how can we get employees to follow our strict time-of-arrival policy?

A reader writes:

I work at a nonprofit that operates in a very traditional office setting: business professional dress code, strict lunch hours, and a strict 9-5 day. In theory, this is done for efficiency and to allow employees to feel like they have more separation between their work and personal life. New staff tend to struggle with it when they first arrive since many other nonprofits they have worked for are more flexible about arrival times, making up time, PTO, etc.

As operations manager, I’m the one who constantly sends out the reminders to staff about office policies, hours among them. Since I started in 2014, we go through a cycle: an email reminder that we work 9-5 so please be here ready to work by 9 a.m. goes out, it helps for about a month, and then folks begin to slide back into being 5, 10, 15 minutes late. For example, two weeks ago I addressed this problem in person and asked staff to plan their commutes accordingly. This morning, two-thirds of the staff were missing when work started at 9 a.m.

On the one hand, commuting in our area can be unpredictable; traffic, mass transit, weather, all play their part in turning a typical 30-minute commute into an hour and a half battle. On the other hand, the people who are late are chronically late, and always for the same reason (metro, traffic, weather). The president is the particular stickler for this rule (though he himself is rarely on time), and among senior management there is now a discussion about setting up a new system to punish people for being late.

I do not want to go down that route. We’ve had some staffing issues recently and I know that our inflexible office policies are directly related to people leaving. What alternatives can I suggest that will both enforce our policy but not punish the staff, especially when other members of senior management can’t seem to follow it?

Why not suggest changing the policy?

Obviously if strict arrival times are truly necessary to the work of the organization, you shouldn’t do that — but if they’re not, you should encourage your management team to revisit why they’re so committed to the current policy.

Well-run organizations keep the focus on results, and they try to give employees as much flexibility as they reasonably can. That’s part of how they attract and retain good employees, and it’s how they build cultures that care about results over appearances. And you might point out that you’re competing for good employees against organizations that are increasingly giving people this kind of flexibility.

You could also point out that if they’re committed to this rule but can’t point to any real job-related needs for it, then it’s really, really not helping matters that the president is simultaneously insisting on the rule while ignoring it himself. That’s a good way to create a culture where people are cynical about the leadership and don’t see integrity as a particularly high organizational value. Bad things come from that.

However, if the work actually does require strict arrival times, then you need to change the way you’re enforcing the policy. Stop with the all-staff emails. They’re not working, and they’re a pretty weak way of addressing this. Instead, managers need to be responsible for ensuring that their staff arrive on time and addressing it with them directly if they’re not, just like they would with any other performance concern.

And that should be easy to do, because if the work really does require people to be there precisely by 9, then there should be work-related impacts that managers can point to — like “your client was left waiting for 15 minutes this morning” or “Jane was pulled away from her own work because she had to keep answering your phone” or “you missed a crucial team meeting this morning” or whatever the impact was.

But it should be coming from their managers, not you.

{ 561 comments… read them below }

  1. NPGuy*

    I find attention to arrival and departure times so disheartening. I have a job where I work events at night, get in 30-45 minutes early 90% of the time and I was still ‘spoken to’ about leaving ten minutes before 6 one day. It’s really demotivating to be micromanaged.

    1. the gold digger*

      Exactly. One of the reasons I was so eager to leave my job in corporate finance was that I would get to work at 7:15 a.m. and often would not leave until after 8:00 or 9:00. (I knew that at 10:00, I had to call the guard downstairs to turn the lights back on in the office.) Our official working hours were 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. I was not paid OT.

      The two times I left work at 6:00 p.m., I was counseled. Not because I missed a deadline or left work undone, but because I walked out the door at our official end time.

      (Fortunately, the person counseling me was my excellent boss, who had been ordered to counsel me by the VP. My boss said, “You left work at 6:00. They didn’t like it. Consider yourself counseled.”)

      (He quit a few months after I did.)

      1. Allison*

        That’s ridiculous. Why set an end time if you expect people to be later? Or maybe the higher-ups have this idealistic vision of people working hard right up to 6:05, realizing “oh gosh, after 6 already? where oh where did the time go??” wrap up their work, check in with their boss to see if they need anything else, then wish everyone a good night or good weekend, and head for the door around 6:30 or so.

        Which is great, but really silly to expect of everyone.

        If you want people to stay after 6, you should set a later end time, or tell people 6 is the earliest time they can *start* wrapping up or the day.

        1. Callalily*

          For some reason I was imagining they disliked the ‘optics’ of their employees leaving on time. Like everyone sitting around fake typing while employees leave one at a time every 15 minutes starting at 7:00 so the public doesn’t notice that they don’t all live there.

        2. Heather*

          “If you want people to wear 35 pieces of flair, why don’t you just make the minimum 35 pieces of flair?”

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        OMG this reminds me of a time at OldToxicJob. We were a department of 4 carrying the workload of 6-8 people (when two of us left, they had to replace us each with two people) and when we asked about getting more help. the VP told us that they weren’t adding anymore people to our department, but we could work as much OT as we wanted.

        One day, we all had things to do in the evening, so when 6pm (our scheduled end time) hit, we all got up and started to leave. Our manager was like “where are you all going?” and we all said “we’re going home” and we got the dirtiest look. We routinely worked 8-10 hours of OT every week (coming in early and staying late) but the one day we all left on time, we got crap about it.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I’m always flabbergasted that there are still companies that operate this way.

        2. KP84*

          At my last job we were told the 8 hour work day was a suggestion and that we should aim for 9 or 10 hour days. We basically all starred at our manager who we could tell was forced to tell us this by the new “Let me be your best friend but you are spending too much money on paper” CEO. That CEO was later fired by the company overloads thankfully.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            Oh, so I suppose that my on-paper salary is just a suggestion too and you’ll be adding an additional amount equivalent to 10 hours’ worth of work?

    2. EddieSherbert*

      I got written up for taking late lunches at ToxicJob – I thought it was a joke when my manager sat me down, because the longest lunch I’d ever taken was 4 minutes over and I constantly worked late.

      …and then he pulled a spreadsheet with every time my lunch had gone over in the past six months. So I learned to clock back in and THEN go to bathroom…

      1. LBK*

        Ha – a former boss of mine once pulled out a spreadsheet showing how over the course of a month I’d been a total of 45 minutes late (so we’re talking an average of roughly 2 minutes late per day). I was just so dumbfounded that he’d be that petty that I didn’t even know what to say.

        1. Jaydee*

          And how many minutes did he spend (waste) making and updating that spreadsheet? /smh

      2. JulieBulie*

        Yes, I once had a manager who wrote down all of our comings and goings in a little book. I wouldn’t have minded as much if he’d been as attentive to our work as he was to our attendance.

      3. Mike C.*

        My boss makes a dollar
        and I make a dime.
        That’s why I use the bathroom
        on company time.

        1. Hlyssande*

          Have you seen the gif with baby Elmo on a training potty with that quote on it? :D

          Seriously though – this is what companies can expect to get when they don’t trust their employees to get their work done and manage their own time.

        2. Zen Cohen*

          This reminds me of my dad’s last day at work before he retired. He’d work a job for 30 years that he hated but paid the bills. In the middle of his last afternoon he texted me: “taking my last paid crap on company time. The only part of my job I’ll miss.”

          1. Zombii*

            At Toxic ExJob, one of my coworkers had an app on his phone that kept track of how much he was “being paid to sh!t at work.” Clever app: just enter your salary/hourly rate, then keep track of all the times you go to the bathroom.

            It was all good fun until Company decided to make everyone clock out for bathroom breaks. (No, not specifically because of my coworker. Yes, I know that’s illegal. No. they didn’t believe me when I told them that—and I was written up for insubordination. Yes, that was part of why I left.)

      4. NotTheSecretary*

        I had a ToxicBoss at a past ToxicJob who would stand in the middle of our open plan office in full view of our always-full waiting area and SCREAM at us for daring to take our breaks and lunches. Then, often in the same day, would harangue us for not including our lunches and breaks on our time cards. When we pointed out that we never got to take said breaks, she would (again, in the middle of the office) shout a lecture at us about how we DEFINITELY got lunches and breaks and were to record them appropriately.

        She eventually decided we had to have an inflexible lunch schedule and must leave our desks for the full hour even if that meant missing a client’s deadline (workflow here was erratic and impossible to plan for by nature). Of course, if you left a client waiting while you took your lunch you would be written up.

        This place also required us to NEVER EVER record overtime and take it as cut time even though we were hourly non-exempt employees. Best part of all this? It was a staffing firm. Knowing and following employment law was a major part of the work.

        1. Electric Hedgehog*

          Is it bad that every time I hear about something like this, I want to encourage the person who left to call the state labor department and give details, even if there’s no chance of getting back pay (or the person would have to be anon to avoid repercussions on future references, etc.) ? I just feel so bad for all the employees that are still dealing with this illegal crap, and I want someone to stick it to the unethical employer so, so much.

          1. NotTheSecretary*

            I should have but I was so beaten down by that job that I ran for the hills with my tail tucked when they finally chewed me up enough to just fire me. I got subpoenaed to appear as a witness for them in a work comp case a few years after and I spent the month leading up to it in an anxious panic over possibly even seeing ToxicBoss in the courtroom. I dyed my hair green and wore a dress that matched it in hopes of them thinking I looked too nutty to put up there and just letting me leave so I wouldn’t have to do anything that might help them (it worked, btw!) That place was a nightmare that had real, lasting damage on me, you know?

        2. gmg*

          The editor in chief at one of my old newspaper gigs once pitched a fit because he walked by the copy desk and didn’t see anybody working. Someone had to tell him it was a union-mandated dinner break. Which was silly in itself, that the entire desk had to take the same break at the same time, but given that that was the policy, it might have been nice if the person RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ENTIRE NEWSROOM was already aware of it. (We were also the only people in the newsroom who were ordered to stay put and keep working the night one of the presses caught fire — everyone else was evacuated — but that’s a fun story for another time.)

          1. Collarbone High*

            Copy desks are SO disrespected. (Or were, before they were eliminated altogether.)

            One paper I worked at scheduled a cleaning procedure involving highly toxic fumes for 8 p.m. The people doing the cleaning were wearing respirators and hazmat suits. The copy editors were stuck at our desks, coughing and vomiting, and we all got massive headaches. When we complained the next day the response was “oh, we forgot about you.”

      5. Sara, a Lurker*

        I had a job like this. We had to literally sign in an out, like in a notebook, and we also kept timesheets down to like 5 minute increments. Ostensibly it was to see how much each of our projects cost–like if Jane spent two hours editing and Fergus spent thirty minutes proofing and Cersei spent fifteen minutes looking at the bluelines, that all goes into how much the magazine costs. Which, fine, but our managers used it to police our time, even our unpaid time. I got a reprimand when I spent several days eating lunch at my desk instead of taking an unpaid lunch, because my train commute had gotten me in thirty minutes late and I didn’t want to make up the time at the end of the day, before embarking on my long commute home.

        Anyway, now I work in an office with a healthy respect for work-life balance and we all get here when we get here.

        1. Steph B*

          My last job we had to keep an electronic time card with time spent on various tasks in various projects down to the 15 minutes. It wasn’t as extensive as what you had (we didn’t have to note the actual time we started or stopped anything), but I had to start keeping a separate notebook for my own sanity on daily tasks because project managers a month or two later would send me emails demanding to know what I did for the hour on such and such day.

          I understood that the pressure the PMs were giving us was because of the pressure they were getting from the hirer ups on some projects, but was really demoralizing and I don’t think the project managers ever really thought how challenging all the time spent by someone doing the work of a project could be interpreted. The time spent bickering about an hour or two of time spent as one task that was billable versus another that wasn’t wasn’t billable either, and everything from the hirer ups came down to billables.

          The worst offender project manager received an award from the CEO soon after I left. She also called my manager and tried to see what they could do to convince me to stay, but my manager knew better than to tell this PM that it had a lot to do with her, heh.

          On my first day at my current job, I asked where I’d need to track my time spent on various projects and my new boss was like — oh, we don’t do that here, just get your job done. I could have cried for relief!

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Your lunch break example here would probably not fly in NYS. DOL would be on it. The company could get fined for it.
          What happens next because of this, is employees get written up for taking a 29 or 31 minute break, an unintended side effect of the law. Multiple occurrences result in firing. Another unintended side effect of the law.

      6. irritable vowel*

        I used to work for someone who was incredibly obsessive about recording number of hours worked – he’d write in his desk calendar each day how many hours he had worked that day. I often caught him looking at the clock when I’d arrive or leave, if it was while he was there, and I knew he was calculating the amount of time I had worked that day. It used to drive me crazy, even though I loved working for him in almost every other way!

        1. Justme*

          I definitely write my own hours in my desk calendar but couldn’t care less about anyone else’s.

      7. AllTheFiles*

        This sounds very similar to my first “adult” job where when my peer became my boss, she decided to micromanage as though her life depended on it. She pulled all time card info from the past several months to show when I clocked in a minute early or late and wrote me up for it. It had never been an issue in the 1.5 years I worked there prior to that. She then (reading from her little write up sheet) asked what I was going to do to avoid this in the future. I said “do you want me to stare at the clock and wait for it to turn over?” and she said “Yes”so I told her she could use that for her answer.

    3. sunny-dee*

      My dad used to watch a reality show about this guy who did custom cars. I saw one episode. The owner had a painter there who was apparently The Best at the work, and on top of it he was super nice (in a really toxic place), was well liked and respected, and the guy worked crazy hours — weekends, staying to midnight, skipping lunch and breaks. But, this guy wanted to come in at 9:30 instead of 9 because he wanted to take his daughter to school. In the episode I saw, the boss blew up and was screaming and cussing at him for coming in late (when he had worked past midnight the night before). The guy just took it calmly, nodded along … and clocked out for 15 minutes at 10am, left for a 1 hour lunch, left at 5pm and then like 2 months later (the span of the project) left for a competitor who would let him come in at 9:30.

      It was insane to me how the boss could get so obsessed with something that was so incredibly trivial.

      1. Karenina*

        This is a great example of The Point: there is competition for good employees and managers need to prioritize what’s important about those employees. Their qualifications? Their skills? Or that their bums are in seats at a certain time of morning that sounds nice to management?

      2. Malibu Stacey*

        Probably because it was a scripted show and they wanted to exaggerate the drama?

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          Comments on this thread are proof positive this happens in real life, too.

        2. phil*

          Not scripted at all. The show was American Hot Rod filmed at the late Boyd Coddington’s shop. And the painter-Charlie-has a very nice shop in Idaho.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Agreeeeeeed so much. If there is not a legitimate business need for people to be on site during specific times, then there is no reason to be so hardass about it.

      1. Cochrane*

        For some bosses, it’s about optics to their higher-ups. I’ve had a boss tell me point blank that it made him look bad if his staff was “making their own hours” and would question his ability to manage, wondering what else he is letting slide if he’s not enforcing something as fundamental as arrival & departures.

        1. N.J.*

          I’ve heard similar. My boss said she can’t defend me (or other coworkers) if we weren’t here at our start times? Defend us from who for what? She also indicated that they can’t justify needing help (such as workload issues or future hiring needs) if we aren’t here our scheduled start and end times. Even though I hit at least 40 hours a week, sometimes more, stay late if I need to, etc. and even though they are perfectly fine with me coming in late once a week because of a recurring medical appointment. I think it’s just my particular chain of command’s pet peeve, as they have a few other weird schedule expectations too.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I feel like this is a sign of a boss that isn’t comfortable in their authority. Certainly you can say all staff need to be in during certain hours (e.g., 10-4), but getting too obsessed with the exact start time, without a defensible work-related reason for it, is not sound reasoning. And then saying you can’t “defend your reports” if they work their hours but not at the exact start/end times you want is nonsense unless this is something like being part of the flight crew, a nurse, retail/food service, or a receptionist-like position with strict shifts.

            1. Cochrane*

              When something gets messed up and blame is going to be allocated, the bosses who run a tight ship with everything done by the book (or else) are going to get less scrutiny than the manager who is perceived as sloppy because they can’t their staff to follow procedure on timeliness.

              When I was in the management training program at this job, this same manager I mentioned before likened management to a hostage situation. I remember his direct quote: “At any time, one of the people under you can do something that could cost you your job. I’ve got a mortgage to pay, so I’m going to be a hardass”

              He’s since been promoted ever higher in that firm, so there must be some merit to this.

            2. Anon for This*

              In my experience this is true. Those type of bosses are more likely to enforce strict rules on everyone rather than manage a problem on an individual level. This is happening in my office – it’s pretty casual, flexible hours, WFH if needed. There’s a subset of the employees that are abusing the flexibility and slacking off. My company’s response is to increase performance requirements, take away privileges, and make bonus payout more competitive – for everyone.

              Most of the good workers I know, including myself, are actively job searching. This is a great job on paper, but middle management is so unwilling to manage. :/ I think they are trying to push the low performers out, but I expect they’ll lose a lot of high performers in the process.

    5. Gaia*

      I think it really depends. If you aren’t ever expected to work early or work late or be flexible on your end, it can be reasonable for them to expect you to adhere to a strict schedule. My issue comes in when I am expected to work long, or odd, hours and change my life around by Heavens to Betsy if I show up 2 minutes late.

    6. Curiosity Killed The Employee*

      I went through something similar. My boss okayed me coming in at 8AM, whereas others chose later. For whatever reason, people started questioning me about my time. Not even ‘You said you were in at 8AM but we think you’re coming in at 8:30’, it was ‘Your time sheet says 8:05 but we suspect you really mean 8:10’. It drove me crazy that I would have to justify over a few minutes when they were constantly in at random times.

      1. LSP*

        Ugh! Like it’s their business anyway!

        I have a coworker, with whom I am quite friendly, who always makes comments about people’s comings and goings. I think it’s more akin to yesterdays letter on the employee with the verbal tic about “waiting for 5 o’clock”, rather than her stewing about peoples’ schedules, and it is equally annoying.

        I once had my normally 10-15 minute commute turn into over an hour due to construction that I didn’t know about, and by the time I got to the office I was already flustered and annoyed. She thought she was being funny by saying something like “Look who finally got here!” I very clearly told her to back off because I was not in the mood.

        She also is regularly 20-30 minutes late, and she also often works late.

      2. Maoria*

        I feel like the answers here aren’t really addressing what might be the management concern that’s causing the OP to ask the question.

        Firstly, I understand the frustration from an employee point of view. In my current role I usually arrive 10-15 minutes early, but on the rare days when I’m 10 minutes late due to train delays, I’m asked to record this and have it deducted. W.H.A.T? This is just stupid, but I don’t fret it, I just suggest I’ll come in 10-15 minutes early the next day.

        From the other side, when I’ve been managing people with a fixed start time who are frequently late, actually the lateness can be annoying. Let’s be realistic. Delays occasionally happen, but chronic lateness is usually someone not wanting to be restricted to allowing enough time every morning for their fixed start time. And yet, if they signed an employment contract saying that they would, I’m not sure what relevance it has if their previous employer was more flexible.

        If a company is insisting people arrive by a certain time and there seems to be no reason other than fear of things getting out of control, then the answer is probably to work with management to increase flexibility in a way that still feels OK for them. For example, timesheets or timecards to make sure that overall working hours are as per contract, establish core hours so that the needs of the business are met, have team members agree a rota with each other to ensure cover etc.

        If people are routinely working without breaks and staying late, then feeling aggrieved that they can’t come in late, there are more issues going on than simply inflexibility over start time and it should be addressed in that context. Like, finding a new job. :) But if you agreed to turn up at x o’clock every day and you’re not very good at it… well, you agreed didn’t you? If there’s no good reason that you can see, I suggest trying to find out what the fear is; reassure and demonstrate to management in a practical way that it will be OK.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It really depends, though. I worked at a place where everyone picked their start time, and it varied from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Except the person who started at 7:30 refused to join all-staff meetings after 2:00 p.m., and the person starting at 11 a.m. was always late (often by 45-90 minutes). So we scheduled staff calls for 11:15 a.m., only to have the late-starter fail to join or join while on public transit without her phone muted, which was useless because we discuss confidential information that she can’t talk about on the train. It was enraging when everyone else manages to be at their desk by 10 a.m., and I was not even management at that point.

          But if everyone has a “start no later than 10 a.m.” rule, and people generally come in at 9 a.m. with some folks coming in at 9:30 a.m., and there’s no business need for coming in before 10 a.m., then it makes sense to let it go. You have to hit a balance between anarchy and order. The order part that matters is the ability to have access to someone, predictability around a person’s presence in the office, and the ability to conduct meetings or client interactions around predictable, normal times of day.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This is what I did at one job, I set up core hours and explained the rationale behind the choice. Everyone had to be there between x and y o’clock for reasons A, B and C.
            Once stated in this manner the problems died down to almost zero. The reasons made sense to everyone and they could see what we were aiming for as a department.

          2. Kalamet*

            I work with someone who come sin between 5AM and 2 PM. When he set this schedule he sent out a really passive aggressive email about how it’s management fault for not allowing work from home since his commute is outrageous. Another employee has a 90 minute commute and works core hours, so it came off a bit tone deaf to me. The company is transparent about it’s work from home policy, so you knew how far away the office was going in.

        2. Sam*

          Dismissing it as unwillingness to plan appropriately seems a bit too black-and-white to me. I am admittedly sensitive to this because when I have a depressive episode, getting myself up and out of the house is a true struggle, regardless of how much lead time I give myself. (And this is true regardless of the actual start time.)

      3. Lobsterphone*

        I worked in a public library admin area where we were required to fill out paper timesheets. I typically arrived 30-60mins earlier than any other person in the library yet a colleague persistently edited my timesheet to show me arriving at later time (she arrived an hour later than me every day). And the one time I wasn’t there earlier than everyone else I got a ton of complaints (behind my back) about how my lateness caused other staff to wait outside the building as they didn’t have the alarm code – it wasn’t my job to disengage the alarm and the person whose job it actually was, was late.

    7. Temperance*

      Yep. My boss doesn’t care when I get here, within a reasonable time frame, because I’m willing to come in very early and leave very late when necessary. I feel like clockwatching is childish. I’m not a child, and I don’t have a butt-in-seat 9-5 job.

      1. Anna*

        I don’t even bother letting my boss know unless it’s 30 minutes or more.

        Considering that even theoretical work/life balance is supposed to make it easier or at least less stressful for employees when they aren’t at work, it seems this policy is designed to have the opposite effect.

    8. ThatGirl*

      I agree. My last workplace was a “set your own hours” sort of place, but I had one manager who was such a micromanager that even though I got in before him, he wanted to know if I was going to be 10 minutes late for my self-appointed start time.

    9. Nervous Accountant*

      This is one o the reasons I like my job and company–our hours are a strict 930-630 (or 10-7 for those who are scheduled that way). It sounds punishing BUT outside of tax season no one is expected to stay late after 630; 630 hits, and you leave, no one is goin to bat an eye. From what I’ve read here, and people working in other offices where its’ a “9-5”, it seems like no one ever leaves at 5, and if they do, there are consequences (it doesnt fit in the culture, a talking to, write up whatever).

      1. Callalily*

        For some reason my accountant boss only seems us to want to stay late AFTER tax season! He never once hinted at his magical unpaid overtime during tax season but a week after started pushing me to stay past 5 (my 1 hour bus ride starts at 5:30) or take work home with me…

        He wants the office to be a culture where you are here from 7am-9pm, bring work home with you, and pop in on Saturdays & Sundays. He thinks it is normal because he’s always either had his own firm or worked at his father’s firm and has no family or friends whatsoever…

      2. Clewgarnet*

        You’d love my office.

        Within reason, we choose what hours we want our schedule to be. Some prefer to start at 8, others at 9.30. Nobody minds if we’re occasionally 15 minutes late in or leave 15 minutes early, as long as it balances out at pretty much 40 hours. (And if somebody starts taking the mick, our manager has a quiet word with them, rather than taking it out on the entire department.)

        There’s usually overtime available if you want it, paid at time-and-a-half. If nobody wants the OT, the work misses SLA, and there’s no fallout because our manager and his manager know that we’re severely understaffed, we’re all working hard, and our personal lives take priority over work when it comes to OT.

        I don’t think this is particularly unusual (for the UK, anyway – things seem to be very different in the USA). It’s just that most people don’t bother posting here with anecdotes about how their office is actually pretty decent, other than a few niggly things.

        1. krysb*

          This is how my office is. Most of us (70 out of 80 employees) are salaried, with unlimited vacation, and can work whatever hours we want. Most standard workdays are 10am – 3:30pm. As long as the work is done, no one cares.

      3. What?*

        Are you on the East Coast? I feel like late start/end times are more common there. I’m on the West Coast and currently my hours are 7:30-4 and my last job was 8:30-5. (With a lot of flexibility in both cases). I think working until 6:30 would be super hard on parents of young kids. Our 7 year old and 4 year old go to bed at 7:30–if I worked until 6:30 I’d never see them during the week!

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          Yeah, I moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and in general, I’ve seen that more workplaces have flexible hours here (even work environments that traditionally would be inflexible back east) and people tend to work earlier hours so they can go home and enjoy the sun and their families. I work at a busy tech company and even the company bigwigs are typically gone by 6 pm unless we’re shipping something. And honestly, so many people are gone by 4 pm that it’s sometimes useless to send mail after that time. I’ve even adjusted myself – I used to be much more of a late start person, but now I tend to arrive between 8 and 8:30 and leave between 4:30 and 5 pm.

      4. nonegiven*

        My niece is staff at one of the big 4. They gave her crap about leaving at 11pm once to go home and get some sleep, they’d been working until 2-3am.

    10. Ramona Flowers*

      I quit one job after being told: “I noticed you were five minutes late this morning” after I had just worked unpaid overtime on a Sunday.

      I turned down a higher paid job to work for my current employer and rigid start terms vs flexible hours was one of my reasons.

      1. AllTheFiles*

        I worked a seasonal retail job one year and hated it even though I was great at it. I walked in one day early for my 7pm shift and some manager I didn’t know passed me in the hall and introduced herself all friendly. Once she learned my name she immediately turned sour and said “you’re late”. I said no and she dragged me back to the scheduling room to prove me wrong. When it turned out she as wrong she didn’t apologize but just walked away. I never went back, never told them I was quitting, just pulled into the parking lot one day and was like nope, can’t do it. It took about two weeks for my quitting to actually be known because they were in such disarray and I kept getting voicemails asking me to cover shifts. Then I got a voicemail from the store manager saying she had heard there was a miscommunication with a manager over scheduling, she was so sorry, and would I come back?

        1. Justme*

          I worked a retail gig where if you clocked in at more than 30 seconds past your start time you were considered late. That didn’t last, especially since you had to clock in and out on a cash register computer and they were always in use or broken.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Our rule was 1 minute, but the timeclock was pretty far away from the employee entrance to the building—you had to show up fairly early to ensure you wouldn’t get stopped on your way to the timeclock.

          2. Dr Pepper*

            My last restaurant job had a similar 30 second policy and clocking in and out was done at the POS terminals. It was a busy restaurant with roughly 50 tables not including the bar area and outdoor seating – and it had 3 POS stations.

            I ultimately walked out when they tried to put me on on a suspension pending termination after my third time clocking in one minute late – which happened less than a month away from my 4 year mark with them.

            I’ve never understood that kind of draconian policy. Sure, with retail and restaurants you do need to be on time but there is such a thing as taking it too far. The restaurant that my kid works at now has a window of five minutes before the start of shift and five minutes after, which seems both fair and sensible to me.

            1. Zombii*

              Companies that have overly severe late policies and then make the timeclock difficult to access seem to always have high turnover. How odd.

      2. paul*

        *That* is the stuff I have 0 patience for.

        If you expect employees to work beocoup overtime, don’t nag them over being a bit late.

        I got back from a work trip around 1am this morning; if anyone gave me flack for coming in at 9 I’d have flipped.

        As is I’m off for the afternoon and heading to a long weekend vacation in the mountains in 2-3 hours :D I *really* wanna show my kids some wild black bears

    11. One of the Sarahs*

      Ugh, I am reminded of my first charity job (erm non-profit in the USA) where I was expected to travel etc, but never got to take time off in lieu – it was seen as something I should just suck up for the good of the cause.

      So, say I had to be at the train station, 20mins the other side of my office from my home, for an 8am train, and didn’t get back until 6:30, I was still expected to be in at 9am. If I stayed late for a deadline, or was expected to work an evening Trustees meeting? In by 9am. It was so frustrating, especially as the CEO would get in late as she was working from home in the morning.

      That job set me up with such bad habits – no lunch-hours, never claiming expenses, and getting into cycles of burning out and getting sick as a result, and it made me miserable – all of which meant I couldn’t give as much to “the cause” than if I’d had the time off in lieu and felt like my efforts were valued.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I work for a charity and we get time off in lieu for any overtime. This sounds rotten, I’m sorry.

      2. Well That Went Well*

        I worked for well known non-profit and was at a company conference. I along with several co-workers were on our way to the airport at 3 am for our return flight. Our CEO texted and wanted all of us in the office when we landed at 3pm for a debriefing. I caught some type of bug and was really sick by the time we landed. I texted her that I was ill and went home. You would have thought I had killed someone. Just another mark against at that job.

    12. Aeryn*

      I was in a similar situation at a job I hated. I was salary with unpaid OT, worked events after hours and was responsible for checking emails at home and working if necessary until basically bedtime. And sometimes I’d have an email that needed immediate attention in the morning, but we would get emails saying we needed to be in exactly on the hour and not even 5 minutes late. For my position there was absolutely no reason 5 minutes made a difference in my work getting done well/on time. So I started to have to send an email to my supervisor when I was going to be only 5 mins late because I had to answer emails at home that morning! So ridiculous.

    13. penny*

      Agreed,stop the micromanaging & change the policy. Otherwise everyone will always be looking for opportunities to leave & frankly will have no motivation to put in extra time for the company while probably building up resentment.

      I worked at a place like this, 8-5. My commute was 1 hour minimum, but God forbid there was an accident or rain & that went to hell. If I came in 2 min late my boss was pacing staring at his watch (even when I’d called to let him know) & gave me shit. Of course management never had to be on time. Well as soon as 5 hit I’d be out the door, take my lunch every day & if I got to the office early, I’d sit in my car & wait to got up until Id be right on time. Not like I’d get paid for being in office early even being non exempt.

      At my curent job, start times are flexible & we’re treated like adults. I regularly work through lunches, longer hours,respond to emails nights & weekends. NOT because it’s expected-it isn’t – but because I appreciate their flexibility in allowing me to manage my schedule & want to work harder for them.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    Yuck. I once had a boss point out that I was 6 minutes late. Thannnnks I work till 7 every night so I really appreciate you addressing those 6 minutes.

    LW, I guarantee that everyone hates the policy, the reminder, and the stress caused by sweating having to walk in no later than 9am even if there are issues with traffic etc. You’d probably have a happier, more cooperative workforce if they weren’t treated like kindergartners.

    1. the gold digger*

      I work till 7 every night so I really appreciate you addressing those 6 minutes.

      The only time such a policy might even be justified is if you are paying someone by the hour. And even then, you are not paying the person for time not worked!

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I was salaried! This is the same boss who refused me a comp day after weekend travel and a couple of months of 70-hour weeks. I had to go to HR for one lousy comp day.

        1. intj*

          Been there so many times! One of the most infuriating things I’ve ever encountered in the professional world. I’m required to give you MY TIME for free every night and weekend because we’re chronically under resourced and “the job has to get done!”, but I need a morning off and it comes from my limited amount of PTO? Bullshit!

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I once had a boss do the very same thing. “Notmad, you’re 12 minutes late.” My response was probably insubordinate, but I informed him that if he was going to track my arrival time to the minute, my work week was going to precisely conform to the 40 hours a week I was being paid for and not a moment more.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I had the same conversation with a boss once. I was often late to work, but I also often worked hours late, got calls in the evenings and on weekends, and worked A LOT. I told him if he was going to monitor the time I walked in the door, I was going to more closely monitor the time I walked out of it. Probably not my finest hour, but being counseled over tardiness when I worked so much pissed me off.

        For some reason, the DC Metro has selected a preordained arrival time for me (for the past 15 years). I can leave my house (which is home #7 in this time) at pretty much any time within a 2 hours window in the morning, and I will almost always arrive exactly 15 minutes late. When I started with my new boss a few years ago, I explained this and she laughed.

      2. Chalupa Batman*

        Exactly. I’m that annoying coworker that’s always willing to go the extra mile, but when OldJob started being hyper-rigid about start times, it had a big impact on how I viewed my role and was part of the reason I quit. I started clock watching and became a stickler for the comp time policy. The flexibility I’d had previously to be a few minutes late or take an occasional long lunch allowed me to do my best work without going insane. When I was being micromanaged like a child, I didn’t want to take on anything extra that could result in having to stay late to get my regular work done. I went from above and beyond performer to get-er-done and go home. (Oddly enough, no complaining when I worked late or had to put in weekend hours, and I was salaried, so no overtime for me.)

      3. MillersSpring*

        All of these replies clearly show that reasonable people get justifiably hostile when managers nitpick about arrivals and departures.

        At ToxicExJob, the boss/owner hated that I arrived at 8:45 sometimes, even though I worked past 6:30 every night and my commute was >30 minutes. He said that as a leader I was a bad example for our young team (who all raced out the door at 5:31).

        When I left there, it was somewhat acrimonious. I’m sure he’s regretted his various ridiculous stances, because ever since then, I’ve been in a position where theoretically I could use his firm and be a client.

        But he made Permanent Decisions with Temporary Feelings. Screw him.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Former employees can be potential customers or friends of customers. If a boss is a micromanager that message spreads like wildfire and it does impact business decisions.

      4. Bagpuss*

        I gave more or less that response to an employee once. Said employee approached me to say that my assistant / secretary was coming in 5-10 minutes late after her lunch break, and she ‘thought I ought to know ‘.
        I told her that given that this person works directly for me, I was fully aware already, and that as she regularly arrived early in the morning, never started turning her computer off of packing up until after 5, and was always very accommodating about staying late when I had stuff which was very urgent, I was more than happy that she was working above and beyond her contracted hours. I may have added that had she been the sort of person who always left on the dot of 5 and insisted on taking her exact breaks, to the minute, regardless of what else was going on, I might be more concerned. Busybody member of staff, coincidentally, was notorious for being to of the building dead on 5, and being totally uncompromising about her breaks etc.
        She burned a lot of boas the day she refused to end her lunch break 10 minutes early to allow her cover to leave after they got a call to say their spouse had been in an accident and was on the way to hospital. (And yes, of course they went, one of the mangers covered her post)
        We do have rules about time keeping because a lot of our work involves dealing with clients, but there is a degree of flexibility – if you are chronically late, or are frequently late and are not managing your work or making up time, then that’s an issue. But a few minutes either way, or the occasional longer delay in an emergency is just pat of life.
        And it goes both ways, most of our staff are willing to stay a little late or take a shorter break when it really matters.

        1. Candi*

          Now I’m imagining political capital as a big pile of feathery, glittery, sequined boas, and a big pile of hers being burned on the front lawn. :p

          The accident thing -just, what? Even WA’s sticky employees must have breaks law wouldn’t kick up a fuss about that! (Although the break time must be made up at some point that day. When it was easier to shuffle cover in.)

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      You’d probably have a happier, more cooperative workforce if they weren’t treated like kindergartners


    4. Not Karen*

      I once had a supervisor snidely point out that I was 7 minutes “late” to a VOLUNTEER position. That was the last time I volunteered there.

      1. Cece*

        In a previous role, I’d help fire volunteers who were late. It was an industry where we’d need the team in place to get their briefing at the stated call time. Volunteers signed up to work set times, and we’d depend on them honouring that commitment. That’s not to excuse your supervisor’s tone, but to push back on the implication that volunteering (or, not being paid for your labour) excuses tardiness.

    5. MashaKasha*

      I’m exempt, and in the past I have excluded companies that had strict hours from my consideration. “Does it have strict hours?” – “Yes”. “sorry, can’t do it.” And, according to the recruiters I talked to, I was far from being the only one.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes, I can only imagine the unnecessary stress these employees are feeling if their train is five minutes late or whatever. That can literally ruin the rest of your day when that’s how it starts, by being stressed and then punished to boot. The Op even acknowledges there’s transit issues in the area, so if someone is five or ten minutes late, then they stay five or ten minutes late. (that’s what I do and nobody bats an eye)

    7. Kindling*

      I had a boss who had her VP talk to me because I was late. …By one minute. I pointed that out to the VP, who shrugged and said, “Yeah. Well, she wanted me to talk to you.”

    8. The Dropper*

      I once had a manager call our supervisor and ask him (in a passive-aggressive tone and in front of the entire team) if he had changed his work hours without telling him because it was already 9:35 and he was not at his desk (he was 5 minutes late to a job that didn’t require a strict arrival time). I left after 6 months.

    9. Justme*

      I had a boss address my leaving 2 minutes early, when I had come back from work 10 minutes early. That was fun.

    10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      The last time someone tried to impose a strict start time on me, I sweetly told them I would happily switch to being paid hourly, and I’d send them a bill for my overtime. It helped that the other person knew just enough labor law to worry, but not enough to realize it was a hollow threat. But it worked.

      (Of course I know my suggestion was not possible because of my job, but it was the principle, dammit!)

      1. sstabeler*

        you would probably know better than me, but I thought you can treat an exempt employee as nonexempt, but can’t do the reverse?


    If this isn’t a coverage issue, such as phone lines that open for customer service at specific times, receptionist coverage, etc – then you really need to rethink this policy. It breeds resentment and unhappiness and accomplishes nothing good.

    1. many bells down*

      Even when I WAS a receptionist, and at a hugely dysfunctional company, too – they still let me start half an hour late because I couldn’t drop my daughter off at school before 7:30.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      This! My office doesn’t handle anything like that. People come in between 7:50 and 8:15. Any time after that, you’re late– but only if your supervisor sees you!

    3. Lily in NYC*

      Yes, and I’ve noticed that places that are sticklers for on time arrivals also tend to be dicks about paying overtime.

    4. Aeryn Sun*

      Yeah, and having flexible start/end time can be HUGE for morale if it’s not absolutely necessary to have coverage. It makes a workplace a lot more valuable to the employees. My company isn’t PERFECT but start/end times are very flexible to the point where that’s a big draw for a lot of people – you still have to work 40 hours a week but if you’re not a morning person you can easily roll in pretty late and if you want to leave early to pick up kids from daycare that’s doable, too.

      1. Koko*

        I come in at 9:30 most days because it makes my commute take 33% less time (and be 100% more pleasant) than if I had to get in at 9:00. Those thirty minutes of flexibility mean everything to me. And I more than make them up in lunches I work through or evenings I spend answering email.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Even if it was a coverage issue, overlap is necessary for hand-off time.
      I find it amazing how many companies ignore the need for overlap, then wonder why basic information is not communicated.

  4. Loopy*

    I’m usually way more receptive to rules when there is a good reason for them. Especially when my actions impact other people. I think Alison’s point about giving reasons behind the strict policy is key. Otherwise, it just feels like I’m being treated like a child.

    1. JulieBulie*

      Exactly – if I know someone’s counting on me to be here for a meeting at 9, or if I’m supposed to relieve someone at a particular time, or anything like that, then I totally get it. But if there’s no rationale AND senior management is doing the opposite, then pbthththt, forget it.

      I literally could not work in an office like the one OP describes. I would have to take a lot of PTO or something for medical appointments. With just a little flexibility, I can get things taken care of without calling attention to my issues. Historically, this has never worked out very well for me in a strict environment, because being granted even the slightest flexibility attracts attention and causes envious coworkers to make nosy/speculative remarks. (“She looks pretty healthy to me,” etc.)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It could be me but I do not find the rationale here that persuasive. I think the company is going to have a tough time selling the importance of the idea if these are there best arguments for it.

  5. Sadie Doyle*

    The president is the particular stickler for this rule (though he himself is rarely on time)

    I just rolled my eyes so hard they may be forever stuck that way.

    1. alter_ego*

      This is a HUUUUGE pet peeve of mine. I had one professor in five years of college who graded based on attendance. He was also the only professor who would regularly cancel class by posting a note on the classroom door that you would only see once you arrived. It was my only class that day, and I lived 30-45 minutes off campus, so I really appreciated that his huge lecture about us being graded on attendance because we needed to respect his time translated into less than zero respect for our own time.

      1. many bells down*

        I told off a professor once for this; I was an adult student (and I think I was actually older than him!) so I think it went over better because of that. It was a commuter college, so most people had driven in and paid for parking and it was pretty annoying to arrive to class and find out it was canceled. At one point we were honestly concerned that we wouldn’t get credit for the class because so many sessions were canceled. I told him he could send a mass text or whatever, but we really needed to know before we got to school if he wasn’t going to be there!

        1. Natalie*

          My stupid school once cancelled an entire class for low attendance and notified us by putting a handwritten sign on the classroom door. Like, there are apparently only five of us registered , so you *definitely* could have notified us by email or phone or literally any other way that provided some advance warning.

          1. paul*

            I had a class that I’d signed up (as work towards welding certs) that didn’t make. In a remote campus, 1/2 hour out of town.

            The notification it didn’t make? A frigging letter taped to the door. They didn’t even automatically refund me, I had to fight for it. I’ve never been happy about sending clients to that particular junior college again

      2. Optimistic Prime*

        UGH, I had a teacher like this. Even when she did show up she was routinely 20-30 minutes late to class, and she frequently canceled class either by posting a note on the door or by simply not showing up at all. I remember at least one time she floated in while we were all packing up to leave – it was about 25 minutes in – and had the nerve to be miffed that we were getting ready to leave.

    2. Jerry Vandesic*

      This is the real problem. If they go down that route and implement some sort of punishment policy, it would need to apply to all if it is to be respected. Who is going to punish the president?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, it’s not uncommon for people in positions like that to operate differently than other people on staff, and often it makes sense — the needs of the job and the responsibilities of the job are different. So that’s not the argument I’d use. The problem with the president doing it is more about the way it looks if he can’t point to any real job-related reasons for requiring it of others.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, if he justifies it by saying he’s in a more senior position that requires unusual hours (which is perfectly legit), it’s hard to not allow the same flexibility for anyone else to whom those things also apply.

          1. paul*

            Yep. I think most of the commentators know and get that managers tend to do stuff that non managers don’t see and may not know about…but flagrantly breaking the rules you’ve got a stick up your rear about in regards to everyone else isn’t going to go over well with any body of workers.

        2. Jerry Vandesic*

          It’s not that the president can’t operate by different rules, it’s that they lose the respect of employees by doing so when those rules are capricious.

        3. Trout 'Waver*

          I’ve been in this situation and it is an absolute morale killer. If you’re in a position where strict attendance isn’t necessary and the boss mandates it but doesn’t hold himself to the same standard, the rank-and-file will quickly lose any respect for the boss. As the boss, you either need to clearly communicate why this policy is important (and I don’t see any such reason in this case) or you need to show the policy is important by complying with it yourself. The current option of relying on your authority and ignoring the policy yourself is a morale killer and will result in turnover.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Absolutely this.
            While today’s norms are the higher ups do as they wish and we peons must ignore it, I look forward to a day where transparency is the top priority.

            It is just human nature to be demotivated by leadership who does not follow their own rules. If TPTB are lazy, unethical, unfair, constantly hiding things, etc, their underlings will eventually fall into the same ruts. People go in the direction their leaders go. It’s human nature. So many companies are shocked to find this out.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      Yeah, this kind of thing is so tone deaf. At my last company the director I reported up to, along with the CFO (her boss) were not really fans of people working from home, not even one day a week. They had very little respect for us peons, so I’m sure they thought if we worked at home we’d really spend the day watching TV and eating bonbons.

      Then the director had some sort of nanny problem crop up, and she didn’t have daycare for her kids one day during the week — or something. All of a sudden she was working from home every Friday. And probably not getting anything done since her kids were still pretty little and not old enough to keep themselves occupied. And still no one else was allowed to work from home.

      Having one set of rules for management and another set of rules for the unwashed masses is a great way to send morale right into the crapper.

      1. CrazyEngineerGirl*

        I don’t necessarily think its having “one set of rules for management and another set of rules for the unwashed masses” that’s exactly the problem though. It’s not uncommon for managers or higher ups to have different rules. Whether it’s the difference in hourly versus salary or benefits that come with promotions or higher positions. And those differences can generally be well explained because they are based on something. The real problems start, at least as I’ve experienced personally, when the disparities don’t seem to be based on anything reasonable or explainable. From what the OP wrote, it sounds like this policy is maybe meant for everyone up and down the hierarchy. In which case, morale would certainly be affected if the president comes in late every day. Particularly if they come in late and it’s apparent (as it often can be) that they come in later not because of their increased hours or responsibility but because they kind-of-sort-of shoot to be on time but just left late, or hit traffic again, or wanted to stop for coffee…

    4. MashaKasha*

      I chuckled, because I had a boss like that. One day, for no apparent reason, he sent us all an email saying that we now all had a strict start time of 8:30. Coming in at 8:31 was now unacceptable and would have consequences. I had a kid in daycare and another in elementary school, and a husband who was recovering from major surgery and could not drive for the next few months. So I went and talked to the boss and negotiated, and very grudgingly he allowed me to come in at 8:45, but only until Husband was allowed to drive again.

      Here’s the best part, though. The new policy died a natural death within a few weeks, because Boss himself could not be bothered to stroll into the office before 9:30, and of course none of us was going to police ourselves in his absence. So it goes.

  6. alter_ego*

    One of the things I really value about my job is that it truly is flex time. People show up between 6 am and 10am ish. We leave when we’re done. If I want to work 6 hours one day because I have an appointment, I can work 10 the next to make it up, as long as I’m hitting my deadlines.

    I’ve been going on some interviews lately, and I can afford to be really picky since I like where I am, I’m just seeing what’s out there. I turned down a job offer because the boss said, with a straight face, “we totally have flex time here! People show up between 8:00 and 8:15 and it isn’t a problem at all”.

    I know that there are places where start times matter. But I work in an industry where we get deadlines set by outside clients, and beyond meeting those deadlines, and occasional meetings, the time that the work gets done is totally irrelevant. I can definitely see this strictness, especially in an industry known for being casual about these things, as a motivating factor behind people leaving, or not taking the job at all.

    1. LawBee*

      True flex time is wonderful. We have it unofficially for the attorneys at senior associate and above, because there are MANY days where we’re working a 12-15 hour day between travel, client meetings, and then the hours of work doing what you would have done had you not been on an airplane all morning. Knowing that I can come in late the next morning after landing at midnight is wonderful. It will definitely factor into any future job search I have.

    2. Parenthetically*

      My husband’s old job had true flex time. People worked as early as 7-3 and as late as 11-7, purely as they chose. I can’t imagine he’ll find another job like that here, but it would be amazing.

      1. many bells down*

        Mr. Bells’ office has “core hours” when you need to be in the building; I think they’re 11-4. So you can go in at 7 and leave right at 4, or you can go in at 10 and work later. Mr. Bells is not a morning person so he usually opts for 10am-ish.

        1. Karenina*

          I think this is a great policy and one I wish more workplaces would formalize. I think I asked my boss 4 times what she expected of me, and she kept saying “just get your hours” (I am hourly). And that’s great! I appreciate the flexibility. I just wish that when I first started, I hadn’t had to figure out the unspoken ‘core hours’ by watching people.

        2. Butch Cassidy*

          My previous role didn’t really have “core hours” when everyone had to be there, but it did have “office hours” outside of which they didn’t want anyone to be working. Similar effect, basically: people could set their own hours within that time frame and were trusted to get their work done.

        3. Ramona Flowers*

          Us too! Core hours are 10-4. And you can take anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours for lunch.

          But hey, 15 minutes? Um, wow.

        4. Steph B*

          Yeah, I commented below that my old job had a similar policy of core hours — ours were earlier because we were west coast dealing with a lot of folks on the west coast (and by earlier they were really 9-3, not too too early).

        5. KTMGee*

          We’ve recently set core hours for our tech team; they’re 9:30-4:30. I’ve had someone explain to me with a straight face, “now people have the flexibility to work from 8:30-4:30 or 9:30-5:30!” as if that offers a tremendous amount of leeway

          1. alter_ego*

            haha, I just interviewed at a company who has flextime with core hours of 8:30-4:30. so basically a half hour of wiggle room on either end. That’s not core hours, that’s just being lax about start times.

          2. Whats In A Name*

            I dunno, at one point in my life that hour would mean A LOT in the way of leaving at 4:30 instead of 5:30.

      2. Red Reader*

        My team’s restrictions:
        You have to work five days a week (M-F by default, but can be altered with manager approval).
        You have to work between 7-10 hours per day on those five days, and take at least one half hour unpaid lunch per day.
        All clocked-in periods should be 3 hours or longer.
        You have to be on the clock for scheduled meetings (2 monthly, scheduled as standing appts well in advance) within those restrictions.
        No overtime.

        Otherwise, we have full 24-hour flexibility.

      3. only acting normal*

        Our office “opening hours” are 7am to 7pm. We have a standard contracted week but you can work it any time within opening hours as long as you average out over the course of ~1 year, and you can take max 3 days off per month using accrued excess hours (in addition to paid holiday allowances). Basically, as long as you don’t lie or otherwise abuse the system, you can work when you want & need.
        I’ve pulled a week+ of 10 hour days for a project on occasion, and other times thought “I can’t concentrate today” and gone home at lunchtime. So nice to be treated like an adult.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Oh man, OldJob had that and it’s probably the only thing I really miss. (Well, besides the 5-min commute. Sigh…) We were hourly, but even so, the rule was “show up between 7 and 10, take some kind of lunch break, leave when you’ve worked 8 hours, please don’t stay past 8.” It was glorious.

      1. Lala*

        Yep. It can make a huge, huge difference if there are other things you don’t like about your job. There were some salary rank issues with my job a couple years ago and after it got sorted, I told my boss point blank that if this job didn’t have the flexibility with time that it had, I would’ve left for another job (my boss is a huge advocate for flex time at our office, so my telling him that actually helped give him some ammo in a meeting where he was defending it).

        That freedom to come and go as long as the work is getting done and you’re getting your hours in was worth sticking around for the time it took them to fix the salary issue. Without it…not so much. And as for the “but having strict hours helps you separate work life from personal life” argument…it would be nice if it happened that way, but as long as you’re not requiring work/email be done outside of the office, bleedover of work into personal doesn’t happen just because some people show up 30 minutes later and leave 30 minutes later.

        1. CrazyEngineerGirl*

          Yes! If you want to use ‘strickness’ to help separate work life and personal life, have strict “no over 8 hour days” and/or “no over 40 hour weeks” and/or “no work outside of work” policies. That reasoning sounds like a ridiculous excuse for a strict schedule. Like someone high up there just wants this strict schedule because the want it. Which sucks, but giving this reason is like salt in the wound. It makes no sense!

    4. all aboard the anon train*

      Yes. For as many faults as my company and department have, our flex time is great. I can come in at 10:30 and leave at 4 as long as my work is done and I’m around for meetings. I’ll check email at night to make sure I didn’t miss anything, but we have free reign. Our only rule is that everyone needs to be in the office for our weekly Weds meeting, but other than that I can WFH whenever and set my own hours. It’s nice.

    5. Aeryn Sun*

      Yeah, most people here work 8-5 if they’re client facing, but if you’re not client facing then people roll in between 7-10 and leave approximately 8 hours later. I frequently stay 30-60 minutes late to finish something or get to a last minute request, so if I do that I roll in late the next day or leave early. It’s a nice system that is frankly really appealing – it’s the type of thing that makes you want to stay at a company.

      1. Amy the Rev*

        My most favorite temp position I ever had was pretty flexible- I didn’t have to be in until 9am, but I could come in as early as I wanted, and stay late if I needed to, and then go home as soon as I hit 40 hours. By coming in early I was able to have half days every Friday. It was a great tradeoff for not having benefits and all the other bummers about temp work

    6. Optimistic Prime*

      This is one of the things I love about my job, too. We have core hours between 10 am and 4 pm, so people are generally there then, and people are generally working 8-9 hour days. But if I need to come in late or leave early to take an appointment, I can do that; if I want to leave at 3 or finish up my work at a coffee shop later, I can do that too. My boss and coworkers generally assume I am working if my work product is getting done. Personally I generally work about 8:30-5 but some of my coworkers work 7-4 and others work 10-6 or whatever.

      Thankfully this is pretty common in my industry and in my city, so I’d expect that most other places I went to operate more or less similarly.

  7. Ms. Meow*

    In theory, this is done for efficiency and to allow employees to feel like they have more separation between their work and personal life.
    What it actually does is forces a person to schedule their personal life around their strict work schedule, which can be frustrating and demoralizing. Separation between work/life should not be the goal; balance between work/life should be. Maybe you could frame it that way?

    1. Anxa*

      Yeah, the last think that’s going to make me feel like I have a separation from work and the rest of my life is spending my personal time orchestrating a perfect commute.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        How much does that take, though?

        I have a pretty awful across-a-major-city commute, but I’m rarely late because I just leave enough of a cushion that if traffic is a bit backed up, it doesn’t matter. It’s only orchestrating if you’re trying to plan it to within a few minutes of commute time. I just know that if I leave by approximate whatever-o’clock in the morning, I’ll be fine almost all of the time, and beyond that I don’t need to think about it any more.

        I work for a nonprofit that has regular business hours. I work 7:30-4:30, lunch excluded, but only because I have a coworker who prefers to work later–the place needs to be covered by a minimum number of people 8:00-5:00.

        1. Observer*

          In other words, in order to make sure that you are always on time, you need to always carve out a significant amount of time for commuting out of your personal time. Sometimes it’s only a few minutes, but in a lot of places, even ones with decent roads / public transportation, you could be looking at 1/2 or more each day. And that’s A LOT of unpaid time.

        2. Bend & Snap*

          Depends on your life. I have myself and a toddler to dress, feed and drag out the door; drop the kid at daycare after navigating the world’s worst parking lot; head down a notoriously unpredictable stretch of highway; find a parking spot in literally miles of parking lot for a building that holds thousands of employees; get through security and take a several-minute walk to my desk.

          This is typically ABOUT 40 minutes but any little thing can make it longer and I’m not always able to build padding into my morning.

          Luckily my boss’s philosophy is “there’s no such thing as late” so I roll in around 9:20 most days and nobody cares. A hard start with PUNISHMENT at 9am would drive me out the door.

        3. Ramona Flowers*

          Oh how I laughed at this.

          I commute into and across London. Things get delayed a lot.

        4. Ramona Flowers*

          And why should you have to leave a cushion? That’s a waste of your time. Have you ever added up all those cushions?

          I’d rather have a job where I can start when I get there and not worry about timing it just right.

        5. Amy*

          My commute can take as little as 30 minutes and averages around 45-50 minutes last week for some reason traffic was horrible and every day but Friday took an hour plus. On my worst day, it took me 2+ hours. The longer times are generally caused by accidents but they don’t have to be on the 2 major roads I’m taking, accidents on other roads cause cascading delays or bail out traffic that backs up the roads I use. I’m usually on time but there is nothing I can do about the times I’m late. I’m not going to get to work a half-hour early 80-90% of the time just in case traffic is bad.

        6. One of the Sarahs*

          But it’s not always as easy as you have it. I’ve worked in places where there’s only 1 or 2 buses or trains an hour, and for example, they could get me in at 7 minutes to the hour and 23 minutes past. So, for example, if the bus/train got in at 7 mins to, I could be at my desk by 2 minutes to – BUT it could easily get to be 10-15 mins late. If there’s nothing to do for half an hour, it’s really unfair (and illegal in some cases) to expect me to be in the office early, unpaid – and it’s just nasty to expect people to hang around the door for 15 mins because of the buses/trains.

          1. Zombii*

            How would it be illegal for an employer to tell you to be early, if the choice is between early and late? I’m seriously curious.

            The hypothetical employer isn’t saying “Show up at X o’clock but don’t clock in or do any work until we decide we need you,” they’re saying “Be at work no later than X o’clock. If you get here early, don’t clock in or do any work until X when you’re scheduled.” Yeah, sometimes that’s inconvenient, but it’s not universally unreasonable.

            1. sstabeler*

              Because the law doesn’t like it when employees are required to be on-site but not clocked in.

        7. Stranger than fiction*

          You’re not really factoring in public transport which can be late and to take the next earlier bus or train may entail leaving the house an hour and a half esrlier. How is that work life balance?

        8. Anxa*

          It depends a lot on your life situation. When I say orchestrate I mean because we are usually trying to figure out how both of us can get where we need to be with just one car (I am currently saving for one). So there’s lining up bus schedules, weather considerations, asking about carpools, etc for the day. The past few months my schedule has been irregular, and having a general 8am to 10m walk-in time for him has been a tremendous boon to our quality of life.

          Now, there are some days where he has to be in at very specific times or irregular hours (4am, 5am, etc.), but so long as we know about those a few days in advance, we can make other plans. But having some days where can he drop me off, it alleviates the strain of the miserable commutes on other days. It also is the only reason I can consider taking some of the jobs I am interviewing for.

        9. TootsNYC*

          I hired someone once who said, “If I try to get here at 9am, almost no matter how early I leave, I will get here at 9:15, and it will be a horrendous subway ride–people packed into the train, etc. And it will take from one to two hours.
          “If I try to get here at 9:30, I can be here AT 9:30, because I’ll get on the train just after that crush. It’ll be a pleasant ride, and it will take 25 minutes.”

          We set her start time as 9:30.

          And we also didn’t get upset at 5 minutes late here or there.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            All the upvotes. The arbitrariness of 9-to-5 makes that inevitable. Even with more flexible hours, it just spreads it out – Silicon Valley is famous for allowing flexible start times but most places have “core hours” that tend to start at 11, so there’s a sharp traffic drop off after that. I could get in at 11:05, but to be there at exactly 11 I’d really have to aim for 10 instead. But 11 really only mattered on days with a meeting at that time, so nobody cared if 11 got closer to 12.

            1. Optimistic Prime*

              Yeah, I work in Seattle and I have found that if I arrive at work between 8 and 8:30, I encounter little traffic; if I arrive at work after 10, I also encounter little traffic. It’s when I aim to arrive between 9 and ~10 that I’m stuck in the worst.

        10. Ramona Flowers*

          Okay so on Monday I was delayed at Paddington due to this new crowd control experiment thing that mainly involves closing entrances to the tube.

          On Tuesday three trains in a row were cancelled due to “a train fault” which usually means a driver didn’t show up.

          And today the tube platform was so crowded it took four trains before I got one.

          Then my train home was delayed leaving by 25 minutes as they made everyone get off and locked the doors so they could do some unknown thing.

          This is fine as I have flex time.

          When I lived in an area served by Southeastern trains and had a set start time I took to saving newspaper clippings about their service and taking photos of departure screens to explain to my manager that I really wasn’t lying about how bad they were.

      2. LCL*

        But everybody does this already. We all figure out how long it takes to get to work, and what we can drop out of our routine, and how close we can cut it and still make it in on time. And occasionally you will be late. But if it’s chronic it’s not transit or traffic, it’s because you are doing something wrong. (Exception for dependent care or illness issues.)

        1. AldenPond*

          I deal with the NYC subway system every day, so I don’t even calculate how close I can cut it. I leave every morning so that if I have a perfect commute, I get to work 40 minutes early. If it’s a bad commute, I’m 10 minutes early and if it’s a terrible commute, I come in 10 minutes late.

          1. Back in Black - because it's easier*

            I’m back after quite a long time away from AAM – and I have missed it! (And I don’t recall my username…)
            Jumping in here – a tad OT – to say how my eyes roll to the skies when on House Hunters the complaint is “Yeah, but now my commute will be almost ten minutes long! I don’t know – that’s soooo far away…” Always amazes me . . .

        2. Candi*

          One breakdown -not even your own vehicle- one bus with mechanical problems, one idiot farking around the train tracks -and your commute is messed up.

          Some places (raises hand) alter the timing of the routes depending on time of day. If they run it every hour until eight, then shift to every half hour, leaving early to allow for extra time that may or may not be needed means getting up at five instead of six and possibly skipping breakfast. (And we have an awesome system in this county; you can reliably get anywhere in about two hours. Other transit systems across the US? Widely variable.)

          If people are chronically coming in late and have bad excuses or lie, that’s a performance issue. If the hours have to be locked for some reason, client-facing, tiny office with one key holder (unwise, but), housekeeping, or other good reason, make it clear.

          But don’t lock people in specific hours and discipline them for a few minutes late if their work doesn’t require it. Look at their production rates and completed work, not butt in seat.

    2. Chriama*

      Agreed. If the point of these policies are so you don’t fall into the non-profit trap of owning your employees (we work all the time for the good of the “mission”) then the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and you’ve missed the point. Tell employees they can only work 8 hours/day and don’t give them company phones or access to off-site email. That’s a lot more humane than holding them to a timetable like robots.

    3. Isben Takes Tea*


      You’re forcing your employees to be stressed about work OUTSIDE OF WORK to manage their lives around your arbitrary schedule. You’re essentially saying they can’t possibly manage this separation themselves, and so the business must impose it for them.

      1. LCL*

        That’s what jobs do, force y0u to manage your life around their arbitrary schedule. That’s one of the core realities about working for someone other than yourself. And even self employed people are driven by the schedules of their customers.

        1. Observer*

          No, good jobs do NOT do that. They either have valid business reasons for their schedule or allow some flexibility, or some combination as appropriate.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Seriously, I mean, is five minutes going to make the world end? Not likely.
            Now if it’s like a letter recently where nobody knew where people were and when they were coming and going, that’s an actual issue.

        2. Isben Takes Tea*

          Definitely–I should have clarified to “arbitrarily rigid.” Everyone has to arrange their schedule to be at work, but the amount of stress and arranging that has to go into getting to work by a particular moment as opposed to a slightly larger target is huge.

          The stress of trying to hit a bull’s-eye EVERY TIME you shoot is different than the stress of hitting the target every time you shoot. And if there’s no good reason for the bull’s-eye expectation, you’re going to burn people out on how much they care about that target at all.

        3. Optimistic Prime*

          Mine doesn’t. If I’m stuck in traffic or my dog eats something she’s not supposed to or my husband and I need 10 extra minutes to work something out in the morning, I don’t panic, because I know my employer values my work output more than my butt being in a seat at a specific time.

    4. Nea*

      Beautifully phrased!

      If I were the OP, I’d also ask why anyone thought the employees didn’t grasp the difference between their personal and work lives. Were there people who were never in? Putting in long hours? Never taking vacation? Those could be addressed individually, rather than the patronizing assumption that employees simply don’t know.

    5. LCL*

      Ahem. I am trying very hard to be nice to posters that express this opinion, because that’s the rule here. And I’m not singling out Ms. Meow specifically, just responding to her. But, forcing a person to schedule their personal life around their strict work schedule is how it works for most of the world, and most of the people I know. That’s one of the downsides to having full employment, you have to go to work when the company wants you to.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I agree and I’ve noticed a weird lack of recognition of that running through some of the comments. But in this case, the company is arguing that part of the reason for the policy is to protect work/life separation, and it’s reasonable to call that out as BS.

        1. Kyrielle*

          That to me is the big difference. If the company were doing this because they open to clients at a set time and need people there (and ready to go and having set the place up for the day and all that), if it were a coverage scenario, this would be a lousy situation but a completely reasonable expectation – knowing that people who don’t meet that time will need to be handled like any other performance problem – either they fix the problem or eventually they’re managed out the door. And hey, that would bite for those employees, but *that’s life*.

          It’s that here it sounds like it’s completely unnecessary. Why…why would you create a situation with _no_ flexibility when so many things really can make an exact-on-time start very hard for people? This is going to cause otherwise-good people who need a little more flex in their schedule to either ignore your rule (if you let them) or leave (and actually, some probably self-select out if they’re not willing to ignore the rule!).

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Right. I don’t think anyone’s advocatimg people just stroll in whenever they feel like it, just that they shouldn’t need to worry they’re going to get fired for being five minutes late now and then.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Very much agreed. Whether there’s a reasonable justification matters, and that justification should be rationally related to the policy prescription. In this case, OP’s purported reason (separation of work and life) does not seem to support the strict arrival-time policy. I think that’s why folks are latching on to the arbitrary and unreasonable nature of the rigidity.

      2. Natalie*

        Eh, this may be true for many jobs, but if it isn’t actually necessary for the LW’s work environment there’s no reason to enforce it just because of that. It’s not a race to the bottom.

        That’s one of the downsides to having full employment, you have to go to work when the company wants you to.

        Full employment (aka low unemployment) kind of means the opposite, in my experience – as an employee you have more choices and can thus chose a company that’s less stringent about butts in seats.

        1. Jennifer Needs a Thneed*

          You’re talking full employment for a population or area. The others are talking about full employment as an individual (ie: a full-time job). Apples and quinces, here. (Quinces are an apple relative, because this isn’t “apples and oranges”.)

          1. Natalie*

            That would be an extremely unusual definition for the term “full employment”. Nor does “full-time employment” particularly make sense in context – part-time workers also have to ” go to work when the company wants you to”.

            I did not know quinces & apples were related.

      3. Ms. Meow*

        FWIW I was following Alison’s initial suggestion of trying to change the policy because I’ve been there.

        I had a job where I had strict hours like the LW talks about. If I had to schedule a last-minute doctor’s appointment, I had to take 4 hours of sick time (because that was the smallest block we were allowed to take) even if I really would only end up coming in an hour late. I couldn’t use vacation time in that case because that had to be pre-approved. Trying to arrange other necessary appointments was just as stressful and it made me resent my employer.

        With my current job, I can flex my hours and it makes my life so much easier. Not only for appointments, but if I want to take a long lunch for any reason, I make up the time and make sure I get my work done. Yes, of course I’m expected to work a 40-hour week (AKA full employment) and I usually work about 45-50, but as long as I’m here for necessary meetings and I get all of my work done, it’s not a big deal if I shift my hours as I see fit.

        1. Ms. Meow*

          Meaning that I have dealt with a strict schedule before, not that I actually changed the policy.

      4. Jessie the First (or second)*

        But they can force you to work based on business needs – which is rational and unavoidable and present with every job and most people will anticipate and accept that – or they can add into the mix random, arbitrary scheduling requirements.

        So while all jobs obviously require that you manage your life around work schedule, a few jobs will tack on needless (from a business perspective) scheduling requirements. The OP’s description of her job’s requirements appear to fall into that needless category, as the reasons for the policy are vague “efficiency” and the desire to keep work from interfering with personal life. So people are responsing as heatedly as they are because it appears that the requirements are arbitrary ones.

        We all expect to have to adjust to work requirements. But when those work requirements are based on arbitrary decisions that are unusually rigid and don’t appear to be aligned with business needs, you are going to get people upset.

      5. Bend & Snap*

        i think as business needs are changing, so is flexibility. I’ve never in my life had the flexibility I have now, but I’ve also never had a dedicated work phone, had to check email regularly and work odd hours for calls and deliverables, and had trips that last this long (4-5 days). Most of my friends and former colleagues have the same setup.

        If a company is asking employees to be flexible outside of the workplace, it makes sense to be flexible inside the workplace.

        If it’s a 9-5 clock in/clock out job that you can totally leave behind when you go home, that’s different.

        But ultimately there are enough flex opportunities that the rigid schedule feels stifling and outdated, and it makes sense that there would be consequences for morale, recruiting and retention.

      6. Huntington*

        I’m with you! I actually usually avoid looking at the comments to posts about getting to work on time because there almost always are hundreds and hundreds of comments against it (before even getting to one like yours, which isn’t even pro-on time so much as neutral). Except in truly the most flexible work environments, being on time is for most companies a fundamental, baseline expectation of being a professional and being perceived as a professional (and you are noticed if you are chronically late, even in more flexible environments, do not kid yourself).

      7. Not So NewReader*

        I agree with you, LCL. I have worked jobs where being thirty seconds late was on a par with … oh, something like manslaughter. You got spoken to for 30 minutes about tardiness (read: berated) or perhaps even got written up. Sometimes you would get “the treatment” and basically ostracized for a few days or a week.

        But I have seen places where even though schedules must be followed, things were either adopted by culture or policy to soften the rigidness of the environment. A mill near me had shift work. The machines could not be stopped, someone had to be there. The culture of the place was that you’d arrive 30 minutes before your shift. This way the person you were relieving knew their replacement had arrived. Then your turn came later, when your replacement would arrive 30 minutes early so you knew your replacement had arrived. Everyone just did this out of respect for everyone else. If someone was a no show it was a really big deal because it was not just the boss who was upset. You were being tone deaf to the culture of the place, which ticked everyone off.

        Why more places do not find work around like this, I do not understand. Any time there is a recurring problem, a system should be implemented to minimize the occurrences. Some companies believe that browbeating is the only way to go.

      8. sstabeler*

        Not to the extent it’s expected in the US, in my experience. I’ve never seen a case over here in the UK where being late by less than 15 minutes got you written up.

        Basically, in the US, the expectation seems to be that you assume the commute will take as long as it theoretically could. In the UK- and I presume elsewhere- you plan so your TYPICAL commute gets there on time, and if there are delays, provided you make the time up, your employer doesn’t care.

    6. Kyrielle*

      THIS. This this this this this. I would never want to work somewhere this unaccommodating of people’s actual, real lives.

      Yes, some jobs have to do it – retail and restaurants for sure, probably many types of call centers, probably others – need coverage. But if there’s no reason other than “work/life balance” then I have to say that this inflexibility is the opposite of supporting work-life balance.

      1. Gaia*

        People always go to “call centers, retail, etc” but a lot of jobs need scheduled hours. Literally any company where people deal with clients could reasonably set specific hours where people need to be available. Labs could do the same. The list could go on and on but I’ll just say that there is a real blindspot on this site around the wide berth of people who have to adhere to a schedule and it is a bit odd.

        1. MJChomper*

          I agree and I’m so happy to read your comment concurring with my thoughts, because I was worried that I has traveled to a twilight zone of sorts. I’m having a hard time understanding why people are so horrified and almost insulted about having to adhere to actual work hours; that’s a very normal thing and that’s what you’re being paid for. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but that’s how life and being employed work, actually.

        2. Zahra*

          I get that. However, in an environment where more and more companies that can offer flexibility and core hours as a perk, are doing so, having rigid start hours is tone-deaf. And that’s what we’re dealing with, here.

          Actually, pretty much everyone assumed that there was no hard business need to be in the office at a specific hour. Because the LW didn’t point out any such reason. If there was, I think you’d see more people talking about managing the tardy employees. I’m pretty sure we all get that, for example, if you have to answer the phone starting at X hour, it’s a legitimate reason to mandate a fixed starting hour. But absent of such a need, why be so inflexible?

        3. Kyrielle*

          Yeah, I lumped a lot of things under “probably others” – but here’s the thing – there are also lots of jobs where exact hours _don’t_ matter, and based on OP’s letter, it sounds like they have one of those and are putting exact hours on them.

          There is no. Reason. To do that to people.

          And people who cannot easily meet exact-hours jobs may also gravitate to working in industries where that’s not normally needed. If the company also touts their “work/life balance” during interviews (for example) but doesn’t mention it’s based on inflexible exact-match hours…they could be bait-and-switching employees. Because I have great work/life balance where I am, and part of that is the fact that I can work on a schedule that works for my family.

  8. MindoverMoneyChick*

    I feel for the LW in this case. Sounds like this is a pet thing of the president’s and those can be hard to get past. I think as Alison says point out the negative business/mission consequences of the policy to the president might be the best way to go. Did you lose anyone the president particularly liked? Did turnover cause an negative consequences the predicament particularly felt? Spend some time digging into why the policy has negative consequences for something the big boss care about more than a 9:00 start time.

    On the flip side – are you religious about people leaving exactly at 5:00? Do they never need to work late and can they always leave their job at the door on nights and weekends? If so that’s a perk of the policy and maybe having someone communicating that as part of the rational for the policy might be helpful. That’s not how you manage people adhering to the policy of course, but assuming the president does work after 5:00 it might mitigate some of the perceived hypocrisy.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah, I’m wondering if this nonprofit is structured so that they never have donor meetings, or fundraising events, or any other type of events outside of 9-5? Because the reason my nonprofit is generous with flex time, leaving early/arriving late due to appointments, etc. is they know that we all have times of year that we’re putting in 12-14 hour days, and/or giving up our weekends and evenings to make mission critical events happen. I was in the office past 6 pm last Friday because we have a large committee spread across several timezones and that was the only time the majority of the group could meet for a conference call, and I’ve come in early when 8:30 was the only time that worked as well. I’d be pretty resentful if I was always expected to rearrange my hours to accommodate work but work was never willing to give me a pass on mass transit taking an extra 15 minutes.

    2. Huntington*

      It’s a non-profit. Depending on how the organization is funded, it could indeed look very bad (to donors, whatever) for 2/3 of the staff to not be in the office during work hours.

      1. Natalie*

        I think that’s addressed in Alison’s answer, though – if there is a real reason to have a strict start time, like donors popping in all the time, they need to communicate that to their staff and then enforce the start time.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’ve worked at a lot of nonprofits, and very few have donors or the public popping in unexpectedly. And the ones that do (e.g., places that provide drop in services or have constant client appointments) have people at their desks because arrival time is related to a core job function. And even at those nonprofits, unless they are primarily funded by a single angel donor, I have rarely seen donors show up and then “tsk” the lack of butts in seats at an arbitrary time that they believe constitutes core “work hours.”

      3. Not So NewReader*

        But it’s part of the boss’ job to handle that situation.

        Let’s say a big donor walks in, and there are only three out of ten people at their desks. The boss should be prepared to say, “We offer flexible scheduling so people worked OT on the fundraiser last week, are not here today.” OR “Sometimes people need to go off site to complete their tasks. Anne and Jane are investigating new system X for our org. Bob is not here because he is attending a conference. (etc).”

        I worked for an NPO for just over a decade. Never once did a big donor walk in. The story was that they usually do not care enough to show up in person.

      4. Kbug*

        I have literally been the only person in our wing of a huge building because we couldn’t close on Fridays because of donors and funding, even though 90% of us worked 32-36 hours and everyone had Fridays off. It sucked. I spent a lot of time thinking about how much it sucked. Less work got done.

  9. OwnedByTheCat*

    This could have been written about my old workplace and yes, it was a factor in me leaving. Our arrival/departure/break times were monitored (and reported to our ED) by our receptionist, but our ED was very rarely on time and would arrive and leave 45 minutes to an hour late often.

    We talk about how demoralizing it can be a lot on this blog, and it really was. It was exhausting to be treated like a child, and I’m grateful to be in a position where as long as I get my work done arriving 5 minutes late or needing to duck out 15 minutes early really isn’t a big deal!

    1. kopper*

      This! I worked at a place that had strict 8:30 to 4:30 hours. Had to be in desk with computer on and ready to work at 8:30 (no walking in the door at 8:30) and computers would have to stay on until 4:30 and you couldn’t pack up until after. The ED would either call the office manager or call each of our desks to check. Same ED also wouldn’t allow us to leave early on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve even though he wouldn’t come to the office those days and our members (it was an industry association) were all closed and therefore not calling us. He would then call everyone in the afternoon just to make sure we hadn’t left early.

      It felt petty and vindictive, and such a small thing as being flexible on these matters is good for morale. Needless to say staff was demoralized and there was high turnover. I ended up on stress leave and leaving for another position. There is no worse feeling than feeling that your boss doesn’t trust you on something so minor even when you have fulfilled and exceeded all the other expectations of the role.

      1. AllTheFiles*

        I can’t even imagine the things that would have come out of my mouth when my desk received that call. Unreal.

      2. I used to be Murphy*

        To me that’s a perfect use of *72. When I work from home I forward my office phone. I’d be super-duper tempted to do that all the time with a boss like that. Ugh

        1. Fafaflunkie*

          Good idea, except for one thing: you’re now forced to answer every call (including asshat boss who probably dialed *67 before calling your office phone so you couldn’t screen it, or called from some other number that you couldn’t associate it with [yes asshat bosses are asexual IMHO]).

          Fortunately, asshat bosses like this reap what they sow–good workers finding other jobs and work for people that respect that bleep happens sometimes.

    2. DecorativeCacti*

      I had a boss who would waltz in anytime between 9-10. She would wait about five minutes after we got off (at 4:30) and then leave so we didn’t see her skipping out early. She would also review our time sheets and if we clocked out exactly at 4:30, we would get in trouble because that meant we spent time turning off computers and getting coats so we weren’t working our full shift. But we could be up to seven minutes late as long as we stayed seven minutes late at the end of the day.

  10. LBK*

    In theory, this is done for efficiency and to allow employees to feel like they have more separation between their work and personal life.

    That is some nonsense justification if I ever heard it. A good way to create separation between my work and personal life is to let me set a schedule that works for me based on my personal life and not have work aggressively inserting itself into my day.

    I’m also willing to bet that people aren’t allowed to drop everything and leave right at 5. I’ve yet to see a place where the end time was as strict as the start time (except in cases of non-exempt employees whose companies don’t want to pay overtime).

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Yeah, that’s a load of hot, steamy fertilizer. This is the most self-serving, borderline insulting justification I can imagine.

    2. Allison*

      My first job had strict start and end times. You had to be at your desk, laptop on, ready to get cracking at 8:30 – which meant they expected everyone there by 8:15 so they had time to hang up coats, put away lunch, get coffee, etc. And you had to work until 5:30, but if your manager caught you starting to pack up or shut down your computer at 5:28, you were in got a finger waggin’

      But here’s where it got frustrating. We had to steadily plug away until 5:30, we couldn’t wind down earlier, but my boss told me I was not allowed to leave any tasks unfinished at the end of the day, because it looked unprofessional, meaning I had to be very careful what tasks I started at 4:45 or so, but if I needed something to do towards the end of the day and couldn’t find a task that I knew I could close quickly, WTF was I supposed to do? We needed approval for overtime and while working late to get stuff done was often praised, working late often without an urgent project would look like you couldn’t manage your time.

      1. LBK*

        This is why I appreciated my old call center scheduling a buffer in phone coverage vs work shift, so that everyone’s phone coverage shift ended an hour before the end of their actual work shift. It gave people time to wrap up their last call and catch up on other tasks well before the end of their shift while not being expected to still answer the phone.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Oh man, that’s a great strategy! Ours wants us to stay available right till the end, but also doesn’t worry about overtime as long as we’re not like consistently going over an hour.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            (Which, I should acknowledge, is not ideal for everyone; I like the overtime and don’t mind staying available until 5 on the dot, so it’s fine for me personally.)

        2. Marillenbaum*

          That’s good! When I worked in admissions, we were required to be ready to go at 8:30, because we had an info session to set up for 9 AM, and the rest of us had interviews at 9 as well. On the other hand, the office closed at 5, so leaving at 5 on the dot was very normal–I’d typically wrap things up at 10 till (work journal, making a preliminary to-do list, tidying my desk) and walk out exactly at 5.

        3. Optimistic Prime*

          My mother’s old hospital did this, too – I think there was like a two-hour buffer between when the new nurses started their shift and the old ones left, so the earlier shift nurses could transition patients over and leave on time.

        4. Zombii*

          LBK >> my old call center scheduling a buffer in phone coverage vs work shift

          How did that poor company keep their doors open if they were wasting money paying you when they couldn’t even bill the client for the time? /sarcasm

          Toxic ExJob said it cost them money when we weren’t on the phone because the client paid them for on-phone time only and it was billed to the minute—the implication was we should be damn grateful for every off-phone meeting and training and anything else they were generously paying us to attend without being compensated for themselves. (They didn’t quite grasp the costs of doing business with humans.)

    3. gladfe*

      I think if they want to avoid damaging morale, it would be more effective to focus on the business reasons why strict hours are important, not the psychic benefit to employees. Dealing with annoying-but-necessary policies is a normal part of having a job, but being told “it’s for your own good” as the only reason would make me pretty angry. Even if the policy itself makes total sense, I just can’t imagine that explanation going over well.

  11. LawBee*

    Oh, this is not a great policy. It’s probably adding to the employees’ stress IN their personal life. I agree with AAM here – see if you can get the policy revisited. If it goes away, you don’t even need to make an announcement! Also, I’d place good money on most of these employees working through lunch.

    Honestly, I am a chronically late person. It has nothing to do with respect, or politeness, or professionalism, but with factors that are mostly out of my control. As an example, there is construction on the only road out of my neighborhood that has been going on for a year and will likely continue for another two and is wildly unpredictable. I’ve also got a rocking case of dyscalculia which means I have no sense of time – five minutes, thirty minutes, whatever, it’s all the same to me! I can set an alarm to leave at 7:30, it will go off, I’ll think “Oh, I need to grab this one thing” and next thing I know it’s after 8:00.

    Good luck!

    1. LadyL*

      I have the same issue with time! Plus adult ADD, and a family culture of chronic lateness, and it all added up to many time & attendance issues for me. The only thing that works for me is to set alarms for everything in the morning. So I set an alarm for when I need to wake up, one for what time I need to be in the shower, one for getting out of the shower, for making lunch, for breakfast, etc. Now I’m usually only 5-10 minutes late everywhere, instead of 20-30 minutes late ;)

    2. BF50*

      I had to look up dyscalculia. Fascinating and I could see how that would make it impossible to keep track of time.

      I do not have dyscalculia, but man, do I lose track of time. Plus I have toddlers, who really don’t care if they make me late to work.

      I love my job where I get to set my own hours. After about a year here, I jokingly said to my boss “So how about we change my official hours from 7:30-4:30 to 7:45-4:45, since that’s when I’m actually here. Then when I actually get here at 7:30 I will be amazingly early.” He laughed and went back to completely ignoring when I arrive and leave work. As long as I get my morning report done by 8:30 he doesn’t care.

      For the record he usually arrives sometime between 8 and 8:30, one coworker arrives at 7 on the dot, every day, and another generally works 9ish-6ish, but then randomly sometimes comes in early. Today she was here before me and my manager had a morning appointment so he wasn’t here until 9:30 or so. I was here at 7:45, as usual.

      At my last job, my manager was on my back about arriving at 8:02 instead of 8. I would get so stressed if I had a flat tire or some legitimate reason to be late, nevermind how I would get beat up if it were something inconsequential that was my own fault.

  12. Madeleine Matilda*

    Yes, please take Alison’s advice and advocate to change to a flexible work hours policy. We have flex hours at my agency and it works wonderfully. Some people arrive early in the morning around 6 AM and others come in at various times after that as late as 9:30 (commute times are a significant factor as we live in an area known for awful traffic). Flex scheduling allows each person to handle traffic, family commitments, and other non-work necessities as best suits them. The flexible schedules are something that staff have consistently identified as a benefit of working at our agency. And as a manager the last thing I want to do is police when people arrive. I’ve told all my staff that if they get held up for some reason (most recent was a dead car battery that significantly delayed someone) they can chose to make the time up, use their leave as works for them, or telework from home if they have enough work on hand for that. Allowing staff to manage their time treats them as adults. Requiring strict hours and micromanaging when people arrive infantilizes them.

    1. JulieBulie*

      That’s a good point about the manager having to monitor/police people’s arrival times. Surely there are more important things for the manager to focus on!

    2. kopper*

      My team has also been able to cut down on how much OT is paid out because we have one person who starts at 11 and leaves at 7, so he picks up any urgent work that the rest of us who leave at 5 can’t finish. It helps all of us have work-life balance, but also good for our branch’s budget.

  13. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    “The president is the particular stickler for this rule (though he himself is rarely on time),”

    But of course he isn’t.

    I concur with Alison. Why not deal with the chronically late as individual performance issues, and stop infantilizing the rest of the staff by obsessing over their timeliness? People are leaving over it, and the main stickler can’t even abide by his own arbitrary requirements. This is not a functional policy, and unless people are running late for meetings with donors and clients, a few minutes plus or minus really, really doesn’t matter. Hounding people over it is going to make them feel micromanaged and resentful.

  14. Employment Lawyer*

    If you care enough, enforce it.

    You may lose some folks. You may have to fire some folks. You may get fewer applicant; you may have to pay more money. If your organization feels those costs are worthwhile, then it’s a perfectly rational move.

    That said: bitching about the president is ridiculous. The president has different working hours because s/he probably does work outside hours; there’s a reason he is salaried. Anyone who can’t distinguish between “new office worker” and “president”, or who demands that the president make symbolic concessions, has larger problems.

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m willing to bet that most of the other employees are exempt, and the only justification for the strict time is “because the president says so”. That may be what the president wants, but that’s not an appropriate thing to say to an adult.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        Resorting to claims that it is “inappropriate” to tell adults what to do is ridiculous. If they were acting like adults they would listen to the rule, or go start their own company with different rules.

        In the end, it comes down to two basic things:

        1) Does someone higher up think that timeliness matters? Yes, obviously. Everyone is entitled to use their own values, whether or not you agree with them. You don’t have to work anywhere which doesn’t respect your desire for flexibility and breaking stupid rules. They don’t have to hire people who think their rules are dumb. Both of you are fully entitled to your opinion, and are fully entitled to act as you wish. Ain’t America grand?

        2) Are you entitled to demand an explanation? No, of course. You’re entitled to stay (and get paid), or quit (and not get paid.) Nobody is entitled to demand that someone spend their time to try and convince them that your values are wrong. Anyone who thinks that this is an entitlement of “adulthood” is nuts.

        As a lawyer, I advise my clients on what I think is the most rational course of action. But in the end I actually do what the clients want, assuming it is legal–because they are the ones paying my fee. If I won’t or can’t do what they want… well, I won’t take the case, or their money. That is how it works.

        1. Natalie*

          If they were acting like adults they would listen to the rule, or go start their own company with different rules.

          Yes, god knows literally the only two options one has when faced with working conditions they don’t care for is to suck it up, or go open your own company.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think everyone here understands that it’s ultimately the company’s prerogative, but the question being discussed is what would make sense / what the best way to manage this stuff is. That’s different than what the company can do.

        3. Mike C.*

          But presumably when you advise your clients, you explain why, correct? I can’t imagine you always advise them and then finish up with a “do it because I said so”. That’s a statement made to a small child, not an adult.

          I’m not talking about entitlements, I’m talking about basic courtesy here.

          1. Employment Lawyer*

            Mike C.
            May 25, 2017 at 12:56 pm
            But presumably when you advise your clients, you explain why, correct?

            If they pay me for the explanation, sure. Clients who do what I tell them are easier than clients who constantly want the details of my thought process and who want me to constantly spend time to synthesize my experience into reasoning which makes sense to a layperson. I like both types of clients–but the first type is worth more money.

            The same applies on the other side. If I had an employee who constantly wanted me to explain my justification and business decisions, that employee would be worth less.

            My issue here is that you clearly have a bunch of employees who think it’s OK to do what they want, even when the company is clear about their expectations and has sent multiple emails.

            That reeks of entitlement and in my opinion it’s a good idea to nip that in the bud. The replies to my post have supported this guess, since apparently “adults” are tntitled to ignore rules they don’t like; and so on.

            1. Xay*

              I don’t think people are saying that they are entitled to ignore rules they don’t like. But the fact is, people will and in this workplace, are ignoring rules that either they don’t like or find too difficult to comply with. So the options are harder enforcement of the rules or changing the rules to adapt to the needs of the workforce. If 2/3 of your staff aren’t at their desks by 9am, it’s not an entitlement issue – there is a systemic management failure happening that needs to be addressed.

              I actually agree with your main point – if the goal is for all staff to maintain 9-5 hours, then the company needs to enforce the rule and accept that the current challenges of employee retention will continue without providing incentives.

              1. Huntington*

                Agreed. Even if the company changed the start time to 10 am the same 2/3 of the people wouldn’t be there on time, I’m guessing. And a nonprofit actually might have more pressure on it not just for those who fund it to not discover that 2/3 of the office is not there during regular work hours, and to count those 15 minutes for each of the 2/3 of staff. The hours lost add up, a lot faster than people seem to think.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              It’s good management practice to give a general idea of why things are done a certain way.

              When the reasoning is poor or worse, people are going to question what is going on. I do not think that is entitlement. I think that is human nature. I am not sure how one stops people from being human.

              If the company is actually doing this they need to inform people when they start work that work times are enforced. And they need to give managers the tools to enforce the rules. OP is asking how do I make people be on time. IF they are late, warn them once and write them on the second recurrence.

              Management should also expect a shift in the atmosphere as the company mission changes from doing the work itself to clock watching. Employees and bosses will be come avid clock watchers.

            3. Optimistic Prime*

              I can’t imagine working with my client teams this way. I’m a researcher who provides research services to teams who want to improve their product. I suppose, in theory, I could say “I’m designing this study this way because I said so” but I’ve found my working relationship is much better if I give them some explanation for why I am designing it that way and how it will benefit them. Actually, I’d think those are the clients who are worth more, because they want to continue working with me and paying for my services.

        4. Beth*

          In terms of the pure rules, yes, this is true. The company can demand employees be there at any time they want, they don’t have to offer an explanation, and they can enact consequences for not meeting that. Employees can decide to comply (even if it requires convoluted commute planning) or to not comply (and possibly face consequences for their noncompliance) or quit. It’s definitely legal for the company to have this policy.

          But ‘inappropriate’ isn’t the same thing as ‘illegal’, and there are factors beyond just what the company is allowed to do. An arbitrary or unexplained rule that is inconvenient and strictly enforced is going to be a major morale hit. It may even lead to people quitting if it’s hated enough. And it definitely impacts hiring–good prospective employees are likely to have other options, after all, and may not want to put up with your company’s nonsense. (All of this may be worth it if the policy is actually necessary for business reasons. But we’re talking about cases where no one’s presented an actual business reason that the strictness is needed.)

          Most companies want happy employees who are invested in and good at their work…not disgruntled employees who see no point in putting in a little extra effort, or the bottom of the barrel because all their good employees quit. Based on that, yes, I do think it’s inappropriate to enforce a poorly justified, widely disliked policy just because the president wants to insist on it–it’s likely to hurt morale and retention, which is bad for the company as a whole, and it doesn’t offer benefits to outweigh that risk.

        5. Optimistic Prime*

          One of the grandest things about America* is that from our very founding – and before that, really – people who think rules are dumb have agitated to change those rules into something less dumb. That’s literally how we got the country in the first place.

          *For those readers who live in the U.S., which is not everyone.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I really take issue with your last statement. Yes, the president does get some concessions due to his position and the realities of his life, but if you’re going to hound people over being minutes late, then constantly treating yourself to flexibility is not a good look.

      The president should get a flexible schedule. So should everyone else.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Exactly this. It’s not “wah wah the president gets flex time (but for his job it doesn’t matter) and I don’t (and for my job it DOES matter),” it’s “if arriving at the stroke of 8:55 matters for neither of our job performance, why is it ok for him to browbeat us about being late when he waltzes in whenever he feels like it?”

    3. Jessie the First (or second)*

      The entire staff is subject to the rules, and it would be an unusual organization indeed if every single staff member were nonexempt. The idea that “there’s a reason he is salaried” applies to the other salaried exempt in the org who are still being hounded to arrive at exactly 9 am.

      If there is no need for a 9 am start, then a president who insists on it and wants to punish people, even the exempt people, for being 10 or 15 minutes past nine should really expect backlash, especially if he decides he is the only exempt person who does not need to show up at 9. The president is being ridiculous is if expects salaried exempt employees to not be upset about his rigidity, unless there is an actual business justification.

    4. LBK*

      I agree that flexible schedules are a privilege that not everyone should expect to be extended to them, but it also shouldn’t be a privilege exclusive to the president; surely there’s people all the way down to the individual contributor level who are exempt/salaried, work extra hours, and have proven themselves responsible enough to handle not being clocked. Anyone who thinks the president is the sole person in a company who’s earned the right to not follow the assigned hours has larger problems.

    5. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I also work outside hours. Frequently. As in I check and answer email every night and on weekends. I’m also salaried.

      If the schedule is going to be that inflexible, fine. But do not expect me to do anything beyond the strict 9-5 time period, including lunch.

      Flexibility has to go both ways or what’s my incentive otherwise?

    6. Just J.*

      OP’s letter is a classic case of “Do what I say, not as I do.” One of THE FIRST THINGS I was mentored on when I was a newbie manager was, if you want people to follow your lead, then lead by setting a good example.

      OP’s president is being obtuse. If he wants strict hours, then he needs to follow them too.

      1. NW Mossy*

        I’d caveat this. I think it’s OK for managers to do things that their directs can’t (they have different jobs, after all), but if it’s a situation where a direct might expect their manager to be held to the same standard as the direct and the manager is not, it’s best to give a proactive explanation as to why. Otherwise, people will assume that the difference in expectations is arbitrary or capricious rather than thoughtful and intentional.

        Using a strict start time as an example, a manager might say “I know that I expect you to be available at 9am on the dot, and that’s because [business reasons here]. In my role, the demands are different – I’m not on the hook to be here at a specific time because my work is less time-bound than yours, but I’m expected to achieve [results here], regardless of how many hours it takes me to do that. There will be situations where it seems like we could or should be the same, and when they come up, I’ll make an effort to talk to you about it so that you have a chance to ask questions and understand the reasoning behind any differences.”

      2. Fafaflunkie*

        Thus *infinity. I was looking for this through this entire comment thread. A boss should lead by example. In other words, it applies to everyone, including the boss who implemented it.

        If boss is bitching about your lateness when you show up at 9:00:01, boss better be there beforehand as well.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Right on.
        You can either earn the respect of the people you lead or you can demand their respect.

        A boss has to think about what result she is hoping to achieve.
        It’s possible to end up with a group of VERY punctual people who do nothing or close to nothing. Is that what this boss wants?

  15. N*

    Also that the managers should be speaking to the employees about this and tying lateness to impacts on the team, such as “You missed an important team meeting” etc. I can’t stress how important that part is. On the one hand, as other commenters have pointed out, being micromanaged about time is very demoralizing. But I’ve also worked in offices where employees were habitually late/calling in sick and seemed to not know that they were inconveniencing everyone else because their managers never addressed it with them and gave lectures to the whole staff. And that IS really frustrating.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      That is an individual performance issue with those employees, not a matter that needs to be addressed through companywide policy and emailed missives.

  16. Mike C.*

    I want to point something out here:

    On the one hand, commuting in our area can be unpredictable; traffic, mass transit, weather, all play their part in turning a typical 30-minute commute into an hour and a half battle. On the other hand, the people who are late are chronically late, and always for the same reason (metro, traffic, weather). The president is the particular stickler for this rule (though he himself is rarely on time), and among senior management there is now a discussion about setting up a new system to punish people for being late.

    This seems to be written with the implicit tone of “if it’s the same problem every time then they should fix it”, but if the same issue keeps causing people to be late you need to either fix that (or the underlying) issue, change the policy or accept that you will be punishing people who are dealing with things that are completely outside of their control. I know that in writing this all out it seems trivial, but unless your hiring standards are terrible (and I doubt this!) your employees would have fixed it themselves if they could have.

    Option 1 only works if you can control the weather or you happen to be non-profit that deals with local transportation issues. Option 2 is what Alison suggested and option 3 is what your management seems to be going for. Do options 1 or 3 really make sense to you, when you consider practicality or a sense of fairness? Has you management considered the cost of lowered morale, firing late employees and hiring new ones versus the benefit of “separating work and life with a strict schedule”?

    1. Murphy*

      I think the point there was that if a person is always late because of traffic, this is somewhat of a fixable problem if the employee left earlier. (I’m assuming regular rush hour traffic and not a freak accident here and there.)

      1. Mike C.*

        But I’m presuming that the OP’s workplace hires adults, and that adults can compensate for planned traffic issues. So when I hear complaints about traffic, what I hear are complaints about traffic issues that are highly variable.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There ARE some jobs where you truly do need to be there exactly on time. If this is one of them, it’s reasonable to require people to plan their commutes differently in order to be on time, which is what people with those jobs generally do.

          The issue is if these jobs don’t genuinely need that.

              1. Mike C.*

                No, it’s a given that there exist jobs that absolutely require someone to be there at a specific time.

          1. ceiswyn*

            However, there are also some commutes that are genuinely extremely variable. For example, in a past job I used to commute along the M4 motorway. That commute would randomly vary between 30 minutes and 75 minutes. In addition, you could expect that every so often (when there was a collision), it would take 3 hours.

            Planning for the 75 minute worst usual case would involve regularly turning up at the office at 8.15 for a 9am start. In an inflexible office where everyone starts at 9, there’s a high chance the office will still be locked at that time; either way, you’re going to have some annoying dead time to fill. And despite that, every so often you will STILL be reprimanded because you’re two hours late.

            (I used to plan for a 45 minute commute, and sometimes I’d get in 15 minutes early, and sometimes I’d be half an hour late. Fortunately, nobody cared.)

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I mean… if you leave your house at 8 every day and typically walk in the door between 8:17 and 8:22 for your 8:30 shift, that is a normal traffic variable. If you have occasional days where you leave at 8 and don’t arrive until 8:35 or 9 because of an anomaly, then that shouldn’t be an issue.

          But if you leave your house at 8 every day and walk in the door at 8:29 for your 8:30 shift, then you should probably think about leaving your house at 7:55 to give yourself more of a buffer.

          1. Mike C.*

            Sure, but we’re talking about a variability of 30-90 minutes.

            /Also, if you’re walking in at 8:29 for your 8:30 shift, that just seems like efficient use of “just in time practices” to me. ;)

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Yeah, I missed the part about the 30-90 minutes.

              Though I admit that I find it hard to believe. I’ve lived in two major cities and commuted via public transit and private vehicle and have never seen that type of variance on a regular basis. Sure, there are rare occasions when something catastrophic happens, but it’s crazy to me that the same commute can take up to an hour longer all the time on a normal day.

              1. Mike C.*

                You know I was thinking the same thing, but then I remembered a few towns just north of me where train tracks go straight through downtown on the main drag. These aren’t scheduled commuter trains, they’re freight that come and go as they please. If you get caught behind some massive coal train, you’re going to be sitting there for a very long time.

                Construction could also be an issue, but that’s usually better planned.

              2. Jessie the First (or second)*

                I no longer commute into Boston, but my experience with that commute back a few years ago mirrors the OP’s. I took the train in to work, and several times a week for a two month period straight, I got into work late because my train just *did not show up* (the MBTA’s excuse was “it’s too cold for the trains!” So, like, did you not build your trains to withstand winter temps in Massachusetts?). And DO NOT get me started on the every day horribleness that is the red line subway.

                The current year performance measures are not looking good – for the bus, for fiscal year 2017, it’s at 67% reliability so far. The train is at 88%. Some particular train lines are worse than others – I know some regularly seem to have cancellations at the last minute, and are often delayed, while others are nearly perfect, so I suspect that train average reflects some intense variability among lines.

                TL/DR: yeah, I absolutely believe a commute can vary regularly and significantly.

              3. Rookie Manager*

                Monday on the M77 took me 40 minutes. Tuesday on M77 took me 1hr 25min.

                This is unfortunately normal for me (which is why I prefer a later start, shorter commute time).

              4. Insert name here*

                oh it TOTALLY can. I used to live in southern california and worked overnights. Here’s how long it took me to get home depending on what time I left:

                5am 45 mins (this is a light traffic scenario and how long it took me to drive in at 9pmish)
                530am 50-55 mins
                6am 1 hr
                615/630 am 1hr + (usually an hr 15)
                7am 90 minutes minimum

                depending on what I had going on I was able to basically make my own hours as long as I had enough time prior to the maintenance window to prep for my work, but sometimes in the am i had to stay later if something had gone bad or if i was just really busy.

              5. Optimistic Prime*

                I’ve lived in a couple major cities and commuted both by car and public transit…trust me, it exists, especially if your transit system is chronically late, has delays, or runs relatively infrequent service in the direction you’re going.

                In fact, just earlier this week my normally 20-minute commute took me 1.5 hours because of unannounced construction on my route.

      2. Murphy*

        Upon reread I missed the part about a 30-minute versus a 90-minute commute. If that’s happening regularly you can’t plan for that.

        1. caryatis*

          Sure you can. If you know traffic might mean an hour longer commute, you leave an hour earlier. Then, if you’re lucky, you get there an hour early, and worst-case-scenario, you’re on time. I completely understand why people don’t want to do that and would rather have the flexibility, but if you really need to be on time, you can be.

          1. Roscoe*

            Being early is good and well when you can also leave early. But if you are, for example, taking public transportation, and getting there 45 minutes early, but can’t even get in the building, well that is problematic on its own. Even if you can get in early, why do anything if you are still expected to be there until exactly 5

          2. Mike C.*

            That can be a massive amount of time, depending on the distribution of early/late occurrences. If there’s nothing to be gained from having a specific start time, then that’s an incredible waste.

          3. Natalie*

            How reasonable this approach is depends on how often a 200% delay happens, IMO. If it’s happening multiple times a week, then yes, clearly the employee should assume 90 minute commute is the norm and plan accordingly. But less often, once or twice a month say, the employer should probably accept that as a “life happens” moment.

            1. Mike C.*

              To add on to my post below, but if you’re talking about twice a month and normal vacation/sick leave policies, that accounts for around 10% of the number of workdays that an employee will be late.

          4. LBK*

            Is the company going to compensate me for the times I end up being super early, either by letting me clock in earlier or letting me leave earlier? Adding an extra hour into your schedule that will usually be spent sitting around doing nothing when you show up early is a pretty huge imposition on your work/life balance when there isn’t a strong business justification for needing you there at a particular time.

            1. LizB*

              This, exactly. Maybe employees who show up early are allowed to clock in early and get paid for their time… or maybe they’re twiddling their thumbs until 9 and still having to stay until 5 on the dot. If it’s the latter, that’s not especially helpful to work/life balance. Yeah, I can bring a book or listen to podcasts if I arrive at work early, but I’d rather do those things in the comfort of my home if the work isn’t time sensitive.

          5. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            “If you know traffic might mean an hour longer commute, you leave an hour earlier.”

            What on Earth makes you think I have an hour to spare before work? The toddler wakes up at 8:30 and needs fed, clothed, and played with. Daycare opens at 7:30. I need to be at work between 8 and 8:30. I can’t leave an hour early. If there’s massive traffic, work starts later. And my work, thankfully, is not as rigid as you are.

            1. Zahra*

              And, if you’re alone with the toddler, 1 hour to get ready is not a lot of time. When they begin the “No, me!” phase, everything takes 3 times as much time.

              My husband can get the kiddo ready in one hour, but that’s because I prepare both our lunches, leave the bags at the door, etc. And the kiddo complies more to his demands than mine. When I was alone with the kiddo, 90 minutes was the usual time. Even when preparing most of the lunches the night before.

            2. CrazyEngineerGirl*

              But, the thing is, it is possible to expect people to be on time to work if it’s a rigid schedule. It may not be realistic for many people, but those people probably wouldn’t take or couldn’t keep those jobs. If a person had a job that had a rigid 8 am start time and they had a commute that varied from 20 minutes to 45 on any given day without warning and some totally reasonable life situation (like an open at 7:30 daycare), well, they would probably leave that job or end up fired for chronic tardiness. The only other option, which people somewhere probably do every day, is to change their lives to accommodate their job (leave ridiculously early, move, different daycare, etc.) And I don’t think either of these things are wrong. It’s okay to say a rigid job schedule won’t work for you and you wouldn’t/couldn’t do it. It’s also okay to say ‘I need this job and have no other option’ or ‘I love this job so I’ll make it work’ and do whatever you have to.

              1. CrazyEngineerGirl*

                Just to be clear though, I hate rigid schedules and think every job where it’s not IMPOSSIBLE FOR SOME REASON, should offer at least some degree of flexibility.

          6. Dust Bunny*

            Of course you can. It’s the same commute every day–it’s going to have roughly the same traffic. And if you’re late that much, you’re obviously erring on the side of not leaving enough time. This isn’t rocket science.

            My commute runs about an hour in the morning. I’m usually about 15 minutes before my actual clock-in time. I’m late on occasion, but basically only if the freeway is totally shut down.

            1. Mike C.*

              The OP said that the commute runs from 30 to 90 minutes. That’s not “roughly the same traffic”. Depending on the tolerance for what counts as late and the tolerance for how often someone can be late, the standard may be reasonable or may be completely bonkers.

              I do agree that this isn’t rocket science, it’s statistical process control.

            2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Well, it’s nice that you have a reliable commute. Many don’t.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But yet there are loads of people in jobs that truly require strict time of arrival who do manage to consistently arrive on time. It’s doable. It’s weird to me that a lot of the discussion here sounds like it’s a crazy, onerous requirement that is nigh-impossible to meet, when loads of people meet it every day.

                Obviously I agree that the employer shouldn’t be this strict if they don’t need to (see: my response in the original post) but I don’t think it’s credible to argue that being consistently on time is such an albatross. Millions of people manage it.

                1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  Oh, I think it’s definitely reasonable to expect people to be consistently on time if that’s a requirement of the position, but even then, “consistently on time” needs to incorporate the understanding that planning only goes so far and people are going to be late some small percentage of the time.

                  A lot of the more stickler-ish viewpoints on here seem to press the point that there’s no reason for anyone to be late, and if you might be late, you just need to plan ahead and build another 30, 40, 60 minutes of buffer so you’re never late. That’s what seems crazy and onerous.

                2. Mike C.*

                  The thing is, there are the employers who need you to be there on the dot, there are employers who expect you to be in at a certain time but forgive minutes here and there and then there are the folks that are fully flexible.

                  Given that the only reason for the strict time is “the president likes it that way”, I suspect the OP’s workplace isn’t in the first category. It could be, but I think that would have been mentioned as a justification for the strict rules.

                  In categories 2 and 3, a few minutes here and there aren’t going to be a problem, everything else being equal. In this situation, that’s not the case, which is why (for me) the standard feels incredibly onerous. The addition of a highly variable commute time of 30-90 minutes makes this sort of standard even more difficult.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  @Not Mad — Oh! I was reading it as people saying the requirement in general is impossible, but what you’re saying makes it all make more sense.

            3. Ramona Flowers*

              “It’s the same commute every day–it’s going to have roughly the same traffic”

              Oh how I laughed.

              It’s not like this where I am.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                yeah. Like when they run out of money to plow, so you have 18-24 inches of snow and no plow truck. Guard rails? Who needs them? People should just drive slower in 2 feet of snow with no plow trucks.

                My personal fav: County closed due to ice storm. Half hour late for work, after driving for two hours. “You should have left earlier.”

                And the classic: You need to start earlier. “I got up at 3 am to start to clear snow to be here at 8:30 am. What time would you like me to get up?”


          7. Observer*

            That’s an extremely unreasonable expectation for a job that doesn’t need that kind of exactitude. Given the excuse that the OP says is the official reason for this policy, it seems pretty clear that most of the positions really don’t need that kind of punctuality.

            That’s really the thing that grates – please don’t expect this kind of accommodation when it’s not necessary, and then provide a baloney excuse for that.

          8. Nephron*

            Except you can turn this around. Why did this nonprofit locate itself in a city or location that has such variable traffic/commute times? They likely have a reason for being where they are that either helps them do the goal of the nonprofit, or saves them money. Well if the trade-off for being in that location is highly variable commute times, why are the employees paying the cost of a company decision?

      3. Ann O. Nymous*

        As someone who lives & works in a US city that is enduring an absolutely hellish time in our metro system (a huge repair backlog that is only now getting addressed but is also resulting in many switch failures, unexpected delays, train overcrowding, irregular train intervals that change without warning, the occasional red-light running by train operators, and oh, a handful of train track fires in the last 1-2 years, including one that resulted in a smoke inhalation death at a station I use frequently),* it’s not always that easy. I can leave on time, I can leave early, but I never know if I’m going to be nice and early with a smooth commute or if I’m going to be stopped in a tunnel for 15 minutes or see a random 15-minute train gap at 8:45 am on a weekday.

        This is all to say that in some major cities, you really and truly can be chronically late through no fault of your own.

        *it’s probably pretty easy to guess which city I live in

        1. caryatis*

          >This is all to say that in some major cities, you really and truly can be chronically late through no fault of your own.

          Except you’re choosing not to allow extra time in your schedule to account for delay.

          1. Jadelyn*

            So, you really think people should sacrifice an extra hour or more every day *just in case*? And then if there are no delays they…what…just sit outside the office and waste an hour of their day that they’re not being paid for?

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              That seems to be the expectation, yes. Because I clearly have an hour to spare for that.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                And all in the name of keeping work from interfering with your personal life, which is why OP says the policy exists in the first place!
                And to avoid being 10 minutes late… the OP says people are 5, 10, or 15 minutes late. That’s the big lateness problem that employees should apparently leave home an hour or two early for, or pull their kids out of school and find a new school for, or sell their house and move for.

                (That way, they won’t be letting work interfere with their personal lives because they will be at the office at 9 am, and not 9:10. Perfect!)

                1. Jadelyn*

                  Ironic, isn’t it? “We want a clear separation between work and personal life. Therefore, we expect you to sacrifice an extra unpaid hour of your personal life to us every single day in order to always perfectly meet our unreasonably strict schedule requirements.”

                2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  Yup. The entire chain of reasoning is bonkers.

            2. AldenPond*

              I live in NYC and if the commute goes smoothly, I get to work 40 minutes early. If I don’t feel like starting the day early, I just take a walk and finish up the podcast I was listening to. I don’t consider it “wasting an hour”.

              1. Observer*

                Well, that’s nice if have the the time and safety to be able to to devote 40 minutes to a nice walk with a podcast. At my office spending 40 minutes taking a walk, with something in my ears is asking to get mugged.

                1. JamieS*

                  I think it’s better to focus on AldenPond’s overall point (find something to fill your time) rather than the exact specifics. Sure it may not be feasible for you to go for a walk with earphones in but there’s probably something you could do to fill your time if you were in a similar situation.

                2. Observer*

                  But that’s the point – for a lot of people, that’s almost certainly not true. If it can’t be helped, it can’t be helped. But it’s important to understand the level of burden it can be.

              2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                40 minutes of time to spend taking a walk and finishing a podcast is a luxury many don’t have. I can’t leave 40 minutes early because daycare is closed then.

                1. AldenPond*

                  I understand it doesn’t work for everybody, but I do have a job with a hard start time (it is a retail shop), so I’m just saying that’s what I do to make sure I get to work on time and not feel like I’ve wasted an hour.

                2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  Sure, not everybody can have sandwiches, but parenthood is not exactly uncommon, and neither are other life circumstances where 40 minutes of buffer is unreasonable.

                3. Case of the Mondays*


                  I see the “not everyone can have sandwiches” thing posted here a lot. I’ve figured out the reference from context but I didn’t get to read the original post. Can you send a link?

                  Irritable Scientist,

                  I’m also pro-flex time in jobs that can handle that. I’ve also worked jobs that couldn’t. I was a corrections officer, my friend was a nurse. These jobs had hard start times at 7 am, earlier than most daycares open. You knew that taking the job and had to find alternate child care arrangements if you wanted to work there. There was a huge issue about forced overtime in semi-emergency situations. Too many people called in sick and no one was taking voluntary overtime. That meant someone would get forced overtime. Initially they made exceptions for people with childcare issues. That got a lot of flak from the people without kids. They changed the rule with three months notice and you had to have backup emergency plans for forced overtime to continue working there. It only happened twice per year max but saying “I have to get my kid” would no longer be a legitimate excuse. In response, half of the parents got doctors notes saying they had a disability preventing them from working more than 9 hours per day.

                  I no longer work there but I’m interested in what a fair outcome would be in your eyes that is fair to parents and people without kids alike in a job where you must stop and finish at a set time (with possible forced overtime).

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Oh, sorry! It’s from the commenting rules:


                  The relevant excerpt:

                  Don’t aggressively shoot down suggestions just because they might not work in one particular circumstance. For example, don’t do this:

                  Person 1: “I’m having a problem that could be solved by easy things to bring for lunch.”
                  Person 2: “Sandwiches are easy and delicious.”
                  Person 3: “Not everyone can eat sandwiches! Some people are allergic to them. Thus, your suggestion sucks and you should be more considerate.”

                5. Amy*

                  Case of the Mondays,

                  If involuntary overtime is an unavoidable reality, it sounds like your employer did what they could to make it ‘fair’ by not making exceptions for parents. By doing that, they basically said “We know you all have lives and obligations outside work, and we’re not going to make judgements on which obligations are more important. On rare occasion we’ll need to get last-minute coverage for whatever other stuff you have and stay at work; this is the same for everybody.” (Some people choosing to get a medical exception is beyond their control, and people without kids could have done the same thing, assuming they had a medical issue that could convince their doctor to write the note.)

                  If possible, I think a better solution would have been to find a way to cover those situations that didn’t require forced overtime–staffing in such a way that there’s some buffer for semi-emergencies without going into overtime, for example, or having temporary staff on call. But if that’s not possible, then I think they did what they could.

          2. (Different) Rebecca*

            Despite leaving my apartment two hours before I needed to be to class, I had to cancel class because Metro Center was on fire, and the workarounds they proposed didn’t take me far enough up the red-line. No amount of extra time built in was enough, and that’s the type of semi-regular to regular delays we’re having here in the DC metro region. As in, the fire? Not a freak occurrence.

            1. Marillenbaum*

              I follow the Twitter account “Is the Metro on Fire?” Any time a line I rode was, in fact, on fire, I’d just text a screenshot of their post to my supervisor and let him know I would be late.

              1. sam*

                The NYC subway isn’t QUITE this bad yet, but I do follow the relevant twitter accounts online where they post the most recent service updates (sometimes much more up-to-date info than they post anywhere else).

                Also, the MTA has a nice feature where they will actually write you a note for your employer if they have a serious service interruption that caused you to be late to work. It would obviously be better all around if they could make the trains run with less problems, but I kinda like that, in the absence of massive amounts of funding for repairs, they’ll at least give you proof that it’s not your fault you were late (

              2. Optimistic Prime*

                …wait, literally om fire? this is fascinating to me. I used to live in NYC so I know track fires are a thing, but not so common that there’d be a Twitter tracking it!

                1. (Different) Rebecca*

                  100% literally on fire. So often it’s hit the ‘roll your eyes and deal with it’ stage of acceptance. It’s somewhere between annoying and pathetic, unless you’re unlucky enough to be actually *at* one of the stations where there’s electrical flames.

          3. Mike C.*

            How much is reasonable? Given the massive variability between a 30 and 90 minute commute (even before we consider

            What level of performance are you looking for? 80%? 95% 99.9%? 99.999999%?

            You’ve mentioned this twice now, and you’re talking about an area known as “process control”. What you’re saying is no where close to being as simple as you claim it is, unless you consider the cost of wasted time to be zero.

            1. Mike C.*

              For my calculations, I take 2080 hours, divide by 8 to get 260 days. I assume 10 days vacation, 5 days sick leave, which gives me 245 working days in a year.

              So when you consider the following values, here are the number of “late” days you can have, in round numbers. Also remember

              80%: 49 days per year or 4 every month
              95%: 12 days per year or 1 every month
              99%: 2.5 days per year or 1 every 5 months
              99.9%: .245 days per year, or 1 every 4 years
              99.999999%: 2.45*10^-6 days per year or 1 day every 408,163.265 years

            2. Xay*

              Seriously – I’m fortunate enough to live within 20 minutes of my job, but my metro area’s combination of everyday bad traffic plus the exceptional traffic catastrophes of the last 3 months have meant that most people who have to commute longer distances have extremely unpredictable commutes. There are parts of the city where I can’t imagine timing a precise arrival at 9am because there is a specific, almost unavoidable part of the commute that is almost hilariously accident prone (case in point – today there was a watermelon truck spill that shut down traffic from 6-7am). What is the answer, leave at 4am and sit around for hours until you can clock in at 9am and then still work an 8 hour day?

          4. sam*

            Except…some of us do build in that “extra” time and even then, it sometimes doesn’t matter. My “normal” public transit commute is 30 minutes door to door. I usually give myself 45 to account for the oddball late train (I only go a few stops and half of my commute is walking).

            But then there are some mornings when I end up on the train that just…sits. Between stations. for 45 minutes. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t even call someone to let them know because you’re between stations, and there’s only a signal IN the stations.

            I’m lucky in that I don’t actually have to “clock in” at work at a specific time unless I have a call, so I just bring my ipad.

            Even better was when I used to commute (two hours door to door) out to the suburbs. This only happened in the evening, but there were a few times when they just…cancelled multiple trains. For HOURS. That was something. There’s nothing quite like being stranded in another state until late in the night, and then having six trains worth of people try to cram on the train that does finally show up.

            My colleagues down in Atlanta, with its one-inch snowstorms that leave people stranded in home depots and randomly collapsing highways have basically just resigned themselves to working from home most of the time at this point.

            1. Mike C.*

              Except…some of us do build in that “extra” time and even then, it sometimes doesn’t matter.

              This is the huge factor that folks aren’t taking into account. Even if the commute can be as long as 90 minutes, there are going to be freak incidents where it takes even long than that just because freaky things happen. It’s not often, but the expectation that you be on time on the dot in a highly variable situation means that you need to prepare for the freak incident to happen every single day. That’s not reasonable and that’s why most employers don’t track down to the minute like this.

              1. krysb*

                Right! I work in Nashville and used to live in Murfreesboro, about 40 miles away (lots of suburban spread here). If I left for work at 6am, I’d be at work at 7. If I left for work at 6:15, I’d be lucky to make it in by 8. And those are perfect days. There would be a wreck at least 3 days a week, you would just hope you were ahead of it. How much of my personal time am I supposed to give up for a 40 mile commute that I had to take because my job (at the time) didn’t pay me enough to move closer?

            2. Detective Amy Santiago*

              But you do build in time in case of something unforeseen. So when those really unusual circumstances occur, your supervisor is far more likely to cut you a break. If you’re walking in at 8:05 every single day when you are supposed to be there at 8 and saying it’s because of traffic, then you’re not leaving yourself enough time.

              1. sam*

                sure – but it sounds like in this case, the employer is not differentiating between the problem of chronic tardiness (which should probably be addressed) and genuine traffic weirdness.

                and on top of that, from the limited info we have, it’s not entirely clear that arriving at 8 vs 8:05 is actually material to the operation of this business.

                (I mean, when I worked in places where I actually had to be there at a set time – retail, office receptionist, etc. – I always arrived early and just brought a book to hang out nearby for a few minutes before I needed to arrive, because I didn’t want to be late. I absolutely don’t work in one of those jobs now).

          5. A Non E. Mouse*

            Except you’re choosing not to allow extra time in your schedule to account for delay.

            Well I think this is most of the point of being flexible, especially if the company is supposedly enforcing this strict schedule to “keep work at work” – I absolutely could not back my schedule a full hour – I’m already leaving my house with a child in tow at 6:30am each morning, and I’m not arriving home until 6pm.

            If I had a job that seriously thought I should be out of my house a total of 13 hours (backing my full schedule back an hour) so that I could be early every day to work a precise 8 hour shift, I’d find a different job.

            That’s the key – they can enforce whatever they want, but they cannot ALSO expect to retain employees that the policy affects in an outsized way.

            If their goal is to retain employees, enforcing strict start times (I see no mention of someone forcing a hard 5pm stop, interestingly) is not going to work.

            Funnily enough, for some of these people an earlier start time might work out better – this adherence to 9am could be difficult for more people that just those that are coming in late.

          6. gmg*

            As a former DC resident (who misses the city for many reasons but Metro at this point in its history is so veeeeery much not one of them), just co-signing other comments here. You are assuming the length of the delay in this situation is fixed and predictable. We can all assure you, it most decidedly is not.

        2. Ama*

          Is it one that’s had nearly every line go down during morning rush on at least half a dozen occasions in the last two months alone? Because if so I live there, too.

      4. MJChomper*

        Thank you!!!

        As someone who lives in Los Angeles, I will never understand how people can use the excuse of bad traffic as why they are late to work. You live in Los Angeles, hideous traffic is *literally* part of the culture here and will always be an issue. You, as an employee, need to get an earlier start if the time you’re leaving your house is not allowing you to arrive at your job at a reasonable hour. Also, every other person who is employed in Los Angeles is dealing with the exact same traffic, and somehow we are able to arrive when we should. Traffic will never be an acceptable excuse for tardiness. Sorry.

    2. LawBee*

      yes! If they’re chronically late because they slept in, that’s one thing. But weather? Traffic? Public transportation? These are really out of their control! And it isn’t reasonable to expect people to leave their house ridiculously early just in case they hit a bad spot, and then be stuck not-at-home for an hour. Also, it kind of wipes out the whole “separation between work and home” rationale.

      1. paul*

        If it’s the same 3-4 people late for the same reasons every time, and most of the rest don’t have problems (since they’re also dealing with traffic, weather, etc), then I’m sure not inclined to take thier reasoning at face value the umpeenth time in a month it happens.

        That’s separate from how good/bad this policy is.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          I think that’s an important point. Presumably, we’re all dealing with weather, traffic, etc. If most people are largely on time, then that does speak to an issue with the people who are persistently late. My personal trainer said something similar about clients who would show up persistently late to sessions.

      2. Shadow*

        But does the reason actually matter? if I come up with reason after reason after reason does that make it okay. No. Nothing matters except the frequency and the predictableness of the absences.

        1. Dankar*

          Yeah, as a chronically-late person, I agree with Shadow. I’m late because I suck at being on time.

          There are any number of reasons why I get held up: bad traffic, overslept, spent 15 minutes lovingly staring into my dog’s eyes, etc… They’re all pretty avoidable. I’m trying to get better, but it’s been tough to rewire my brain to get me to work a bit early.

          That being said, a rigid start time for a job that doesn’t need it is ridiculous. Why penalize people for showing up ~10 minutes late if there’s no reason that they need to be there right at start time? Think of how much time the OP and management are wasting tracking the latecomers and drafting emails/holding meetings to discuss the policy! That’s way more inefficient than just letting the employees have a bit of flexibility.

      3. Optimistic Prime*

        Mmmm, as someone who used to be chronically late, if you are chronically late there’s always something you can blame it on but usually, really the issue is you. When I was chronically late often there really was something contributing to it, but the underlying problem is that I would only leave enough time for a perfect commute and no error. Now I’ve started building in a little flex time in my morning (about 15-20 minutes) to account for that.

        Now, I’m not going to go crazy and leave 45 minutes early on the off chance there’s s freak accident. But if you actually do really need to be there at 9:00 and you are consistently rolling in between 9:03 and 9:11…that’s a planning problem, barring specific special circumstances (like caregiving).

    3. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      I read that part a little different – theoretically wouldn’t everyone be dealing with weather and traffic (taking into account different commutes)? It sounds like this group is consistently using it as an excuse, whereas other people have figured out how to compensate for it.

      1. Jubilance*

        Compensating for traffic and weather depends on where you live, if you use public transit, etc. Someone who lives within 5 miles of work and drives their own car will have different issues than someone who leave 30 miles away and relies on public transit. In my area, any type of snow means that traffic is gridlocked and buses are super late, so taking an early bus or planning a different route won’t help. Someone else noted the issues with the DC metro – if you take it you’re at their mercy with the single tracking and whatnot. “Compensate for it” doesn’t work in all situations.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          No, you’re right – that’s why I tried to note different commutes mattering. I will admit to being a little frustrated by the idea that people who take public transportation are less able to control their schedule than people who drive, however. I’ve relied on public transportation for most of my adult life, including jobs where I would be rightly fired for not showing up on time 99% of the time. Some employers don’t like to hire people who take public transportation because of the perception that we aren’t going to be reliable and that’s really a problem. And yes, the caveat here being that reliable public transportation just doesn’t exist in many parts of the US, sadly.

          1. Mike C.*

            At the same time, outside of specific jobs that absolutely require coverage at certain times, the vast majority of jobs aren’t going to be counting minutes “late”.

          2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            It really does depend on where you are, though. The public transit in the area I live is an absolute joke; my roommate took buses into downtown for a while, and discovered the hard way that buses would regularly just not show up. She could be at the bus stop in time for the bus before the one she needed… welp, nah, three buses show up back-to-back, all of them 45 minutes later.

          3. Anxa*

            I’m so torn on this issue because, truly, people who don’t take public transportation just don’t understand some of the troubles with it.

            On the other hand, I’ve seen the situations where someone has car trouble and is met with sympathetic acknowledgment of how much that stinks, but the person who was missed by a bus is unreliable.

        2. caryatis*

          >Someone who lives within 5 miles of work and drives their own car will have different issues than someone who leave 30 miles away and relies on public transit.

          You get to choose where you live. And if you choose to live somewhere where you can’t reliably be on time, you are responsible for that.

          1. Manders*

            In urban areas, it’s common for people to have a hard time finding affordable options close to the city center where most offices are located. Since this is a non-profit, I’m assuming they’re not paying the kinds of salaries you might see in tech or finance, and that does mean that their employees have a high chance of living far away from the office.

            Even the high rollers in my area are struggling to get employees to work on time. Some have even resorted to bankrolling their own private bus systems, and most have flexible start times. Urban areas are just kind of a mess right now when it comes to transit because their populations exploded over the last decade.

          2. motherofdragons*

            Maybe you can choose where you live, which is great! But not everyone can. There are so many factors going in to where someone chooses to live, cost of living vs income being not the least of them. Plus, maybe where they lived worked absolutely perfectly for the job before the OP’s nonprofit, and they got laid off or had to move jobs for a whole host of reasons. There are so many scenarios and factors here that to say “If you choose where you live and you chose wrong, that’s on you” comes off as overly simplistic.

          3. Jadelyn*

            You must be a blast at parties.

            You do understand that people have budgets, right? That we can’t just spontaneously manifest a good apartment into being within a close commute range of our offices?

            In an ideal world, sure, people could control for confounding factors and always be perfectly on time. This is not an ideal world, and I’m not sure why you’re so hell-bent on giving people grief for being human and dealing with the messiness inherent in life, simply because they’re not doing so the way you think they should be.

            1. Leatherwings*

              Especially since this is likely in a major metro area (given that there’s public transit and traffic issues). Living right downtown is seriously not an option for non-profit folks in big cities most of the time.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Good point! We’re talking about people living on a nonprofit salary in an urban area. Not usually people who are flush with cash to the point that they can just up and get a condo downtown or something.

            2. Candi*

              I’ve read a lot of caryatis’ comments when going through the archives. Sadly, I have seen a pattern of incredible rigidity in their comments, particularly about The Way Things Should Be.

              It makes me feel bad for them. Being flexible in my thinking opened my eyes to paths beyond what my restricted upbringing allowed. Educating yourself is fantastic.

          4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            “You get to choose where you live. And if you choose to live somewhere where you can’t reliably be on time, you are responsible for that.”

            Your rigidity here really doesn’t match up with reality. Yes, we all choose where we live, within the bounds of affordability, access to housing, and so on. We don’t choose where our new jobs’ offices are located. We don’t choose when our city is going to start a massive infrastructure project or 5 years of work on the subway line. And we don’t choose when our city’s population is going to increase by a third, years after we moved there.

            And sorry, there’s lots of places where being 100% “on time” is not reality. 75% of the time, 80, 90%? Sure. But 100% timeliness when you’re relying on public transit is not a realistic expectation to have, and it’s not something an employer should demand. This thread is full of specific examples of unreliable public transit and cities with giant infrastructure construction projects that create unpredictable delays. Ask any resident of the DC metro, Atlanta, Austin, or the northern Front Range corridor.

            1. nonegiven*

              A big snowstorm in Atlanta coincided with a day my husband needed tech support at work. The guy he talked to said he was the only one in the office that day because he was the only one that lived close enough to walk.

          5. LBK*

            You get to choose where you live.


            You might, in extremely general terms, get to choose where you live. But if you’re in or near pretty much any city, your living arrangement is going to be HEAVILY driven by your budget.

            And I’m sure your response will be “well then move to a cheaper area” but that would also require getting a new job, which makes the whole thing moot and is a ridiculous solution to a problem that doesn’t need to exist when the company could just loosen up the reins on punctuality.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Also, moving costs $2-3k, minimum. If work wants me to move to be more on time, they can front that or they can pound sand.

              1. Candi*

                A friend of mine in Aussie was moving last year. Big city, she was moving to be closer to work. Lots of friends to help, but she still needed to hire a moving company.

                Based on being the kid of a retired US Army sergeant, I told her to take her calculations and double them, then add another $2-3 thou. This was when she was still at the planning stages and hadn’t even picked out a new apartment yet.

                She didn’t budget that. She ran into cost overruns. The final amount was two-thirds again her budgeted amount.

                I did NOT say I told her so. That would be genuinely mean (and she is a very nice person).

                The plus side is her new apartment is 99% perfect. (Unfortunately, they don’t allow pets, and she loves cats.)

                She’s also engaged long-distance, no kids, and makes a wonderful salary as a kick-ass high-level EA. (The top guy appreciates her work.) There were very few limits on her move.

                And it was very hard for her to move in a timely manner and within budget.

          6. Howdy Do*

            Oh I see, you left a critical comment as a reply above; you seem very attached to people’s time people strictly monitored. If delays are unpredictable, then someone can’t leave appropriately early every day, as you suggested. And it’s funny that you think people can just pick up and move closer to work if their commute is long. My commute is a lot longer than my co-workers and much more unpredictable because I have to get on two very congested highways that can go from slow to total standstill very easily. I am lucky to work somewhere that if I get there at 9:15 it’s no big deal as long as I work my 8 hours and it makes me feel like I’m respected enough to be trusted to get my work done and be professional, even if sometimes my commute is doubled by a random traffic accident.

          7. mirinotginger*

            I live in the PNW. Traffic in my city sucks. I got an apartment 4 miles away from my job. I have a 15 minute commute. My entire office just got told that we will now be reporting to an office 35 miles away from the one I work at now. I just signed a new lease. I don’t have the money to break my lease. This new commute usually takes between an hour and an hour 15 minutes, but every now and then it can take 2.5 hours for unknown reasons. Your statement is neither true nor fair

          8. mb13*

            Um excuse me that is absolutely wrong and privileged assumption. Say you work in a none profit in lower downtown manhattan so you’ll make approximately 40k a year (based on So youll be making about 3,000 a month. A one bedroom apartment in manhattan near a train between 100th st and downtown manhattan can range from 2000$-3000$. Most people have student loans, bills, and grocery to buy too beside pay for rent. Some people even have a family. So a one bedroom in the Bronx is about 1,400. Most rational people will chose to live somewhere within their means thats next to a public transportation. So yes you can choose to live right next door to work, but you will be drowning in debt and living a very impoverished life.

            1. mb13*

              Replaying to myself too add that New York is notorious for turning away people of colors from apartment buildings. So say you are a minority that can afford an apartment next to your job in manhattan with your none profit salary, its very likely that you wont even make it through the rent application because of your name or skin color.

          9. Xay*

            Sure you can choose where you live. But fortunately I chose to live in a great neighborhood 7 years ago before anyone knew about it while I had an established career and a great income. My coworker who just finished grad school last year and is new to the area can’t afford to live in my part of town.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              I bought my house around 10 years ago, when it had doubled in value from 2 years before, and now is getting to being worth near 3 times what I paid for it – and it’s just a 2 bedroom house in a neighbourhood that gentrified around us. There’s no way I could afford to live in my neighbourhood if I was 10 years younger than I am, unless I won the lottery/got a legacy from a surprise relative I’d never heard of.

              And I’m definitely middle class. Had I been on the minimum wage, I would never have been able to afford this place – and with more people moving into the middle/centre of cities, traditional working class neighbourhoods are gentrifying, pushing people on min. wage jobs further and further out – costing them more and more in time and money, to commute to where the work is.

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              Yeah, this. I would love to live even closer to my job than I currently do, but all the two towns within a 10-15 commuting distance of my job have median home prices of around $800,000. Home price rise has been in the double digits in the last couple years. I finished graduate school in 2014 and am in the same boat – I moved to a tech city for a tech job during a tech boom.

          10. Observer*

            You get to choose where you live. And if you choose to live somewhere where you can’t reliably be on time, you are responsible for that.

            That’s actually not true. Many, many jobs do not pay enough for people to be able to live within a radius where transportation problems are not going to be an issue. And many more jobs are located in places where you can’t live in that radius because of zoning etc.

          11. Optimistic Prime*

            …do you, or have you, ever lived in an expensive urban area? Because in most of the places where I’ve lived, “you get to choose where you live” is more of a theory than a fact.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Even if everyone has the same commute (which wouldn’t really be true, right? If I commute into Boston, my commute from the south shore is different than the commute from the north shore or metro west) there are still going to be variations. The OP mentions traffic variations of up to an hour – sometimes the commute is 30 minutes, and sometimes 90 minutes. Any parent who relies on daycare may not be able to always start the day an entire hour earlier (if daycare opens at 8, then that’s when a parent can start the commute, regardless what traffic delays exist).

        So I would absolutely not assume that some people are just using traffic as an “excuse,” but that different people have different commutes and different before-work, family requirements.

        And hey, if the company does not care and wants people at 9 am regardless, they can do that. But they are going to have to own the fact that the policy will cost them some otherwise good employees.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          I am 100% behind your last paragraph. This policy seems unnecessary here. But there are lots of people who do absolutely have to be at their jobs at a certain time, and who manage to make it work, no matter the consequences. I think that given the situation the OP describes, it’s entirely likely that some people, correctly perceiving the policy as BS, are relying on excuses for being late.

        2. caryatis*

          Because there’s only one daycare in the entire area?

          It’s easy to come up with excuses. But if you really need to be on time, and you’re a competent person, you’ll find a way.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Maybe you’ll find a way 98% of the time, but no, even with jobs where you really need to be on time, it’s not actually reasonable to expect a perfect record.

          2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            And speaking of which, yes, sometimes there really only one daycare in the area – if only de facto. There’s only one daycare in my neighborhood that is affordable, has a good record and reviews, incorporates actual education instead of just crowd control, and is located in the same facility as preschool. Sure, I could park him somewhere else that’s ruinously expensive, crappy, 15 minutes further out of the way, or which requires me to come back at 11 and take him to preschool, or some combination of the above, but if you’re hoping that doing so will keep me warming the seat 15 minutes earlier, it won’t help.

            1. Cobol*

              Yeah I’d rather get fired for not coming into work on time than pull my kids out of the daycare we spent months choosing.

            2. Candi*

              One thing I learned when working daycare is that if a daycare doesn’t have AT LEAST a six week waiting list, they are either very new or very bad.

              The daycare I worked at was just across the road from a school. Our waiting list was four months out, mostly K-6. And we were a four-staff home based daycare.

              For the record, the mall I worked at for food court and housekeeping was AWFUL in every way that has ever come up on this site, except paying on time and breaks -and we have an incredibly onboard state DOL, which likely has a lot to do with that.

              Those jobs were butt in seat/feet on deck ON TIME when you were absolutely supposed to be there for your state minimum wage shift, and management could be nasty when you called out sick. But it was okay if they sent you home. (Yeah, your mall housekeeper, cleaning stuff, working sick.)

              As bad as this place was, we were STILL able to clock in up to four minutes late without even a dirty look.

              So, not seeing why this place is being so persnickety, especially if people are making genuine efforts to get in.

          3. Jessie the First (or second)*

            I find your comments on this whole portion of the thread to be bizarrely hostile to employees.

            I mean, it’s just weird not to acknowledge that things can go wrong. And in the context of the OP’s letter, in which the stated justification for the policy is so that work doesn’t bleed over into personal life, it is especially strange to be arguing things like “you can just move! You chose where to live, that’s on you! You should always leave in time for the worst-case commute! You should change schools for your kids!”


            1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

              Yeah, I’m feeling kind of awkward that m comments led to both of those replies. I really meant to make a specific and limited point about what might be motivating some of the specific workers in this situations, not to invite criticism toward people with less flexibility than others. My apologies that it went down a harsher road than I intended.

          4. Jadelyn*

            Wow. Just…wow. So literally everyone who fails to completely perfectly predict every possible confounding factor, including ones which are inherently unpredictable such as a major accident on the freeway or something like that, is “an incompetent person”?

            A few jobs back, there was a huge accident on the highway that I absolutely had to take to get to the office on my first day. A gas tanker had overturned and fallen from an overpass down onto the highway below, and both the freeway above and the highway below were closed. There are a handful of alternate routes in the area if you know the streets well, but in a situation like that you’ve got small back roads suddenly trying to accommodate the level of traffic normally seen on a four-lane freeway or 3-lane highway, so no matter how well you know the back roads you’re still on them with a few thousand other cars, and you’re so blocked in that you literally can’t make a U-turn and get out to try to find a different way around the blockage. Every single alternate route in the area was backed up to a dead stop. What should’ve been a 40-minute commute, which I had left myself a full hour for just in case of traffic or other unforeseen circumstances, ended up being nearly two hours.

            So please, tell me how I was supposed to have prevented that in order to be a “competent person”?

            1. paul*


              Someone who fails to plan for something that happens regularly, is bad at planning.

              If you’re late all the damn time, you’re not scheduling your commute well and need a cushion built in to it.

              Stuff happens on occasion sure, and this employer is being so nitpicky that being 15 minutes late once in a great while is going to get a person written up, yeah they’re being crazy. But if someone’s 15 minutes late 2 or 3 times a week? That’s on them.

              1. Jadelyn*

                But that’s not really what I was addressing. I was speaking specifically to the part of the comment which read “But if you really need to be on time, and you’re a competent person, you’ll find a way.” That’s an extremely harsh, overly broad blanket statement which fails to take into account that life is messy and unpredictable sometimes.

                And again, I go back to a discussion upthread, about the alternative. Are you really saying you expect people to leave a full *hour* earlier on the off chance there might be traffic, and then if there isn’t, just sit around unpaid for an hour before they can go in to work?

                Honestly, I’m not sure why you and caryatis are both so invested in harshly judging people in this thread. It’s getting a little weird.

          5. LBK*

            The economy is strong enough right now that I think competent people won’t find a way, they’ll just find a new job. That’s certainly what I would do.

            1. Leatherwings*

              Yep! Especially if there’s some sort of “punishment” awaiting me if I get to work 5 minutes late because [insert shit that happens here].

              1. LBK*

                Frankly, I don’t even care if [insert shit that happens here] is that I just didn’t get out of bed until 5 minutes later. It’s absurd to clock me for that time if I’m delivering on the parts of my job that actually matter, and I’d quit a job that placed weighted hours worked/punctuality on any level even remotely close to how much they cared about the actual work I was doing.

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              Yeah, quite frankly I’m really good at what I do in an in-demand field, and if my job decided to start carping about me being 2 minutes late then I’d find another job. They can pound sand and spend the money trying to replace me.

          6. Kyrielle*

            Or, if you want your kid in the day care that is good and had openings (and oh my word, seriously, day cares – not just ‘the best’, day cares in general – are _wait listed_ around here, you will not switch quickly or easily!), and your job doesn’t *need* you there at those times but just *insists* you be there anyway….

            …you will prove your competence by finding yourself a job that better suits your life / is more reasonable, and walk.

            It’s absolutely the company’s right to decide they’re going to do this, _and_ it is reasonable to point out that when not necessary, this is not employee-friendly and will cost them employees. And it is not unreasonable for those employees to leave, when they have that ability, or to find the policy eyeroll-worthy. (I would hope that, if this is communicated during the hiring process, most such employees would self-select out – accepting the job knowing the requirement and that you won’t follow it would be a different thing to me.)

          7. Mike C.*

            You’re not accounting for the fact that “the way” may be completely unreasonable or simply be “finding work elsewhere”.

          8. Temperance*

            Last summer, SEPTA benched 1/3 of its train fleet. For me to be reliably on time every day, I had to leave by house by 6:45 a.m. to get to work hopefully by 9. I would have had to be out of the house by 5:45 to 100% make it early every day. I physically could not get by on such little sleep, so I caught the 6:45, felt like crap, and made it most of the time.

            But please, once again, call everyone who doesn’t have as charmed of a life as you incompetent. Ugh.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Ugh. I would hope that employers would have been accommodating of that kind of thing. A major transit strike/shutdown/whatever for a sustained period of time should not penalize any employees.

          9. Amy*

            It is reasonable to expect people to be mostly on time MOST of the time to a start time they said they could do. But even the best planners will get caught in the lurch once in a while! Maybe there was a major accident on their commute route, maybe weather shut down a route they rely on, maybe their car got a flat unexpectedly, who knows. Perfection isn’t a reasonable expectation for anyone.

      3. Luisa*

        That was my take on it, too, although I’m sure there are people from both groups. I have a couple of coworkers who have truly terrible commutes because of where they live relative to where our workplace is. Some of them are the people who always get in on time or early, because they’ve worked out what they needed to do in order to make that happen (and, importantly, had a lifestyle that allowed them to do so, i.e. they could drive instead of taking transit, or could have a partner do daycare drop-off, or they didn’t have to worry about that because of no kids, etc.). And then there are people who are always late or almost late, because they either don’t have options to avoid the things that cause them to be late (no car, no partner to take the kid/dog/moose/whatever to care, etc.) or they choose to not adjust their lives in order to arrive on time or slightly earlier (like my one coworker who is weirdly proud of being able to sleep through seven alarms). We’ve definitely lost employees who couldn’t adhere to the fixed start time, but we’re an elementary school, so there’s really no practical way around it.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          Yes, thank you! This was all I was trying to point out, and I certainly didn’t mean to imply that everyone who is late because of traffic or public transportation issues is incompetent or lying.

    4. Alton*

      Also, if transportation is a common problem for people, getting to work on time might require people to leave home much earlier or potentially get to work significantly early, that could go against the intention of helping people maintain work-life balance.

      At my job, I need to start at 8, so I have to get a 7:00 bus, which usually gets me to work between 7:35 and 7:45. I don’t mind this, and I actually do like that I have a consistent schedule and no pressure to work outside those hours, so it’s an okay trade-off for me. But I think for a lot of people, having to get to work early every day in order to start on time would feel like the opposite of having good work-life balance.

      1. NoNameYet*

        Your sentiments are the same as mine– I have the option between two buses, one that will get me in to work 45 minutes early and the second that, *if on time* will get me to work like ~5 minutes before our start time. The second bus is rarely ever on time due to traffic. I’d be agitated if I was arbitrarily required to stay an additional 45 minutes because of the spotty city bus schedule.

        1. Jadelyn*

          The whole rigidity around start times is particularly hard on people who rely on public transit. People who have cars can choose their own departure time, choose their route, check the traffic app and take a back road to work, whatever. People who rely on buses or trains to get where they need to be have to leave when those leave, and go on the routes those take, end of story. A super-rigid policy like this winds up being punishment for not owning a car.

    5. Optimistic Prime*

      Meh, as someone who used to be chronically late, I’m not sure I agree. I know there are plenty of people who are chronically late because of reasons outside their control – especially if they are caregivers – but when I was chronically late, it was because I wanted to spend those extra 5 minutes in bed or gave myself juuuuust enough time to get out of the house and get to work. And even though I was perfectly capable of fixing this issue, I didn’t fix it myself until I was motivated to do so (e.g., I wanted to change my perception from someone who was chronically late to someone who was always on time or early).

  17. Murphy*

    I had a job that was really strict on arrival​and departure times, with no reason for it as far as I could see. I hated that, so I agree with Alison’s advise. (In my next job, we had specific shifts, which DID make sense, so that was fine.) I’m very grateful that my current ​job is flexible as long as I work the right amount of hours.

  18. Fronzel Neekburm*

    You may want to break down the cost of hiring new people, since the turnover there must be insane.

    Talk to your managers. Dump the rule. (Especially ones about strict lunch times? What? Can they get their own lunches, or are they told what the have to take?)

  19. NotAnotherManager!*

    Unless there is some immovable business need that requires people be in exactly at 9 a.m., I would encourage the higher ups at your organization to lighten up – particularly since the president insisting on the rule is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do type. Our former administration had a similar philosophy on tardiness (along with an insanely convoluted method of calculating minutes of tardiness), and it was terrible for morale, particularly since so much of our work force relies on the DC Metro, which is currently a complete mess. We had a regime change a few years ago, and we’re no longer dinging people for showing up five minutes late but rather letting them take it off lunch or add it to the end of the day. (That’s not to say there aren’t real, chronic tardiness issues that need to be dealt with, but I’d rather pull Fergus aside and directly address that he hasn’t managed to show up within 30 minutes of his start time in nearly two weeks than mass email every, which makes the compliant people feel they’re being picked on and is likely ignored by the people that most need the feedback.)

    Your organizational leadership has to decide if this is their hill to die on, but I’d caution against making it one unless it’s critical to organizational mission.

  20. LS*

    This is especially bad because of the issues you mentioned around commute time in your area. If a commute is unpredictably any between 30-90 minutes, you’re basically asking people to plan for a 90 commute which could become a 30 minute commute, and SIT AND WAIT FOR AN HOUR until work officially starts.

    The fact that your president doesn’t arrive on time makes me wonder about the workplace culture: “do as I say, not as I do” does not breed a healthy environment.

    1. Jennifer M.*

      Exactly. I drove to work at OldJob. It was 18 miles almost exactly. Leaving at 7:30am, those 18 miles could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Eventually I didn’t even bother to leave home until 9am and I would get to work around 9:40 and stay until about 7pm when the traffic died down again.

      I’m slowly transitioning from metro to MARC but I still have to take either the bus or the metro for a leg of the trip. More predictable, but still subject to the typical metro shenanigans plus I’m on the line of the MARC that is owned by CSX and is subject to heat orders which delay things.

  21. WG*

    Is it possible to suggest a system where people have a range for their start and end times? For example, 8:45 a.m. – 5:15 p.m., with the expectation that the full daily hours are worked. For jobs where being in your seat at the exact starting time isn’t vital, providing a small range of flexibility could appease the higher-ups and allow some leeway for life and traffic.

  22. LizB*

    Yeah, this is not the way to help staff feel like they have a separation between their work and personal lives. You do that by not doing after-hours phone calls or emails, encouraging people to take real time off, providing appropriate technology so people don’t have to BYOD, requiring that client files stay on-site, not authorizing overtime except in emergencies, or any number of other options. If my workplace had a to-the-minute attendance policy, the stress of not knowing how my morning commute would go would bleed into my personal life for sure – exactly the opposite of what OP’s workplace is supposedly trying to do with this policy.

    Plus, if work starts strictly at 9 and staff aren’t allowed to start before then, being at work “on time” will really mean getting there 5+ minutes early and then sitting around doing nothing. Also not helpful for work/life balance.

  23. Jubilance*

    If I were an employee of this non-profit, all this micromanaging of my time for no good reason would be incredibly demoralizing. You’ve noted that the strict hours are so that employees can have separation between work and personal time, but doesn’t strike as a particularly good reason. I could see if doors opened at 9AM or clients are seen until 5PM and requiring coverage…but just “be here at 9AM cause we said so!” is demeaning. Adults, especially adults who produce results, should be able to manage their own schedules and get their work done regardless if they come in at 9AM on the dot or 9:15AM. The president insisting on this rule but not following it himself just makes it worse, as you’re expecting lower level employees to stick to a rule (and possibly be punished for it) while senior leaders get to openly flout it. I’m not surprised that you’re having retention issues. If you can OP, push back on this idea of punishment as hard as you can, and see if you can get the rule scrapped all together.

    1. motherofdragons*

      I agree that the president not adhering to this rule is not a huge deal in and of itself, but compounded by the utter mismatch between “We want you to balance your lives!” and “Be here by 9am OR ELSE!!” it’s just salt on the wound. And the OP does note that they are literally losing staff because of it! I know that some areas of the nonprofit sector can be plagued by high turnover, but this seems so fixable.

    2. Natalie*

      It’s particularly foolish coming from a non-profit, where pay is usually lower. Assuming flex time makes sense for the work, it’s a *free perk* you can offer people.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Seriously – when the org is paying people less, *and* being ridiculously rigid and strict, why on earth would anyone want to work there?

  24. LBK*

    If you’re unable to change the policy, I agree with Alison that you need to delegate this issue to individual managers of repeat offenders. There’s absolutely no reason this is your problem – it may be your responsibility to distribute information about company policies as operations manager, but it’s definitely not your job to enforce them, plus (as you yourself note) it’s a completely ineffective way of handling it. It doesn’t fix the problem for the individual offenders and it just annoys anyone who is showing up on time that they’re being painted with the same broad brush.

  25. Manders*

    The fact that so many people are relying on public transit to get to the office, combined with the (relative) lateness of your strict start time, might be a big part of the problem. Sometimes your only choices during rush hour are a bus that gets you there half an hour or even a full hour early and one that consistently makes you just a few minutes late. Letting people come in earlier than 9 or stay later than 5 to avoid the worst parts of rush hour or keep their schedule in sync with available transit options is a very common practice.

    I *would* consider leaving a job if I had to show up an hour early just to linger outside the office, or if a commute that could be 30 minutes was stretched to 90 by inflexible scheduling. Commute issues are a huge part of work/life balance.

  26. Episkey*

    I used to work in an office like this and, hands-down, one of the things I hated most about it. Super rigid, zero flexibility. It definitely is one of the reasons I left. When I was again job searching and contacted them to give a heads up for reference purposes, they wanted me to come back. There was no way in hell. You are probably really driving people away with this kind of rigidness.

  27. Anon Anon*

    I would argue that the 1980’s called and they want their office back.

    I think this point by Alison is particularly critical for all organizations:

    Well-run organizations keep the focus on results, and they try to give employees as much flexibility as they reasonably can. That’s part of how they attract and retain good employees, and it’s how they build cultures that care about results over appearances. And you might point out that you’re competing for good employees against organizations that are increasingly giving people this kind of flexibility.

    I think some organization’s are forgetting that unemployment isn’t over 10% anymore. It’s now under 5% and people can and will leave for organizations that offer better benefits (hard and soft). And it sounds like from the LW that retention of good employees is becoming a major issue and so you may need to review this policy.

  28. Anon for this*

    I have been casually browsing openings in my field (technology / design related, and it’s often difficult to fill positions due to skills shortages) and I saw a post where “punctual arrival and departure” were listed as requirements. I didn’t bother to read any further. I won’t work for a company that manages by checking what time I clocked in and out. I’m also not interested in a company that ignores the fact that {life happens} and that if my partner is sick or I have a meeting at my child’s school, I will need to schedule my other commitments around that. If I’m doing my job and managing expectations I expect to be treated as an adult.

    1. writelhd*

      While I agree, I’ll point out that my company handbook says that but in practice we have flexibility to leave and arrive and adjust schedules as needed. Not always that easy to determine ahead of time what the culture really will be.

      1. Anon for this*

        That would have been okay, and I’ve worked in places where you were expected to keep certain hours initially – but once you’d shown that you could deliver, you got a lot more flexibility.

        In this case though, punctuality was listed as one of the criteria that your performance would be assessed against :-/

  29. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I have a hunch that this rule is enforced because it’s something that has always been done without much thought to why, job duties, mobile technology, changing transportation logistics, etc.

    One other thing to add to AAM’s response: what’s the difference between being 5-15 minutes late versus being on time and going to Starbucks for 5-15 minutes? I don’t see much of one other than management valuing ass in seat versus results and productivity.

    I’d also like to know how late these employees are staying, if they’re taking short lunches, and/or being available on nights and weekends to answer questions. Every single time I’ve seen management complain about this, they never take into account those other productivity elements. That means management wants flexibility in its favor but never in the employee’s. What a great way to cultivate resentment!

    I had a boss who, for a reason she could never articulate, wanted someone in our three person department physically in the office at all times. (We were office directors.) We worked on a lot of issues together that required our presence at events and meetings outside the office but we could never all go. But someone always had to be in the office. Even her boss snarked at her once when all three of us didn’t show up and that was after she gave her inarticulate reasons. Never mind the fact we had mobile devices and we were always checking email and we would answer short questions on nights and weekends. She called that stuff “doing our jobs” as opposed to being flexible. So my response to her inflexibility? I was just as inflexible myself.

    If your management wants to treat adults like K-12 students, fine. But you should expect whatever flexibility your employees give you now to evaporate. Hope you don’t get stuck with no responses on a vital issue on a weekend like my boss did!

    1. Manders*

      You hit on something really important in your first paragraph: changing transportation logistics. Most big cities in America are having huge issues with public transit right now because 1) An unexpected number of people moved into the urban core all at once and now rely on public transit to get to work, 2) They hadn’t been putting enough money into maintaining and upgrading their systems, so things keep breaking during peak hours, and 3) Traffic patterns changed on streets in a way that hugely impacts any train, bus, or streetcar that has to share the road with cars.

      Maybe the trains ran on time in Boss’s day, and he doesn’t understand how much things have changed.

      1. Allison*

        Right. I used to take the commuter rail in from the suburbs, I could take the same train every day but still either be 20 minutes early if the train ran on time, or 5-10 minutes late if the train had a problem. And lots of things mess up the train schedule. Snow, rain, heat, or wet leaves on the tracks can cause delays (you don’t need to explain to me why these happen). And what was I gonna do, wake up even earlier to grab an even earlier train to ensure I’m never late? Yeaaah no.

      2. Candi*

        Our generally awesome county transit system got a HUUUUUGGGEEE influx of federal money last year. They’ve been upgrading buses and expanding routes; the one that passes closest to my house (about a mile) had an hour added in the morning and four in the evening, so it now runs 5:15 am to 11:15 pm. This is AMMMMAAAAZZZZZING, especially since it runs by two high schools and the VA and its termination points are at the town center and the community college. Other routes, even more heavily travelled, have also seen concrete benefits. The transit offices also offer businesses a discount on passes/refills bought in bulk.

        A transit system that doesn’t -or can’t- keep pace with population and infrastructure needs to be taken into account by employers, since even a well-run and funded one suffering from hiccups causes cascading issues.

        Ooo, here’s one that happened years ago: it’s freaking early in the morning and I’m headed to work. The bus I’m on goes through a Park and Ride transit center.

        Some dolt in a white SUV decided to try to beat the buses as they’re leaving. I asked about the weight of the buses once; 19 TONS. SUV was bent in a V; the bus (not mine) was barely scratched. But you can bet there were delays, especially since the system’s policy would be to send a new bus out and bring the other one in.

        Only the SUV driver could have prevented that.

    2. Shadow*

      It’s rooted in a lack of trust. That you can’t be trusted to get your work done unless I’m watching you do it.

  30. Aphrodite*

    The company management views its employees as untrustworthy idiots. This policy that management ignores is because they view themselves as the only trustworthy people there. It is obvious that staff are viewed as inherent cheaters and liars (let’s not beat around the bush here, these are accurate words) who need to be kept in line with unreasonable policies. They need to be policed to within an inch of their lives.

    Your organization already sounds like an unpleasant place to work (uptight dress code, strict lunch time) but this particular policy is the worst of all. If you can’t believe in your employees’ integrity and commitment until they show themselves otherwise you are going to keep having problems. This is very much old-style management, frankly of the “beatings will continue until morale improves” style.

    I think your organization sounds quite hateful and if you were a nonprofit in my community and I knew about this I would not just never support you but work hard to convince others not to do so either. Treating management like gold and employees like sh!t makes your organization a nasty, awful place with no human compassion at all.

  31. Ashley*

    If this is a coverage issue can you rotate or assign coverage differently? If not senior management should set the tone of expectations and aside from meetings first thing be at their desks at 8:55.

  32. paul*

    There’s so many questions I have here…

    How often are the chronically late people late? And how late are they? Are we talking they’re 15-20 minutes late mulitiple times a week or are they 5 minutes late twice a month?

    Are they hourly or salary?

    Does this policy apply to everyone except the president regardless of their job?

    Are they really religious about not having people work after 5pm?

    We’re fairly strict about arrival times by AAM standards (and have reasons, both internal and external) and I’ve butted heads with other commentators about punctuality being relevant more often than not, but even we let people reschedule their damn lunch hour or slide time around some, with advance warning.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      “Are they really religious about not having people work after 5pm?”

      My feeling is that all-staff emails don’t exactly go out when people do it.

  33. Amy*

    There is probably no way to both enforce this policy and not punish people who don’t follow it. If there are no consequences to showing up late, then people are going to continue to show up late. I think your only options are to either punish people who are late, or get rid of the policy.

    I personally think Alison is correct and you should push to get rid of the policy. The morale benefits of encouraging good work-life balance don’t balance out the cost of enforcing such strict times; there are other ways to encourage balance that aren’t nearly so harsh. It honestly sounds like it’s still the policy because no one’s proposed a more viable alternative, and that’s a terrible reason to insist on keeping a bad policy.

    If upper management does insist on keeping the policy, I think you should push them to explain the rationale behind it better. “We’re doing this for your own good (work/life balance), and we’re going to punish you if you don’t comply” is a morale killer for hopefully obvious reasons. “We’re doing this because it’s necessary for the office to function; we need to keep a strict schedule for XYZ reasons, so if you’re late, that will be considered a performance issue” is a lot more sensible, and people are generally more willing to tolerate inflexible, inconvenient processes when they know there’s actually a good reason behind it.

    1. Beth*

      Honestly, I wouldn’t work for your company. It sounds like upper management doesn’t trust their employees to be functional adults! The official explanation for this policy’s existence is that they don’t trust people to balance their work and home lives. That’s just weird! Let people manage their own lives. If a lot of people are having trouble keeping a balance, tell people to work a set number of hours each week but let them manage which hours those are, or have management actually manage and adjust how much they’re asking people to get done. Don’t punish people for things like weather delaying their commute, or public transportation not perfectly fitting your schedule.

  34. Parenthetically*

    That last paragraph, LW, come on. Can you see it? What motivation do you have to maintain a policy that doesn’t actually accomplish anything, isn’t followed by management, makes your workplace less competitive, and infantilizes your adult employees? People arrive five, ten, fifteen minutes late. So? Is it getting in the way of them doing their work? Consider it an offering to the traffic gods and let adults manage their own schedules and work.

    If the motivation is TRULY to help people separate their work and home lives — a noble goal, especially in the nonprofit world — then surely a better policy would be to say, “We care about your work/life separation, so please make it a goal to arrive and leave at consistent times each day so you can get in your full day of work.”

  35. MegaMoose, Esq.*

    I’d just like to back up the advice not to rely on all-staff emails. I’m not a manager but I am responsible for quality control, and although I will send emails to my entire team at times when we all need guidance, if one person is messing something up after receiving instructions, they need to be specifically told to change what they’re doing. Too often people skim or ignore all-staff emails, or they don’t even reslize that they are the problem. I think some people feel like one-on-one emails are too confrontational, but if the goal is to get people to actually do something, you HAVE to be at least a little confrontational. Not to mention that sending the entire group an email saying “it’s vital you not do X” when only one person is doing X, you will invariably end up with a couple of people unnecessarily concerned that they might be the ones doing X, or feeling put upon that they’re being corrected when they’re doing everything right.

    1. hbc*

      There’s some law of human nature that dictates that the people who think it’s about them are the ones it least applies to (“OMG, this must be because I was 2 minutes late that one time!!) and the ones that it’s actually about assume it has nothing to do with them (“I get in by 9:15 four days out of five, no way they mean me!”

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        Yes, exactly. And to be honest, the first type of people can be obnoxious to deal with as well – it’s frustrating to have to be constantly reassuring someone that they’re doing fine and not to worry. I will fully confess that I can fall in this category at times.

    2. Lison*

      Yup this. I went from a job where I had to be on time where I was late exactly once and that was because I somehow managed to get lost in the place I’d been living for a month (I was 45 mins early for my shift and decided to go exploring thinking if I took 4 right hand turns I’d end up where I started. I didn’t and ended up having to phone my boss from the congested road) to a job that I started out being assiduous about being on time but as a group we got berated regularly because one person was always late but ‘managment’ didn’t want to single that person out. Since I had to endure the time out of my day to be berated for something I didn’t do and had no consequences for the person who was always late I stopped worrying about being on time (there was no business reason why I had to be there on the dot and I was expected to stay on to finish tasks).

  36. Princess Peach*

    “The president is the particular stickler for this rule (though he himself is rarely on time).”

    This seriously calls for an eye-roll. My supervisor is 15 minutes late at a minimum, but usually 30 minutes late. When any of her employees ask to leave early (which is pretty infrequently), she’ll sigh and say, “well…I guess that’s okay.” We all get our work done, so it should truly be a non-issue to her. Also, no one would care about her daily late arrivals if she gave us the same courtesy, but she doesn’t. It really affects morale.

  37. B*

    It would be worth to point out to those who keep pushing this policy that good employees will leave and your organization will gain a bad reputation for this. The other question to bring up is if you expect your employees to ever stay late than you should be ready for them to want to arrive late or leave early for the compensation.

    I had two bosses very much like this, not the organization just the boss, and I left both as soon as I could as did all of the other employees prior to me.

  38. PNW Jenn*

    I started a new job in March, leaving an extremely flexible job where I’d spent 7 years and had a child. My child’s daycare called a couple of times to say that my son had had whatever sort of little trauma that befalls a toddler, and my boss would simply say, “yup, see ya tomorrow.” He never dinged me hours, even though I was technically an hourly employee, because his philosophy was that as long as I got my work done, I deserved a 40-hr/wk salary. We were both adults and we treated our job responsibilities accordingly.

    My new boss won me over during the interview process when he expressed his philosophy on the work dress code and hours: “we dress and get our work done like grownups here.” After 3 months in my new job, I can confirm that there’s flexibility, mutual respect, and responsibility.

    I’ve never been more productive nor happier.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      “My child’s daycare called a couple of times to say that my son had had whatever sort of little trauma that befalls a toddler, and my boss would simply say, “yup, see ya tomorrow.” He never dinged me hours, even though I was technically an hourly employee, because his philosophy was that as long as I got my work done, I deserved a 40-hr/wk salary. We were both adults and we treated our job responsibilities accordingly.”

      A thousand times this. Toddlers have frequent morning tantrums and attendant delays (I DONT WANNA WEAR PANTS TODAY), frequent bonks and cuts, and are exposed to more pathogens as a result of their normal social life than your average junkyard dog. As a result, their parents frequently will arrive late after using a crowbar to get the kid into some pants and dropping them off howling at daycare, and have to duck out for fevers, stitches, colds, crying jags, or whatever. Extending them some compassionate flexibility makes their lives much easier.

      1. Cleopatra Jones*

        Not even just toddlers. Teen-agers have similar issues.
        I have two high schoolers. In the last 3 years, my husband and I have been called by the school (or our kid) for the following:
        1. a fractured ankle during football practice.
        2. a dislocated elbow during wrestling practice
        3. multiple calls of general sickness (fever, vomiting, nausea, or stomachaches)
        4. Holy crap Mom/Dad…I forgot this thing that I need so very badly, can you bring it up to the school before you leave for work?
        5. Multiple orthodontist, dental, and medical appointments (because medical practices aren’t always open after 5)
        6. Athletic events that start at 3 or 4 PM
        And a whole bunch of other stuff that I can’t think of right now. :-)

        I get that I chose to have kids but I will never willing stay at a job that didn’t offer me the flexibility for my life. I would either decline the offer OR leave soon after I found out that no flexibility was offered.

        I once left a job without another lined up because my boss would get upset by my being 3 minutes late, even though, I would stay an extra 3 minutes to make up the time. There wasn’t an actual reason that I couldn’t have the flexibility other than I was hourly and every one else was salaried. They thought I shouldn’t have that kind of flexibility as an hourly employee. ::eye roll::

        1. Marillenbaum*

          So many things I don’t miss about high school, and this is one of them. I was fortunate that the year after my sister went to college, my mom started her own business and was able to pick me up from after school practices. Then, we moved to Utah, and I technically lived within walking distance of school (or would just walk to the local library, where my dad could pick me up on his way home from work).

      2. Amy*

        Yes! And heck, even those of us without kids have things come up sometimes. I had to leave early once because my cat was sick and needed an emergency vet trip. I’ve had things come up with family members/friends-wh0-are-like-family that needed immediate help with something. And of course, my own appointments. It comes up more frequently with kids because they’re so dependent on their parents for everything, but every worker out there is going to have moments where they need some flexibility. I wouldn’t want to work somewhere that refused to accommodate the occasional ‘shit just happened’ moment.

  39. Allison*

    My company has “working hours,” but they’re not strictly enforced. I try to come in early, but lately I’ve been backsliding – snoozing 10 minutes, dilly-dallying during my morning routine, and coming in 5-10 minutes late sometimes. No one says anything, and I’m still among the first people in my department to show up. Still, as I hustle to the office from the train station, I can’t help but picture my manager from my first job, which was very strict about start times, shaking his head slowly, t’sking, and going “Aaaallisoooooon . . .” Maybe because he now works very close to where I work now. I keep thinking, being late is direspectful to my employer and demonstrates a poor attitude towards work, and if I don’t try harder, I’ll be in big trouble.

    Getting a hard time for being even a few minutes late to one job can really warp your thinking, and make you more stressed out than you need to be on the way to even the most lenient and flexible offices.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I had a toxic manager at my current job for awhile, and toward the end of her tenure she had started nitpicking my timesheet down to the minute so intensely that I started using my cell phone to take a picture of my desk phone’s time/date display every morning when I walked in, and every day when I left, so that if she tried to dispute my times in/out or discipline me for imaginary lateness (which she had done multiple times) I would have evidence to counter her.

      I still freak out a little sometimes, even though she’s long gone (fired!) and my current manager is super flexible and understanding. It’s the kind of thing that leaves you tense for a long time afterward.

  40. Bridget*

    Okay, this question brings up a point I’ve been wanting to ask and if I catch the open thread early enough tomorrow I’ll delete this comment and post the question again, but:

    Coming from a VERY flexible workplace (my boss knows I work 50-60 hour weeks regularly and doesn’t care when I’m here as long as it all gets done–I’m in catering/events FWIW) how do I address this when interviewing for new jobs? I don’t know if I could go back to a “butts in the chair” type place, but we’re moving to a more city-type area (pretty rural where we are right now) and I expect to be interviewing for hotel catering positions that are definitely more butt in chair than where I work now. Is this something I can negotiate for at an offer stage? Should I ask in an interview? And if so, how do I ask without coming off as an “entitled millennial” (I’m 27 but look even younger -_-)? I know some places will just have nonnegotiable policies but I’m hoping to find a place similar to where I work now, where I’m trusted to get my work done with minimal oversight. I would appreciate any suggestions that y’all have!!

    1. Karenina*

      Some employers will bring it up in interviews if it is unusual or very important to them. My current workplace made sure I was aware before making an offer what the rhythm was: about once a month, my entire team stays late. It’s a “we all stay til we’re all done” thing, which I think is flawed, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker for me (especially since they also covered their OT policy before making an offer to me).

      I think you should ask, but keep it open-ended. “I know there’s a wide range of traditional-to-flexible in offices these days, so I wanted to ask what your expectations are around work start and end times.” If they think you’re an entitled millenial for asking, then they’ll probably think you’re an entitled millenial no matter what you do.

      However, if you get an answer about what their expectations and policies are, I don’t think that’s something I would try to negotiate with them. Salary is one thing, office policies are another.

    2. Nea*

      “What are the core hours of this office?”

      Core hours, if you haven’t heard the term, are the hours where *everyone* must be in the office – where I work, that’s 10-2. How you adjust your working day around these hours is up to you: come in so late you start at 10, come in so early you leave at 2, or split the difference, nobody cares.

      It’s a reasonable, professional thing to ask, and the response will flush out the answers to all kinds of questions you haven’t asked.
      – If there are rigid start/end times
      – If the facility is locked during certain times so you can’t come in before or stay after certain hours
      – If workers are given permission to unlock or lock the building according to their schedules
      – Potential for flex time
      – What call-in process, if any, is required if you miss your usual start time

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      I specifically ask what the department/team culture is like because a company might have one rule, but the department I’d be working in might have another.

      Usually: “I’ve heard about the company culture, but I know that can vary from department to department. Can you tell me what the department/team culture is like and specifically how you promote work/life balance for your team?” Sometimes, depending on the conversation I’ll ask, “Do you have any busy periods throughout the year? How does the team handle them?”

      I’m sure some people haven’t liked it and thought I was an entitled millennial but I usually get good answers about whether or not I’d be expected to work after hours, stay late, etc. Or if there’s two months out of the year I’d be expected to work late, etc.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      Absolutely ask in an interview. What you’re asking for isn’t unreasonable and only the strictest butt-in-seats types would take offense. An interview is a mutual assessment. You’re looking for a good fit as much as they are.

      I think this would be easy to ask as a follow up to the questions you should be asking on an interview anyway. After asking about how performance in the role will be evaluated, you can ask about the role of attendance in performance evaluation.

  41. Roscoe*

    I agree about trying to change the policy. Aside from when I was a teacher and worked retail, these strict start/end times usually serve very little purpose for most people. Yes, the admin might need to be there to answer the phones exactly at 9 or something, but quite often for 90% of the staff, it isn’t necessary.

    If you do HAVE to do this, then I’d suggest getting a time clock. That way you can look at real patterns, not just perception. Quite often people may perceive this happening with Jane more because of the past, but in reality, she is no more late on average than Joe.

    Also, i’d hope in no way do you EVER ask people to stay late or do anything after 5 if you are going to be that strict on start time

    1. Manders*

      Good point. Those first few minutes in the morning are the time when people might be popping into the bathroom, filling a cup of coffee in the break room, talking to a friend while they wait for a computer to boot up, and so forth. It may look to managers like too many butts are not in chairs first thing in the morning even when most people are in the office.

    2. Ray Gassert*

      Nothing will tank the morale of Office Personnel more than a time clock. I strongly disagree with implementing one. Again, you’re chasing the wrong problem here.

      1. Roscoe*

        It depends how the time clock is managed. I’ve had quite a few jobs with time clocks, and it was never a problem. Now we also had some flexibility for when we came in. But my point is that a time clock will at least give you actual numbers not just a perception. I don’t think managing time this strictly is good at all. But if you are going to do it, make sure you are being fair. And a timeclock can do that

      2. Anon Anon*

        ICAM. We have one where I work, and 90% of the staff must clock in and out (even senior level staff). It’s ridiculous.

      3. Observer*

        Actually, the reverse may be true. Upthread, someone mentioned a (fortunately former) boss who constantly accuse Poster of leaving early / coming late. Poster finally started taking a photo of the desk phone so that Boss couldn’t do that. An electronic time keeping system *WITH AN AUDIT TRAIL* would put a top to that pretty quickly.

  42. Case of the Mondays*

    Your employees might also be deliberately ignoring your policy. I worked somewhere that had a few really dumb rules and everyone just as a group ignored them. Management wasn’t going to fire everyone and we knew it.

    1. Manders*

      Good point. There’s really no upside to trying to punish people here–either you waste time and erode morale by disciplining a huge portion of your staff, or you give everyone the impression that rules don’t matter.

  43. Karenina*

    Hi OP!

    As a former preschool teacher, I can tell you that even very young children can see through meaningless rules a mile off, and will predictably rebel against any instruction that doesn’t make sense to them. The same goes for adults: maybe the reason for the policy has not been clearly explained to the chronic late-comers, or maybe it has and they can tell that the reason doesn’t hold water.

    Maybe at one point, the idea of giving people strict boundaries to prevent over-work was a noble ideal, but either it was never genuine to begin with, or it has morphed into a rule for a rule’s sake. Adults can generally decide whether to leave work at work or not, regardless of what time they get to the office. I’m sure you are not scolding anyone who gets there 5-10 minutes early, so the people arriving 5-10 minutes late can tell that the 9-AM-SHARP insistence is more or less arbitrary, and not about their health, happiness, or performance.

    At my workplace, my supervisor often arrives very early in the morning, and is then able to leave earlier in the afternoon so that she can pick up her kids and be a part of their after-school lives. It’s what works best for her and her family. Me, I am low-functioning in early mornings and prefer to get a little more sleep, so I get to the office sometimes two hours after she does. This allows me to feel better, waste less time in the morning, and stay a bit later than other people and get more done in a quieter office environment. We both know how to step away from work and go back to our lives. We both perform well at our job functions. Both of us would suffer (and likely look elsewhere for new jobs) if suddenly our office insisted that every person start at 9 AM — whether because it makes the C suite feel good, or because they think they know better than us how to manage our work-life balance.

  44. a Gen X manager*

    AAM / Alison – Okay, so let’s say OP’s company doesn’t actually have to require a strict start time. What would be the best way for management to roll out the change without looking weak?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It doesn’t look weak to say “we revisited this and here’s what we’re thinking makes sense, let’s try this and see how it works.” But it does look weak to dig in their heels and insist on a policy they can’t defend!

      1. LCL*

        It looks weak to me. The only way I would try is to present it as a flexible schedule will better meet business needs.

          1. a Gen X manager*

            I can see the value in that. What about when only 1/3 of the office has positions that are customer oriented and actually require prompt arrivals?

            1. Natalie*

              Just explain that. It’s not unusual to have different standards for different groups of employees depending on what they do – my building maintenance staff started work at 6 am because they almost always needed to do some tasks before most of the tenants showed up. Our receptionist had a strict start & end time and had to tell people when she left for lunch. Etc. Assuming generally reasonable adults, they’ll understand perfectly if the reasoning is sound.

        1. paul*

          I respect employers a lot more if they own a screw up, particularly an obvious one, than if they try to pawn it off as something else.

        2. ceiswyn*

          Presenting it as a flexible schedule will better meet business needs will be 100% interpreted by staff as “We were wrong but we’re too scared of looking bad to admit it”. That’s a lot weaker than admitting to being wrong.

          1. a Gen X manager*

            But the company wasn’t “wrong”, it was just enforcing tradition / the way it always was / following the boss’s preference, right?

        3. hbc*

          I suppose if you’re only implementing the new policy because you’re too scared to enforce the old one, yeah, it’s an admission of weakness. But if your goal is to keep employees happy and productive and employed by you, you kind of undercut yourself by saying, “Well, now I’m going to let you flex half an hour around the start time, but it’s only because our customers want people available earlier and later.”

          1. a Gen X manager*

            I agree. It seems like the messaging for the change would need to be pro-employee / culture, etc.

  45. POF*

    Maybe I am a toxic boss. Our CFO ( who our analytic dept reports to ) and the CEO her boss never ever leave before 5:00 and of course are often here much later. I must have people in until 4:30 or 5:00 in order to cover issues, questions, strategic issues that arise.

    So everyone can arrive between 8:00 and 8:30 and leave accordingly. I had several depts join us with flexible time. Everyone – including manager was gone by 3:00 every day. Several folks worked from home certain days of the week and when looked into – they were looking after their own children, or providing care to another person’s child.

    Overall work product was poor and work not getting done. Manager was relived of her duties and I put everyone on a regular schedule and eliminated telecommute.

    As far as flexible start times – too many times folks show up really really late and leave right on time. it became a burden to manage so everyone lost the privilege.

    I am thinking of reinstating based on performance, but my take on it is – if you are struggling, you need to be here.

    1. Natalie*

      Overall work product was poor and work not getting done.

      This is and always was the actual problem. Presumably the reason you noticed people leaving super early and babysitting while WFH is because they weren’t getting any actual work done.

    2. SCAnonibrarian*

      Flexible start times really need to be paired with a specific policy on how many hours (or what level of production) constitutes a ‘shift’ tho. If your flex-time policy is clear, then you can go to the person coming in at 10 and leaving at 3 and saying ‘hey dude, flex leave means a 8 hour shift, and you only put in 5, and then you listed 3 hours WFH, but I see on the logs that you checked your work email once and didn’t participate in the group widget re-tool project, and your ‘completed teapot’ tally is unchanged from yesterday, what gives?’

      On the flip side, if the person who has a contagious kid and can’t come in to the office can list a few hours of WFH (and can show work done) instead of missing work completely that day, that’s a win for the company and the employee, right?

      But I don’t think you’re a bad boss for canning a badly-abused policy. Just maybe implement a new one with a bit more structure and with specific parameters and limits.

  46. Natalie*

    I agree you should push to end this policy. Core hours might be easier to except for your president, given what you’ve described of them, and would provide some needed flex for your staff.

  47. Sparkly Librarian*

    I laughed when I saw the post title, because it’s 9:09 and I’m standing outside the building waiting for the boss (or any other staff) to show up.

  48. HR Hopeful*

    I work in a call center and even we do not get in trouble for being 5- 10 minutes late or even more than that as long as we let our supervisors know within thirty minutes of our shift starting. We have enough coverage that one person being late or leaving early for something is not going to hurt our customers. I would hate to work in a place like this as life happens and sometimes you are going to be a few minutes late no matter how hard you try to be on time. Even when I worked in retail you could clock in up to ten minutes late without penalties and that was a very customer facing position.

    1. paul*

      We’re not a call center, but take a lot of calls from our clients and see them in person, and that’s about how it is.

      Now if someone’s 5-10 minutes late all the time yeah, that’ll get a write up. We don’t have an actual written policy (I don’t think), but if it was weekly we’d start looking at someone. Monthly? Eh, life happens. We can and do work with schedules to an extent–we have coverage needs, but if 3 people want to start at 7:30 and work till 4:30, with one or two others doing 8-5, that’d be fine. Or if someone wants to take off half a day Friday without using PTO so they work through lunch, we woudln’t care (hell we have at least one person a month do that atm and I’m doing it this week). . It strikes a pretty good balance of “yes you need to be here to work with clients, provide mutual support, etc” while giving a fair degree of flexibility.

  49. imakethings*

    I currently work in a position with set start and end times and I hate it. Showing up one minute late because of traffic or new construction or cleaning up the cat puke gift left for me overnight ends up being really stressful. Not only that, I rely on public transit that sometimes doesn’t run exactly on time. If I miss it (sometimes it’s early!), I end up losing money because I have to drive in and pay our ridiculous downtown parking fees. It inserts itself into my personal life because of its rigidity, not the other way around.

    I’ve been job hunting for awhile now and one of my must-haves is a more flexible work schedule. It’s absolutely worth leaving over.

  50. CPrice*

    To the author, I feel your pain but you have to ask yourself, if this strict adherance is truly affecting performance. It is apparent, by your letter, that the “CULTURE” is dictating that strict adherence IS NOT necessary because your leadership take liberties with the policy themselves. It can not be a “Do as I say. Not as I do.” type of situation. Most people will not accept that. I too worked for for a very well known and very conservative not for profit in a major urban area, who thought the same and acted in a similar manner. People were genuinely late due to traffic congestion, metro breakdowns, etc. We did a culture survey and realized that quality work was still being achieve. The people were dedicated to the mission and was willing to work hard to get their work done. So, we asked ourselves, what was most important in order to achieve mission? We put some things in practice that were very simple to help ease coming into the office being frustrated and stress. For example, policy wise we allowed certain positions to be eligible for telecommuting and issued laptops with docking station. We created shifts to avoid high traffic times 8:00, 8:30, 9:00, 9:30 or 10:00 but all employees had to be present during core hours 10-3. We also put in a coffee bar with continental breakfast. This was one less thing our employees didn’t have to worry about, unless they didn’t like what was there.

    1. Manders*

      Oh wow, that’s a perfect response. Kudos to you and your bosses for turning this problem into a chance to build some serious loyalty (oh, the things I would do for a flexible start time AND telecommuting options AND continental breakfast!)

  51. NK*

    I think the justification of trying to help employees keep a work-life balance is kind of baloney and a cover for really just old-fashioned ideas about being a stickler for time.

    Quick story: I worked for a company that used to be really fussy about staying until 5 on the dot. The VP literally said, “Fannies in seats until five”. So guess what? When 5:00 rolled around, people got the heck out of there. Once leadership changed and leaving at 4:45 to run an errand or whatever wasn’t a crime, people would stay later when warranted to get things done. There’s a lot of give and take here. When you treat people like responsible adults, they act like responsible employees.

  52. Erin*

    If the same people are the culprits I’d address it with them directly (or have their manager do it, whatever makes sense) and avoid reaching out to everyone via email or whatever. People who are coming in on time don’t need to hear it.

  53. Ray Gassert*

    Unless you’re running an assembly line there is nothing more useless than micromanaging time for office/admin type personnel. You spend more time chasing the 5 minutes than the “lost” productivity would have accomplished. If you can’t trust your staff to do their work 100% without someone punching a clock for them, either you hired the wrong people, or you’re the problem.

  54. Leatherwings*

    I don’t see how you can possibly set up a system that punishes employees for not setting the policy without basically giving people an ultimatum and firing chronically late people (or infantilizing them with some sort of point system. Ew). If it’s truly required for the work to be on time, then that’s a logical step to take. But if it’s not, then you’re going to drive everyone out because they’re afraid the train being delayed will make them lose their jobs. Everyone will immediately start looking once that’s announced, I promise.

  55. Lia*

    I’ve worked two office jobs with hard and fast start times. In the first, we originally had a somewhat flexible start time (between 8:15 and 8:45) UNLESS you were the on-call person for that day, in which case you needed to be butt in chair and ready to go at 8:30. The on-call schedule went out a month in advance and was a rotating one, so if you needed to switch, it was on you.

    It was fine, until the scheduled on call person decided to go out for breakfast on the way to work and wandered in at 11. Meant a huge scramble to get someone else to be on-call, and the very next week, we went to a firm butt in chair for ALL at 8:30. Thanks, co-worker.

    Other job was a way over-enforcing director who was obsessed with start times. Our union actually forbids firm start and end times unless the supervisor can argue that is necessary for the job function (which almost never happens – some have tried and nearly all have failed). He skipped the step where he tried to get the policy approved by the union, so we all ignored it, but he insisted on writeups for a few months (HR laughed and tossed them all). No one was more than 8 minutes past his “start time” at any point. Morale, though, reached bottom and began to dig and no one stayed late or checked email after hours for the rest of his tenure.

    1. Observer*

      Thanks, co-worker.

      No, thanks idiotic management. There are SOOOO many other ways this could have been managed, that it’s not funny. Punishing your entire staff is the STUPIDEST and least effective way to handle it.

  56. mamashark*

    I have two sides to this. First, I worked a salaried corporate office job with work that was almost 100% self-managed. No one would check in with me from day to day, but only receive the product of my work. I got “spoken to” about work hours when I was leaving at the end of our scheduled day, mostly because I had children to retrieve from daycare. Well, the office culture was to “be seen” at your desk very early and very late and if you weren’t, you just weren’t invested enough. I asked pointedly – was my work below par, late, whatever? No, everything was fine, this was just about appearances and I needed to appear to be working harder.

    On the other side, I had a new employee who had just moved from her hourly job in another department to a salaried job in my department. I don’t work hand in hand with my employees, and I don’t cruise by their desks just to see what they’re doing. They do their work, I check it, and throughout the day if I have questions, I may instant message or phone them, or just walk over to their desks and talk about it. But I don’t police their hours unless it gets out of hand and starts to impact performance. At the same time I was starting to see that Cersei’s productivity wasn’t working out to what it should be, I also started to realize I could never find her at her desk in the afternoon. Turned out that she’d decided to leave every day at 2 pm to pick her child up from elementary school and “work” the rest of the day from home. Without ever a word to me about that, and with no signs that she was actually getting any work done.

    1. Observer*

      There you are, though. The problem isn’t the meticulous start and end times. It’s her cutting out each day and then not getting anything done in the afternoon. You don’t need to change you office policy to make this work – and you don’t even need to require her to go on a very rigid schedule. I probably would revoke WFH privileges for her, though.

      1. mamashark*

        For this individual, definitely a performance issue to be addressed with specificity. But it does illustrate that I’ve seen both approaches not work. Overall, I want to be able to treat people like adults who can manage their own time and workload, but you come across some people who just won’t let you do that. That’s not a good reason, though, to treat your entire workforce badly – you have to manage individuals appropriately.

        1. Observer*

          Yes, that’s really my point. If you need to micromanage, you do that, but only if you need to. You don’t micromanage everyone because of the outlier.

          In other words, I agree 100%.

  57. Ramona Flowers*

    This is not how you separate work and home!

    When I had a strict arrival time I had panic attacks in the morning and was so stressed if my train was late.

    Now I have a flexible start time I can actually relax and not be stressed. Whatever reason you may believe you have for this policy, it is not the way to encourage work-life balance.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Oh and when transport is unreliable in your area a fixed start time means always having to leave early just in case. Which does NOT help work/life balance!

      1. imakethings*

        Yes! I have to take the extra early train JUST IN CASE my usual train runs a couple minutes late, because then I don’t have time to use the restroom before sitting at my desk at 8 am sharp. I’m early everyday, but you better believe my PTO is docked if I ever sneak out 15 minutes early. SO annoying.

  58. RVA Cat*

    How about a carrot vs. a stick? Like, let non-exempt people actually earn OT if they get in early?

  59. Ray Gassert*

    When you have clearly defined job duties and metrics, you don’t need to sweat 5 minutes here and there. It will be evident whether the job is getting done. It’s pretty silly to assume that Bob did a better job this week because he was here 47 hours and Suzie did a poor job because she was here 37. Also, when you set a hard 9am, but for no real meaning, people will just show up by 9 and then “Office Space” it for an hour until they feel like working. I swear you get less production from being a drill instructor. Now, meetings, appointments etc, YES, you must be on time. But the day in day out work week? Lighten up Francis….

  60. Cautionary tail*

    To pile on about the nonsense of these strict policies, my hourly-paid wife worked unpaid after her 8-4 shift till 11pm for her company to get something out. The bosses left at 4pm. I, not an employee, pitched in and helped to move the work along, so my wife wouldn’t work until 2-4 am. The next morning she got in 5 minutes late and got written up. She also never got paid or even thanked for her work.

  61. living the dream*

    until we get managers who have been schooled in the new economy, we will continue to have these issues. These kinds of management practices were invented for assembly lines, not for knowledge based work.

  62. Critter*

    Hmm. I do wonder if having a strict start time is necessary for the nature of your work. Two thirds of your staff seems like a lot of people missing at a necessary start time, like at a call center, for example. That’d be a big issue. I really think the management should look at whether it’s truly necessary.

  63. Amber*

    I just started a new job. Because the job is further away, I’ll move closer but until then it’s at least an hour drive. However if there is traffic then it can be an hour and a half which means to be safe I always have to leave my house an hour and a half early to get to work on time. But when I leave that early and there is no traffic that means I get to work really early and if I get to work early, then I’m leaving early. If my job punished me for getting there early but not being able to leave early then that would kill my loyalty towards the company. I probably wouldn’t recommend any others to work there. The more flexibility you give me, the more loyal I will be to the company because it shows you trust me.

  64. WhichSister*

    At OLDJOB I was written up for being 5 minutes late once. The thing is we were a 24 hour manufacturing environment. I was salary. I was not customer facing. But when they reshuffled the management structure for the 3rd time in 6 months, I ended reporting to a fresh out of college engineer with control issues.

    I was literally 5 minutes late. It was my second day back to work after having to take bereavement leave due to the death of my father. I had picked up some sort of stomach bug from my niece (at the time I thought it was grief related) and had actually spent a half an hour half dressed, curled up in a ball on the floor of my room, clutching my stomach and bawling my eyes out. But I was still on target to get to work “on time.” then on the back country road to the plant, I got stuck behind a guy driving his forklift down the road with an old hound dog laying across the back and another guy hanging off the side. You can not make this stuff up.

    I was 5 minutes late, but I rarely took a lunch unless we had vendors or visitors, I stayed late, came in at weird hours for training sessions . But that prick still wrote me up for being 5 minutes late.

    This type of policy really infantizes your work staff and it does not surprise me you have lost people.

  65. Former Employee*

    “I work at a nonprofit that operates in a very traditional office setting: business professional dress code, strict lunch hours, and a strict 9-5 day. In theory, this is done for efficiency and to allow employees to feel like they have more separation between their work and personal life.”

    So, people are almost certainly getting paid less than they would be in the corporate world, but have to spend more money on clothing (business professional, when so many corporate jobs are now business casual unless there is a client meeting or similar) and be less comfortable than in a corporate job and, on top of that, have to stick to strict hours. And this is all for the benefit of the employees. (cough, cough)

    I am a senior citizen and I am astonished that this still exits in 2o17 outside of (maybe) a white shoe law firm..

    1. Manders*

      The mention of the metro, the 9-5 hours, and the weather issues make me think that this is probably an office in the northeast US. That dress code would be a big deal in my famously casual west coast city, but is pretty standard in the northeast.

      The nitpickiness over 5 minutes of tardiness would be weird in every big city, of course.

      1. gmg*

        Agreed — I’m thinking it’s definitely DC, as the other northeastern cities don’t call their mass transit “Metro,” and to some extent this explains the formality of dress code and schedule as well. While this certainly isn’t true of all DC nonprofits, it doesn’t sound too surprising if it were an organization with a lot of history, or a link of some kind to the government (or run by people who have such links or came out of longtime govt service).

  66. hankypanky*

    So I have actually had to be “that boss” who instituted strict time schedules for employees based on coverage and front -facing customer service issues. My industry doesn’t allow flexibility on this and staff were regularly (like several times a week) making customers wait. We started with warnings, then moved on to official write ups and finally changed the schedules to better solve some of the issues arising. The kicker is that some staff continued to be late frequently, despite all this. It was not a commute issue or the weather. It was a lack of commitment to the mission of the organization and a deep belief that it hadn’t mattered before and so why did it matter now. We had to do a re-education of the entire staff on our core values, put problem staff on a PIP and then it finally stopped.

    For the record, I almost always arrive to work 3o mins early to account for traffic and stay late many nights so I walk the talk. I found the book “Crucial Accountability” to be an excellent read for those struggling with how to frame performance expectations and get to the root of the attendance issues. It may very well be that they are working late and feel that they should be able to be late, its truly a scheduling issue or maybe they don’t care.

    What I can tell you is that I would advocate with the board for a re-education on cultural norms and why they are important to the organization — for yourself and the staff. And then have some good conversation to get at the meat of the issues. It sounds solvable to me — good luck!

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      “For the record, I almost always arrive to work 3o mins early to account for traffic and stay late many nights so I walk the talk.”

      You may expect this of yourself, but this is not a realistic expectation for all employees, particularly parents and those who live in areas not convenient to the office.

      1. paul*

        He does cite coverage and front facing issues though; there really are a lot of jobs out there were being on time is important and theirs may be one of them.

      2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I absolutely respect your defense of parents and people with various life circumstances that make it more difficult to adhere to a strict timetable, but you seem to be generally disregarding the idea that some jobs, like the customer-facing ones hankypanky mentioned, genuinely need people to be on-time. If the bank opens at 9:00, the tellers can’t just drift in between 8:45 and 9:15 every day. Late every so often due to emergency, sure, but several times a week?

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I’m not excusing being late several times a week – my point is strictly about emergencies and contingencies, maybe a few times a month at most.

    2. WhichSister*

      First of all , love all those Crucial books.

      Second, I think the key point here is you have customer facing roles,and your customers were not being served. Your expectation for punctuality is based on a business need. I don’t get that from the OP

    3. Cobol*

      Meeting the needs of customers makes this valid, BUT are your expectations reasonable for what the company gives employees?
      If work comes first do you pay accordingly? The way an admin demonstrates/shows they believes in the cause is different than the way an ED does.

    4. Observer*

      What you describe is fundamentally different from what the OP describes though.

      1. You walk the talk
      2. You actually have a legitimate reason for strict time schedules. No pretense that it’s “for the employee’s benefit”
      3. You didn’t make “all staff” emails the primary means of dealing with the issue. Once you were clear that everyone knew the reasons for the schedule, you worked with the individuals who were causing problems.

      None of this is true in the OP’s case.

    5. The Toxic Avenger*

      @hankypanky – I had to be “that boss” too at one point. Adherence to specific times was important (customer service and coverage for phones). The policy (not set by me) was “three strikes and you’re out.” I had an employee who did great work but she was frequently five to ten minutes late. I had to put her on a PIP, which felt awful, and I had to tell her that if she came in late one more time I would have to fire her. I felt like a micro-managing jackass. I framed it like, “Look. Your work is awesome. All you have to do is make it here on time. Please don’t get fired over something so trivial.” She didn’t have any more incidents, but…ugh.

  67. Veruca*

    I worked at a place like this and it was pure control crap. In fact, the policy was that if you were late 3 times, you would be immediately fired. (EVER. not per year. EVER.) We had to clock in, every single salaried one of us. Also, the strict lunch schedule was so that we didn’t get to fraternize… afraid of mutiny apparently. (we had to go to lunch separately). Strict clothing requirements as well, even though we were not customer-facing.

    It was all a giant power trip for the owner, who was in fact using the company as a front for money laundering and importing illegal substances.

    Dreadful is not a strong enough word.

    1. Optimistic Prime*

      …you’d think that if you were using the company as a front for money laundering and selling drugs, you want to keep your employees as happy as possible so that when the inevitable happens and one of them finds out, they don’t immediately rat you to the authorities.

  68. Observer*

    I haven’t read all of the messages, so someone might have mentioned this already. Non-profit employees under the top echelons tend to be paid significantly less than people doing the same work in the for-profit world. That already makes it hard to attract and retain staff. Being picky on start times is going to make that worse, especially since many people explicitly look at the flexibility as a reasonable “return” for the lower salary.

    This is not a theoretical concern. The OP has mentioned that they have already started having issues with staffing because of this.

    1. Ona*

      “Non-profit employees under the top echelons tend to be paid significantly less than people doing the same work in the for-profit world. That already makes it hard to attract and retain staff. ”

      You would be surprised! I worked both with NGOs and for-profit companies and I found it easier to find a job with the latter. The competition in the non-profit sector is just incredible although the contracts are frequently fixed-term and financial conditions unattractive.

      But yes, I think people who want to work in the sector mostly expect a different culture than what OP described. Even in my current definitely for-profit company this wouldn’t be acceptable.

  69. Dan*

    OP Writes: “We’ve had some staffing issues recently and I know that our inflexible office policies are directly related to people leaving.”

    People are *quitting* over this policy. ‘Nuff said.

    (Ok, I can’t help myself…) When policies are necessary, people understand them and don’t quit over it.

  70. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I hate these stickler policies. I try to get in in the same 15 minute window each day to help me with my personal schedule and timing, but I often also take public transit- suburbs to city bus lines. And when I lived in the city I took a bus, then a train. God forbid I miss the transfer or the route changes so stops get moved, right? Plus I live in Minnesota; if there’s a lot of snow, public transit can run anywhere from on time to two hours behind or not coming at all. I already get up at 6:45, and the first suburb to city buses leave at 6:23. So if I have to be in by 7:45 or 8, there’s literally no option to leave more than 45 minutes to an hour’s extra time. And should I really get up at 5:00 or 5:30 in -30 weather, taking an hour and a half away from sleep or personal time, every winter, just in case of 2-3 catastrophic storms in five months? And all the other days show up 45-60 minutes early and not be able to get in?

    When I worked at a less flexible place and took the bus, I was in such a hurry to be there at exactly 8 that one icy day, I ran for the bus and fell and busted my wrist so badly I needed an MRI and a brace for weeks. But with no flexibility or PTO, I got back up in about two seconds and…went to work. With a hand I could barely use. I didn’t have even half an hour’s flex to go get ice and stuff from the pharmacy.

    So it’s not always possible or comfortable, and isn’t work life balance, but massive stress.

    1. Surrogate Tongue Pop*

      I hear ya! We don’t have public transport in our metro area (except buses, that have to sit in the same traffic as everyone else), and we only have one main interstate and a 6 mile bridge over water. I.E. no alternate routes unless you have a helicopter! Even though I leave myself time to come in within the same 15 minute window everyday just for personal habit and general professionalism that adheres to the norms of our company, I have to drive through major overpass construction that literally changes on the fly overnight (new traffic patterns, closed roads, new traffic lights, new 4 way stops, waiting for construction equipment to move into place). Thankfully, no one literally cares where I am or what time I come in. I *could* leave a lot earlier every day if I had to, in order to account for uncertainty, but I actually plan my day around early meetings or late meetings, wrap up work in the evenings at home when I need to, and that sort of thing.

  71. DevAssist*

    This whole thread just brings up my disdain for my workplace culture. (FWIW I am hourly/non-exempt).
    Despite being hourly, our monthly pay is “averaged” ahead of time so that the hours worked in a particular month don’t /exactly/ reflect that month’s pay.

    We are expected to be in on time and leave exactly at our closing, and The Boss hates approving overtime, so some stressed employees work extra off the clock in order to keep up the work flow but not get yelled at for taking unapproved OT. We also have incredibly rigid policies about PTO and medical appointments, yet The Boss comes in late and takes long lunches or schedules personal appointments whenever. I understand that The Boss is The Boss, but having no flexibility and then seeing them operate so differently sometimes drives my morale pretty low.

    1. paul*

      …OK, is that even legal? Getting paid for your hours is a big part of being hourly

      1. DevAssist*

        I probably didn’t explain it well, but I believe it’s legal, just weird. Our schedule is for set hours, 40 hours a week, so while our time card clocks us in by the minute, if you work 8.1 hours one day, you’re not going to see the .1 reflected.

        The people who work the unpaid overtime do so without The Boss’ knowledge, so although it’s not right, they are under the radar.

        1. Natalie*

          They’re allowed to round your time card to the nearest quarter-hour, but they’re definitely not allowed to always round down. It has to work out either neutral, or to the employees’ benefit.

  72. purelyperky*

    I work at a job that requires dispatching as well as customer service. Being late for a dispatch shift is a huge no! Our work policy is extremely harsh towards tardiness. This has been offset, though, by the company policy that you can clock in for your shift 15 minutes early to get yourself ready to take off running at your scheduled start time. It’s 15 minutes to grab coffee, boot up your computer, and read important emails/logs.

    For hourly employees, the 15 minutes really adds up. Plus, it creates a culture where being “on time” is actually late (even though, it isn’t the end of the world when it happens, occasionally.)

  73. the_scientist*

    The president is a stickler for this policy but is rarely on time himself?

    Not surprising that there is high turnover; all the employees who are able to are bailing and going to more flexible workplaces.

  74. SarahTheEntwife*

    Just as another data point for “this is probably not a necessary policy”…I work in a library where we really do need to be basically on time since we’re covering a service point and most of us are hourly. And even then the on-time policy isn’t *that* strict. We have enough coverage (which isn’t possible in all offices, but it’s good to do anyway if you can swing it) that we don’t need an absolutely on-the-dot handoff between shifts, and it’s understood that sometimes we’ll be 5-10 minutes early and other times we’ll be 5-10 minutes late and it all comes out in the wash.

    And what that means is that if we do have a meeting first thing or otherwise Absolutely Must Be On Time, we do our best to err on the side of getting in 5 minutes early because there’s a clear reason for it and nobody gets lectured about getting in at 9:03.

  75. stuff happens*

    At my last local govt position (world where I’ve alwasy worked), we were exempt but we still had a biometric punch clock and if you were 1 minute late or more that time was deducted from your pay. You were not given any credit for coming in early or staying late. Three times being late (BY ONE MINUTE) and you were automatically written up and were not eligible for a yearly raise. It meant that I was always 15-20 minutes early because I was so scared of being late but I sure never stayed late unless I absolutely had to. I am an extremely punctual person but it drove me crazy that they didn’t seem to recognize the basic fact of life that STUFF HAPPENS! It definitely bred resentment and made us feel like we were being treated like children.

    1. Observer*

      It could be that this policy was ok because of being a government job. But anywhere else that’s flat out illegal.

  76. Steph B*

    Something that may be proposed at a somewhat happy medium would be what we had in place at my last job – setting up core business hours. At my old job, those hours were 9-3. The any-hours-goes wasn’t working as a result of the work load and need for meeting availability.

    They needed hours where everyone could be in the office to schedule company meetings, etc. And the 9am was because we worked with a lot of coworkers on the east coast (west coast here), so we needed some overlap that wasn’t too late in the day. But outside those, everyone could come in as needed / leave as needed, as long as the work was done.

  77. AldenPond*

    Sometimes I think some early people have the exact opposite of the “magical thinking” that some late people have. Some late people will look at the shortest time it ever took them to get from Point A to Point B and believe that’s how long it takes – ignoring the fact that they sailed through all green lights and there was no other traffic on the road, etc. I think I have the opposite, because I look at the longest time it ever took me to get from Point A to Point B and believe that’s how long it takes – ignoring the fact that the highway was closed because of a 17-car pile-up and escaped cows. “Well, it took two hours to drive six miles that one day, so I should always leave two hours to get there.”

    1. LBK*

      And I think, too, that early people don’t mind killing time until whatever they’re early to starts, whereas for us late people, that feels like wasted time that could’ve been better spent being at home (or, in the case of arriving early to work, sleeping).

      1. AldenPond*

        Oh, I’d much rather be sleeping, but the fear of being late to something is stronger than the desire to sleep.

  78. Health Insurance Nerd*

    I manage a team of four people and I literally do not care what time they get to work or what time they leave as long as they are productive. There is absolutely no reason for me to demand someone’s butt be in their chair at a certain time. Now, if someone started taking advantage and working from 11-3 several times a month, that would be a different story, but my staff knows what I expect of them, vice-versa, and we all have a professional relationship built on trust and respect.

  79. E.R*

    I still have anxiety dreams about when I worked for company like this. They were adamant that you couldn’t be late or leave early, ever ever, and literally no excuse was acceptable, including a traffic accident or a hurricane. I’m a punctual person – the kind who shows up early for everything. But the additional stress from analyzing weather and traffic every single day to avoid a really awkward write-up, and the feeling of being treated like a kid vs a professional – it’s not sustainable. Who wants to live like that in the long-term? How could I manage inevitable life events with NO flexibility EVER? There was business reason for it and I left for a the same job at a different company (been promoted here since) that has flex hours and, wouldn’t you know it, better pay.

  80. Alan*

    While I acknowledge that my company’s success does not depend on employees arriving on time, what really irks me is that the people in my office struggle to arrive by 9:00 AM, but they never fail to leave at 5:00 PM on the dot (if not earlier). To me, it simply shows a lack of discipline and dedication.

  81. Naruto*

    If you want to enforce the policy (and I agree with everyone else that it sounds like you should change the policy instead), this is actually easy. It’s a performance issue for managers to address. If employees are required to do something that they’re not doing, then their managers need to set and enforce consequences for that.

    Doing what your boss tells you to do isn’t optional, but here the company is making it optional by not doing anything about it.

  82. Krista*

    Many people, myself included, seem to be able to be more consistently on time to certain kinds of obligations than others, often based on how necessary the strict on-time-ness seems to be. For example, I am late to teach almost never: perhaps once per year or less, and I teach most days of the week. But I am late to my office hours pretty frequently, because it’s rare that anyone is waiting for me. I am never late to a meeting with a higher up; I am sometimes late to a casual board meeting where it never starts on time anyway. So if an office is strict about 9 AM but there’s no evident reason for being strict, perhaps many of your employees are using this same type of urgency-judgement I use. It’s certainly possible for my guesses of what’s urgent to be wrong; I often assume a social commitment is less time sensitive than it is, and my friends dislike my tardiness (and my spouse dislikes it too!). It might be difficult to re-calibrate people’s expectations about how urgent a prompt 9 AM start is, but perhaps a first-thing meeting or other obligation to others (clients, colleagues, etc.) could prompt more timeliness, because it would seem to have real stakes.

  83. Rincat*

    So I had a job at a private university where I was providing tech support. The boss wanted us to be ready to go, computer on, able to answer phones at 8am. Okay fine, some people call at 8am so I’m okay with that. What I wasn’t okay with was how she wouldn’t let us leave at 5pm. If a professor came in and needed help at 4:45 and it took longer than 5- okay fine, I will help him – happy to do so. But if no one needs help at 5pm, then I should be able to leave. Her reason for not wanting us to “dart out the door” at 5pm was not business related – but that it hurt her feelings that we wanted to be somewhere else besides work. She actually said this in a staff meeting. She said it made her feel like we hated our job, because we didn’t lovingly linger for a few minutes after 5.

    Now we certainly weren’t “darting” out the door, like running out in a stampede – we left like normal people, gathered our stuff, said goodbyes, etc. But she didn’t like how it looked. So she made a policy that we had to linger for a few minutes after 5. On top of that, we were to use the wall clock, and not our computer clocks, as the “official” clock, because the computer clocks were sometimes faster.

    I left that job pretty quickly!

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Her reason for not wanting us to “dart out the door” at 5pm was not business related – but that it hurt her feelings that we wanted to be somewhere else besides work.

      I’m sorry you had to go through that. Talk about making up imaginary problems! Your direct reports leaving on time has nothing to do with your feelings or shouldn’t. And, really, even people who love their jobs still want to eventually be somewhere else besides work!

    2. nonegiven*

      I don’t care that this hurts your feelings but it hurts my feelings to be expected to hang around unpaid so bye Felicia.

  84. RB*

    I don’t like this company on basic principle. I would NEVER survive there. In fact, if they had mentioned in the interview that they were a stickler for arrival times, I would have bowed out.

  85. Delta Delta*

    I recently worked somewhere that didn’t necessarily have a hard and fast start time but did have a time that the office opened. People generally came in when needed and it wasn’t a problem. One person often sailed in sometime 1-2 hours after opening time without warning, and often kept clients waiting and meetings were cancelled. But she was the favorite so it was ok. Other people would come in a few minutes after opening and get side-eye from the boss.

  86. ZucchiniBikini*

    I’ve never had a job outside of retail that was quite this attached to exact start and end times. I have, however, worked several places with an “available hours / core hours” model. For instance, when I worked in government (in Australia), you could do your 8 hours a day anytime between 8am and 6pm without getting special dispensation, BUT core hours were 10am – 4pm – everyone was expected to be in (or available, if working at home) for that 6-hour period. This made it much much easier for scheduling meetings etc.

    They did allow for adjustments outside of that if the job allowed for it or was advantaged by it (eg one IT guy worked 1-9pm because he used to run all the system tasks between 7 and 9 when the network was fallow, so it suited the agency as well as him). They were less keen on earlier starts, as I recollect, mostly because of building security, but I had several colleagues who routinely worked 11am to 7pm (with permission) because it suited their life needs. (I myself was at my desk at 8am and out no later than 4:30 in that job and it suited me down to the ground, as I am a big morning person :-)

    Now, I am a freelancer who works mostly at home, so my business hours are … the hours I do my business … and the consequence for not being at my desk at 9am sharp is precisely and exactly nothing. Although I do dock my own lunchbreak if I spend too much time on AAM when drinking my first morning cup of tea :-P

  87. Cassie*

    When I was younger/in school, I would have totally agreed with the necessity of people being on time (rules must be folowed!) but I used to live close to my schools so traffic was never an issue. Nowadays, I usually get to work sometime between 7:50am and 8:10am (my self-imposed start time is 8am). Thankfully my bosses don’t care what time I get in since they (as faculty members) don’t have set hours. I love not having to worry about being a few minutes late, although I do try to stick to my schedule as much as possible.

    My coworkers, unfortunately, don’t have that same flexibility (different bosses). Some of the people here (particularly 2 managers) are very much butts-in-seats kind of people. One wanted to control the work hours of another unit, just because she didn’t like the fact that no one was around to answer her question which was not urgent and could totally wait until the next day.

  88. Not So NewReader*

    “In theory, this is done for efficiency and to allow employees to feel like they have more separation between their work and personal life. ”

    I can’t tell for sure, I think you are saying it is the boss’ theory. Well, fine. So how is that theory playing out in real life? How will he knew when these goals have been met successfully by the new policy? How and what is he measuring to see if his theory is correct? How long will this be tested?

    Going in even closer:
    What types of efficiency is he looking to improve? Does he want people to work faster? Does he want more people served? Which efficiencies is he targeting and how is he measuring them to confirm actual improvement directly attributable to the policy?

    The next one is tough. Employees need to feel like they have more of a separation between home and work. You know. A dungeon would make me feel more of a separation between home and work. Putting employees in a dungeon is a bad idea and probably illegal.
    So I have a lot of problems with this one.
    1) Why is it necessary to separate employees from their homes? The whole point of working for a living is so you can HAVE a home.
    2) How do we measure how people FEEL? We could give them a scale of 1 to 10. I bet they give different answers on different days. And it would be kind of weird to ask them how much they feel their work life is separated from their home life. They may wonder if they are allowed to have homes.
    3) Okay so let’s say people respond that they feel their work life is separated from their home life. How do we know that the separation is a positive and helps them in some manner?
    4)How do we figure out if that “feeling of separation” is benefiting the company in a tangible manner?
    5) How much in hidden costs is he willing to spend to find out if this idea works? Hidden costs include clock watching, lecturing employees, door watching for missing employees, tracking the times tardy, people quitting suddenly, high turn over in help, work getting messed up or even ignored and so on.

    We do not get to decide how people feel for them. And we do not get to decide how people SHOULD feel. I don’t know of anyone who wants their home life taken right out of their work life. This means everything from plumbing problems to terminally ill family members. No one wants to forget these problems, matter of fact, they would like time off to deal with these issues or to make a few phone calls during the day.

    Going the opposite way, if the boss wants people to forget about their jobs once they are home this is the EXACT way NOT to do it. Sincere people will put in a staggering amount of time trying to figure out how to arrive at work on time. And their home life will turn into all about being on exact time for work the next day. This is a level of misery that makes the job not worth it.

    In short, I would ask the boss what the REAL problem is that he is trying to fix. This is a grasping at straws solution which may or may not have any bearing on the actual problem he sees. Ask him what he wants from the employees that he is not getting now.

  89. Amy*

    I have worked all kinds of office jobs. When you are salary it should be expected that when you get to work you might have to rush to the restroom…or you might have to blow your nose, then run into a coworker in there where you chat for a minute. You don’t say “I can’t talk – must leave!”. When we’re all adults it should be the standard to arrive as close to 9am or whatever time as possible…because there are days where you might stay 15 minutes late. I wouldn’t accept a job that treated me like a child and didn’t realize that there is no difference between getting to work at 8:59 and turning my computer on and getting there at 9:05 doing the same thing… Maybe even some days getting there at 8:50. I work in an environment where I am trusted….isn’t that what we all want? OP please try explaining that lifting this policy shows trust to the employees. Trust people until they show the others a reason not to. If you explained in the beginning that the start time is important… But you understand things come up, hey maybe you stay late and maybe you come in early everyone…we all have that day…but we want to get in and do our best. It might just set it up properly for the whole management team to get it. I wish your team well and I hope you get everyone to listen to you.

  90. Woah*

    Where does everyone work that getting to work egregiously late (ninety minutes?!) on a regular basis is acceptable because of commuting? Leave earlier. It doesn’t matter if it sucks or if you’d prefer to spend the extra time at home- you have a job that had stated you need to be there on time. If you want to keep that job, you turn up on time. Do people not get fired for this anymore or something?

    Literally millions of people throughout the world manage it, even if they spend time sitting in their cars/at a coffee shop drinking the cheapest thing/sitting in the lobby, because showing up late regularly means you no longer have a job to show up to at all. This comments section is an alternate reality dripping in class privilege.

    1. Observer*

      No on says that being 90 minutes late on a regular basis is something that most jobs could accommodate. Given that you are responding to something no one said, the rest of your comment is just not relevant.

  91. DJ*

    I agree flexible hours including start and finish times is the way to go especially given there’s transport issues. Usually you’ll get enough early starters and late finishers to cover the day. And if not discuss who can commit to coming in early (giving them a bandwidth of time ie 7.30-9am to ease commuter issues as leaving home at 8.15-8.30 is in the thick of it) welcoming the shorter commute and chance to avoid traffic by travelling home earlier.
    Also an employee 9-5 mentality means workers will be reluctant to work back when needed if there’s a tutting clock watcher when they arrive late
    I’d say non profits would pay less and is Flextime and less expensive dress codes as a way of making up for this.

  92. phil*

    I was for many years in a business with strict arrival times: live TV. You can’t run a slide at 11pm saying “We’re waiting for the sound mixer and 2 camera persons to arrive so the news will be late.” Doesn’t work.

    1. Phillip*

      Which proves that for some jobs, work hours are absolutely critical. No one is disputing that. But it does not apply to all jobs.

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