your “why,” well, there’s your why: you’re a different person and in a different type of role, and so you look at the job differently.

    But mostly, I don’t think the ‘why’ is even important.

    If what you want is an employee who eats on her lunch break, gets in on time, doesn’t leave early, and works a little bit late as needed from time to time, you can have that. But I’m not sure that you can really have a conversation where your instruction is “You should know when my instructions are a minimum that I expect you to exceed.” That part of it is asking them to be a mind-reader.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      (Oh, and also–if you really do feel that you have a need to have someone in the role who feels that kind of passion for it, where you give instructions and they voluntarily go beyond because they really do want them… you might just have a culture fit issue. You can certainly try to find someone else who does feel that way about their receptionist duties; I have met people like that before. But in my experience, people like that are rare–and furthermore, they know their worth–so finding and hiring them might be easier said than done, especially if the position doesn’t have much in the way of an upward path.)

  34. Laura (Needs To Change Her Name)*

    Is there work she is not getting done earlier in the day? You’re saying her work is excellent. It seems like a workflow issue. If she is getting everything done during the day and has time to chat, that’s efficiency. If the FedEx package came in during that time, would she stop chatting and get it done? You can’t point to time earlier in the day when she is not working and say “aha, you were chatting, so now take this work that will make you late!” It sounds like everyone might benefit from a deliberate attempt to give her the work they need her to do during the time she is paid to be doing it.

  35. Laura (Needs To Change Her Name)*

    Help help I’m being repressed! (Caught in the spam filter …)

  36. Mando Diao*

    Alison, correct me if I’m wrong; I just did some quick googling and found this:

    “Any employee who is paid on a salary or fee basis and performs executive, administrative, or professional duties as defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act Section 13(a)(1), must be classified as non-exempt if their salary is less than $455.00 per week, regardless of their job title.”

    I’d certainly hope that this receptionist is being paid more than $11 per hour, but if she’s not, that throws an extra wrench into all of this.

      1. De Minimis*

        As I speculated above, I wonder if they could contort things into making the job seem exempt—like saying the receptionist is the office manager and having them be the only person handling the office support work [mail, visitors, maybe even doing some of the payables/receivables, etc…]

        My current job is the first one I’ve had in a while where I’m exempt, and I don’t like it. I feel like it just results in an overall lack of work/life balance–it never really seems to work out in my favor.

        1. Renee*

          This basically describes my job with some legal and compliance duties thrown in, and everything I’ve looked at says I probably don’t qualify, because I don’t exercise independent judgment over significant business matters. I don’t have direct reports, and although I work independently, decisions that affect the business have to go to the owner. As I said earlier, it’s never really been an issue because I get my work done during my regular work hours, but he did try to get me to come in on the weekend one time to meet with a consultant and wasn’t thrilled when I told him I wouldn’t unless I was paid or could take the time off somewhere else.

  37. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I have to say, I would have difficulty working for you. You seem to think that people show enthusiasm/dedication for their jobs by working fast and furious right up to the minute they leave. And that is simply not true. Most people do not. My old boss said I worked like I was three people. And I can tell you about a half hour before it was time to leave I was so flippin’ tired that my day was done. I did little, tiny tasks until it was time to go. Yes, it was a hardship to take on a 20 minute task in the ten minutes before I was supposed to leave.

    In your case, it really sounds like your employee does not have enough to do. She has too much free time on her hands.
    Of everything you said, I would distill it down to telling her she needs to come back from lunch on time and I would let her know that she needs to stop visiting people in their offices. Tell her TPTB are noticing so she must stop.

    You need to really think about what you want here, OP. Because you probably are driving this employee out the door. I can see where she probably thinks that you are a clock-watching boss who expects her to mind read.

    Through out all these posts you have said she does great work. People like this are not a dime a dozen, please think about that. You are not going to replace her that easily.

    One more thing to consider is your role as a leader. Are you inspiring her to follow your leadership? Do you ask her what her concerns are? Have you checked to see if she has everything she needs to do her job? What about her ideas for improving the way things are handled? Could she become more invested if you showed an interest in her thoughts on things? A basic in leadership is to take care of your people so that they have what they need to take care of YOU. If she is not invested in the job could it be because you are not invested in her?

    As an aside, why do you work a bit later? Is there some of your work you can give her such that you both could leave on time?

  38. Drew*

    Hmmm, I think there is an underlying problem here. The receptionist just doesn’t like the job.
    Clock watching is a sure sign of job dissatisfaction.

    Maybe it’s time for a serious chat and find out what’s really going on.

    1. Matt*

      “Clock watching is a sure sign of job dissatisfaction.”

      Ummm, no. I could certainly be considered a “clock watcher”. I like my job. But I also like my life outside my job. Most of the time, I like the latter even more ;-)

      1. sam*

        Not necessarily – I had at least one job that I really liked, but I totally kept an eye on the clock at the end of the day, because that job involved a crazy 2-hour door-to-door commute (I lived in NYC, but the job was in Connecticut), that involved a subway to commuter rail to a shuttle to our offices. at the end of the day, the shuttles back to the train station were pretty frequent during the “evening rush”, but then slowed considerably and then…stopped. If you missed the 6:07 shuttle, you then had to wait an hour for the next one at 7:07 (which also meant not getting home until about 9pm).

        There were also days when I’d have to carefully time when I went home based on whether I had evening calls scheduled – I did a lot of work with our offices in Asia, India and Australia, so we’d set up calls late in the evening my time, and I’d take an even earlier train so that I could be comfortably home beforehand.

        (also, you still had to sit around and wait for the train, which obviously ran less frequently once rush hour was over!)

  39. Hi-ImLateToThis*

    I know I’m late to this thread, but OP, hear me out, as someone from the position of someone that works on a team that has a team member just like the receptionist you are managing. Please, please fire her or put her on a PIP or do just something, anything. I’m considered by my manager, a rock star employee. Which is awesome and I love my job and working for him. BUT. He’s like you, doesn’t do anything about the situation or for some reason or another presents himself as unwilling to do anything about my highly unreliable and lazy co-worker. And because of that I am extremely frustrated and I’m looking for another job. I’m tired of working hard and putting in the hours because my co-worker is slacking. I’m tired of perks that I have because I work hard, like a flexible schedule or teleworking, mean nothing when my co-worker calls in late and leaves early all of the time. And nothing is done about it. I’m mostly leaving because of my manager is doing nothing. So, if you want to keep your rock stars, fire the problem people.

    1. NarrowDoorways*

      In the comments very close to the top, the manager did do the appropriate thing–talked to the person.

      Firing is completely over-the-top. Just so you know.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        A PIP is not over the top, though, in this situation. Talk first, see if there’s any improvement. If not, a PIP is perfectly warranted.

        I’ve been reading this thread with interest. I really can see both sides of it.

        On the one hand, I fully agree with those who say the OP is applying exempt higher-level-position standards to a probably non-exempt lower-level-position job. If you are non-exempt, as this receptionist probably is, you don’t have the legal option to stay later whenever you want without overtime pay. If you work until 4:00, you work until 4:00. You don’t get to just stay until 4:15 because you care about your work.

        At the same time, the original behavior described is extremely slacker behavior. It isn’t just getting ready to leave at 3:59. It’s chatting with people in the beginning (i.e., not working), taking lunch on top of a lunch break, and then leaving 10 minutes early on a regular basis. That is not acceptable.

        I work a non-exempt job now (ironically, when I was a receptionist, it was an exempt position, and now that I’m in a “higher-level” position with higher pay, I’m non-exempt), and I treat my organization the way it treats me. If you want to pay me by the hour, I’m going to work by the hour. I’ll work damn hard while I’m here, but when the eighth hour finishes, I’m out of here. I’ll take exactly my full lunch break, because you aren’t paying me for it (when I was in exempt jobs, I’d often eat at my desk).

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Eh, I don’t think this is the same. OP has said her work is excellent. I don’t see anyplace where OP said the receptionist isn’t getting her work done.

      On the other hand, your coworker is an ass and your boss is a spineless nu-nu head.

    3. kckckc*

      If you love your job, have enjoyable perks and a good reputation, leaving because of the actions of others seems a bit shortsighted. This manager also may have insight into this employee that you do not and may be allowing this behavior for reasons that you are unaware of. Or, the manager may be in the middle of correcting the behavior, which you should not be informed of. Hate to say it, but this is not a problem you are likely to escape if it bothers you this much at a job you love.

  40. YOLO*

    I think a lot of people don’t understand what an admin’s job is like, and thus are criticising the LW from a non-admin perspective. I agree with the other admins who have written in saying “we’ve all worked with a peer like this, and it sucks”. It sucks because a *good* admin is all booted up and caffeinated (or watered, or whatever) to go at the beginning of the work day – not rolling in and having to boot up the computer and go to the bathroom and get coffee and say hello at that arbitrary time. A good admin takes a regularly timed lunch break, and is ready to work again when it is over – not going out regularly during it and then still taking additional time to eat afterwards. A good admin has worked with his/her manager to set deadlines throughout the day so that there aren’t regular ’emergency’ mailings at the end of the day, but is to the best of their ability ready to do work up until they go off the clock – they aren’t regularly checking out 10-15 minutes early to shut down their computer, go to the bathroom, put on their commute gear, etc. Do we all have bad days? yes, yes we do. Are there times when we violate all these “rules”? yes, yes there are. But to do so regularly and after having been talked to by our managers means we aren’t good admins.

    And let me empathize with all of the other admins who have had to pick up the slack when there’s an admin on the team who isn’t pulling their weight and is getting away with it. That person develops a reputation as a slacker. It sounds like this is where the admin in question is at, given that the VP has noticed and commented. I’ve never seen someone turn around from this behavior, unless they were very young and in their first couple of jobs. My sentiment, harsh as it may seem to non-admins, is to put her on a PIP with very clearly laid out instructions, and be prepared to rehire for the job.

    1. CADMonkey007*

      This is a great comment. Reliability is super important to being a good admin, so if the phone rings at 8:05 and I have to cover for you, and I need something printed at 1:15 and you’re still MIA from lunch, and you huff at my package that needs to go out at the end of the day even though I brought it to you within the agreed upon time frame, and this occurs on a regular basis, then no, you’re not a good admin even if you “technically put in your 8 hours.”

      1. De Minimis*

        Totally true…I have to help cover phones for our admin [a temp] and she is late fairly often…it is a huge pain when the front desk person is absent, even in an organization like mine where we don’t really have a lot of public contact.

        It’s tricky because she does great work when she’s here…

    2. Kate M*

      I don’t think you have to be an admin to know what it’s like to work with a slacker (and I say that having done admin work in the past). Nobody is faulting the OP for wanting the admin to take a reasonable lunch hour or stopping excessive chattiness. But he’s saying that her work has always been excellent – which would not support your theory that she’s a “slacker.” If she’s able to do excellent work and still has time to chat with coworkers, etc, maybe she doesn’t have enough work. But I assume the OP would have mentioned if calls weren’t being answered or if her leaving a FedEx slip to do in the morning had resulted in a package not going out on time or something of that nature.

    3. KellyK*

      I agree with this except for the “booted up” part. How long the computer takes to boot up is the employer’s decision based on what kind of computer they provide, what software they put on it, etc. Waiting for your computer to start up is work, and no one who’s paid hourly should be expected to provide 5 or 10 free minutes to their employer in order to have their computer ready to go at 8 on the dot.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        A bit of a tangent here: I’ve seen a lot of discussions (not just in comments on this post) on Ask a Manager about how long computers take to boot up. I work in tech, and I don’t really recommend people (especially who have long-to-boot-up computers) shut down their computers every day. It doesn’t really save that much energy, and computers do not have to be shut down that often to run well.

        I’d say people should reboot their computers once a week (Friday afternoon at the end of the day is a great time to do it) and—if folks are worried about power—put computers to sleep instead of shutting them down, when you’re not using them.

        1. TootsNYC*

          we log out, mostly for password reasons–but it still can take a few minutes to reload all the programs. Not so much that it makes any difference to anybody’s productivity.

        2. I Get That Reference*

          Oftentimes “booting up” can be shorthand for getting all your software going. Even when my computer is running I can’t just leave all of our secure systems signed into and ready to go so I can flip on the monitor and roll. I’ve usually got to have 4-5 things running and they’re all on VPN and slowwwwwwww.

    4. Jean*

      Speaking as someone who has had many years of admin work, and who hopes someday, somehow to move on to another function:

      Is it such a surprise, or such a problem, that a receptionist doesn’t like the job? Obviously this isn’t a problem if she or he does his work pleasantly, with poise and skill (and without leaking resentment all over the floor). But even if there is no visible unhappiness, it’s highly possible that the receptionist has a passion for activities not included in her/his daily work routine, and/or has an ambition to shape her/his own personal projects rather than always and forever support the professional efforts of others.

      In other words, not all who are currently employed as receptionists hope to continue in this role until their very last day in the workplace!

      Okay, my rant is over now. I will resume my positive outlook. I will also ask on the Friday open thread (but probably not tomorrow due to a previously arranged series of meetings), “How can I move on from being an administrative assistant?”

      1. Jean*

        I’m not trying to defend coming in late, chatting for 1/2 hour each morning, or stretching one’s lunch “hour.” These are all wrong because they impede the work of others (who have to cover the phones, help stranded visitors, or just wait for the receptionist to return to her/his station) and/or cheat the employer of valid work time.
        But leaving promptly–after putting in a full day of honest work–is not a sin, and neither is the decision to view one’s job as an honest exchange of eight hours of genuine effort & proper comportment (helpful, cheerful, pleasant) for eight hours of pay. Not every job is a step on the ladder to ever-more-exalted achievements, not every worker seeks to climb that ladder, and lack of workplace-focused ambition does not in itself make a worker an unsatisfactory employee.

  41. NarrowDoorways*

    My sister was a receptionist early in her career. She errored int his exact same way! She believed that because she came 10 minutes early she could leave 10 minutes early. It’s something she saw other people doing and she assumed the “working a full 8 hours” was more important than “working 8-4.” Once it was explained to her, especially the importance of a receptionist, she stayed until 4.

    1. Liz T*

      I made the same mistake at my work study job in college, though the other way around–I thought it was fine that I was often late, because I always stayed late. Thank goodness my supervisors set me straight.

  42. Liz T*

    Fire her and hire me?

    There are thousands of people out there who would actually appreciate this job.

    1. Liz T*

      (To be clear, I’m not criticizing the employee for wanting to leave at her scheduled time. I would *appreciate* this job–I wouldn’t necessarily *love* this job. Love is not a job requirement. But the lunch stuff is extremely unprofessional, as is arguing with your manager when she’s telling you what your job expectations are.)

  43. TootsNYC*

    Good point about the “arguing with your manager when she’s telling you what your job expectations are”–not really cool to say, “I don’t have to stay the full time, because I came in early.”

  44. Editor*

    @ Jackson/OP:
    If you want to ask the receptionist to stay late some days, but not regularly, why not instruct her to come in to work on time, leave for lunch on time, eat lunch during the lunch “hour,” but extend the lunch hour to make up for the previous day’s overtime? Stipulate that she does not stay late on the last day of the pay period each week (this is all assuming this job is in the U.S. but not in California).

    You can talk to her about chatting by saying that while she is valued, she should not be dropping into offices to talk with other workers, since you have received feedback commenting on her behavior.

    Ask her if she needs additional challenges or tasks or where she wants to go from here.

    Please don’t give her so much grief about winding down at the end of the day. It sounds like she chats in the morning to get energized and winds down the last few minutes, so as long as she agrees to stay late occasionally and either is paid overtime or gets legal comp time in the correct pay period.

  45. Editor*

    Restlessness and seasonal weather changes:
    I have to wonder if this employee sometimes just gets restless or feels confined on the job without knowing why. In my first sit-down job in upstate New York I found that almost every March I would be walking to the water cooler every 45 minutes or getting really fidgety. Then we moved to Kentucky and I was twitchy in February instead. In Pennsylvania I get restless in late February into March.

    Apparently I am sensitive to seasonal changes that cause fluctuations in barometric pressure. Maybe I wouldn’t have this problem in Southern California– I don’t know.

  46. KC*

    I find it interesting that OP has responded in the comments numerous times, in ways that seem to suggest that OP was following the comments of others and responding to them, but has not specified whether this employee is exempt or not, even though this something that numerous commenters have brought up.

  47. Been There - Done That*

    If most of the other hourly employees are generally working the majority of the time they’re in the office, and you have someone doing what this receptionist is doing, it can lead to resentment because the “slacker” is in effect getting a higher rate/raise since they may only be doing 5 or 6 hours of work in 8 hours with all the breaks, talking, etc.

    1. Jean*

      On the other hand, the “slacker” may also be locking herself into never, ever getting a raise in pay or responsibilities with her “I’m doing just enough (if indeed it’s truly adequate) and no more, never ever” approach to her job. Especially if she’s clueless about how her peers & supervisors react to her conduct. Kudos to Narrow Doorways and Liz T for their clear explanations above.

  48. Michelle*

    I think OP/Jackson could, and should, address the extra lunch time and chatting too much during the workday, but I wouldn’t say anything about her leaving on time, other than “I need you to be fully engaged and working until 4 pm”.

    I’m non-exempt but we are paid by the quarter-hour. So if I stay for 5 extra minutes a day, I don’t get paid for that. I would have to work until 4:07:30 in order to get paid for that time. Maybe focus less on the time she leaves and what she does while she’s there. You said she does excellent work and if your main compliant is that she leaves on time, then maybe you need to let that go.

    1. JoJo*

      I don’t understand all these people who think that the employee should work up until 4:00. It takes several minutes to shut down all the applications, power down the computer and pack everything away for the night. It’s perfectly reasonable to start that process before quitting time, or else the employee would have to stay late to do all that.

      1. Michelle*

        It seems OP’s problem is that she shuts everything down and is ready to walk out at 3:50. So if she waits to start shutting down at 3:50, then she is”fully engaged” and can still leave on time. I’m totally on the receptionist’s side about leaving on time. As long as she is doing work related things (shutting down the computer, straightening up her desk, answering any calls) vs. sitting there with her purse & coat in hand, OP shouldn’t have a problem when she clocks & walks at 4.

  49. Willow Sunstar*

    I wish this boss was my boss. Maybe then my annoying coworker would not be here still.

    When he was brand new and we were sill being trained in, the guy would sit and type totally random things to me in the work IM. I had to send him the policy that stated the work IM was not primarily supposed to be used for socializing & that he could get in trouble. He would brag to me constantly. Supposedly he was so smart, so tech-savvy, etc., etc.

    Fast forward a year & a half. This guy does not know how to manage mailing lists, so he types in 50 or so email addresses every morning to send out the daily report.

    He misunderstands weather reports he reads online. Heck, he misunderstands emails regularly. English is supposedly his native tongue, but he acts like it is not. He gets frequently comfused by easy things.

    Guy comes in routinely 5-10 minutes late. His first week, he was an hour late and did not call in. He is still here.

    Management is protecting him for some reason.

  50. Jason*

    Sound like the receptionist has a very relax day at work… Chat, fully hour lunch (shopping?), then extra time to fix lunch daily, and left office early.

    – I have colleague who keep chatting, taking picture and loading to FB but keep saying she is busy when she miss many deadlines – is the receptionist behaving this way or she able to complete every tasks on time – thus she is able to chat, go for longer lunch and leave office early?

  51. False Power*

    Wow, you expect peak performance from the lowest paid individual. What are you expecting? Did you give your receptionist a progression plan? Does she have any hope of moving up or growing in the company? Is there any appreciation for the work that she does or validation? Does she sit alone most of her day? Have you shown her how her work is important to the company? Did you post the position with top pay? If you are paying average wages you will get average workers. You get what you pay for. It is frustrating to me how other Managers get mad or frustrated at their employees for not doing their jobs when the manager doesn’t do the main function of theirs… MANAGE. You have no power over her other than to inspire or fire. Stop complaining and look at yourself.

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