my employee works late every night, but it seems to be her fault

A reader writes:

Recently I’ve encountered a tricky work issue, and I’m struggling to come up with a solution. I’m a new manager with one direct report. I’m also a recent addition to this team, which I’ve since learned has had a lot of turnover and inconsistent leadership in the past year. My direct report is one of the few people with over a year’s experience working in this group.

So here is the problem: I noticed right away that deadlines are regularly missed and frantic late nights are the norm. The more involved I’ve gotten, the less this has been the case. Not having to stay late personally, however, hasn’t stopped me from occasionally pulling late nights for what I consider “symbolic” reasons. I feel guilty leaving at 5 when my direct report is staring down easily another four hours of work.

At first I tried resolving this problem by taking over part of her workload. This worked for a while, but I was soon fielding angry emails from finance, telling me projects weren’t scoped for this degree of involvement from me. I can only participate in a review capacity. So now I just regularly check in, and I do a lot of “backseat work” over her shoulder. I parse through her work and provide detailed feedback. We’ve avoided coming hard against any deadlines this way, but to be honest, the late nights have not stopped. The more closely I’ve worked with her, the more I feel like it can be attributed to a lack of proactivity and independent problem-solving on her part. It’s like she’ll wait all day for feedback (in the form of very prescriptive instructions), and then spend all night incorporating it.

My perspective on the situation has changed. I now feel like, as long as we aren’t missing deadlines, it’s no longer a problem if she’s regularly working late nights. She may just need more time to complete her work, so that’s going to translate into longer work hours. But I still feel guilty about the situation—particularly when she gives me a report every morning of just how late she stayed the night before. Sometimes she does this in a way that I can tell is more like, “Look how hard I’m working.” But other times, I wonder if she’s framing her frequent late nights as a problem for me to solve. When I head out at normal working hours, she also sometimes makes comments like, “That must be nice.” I suspect she thinks she is working much harder than I am.

The frustrating part is that I don’t know how to say to someone pulling 12-hour days that I think she needs to apply herself more — that, in fact, working harder, instead of just pushing paper around waiting to go home, would allow her finish work and go home much sooner. She also has more experience on this team than I do. I don’t want to undervalue her work or dedication, but I also don’t want to feel guilty every day I leave at a normal time.

What would you do in this situation?

Talk to her! As a general rule, if you as a manager have concerns about an employee that you haven’t shared with the employee, that’s a sign that you need to have a conversation.

I’d frame it this way: “I know you’ve been working long hours and I’ve been trying to work closely with you so I can figure out solutions to that. In doing that, I’ve noticed that the most intensive parts of your work often get done in the evenings rather than during the day. I’d like to shift that. I think if you were doing things like X and Y during the day, there would be far less need for you to work into the evenings. Can we talk about what’s getting in the way of you being able to do that?”

Also: “My sense is that often you’re not moving work forward as quickly during the day because you’re waiting for more detailed instructions from me. I’d like you to be solving problems like X and Y yourself, both because that makes sense for your role and because that will let you keep work moving without having to wait for me.”

You may then need to do some coaching with her about how to problem-solve on her own. (There’s some advice on how to do that here.) But if that’s a reasonable expectation for her job, you do need to explain to her that you expect that and hold her accountable for doing that.

I would not, however, decide that you’re fine with her regularly working late nights as long as she’s not missing deadlines. It’s not really okay for someone to do that as a regular thing, for a whole bunch of reasons. First, it’s not great for her (for obvious reasons). Second, it’s not great for you as her manager — it’s not going to reflect well on you to people who notice it, because it’ll look like you either overwork her or aren’t addressing a problem. Third, it’s not great for others who see this happening and may think regular late nights are part of your office’s culture. If the work should take eight hours a day and it’s taking her 12, that’s something you have to address.

And you need her to know that that shouldn’t be happening, and that the two of you will need to actively work together to stop that need. That’ll also hopefully curtail those “must be nice” comments about your own hours, which are particularly inappropriate given the context.

Also … how’s her work in general? I’m asking because what you’re describing often goes hand-in-hand with lower work quality in general, especially given the lack of independent decision-making. And if that’s the case here, this is just one part of a larger issue that you’ll have to address.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 258 comments… read them below }

  1. Zombeyonce*

    I really worry about LW’s attitude that if their employee just has to keep working late nights forever, that’s fine since they’re not missing deadlines. If I saw this happening as another person in the company, I would make sure never to consider working for that person and warn everyone else away as well.

    Long term, you’re shooting yourself in the foot here, LW. You’re not just making your current employee resentful but you’re making yourself look like a bad manager to others by letting this continue. If you don’t care about your employee’s work/life balance, at least care about your reputation.

    1. Helena Handbasket*

      I find this concerning too, as a person whose previous manager regularly left at 4pm when I was working 12-15 hour days every day to manage my workload, which had doubled due to recent growth of the company. If your employee is working late hours, figure out whether it’s warranted or not and then resolve the problem, whether it’s shifting her workload elsewhere or helping her find ways to work smarter, but just letting her work late alone every night is a terrible reflection on you as a manager. It signals that you don’t care about your employees’ well-being as long as work is getting done at surface level.

      1. Dragoning*

        OP seems to have decided this is the report’s fault and therefore she can suffer the consequences…but good managers help their reports grow and get better at their jobs, if possible.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Which this OP has done. She’s been working closely with the employee, but it’s not translating into meaningful change.

          The OP needs to be thinking about whether the employee is a good fit for the role at all.

          1. Bigglesworth*

            I agree with Victoria. It sounds like OP has been working with the employee to try to improve the employee’s performance. At this point in time, there needs to be a serious conversation with the employee on whether or not this position is a good fit for them and their skills. Not only is this good for the employee by notifying her this is not acceptable and she may need to find a different role (a heads up on these things is always nice), but may be good for the company if they discover they need to hire a new person who ends up rocking the role.

          2. There All Is Aching*

            Yes. Having someone in the role whose ceiling — after managerial intervention/guidance — still ends up being 150% slower than others in similar roles is a drain on the whole work system.

          3. Dragoning*

            I don’t think there’s any indication of the manager working with the employee to solve this problem. “Working closely with” to me implied when OP was doing the report’s work for her. Nothing seems to be addressed about “hey, maybe if you tried this you could get the information you need sooner.”

            AAM gave OP advice to do exactly this herself.

          4. PersonalJeebus*

            I agree that the OP needs to rethink the concept of consistent late hours being okay for her direct report. But I also agree with Victoria that she’s clearly already been trying to help her employee grow, so some of this criticism is overly harsh. It’s obvious the OP doesn’t want her employee to have to work late, but she hasn’t yet found the solution. She says she actually tried to help by taking on some of her direct report’s workload–and was reprimanded for doing so! If upper management expects her direct report to do all this work solo, then the direct report probably needs to find a way to make it happen, and the OP’s role is to coach.

            Or perhaps the workload is unreasonable and the OP needs to go to bat for her employee with upper management.

            In any case, I think it sounds like the OP is making a good faith effort to be a good manager, and I trust she’ll use some of the advice here to improve the situation (she wouldn’t have written in if she didn’t see a problem).

        2. Specialk9*

          This whole thread seems REALLY harsh. This is a new manager, who’s tried several things to try to make this work, and is now asking for advice. Jumping down their throat seems really unhelpful.

          1. selena81*

            I kinda get the impression that the report likes working late (both in terms of monetary compensation and bragging rights). A situation that could grow because previous managers were impressed by the long hours and did not notice the lack of results.

            If that’s the case then i feel sorry for the new manager who has to convince an unwilling person to please not work so hard.

    2. Snark*

      I don’t agree. I mean, it may make the direct report resentful, but if you don’t manage your time well and sit on your hands until you get prescriptive direction….the resulting work-life impacts are 100% on you, not your manager. It IS the manager’s job to manage you, and part of that may be helping you with time management and setting goals, but ultimately, it’s on the employee to manage their time and get their work done. If they can’t, maybe the role is a bad fit.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        That may or may not be clear to the employee, but it definitely won’t be obvious to others seeing the situation. Unless she’s known company-wide as a low performer, all they see is an employee that stays late night after night, which reflects badly on LW.

      2. smoke tree*

        I don’t think a manager is necessarily responsible for the employee’s bad time management skills, but I think a manager is responsible for finding a better solution than letting her work late every night and letting her assume she’s just an extra hard worker.

      3. Friday*

        It’s the manager’s job to manage the optics of the situation though. One employee working such crazy hours looks bad, whether or not it’s that employee’s “fault.”

      4. Hills to Die on*

        I agree–I don’t think impacts the manager’s reputation as much as it is an issue with the employee. The manager should help but it isn’t her fault.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          It may not be her fault but that doesn’t mean people on the outside of the situation won’t see it that way. Imagine if you saw an employee staying late every night and seeming to be not happy about it and that’s all you knew of the situation. Wouldn’t you assume their manager was overworking them or expecting too much before you assumed they were just bad at their job?

          1. Hills to Die on*

            I’d assume it was the employee if the other employees were not doing the same. This is primarily an employee issue that the manager needs to help her with–and she is. But the onus is still on the employee.

            1. Julia*

              I think it would depend on my other knowledge of the department. I’ve seen both people who sit around all day and then start working in the evening to cash in overtime pay or look like hard workers (or avoid going home), but also departments where everyone left and the most junior employee or another poor scapegoat got stuck with working into the night.

              1. JustaTech*

                I had a coworker who worked crazy hours and often came in on the weekends, but he got nothing done. He used a ton of materials, but his experiments were poorly designed, poorly executed and poorly analyzed. I finally learned that he came in on the weekends because if he went to work his wife would pack him lunch, but if he stayed home food was up to him. I have no idea if he was capable of cooking anything, and her food was great, but it’s still a dumb reason to go to work.

              2. TardyTardis*

                Every time I moved to a different job at OldPlace, I ended up replaced by two and half people. That job might have been held in the past by someone like me, only to have a normal person take it over. And why can’t some of the prescriptive rules *be written down*? I also suspect that the employee might have worked for someone who threw a fit if she ever made an independent decision.

                1. selena81*

                  … I also suspect that the employee might have worked for someone who threw a fit if she ever made an independent decision…

                  That is definitely a possibility that LW needs to account for.
                  Although it is also possible that the report was never bullied like that and just likes avoiding responsibility.

        2. Tangerina*

          It does impact their reputation. Employees won’t want to transfer into the department, and (some) other managers will see her as either clueless, uncaring, or unable to enact change.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            Not as much as I would think that this is an employee with poor time management skills. Frankly, if I were the OP and anyone said anything to me about it being my fault that this person can’t self-direct, I would manage the employee up or out in a big hurry. No need for that employee to harm OP’s reputation. The employee needs to take some personal accountability and it’s the managers job to ensure that she does.

            1. Horsing Around*

              The problem here is that the OP has exactly one report. So from the outside view people have no context for whether this is an overworked employee and potentially bad management, or an employee with poor time management skills (and a manager that is either unaware, uncaring, or in the process of addressing it). Given most people would associate long hours with heavy workload, and most possible explanations still reflect poorly on the manager, these are not optics that the OP wants to have associated with them.

              Not saying it is fair for the OP to gain a bad reputation because of this employee, but that is the reality of the situation.

      5. Mad Baggins*

        You’re right, but also the employee’s comments about “look how late=hard I’m working” makes me think that the employee feels she will be praised for this, when actually the manager is thinking it’s a bad thing. It makes me think the manager needs to communicate these expectations more strongly, or else the employee is going to keep thinking she’s doing things the right way (some places reward that inefficiency so the employee needs to know she’s not at one of those!)

      6. RUKiddingMe*

        Since OP talks about past leadership being “inconsistent” it’s possible that waiting for prescriptive direction is what the employee has had to do in the past. OP is a new manager and a new person to the team. Maybe OP needs to be more clear about what she wants to see/time frames/etc. It’s entirely possible that the employee is just operating the same way she always has under previous (poor?) management?

        1. Not A Morning Person*

          This is a very good suggestion. That is something I’ve seen before. If the previous management rewarded time vs. results, then the employee could still be operating that way. The more time I spend, the more value I add, vs., getting my work done on time and at an appropriate level of quality means I am valuable.
          Of course, that works if the workload is manageable, and from what OP said, the workload seems manageable because the work was getting done by deadline when the OP took on some of the work and even now the employee can get it done, she just can’t seem to make herself get it done before 5. I agree that the OP needs to talk with the employee about expectations and monitor and remind the employee about getting the work done and not waiting around for feedback at the end of the day before moving a project along.

      7. Dust Bunny*

        The LW notes that there was a lot of turnover and inconsistent management. I think it should at least be considered that some of those managers may have been control freaks who nitpicked and undermined underlings to the point that they can no longer proceed without detailed feedback. But LW doesn’t say she’s addressed that possibility. Bad managers train people into inefficient work patterns, too.

        I’d also like to know what LW has tried. She admits she’s a new manager: Did just try the obvious stuff and is ready to throw in the towel because it didn’t work right away?

    3. Competent Commenter*

      I’m more sympathetic to the LW here. She’s tried several things and her employee keeps trending towards this pattern of working late and doesn’t seem to be trying to resolve this situation by changing work patterns, explaining that there’s too much work, taking some initiative instead of waiting for the LW before proceeding and then working late, etc. She’s currently at the “look I tried, and I’m not going to feel guilty if you keep doing this” emotional place, and is reaching out to AAM for advice on how to do better than this.

      1. spocklady*

        Yeah, same. I am a “fixer” by nature but one thing that cools me down fast is trying to help another person fix their own problem when that person doesn’t seem to be invested in fixing it. It seems like the only evidence OP has that the employee in question sees it as a problem is the snarky comments, which honestly I would reaaaally struggle with not snapping back at.

        Alison is right that there are other problems, including optics, but the individual employee doesn’t seem that motivated to fix it, so I would maybe also be in a space of trying to put down some of the guilt about it and not take responsibility for all the things. All of this is also obviously my personal stuff though, so I will say it’s possible I’m over-projecting onto OP. But I wanted to second that perspective.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I agree, this person is not interested in streamlining her workflow. She is however very interested in “look at me working hard”.

          I might consider asking her to tell me three reasons that she had to stay late for each day that she stayed late. Then I’d want to break down what an alternative plan would be so that she did not stay late.

          I get that some things take time. I tend to do the things that take the longest first thing, for example waiting for responses from people. People respond when they can and not a minute sooner. I get those calls/emails out first and then go about other work. They have all day to answer me. (This may or may not fit with your setting, OP. It only works some of the time in my setting.)
          I also wonder if she is getting slow answers for reasons, such as she is asking the wrong person or she is asking the same questions over and over.

          1. aebhel*

            Yep, that’s also my impression. I have an employee (not my direct report, sadly, but she does some work in my department) who will spend hours chatting or, like, re-organizing the keurig cups in the break-room (for her own reasons; no one has asked her to do this), then complain endlessly about having to stay late to complete her assigned tasks. It’s just really poor time-management, and it’s aggravating to watch.

      2. SoSo*

        I’m with you on this one. We have someone in an adjacent group who sounds a lot like the employee from this letter. She insists on working 10-12 hour days and refuses to necessary time off because “there’s just too much work!” even though there are multiple people she works with that could help her and lighten the load. I’ve watched her supervisors try to help her, and I’ve spoken with her about it before, and it comes down to 2 things: she wants to keep doing things the old way and not look for any ways to improve the process, and she feels guilty for leaving things undone. What’s she’s done though is take on the work of 2-3 people and dig herself into a huge hole that she can’t get out of when she falls behind on her work. It’s become well known that she will not change or do anything different.

        I have sympathy for the LW, because you do reach a point in managing where they have to *want* to help themselves for you to be able to do anything.

      3. Mephyle*

        She’s tried several things, but they haven’t been directed directly at the root of the problem. The advice given here does attack what LW considers to be the source of her slowness, namely that she seems to be sitting around much of the day waiting for direction when she should be directing herself more. In addition, I wonder what she is doing when she hits these roadblocks. LW mentions that she seems to sit around all day waiting for feedback, which suggests that she doesn’t even ask for help until the end of the day. If that’s the case, it’s a pattern that has to change, too.

      4. Tangerina*

        I’m definitely sympathetic. It’s for reasons like this that I know management can be incredibly difficult and not for me.

        Unfortunately I think it’s time to “get tough” with employee, which no one really wants to do. But it’s time.

    4. Artemesia*

      But what the LW thinks is that she is taking 12 to 14 hours to do 8 hours work. I have seen this so often. The hard worker who is always there who diddles around all day wasting time chatting or dithering and then is ‘forced to stay late.’ Sometimes they are disorganized people who proscrastinate; sometimes they are incompetent; sometimes they have no lives; sometimes they hate to go home and so use the office as an escape; sometimes they are actually overworked.

      This person needs to be more closely managed. Taking their work and doing it is the exact wrong strategy. Have micro targets and provide feedback. Figure out how long a task should take and then manage the person to complete it in that frame. By managing closely i.e. being aware of the elements needed to meet the deadline and where the employee is in the process, the manager will also learn if the tasks are in fact too much for the time allotted.

      1. Camellia*

        This sounds like a great idea and a good way to pinpoint the problem – overwork, poor work, etc..

      2. Nanani*

        I’ve seen this too. Come in on time, spend all day doing who knows what (read newspapers, socialize with peers, whatever), then stay late to do actual work.
        Though in the cases I saw, it made a twisted sense because being SEEN as a hard worker who stayed super late looked good to the higher ups, and since LW -is- the higher up, that’s not the case here.

        Is it possible the employee has picked up on “long seat time = good” from a past job or previous manager? Explicitly reinforcing that this is not the case here might help.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        People who have trouble making decisions also work too long and miss or nearly miss deadlines.
        You might find that an ongoing conversation about how to make decisions would be helpful here. What parts does she decide on her own? What parts does she ask for help?

        1. designbot*

          That’s a great point. Another aspect to this is that OP mentions there’s been a lot of turnover in this department—it very well could be that previous managers have trained the employee that they need to sign off on certain items, or even that they want to be the ones to decide how certain things are approached, and so the employee thinks they *have* to wait for OP’s feedback. They may even be frustrated that their feedback comes so late in the day.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            This was my thought as well. I actually posted the same thing before reading your comment.

          2. Marion Ravenwood*

            Yep. I’ve been in positions where certain items had to get the OK from several different people in several different departments. When I moved into my current organisation, with a much smaller team where I was expected to be a lot more autonomous, it took a LOT of mental rewiring for me to give myself permission to just sent things to directors to be OK’d without them having to be approved by three or four other people first.

      4. Opting for the Sidelines*

        I came here to say exactly what Artemesia said. I have seen this so much.

        I have found that when working with people with poor time management skills to sit down with them and work the deadline ‘backward’ on a calendar. For instance if the deadline is at end of day Friday, then where exactly do you need to be on Friday morning? What about Thursday morning? What about on Monday morning, the previous Friday, the previous x-number-of days before that? The end result is to break down the project into mini-tasks and multiple, multiple benchmarks so you can always track progress and know when you are getting behind. (And thus when overtime is really, really needed!)

        I would also be having a serious conversations about “why are you waiting for me for answers” and going over where the managee needs to work ahead without input and where oversight is needed.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Of course, the employee has to trust the LW not to say ‘make your own decisions on these things’ and then later shoot them down. Writing down procedures used to be a thing, when did that stop?

    5. Emily K*

      I dream of a working world someday where people like LW’s direct report might be offered an adjusted schedule. Circadian rhythms are a real thing – she might genuinely be better able to focus and problem-solve in the evening, but is forced to also be present in the morning, so her “butt in seat hours” and her “productive work hours” are staggered giving her a longer overall workday than if she was being productive the whole time she was in the office.

      Of course there are things evening-oriented people can do to adjust to the 9-5 world, and that’s the realistic solution I would expect LW to coach their direct report with. But I can’t help but think everyone would be a lot more happy if office work was more commonly split into an early and a late shift – and not just for employees who might prefer the evening shift, but for clients and customers too who would be able to reach someone in the office in the evening!

      1. It's a German thing*

        I would love it if my office split our jobs into early and late shifts. I’d gladly work from 6 am-2 pm because that’s when I’m most productive.

      2. Lynn Marie*

        Yes, a lot of times I’m just waiting for everybody to go away so I can concentrate. I start about 2 hours early and get the bulk of my day’s work done then while I’m sharp. The rest of the day I’m tying up loose ends, having meetings, and planning. The last two hours of the regular work day, I generally do mindless tasks or zone out because at that point my mind has fizzled away. Then, once everybody else has quit for the day, I get energized again and can spend an hour or two to set myself up for my most productive period in the morning. I’m fortunate to have a job where this works and is not disruptive, but I’d still like to be able to take off a few hours in the afternoon, when keeping my rear-end in my seat is useless and exhausting.

        1. Lynn Marie*

          And I’m not saying this employee doesn’t need help with time management, but I can certainly imagine you all analyzing my day and telling me if I just managed my time better I could get everything done within 8 hours. I think I’m doing an amazing job managing my time within the parameters I have to work with.

        2. Ralkana*

          This is how it is for me too. My boss suggested I come in an hour early in the mornings, but that’s still during our open hours, and it just gives everyone else one more hour to bug me with stuff. Everyone can’t get out of the office fast enough at 5, though, and I find that I can get more done between 5 and 6, when there are no distractions, than I can in about four hours during the workday.

          1. JustaTech*

            I have two coworkers on my team who work this way, one comes in super early, and one comes in after lunch, but they’re both really productive. It was a little weird to start because we’d never had people with shifted schedules before, but it just means remembering that A isn’t around in the afternoons, but if you need to talk to B in person you may have to wait a bit.

        3. Kiwi*

          So you’re working an 11-hour day but finding a few hours of it useless? Ouch. Have you tried talking to your manager about taking those few hours off?

          In my office, you’d definitely be able to start 2 hours early, go home 2 hours early, and then do an hour from home later. And I’d be open to you going home 3 hours early, assuming you’re a high performer and you’ll consistently do that last hour from home.

          It could be worth asking your manager – you never know!

        4. TardyTardis*

          And then I had to make sense to my earlybird manager when my coffee hadn’t kicked in yet, that was fun (though when I was most effective in the afternoon was about when she was fading and had to answer things from me, so it all kind of circled around).

      3. PersonalJeebus*

        + a million to this! I would have been so much happier in the 9-5 world if I could have turned it into an 11-7 world or even a 1-9 world.

      4. designbot*

        As someone who often had to wait on others to finish presentation content, I share your dream. At an old job, I used to not get research results until 7pm+, and then have overnight to lay out a presentation and/or book. The fact that my boss expected my butt in my seat at 8am felt like nonsense and I’d spend the normal working hours either inventing new work for myself or piddling the time away on the internet. If I could have just shown up in the late afternoon when the rest of the team was starting to get their writing into shape, it would’ve been a lot healthier.

      5. SS Express*

        Totally. I’m a night owl and naturally more focused and productive later in the day, and I find the peace and quiet after everyone else goes home really helpful too. Fortunately my job has somewhat flexible hours, so I start around 9.30 and leave around 6 (or 7 if I’m busy) – and since most of my coworkers choose to work 7-3.30 instead, this gives me a good couple hours of quiet every evening. If I was required to come in earlier it would seem like I was managing my time badly, but actually I’m managing it very effectively – it’s just that “effective” means different things for different people.

      6. LAM*

        Yes. Technically my office is open 9:30-4:30 and so we should work 8:30-5:30 or so, allowing time to set up/close out the day. However, my boss and I have an (informal) arrangement where she works 8-5, and I work 9-6. This gives both of us a good chunk of uninterrupted time to do what we don’t have time for in between clients. We’ll both come in early and/or stay late when needed, but the uninterrupted time allows us to become more efficient. She’ll put out the fires that occurred overnight/early morning, and I handle the ones that happen midday/afternoon.

      7. Minnesota Miles*

        This! I definitely do better working late. I have ADHD and so I know I am inefficient during the day when people are around to interrupt my work. I’ll get easily 2x as much done between 5-10pm as I did from 8-5pm. Unfortunately, I am the most knowledgeable & senior employee on the team, and I’m also non-exempt, so I have to do mostly daytime hours and only get to really work one evening a week or so.

  2. Earthwalker*

    I’ve known bosses who lauded people who worked late and one entire department who managed such a boss by yakking the day away and beginning their work just as she was wrapping up at quitting time so as to look very busy and dedicated. Is it possible that the employee has worked for such a manager before and is trying to impress with martydom?

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      I had a boss like this once. She would spend all day wasting time and socializing (because work was the only social interaction she got with people), and then at about 3:00, she’d go into her office, close the door, and work for 9 or 10 hours. Then she’d come in the next day to people saying, “OMG, I got an email from you at 1:00 this morning! What were you doing here so late?” I felt bad that she was working such long hours and was always asking if there was anything I could do to help. Of course there wasn’t.

      She really liked basking in the attention of all the people who thought she was working these long, insane hours. It took me about 6 months to figure out what she was doing, and once I did, I stopped feeling bad.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Yup, I had a boss like this, too. He’d come in at 7am, slack off all day, and then decide around 3pm to do some actual work, stay until about 7pm and leave. He was always “so busy!”

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          I got the clue that this woman I worked for was pretty nuts when she told us she’d had an argument with the guy at the Taco Bell drive thru the previous evening because their system had overcharged her sales tax by two cents. Two cents. What did she expect the poor drive thru guy to be able to do about it? She was so worked up I wanted to go get 2 pennies out of my desk and give them to her.

          1. Bigglesworth*

            Then you could’ve really given her your 2 cents about the situation. *ba-dum tss*

          2. LadyCop*

            I live a block away from the outside bounds of my state’s capital city. They have a .5% high sales tax. Even though I legally do not reside in that city, all online orders I make, charge me at that rate. My zipcode legally is not within the higher tax bracket…but nothing can be done about it. It’s not a big deal, but it’s the principle of the matter. Not to say your former employer wasn’t a bit off…but it morally wears me down sometimes. Especially living a taxed-to-death state.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        There was a team lead like that at OldJob. She would socialize all day (with her team, so they weren’t able to get any work done, either), then at around 5, she’d be “oh we have a deadline” and make the whole team stay until 7 or 8, and leave at 9 or 10 herself. Her quality of work was low. What she did in 60-80-hour weeks could have been accomplished in two or three 8-hour days. But her manager loved it that she worked ridiculous hours, and kept giving her awards and telling people “she is our best worker, she works crazy hours” so of course she got even worse. A coworker once told us that he’d had to stay late one day and it was only the two of them in the office. At 9, Best Worker gathered her things, headed for the door, saw the coworker still there, turned around, went back to her desk, unpacked her things, and got back to work(?)

        When her team stayed late, she’d order them dinner (typically pizza) – I personally would be peeved if I were forced to eat unhealthy food for dinner instead of the healthier options I had at home. She’d order more than the team could eat and the next morning there’d be boxes of uneaten cold pizza still sitting on the breakroom table.

        I liked Best Worker as a person, she was really nice and sweet outside of work; but honestly hated it that the company culture was going in that direction and that she was actively making that happen. OP’s letter absolutely reminded me of this coworker.

      3. PersonalJeebus*

        True, maybe the OP’s report is doing this! Or maybe she’s doing it out of a false sense of obligation, as Earthwalker describes.

        Since this employee isn’t the boss, it’s probably in everyone’s best interests for the OP to curtail the late nights. The employee may think the behavior only serves to make her look good, but it’s actually making their department look dysfunctional and/or the OP look like a tyrant. Late nights are a much better look for higher-ups than for worker bees.

    2. Utoh!*

      Yup, I can’t tell you how many times my boss, or another manager, grabs me as I’m leaving to go home at 4:30 to ask me for something because they have spent hours socializing and are only just realizing when they see me that they needed some work done. I socialize very little at work because I *don’t* want to stay late, I have a longish drive home, and this is *not* my second home. I’ve been able to push back when they do this and it’s rare I ever end up staying late. It’s all about managing your time, and expectations.

    3. Nanani*

      Just wrote the same thing in a different response thread.
      It’s definitely a weird dynamic that can be learned, and hopefullly UNlearned.

    4. There All Is Aching*

      I had a boss who tacked on 60-90 minutes of venting about work (re: how hard the job was, which reps were being pains in the neck, etc.) masquerading as impromptu strategy sessions at the end of the day when we were all already so exhausted from working our collective butts off for 10+ hours. These were never productive and amounted to me managing up because she was more interested in feeling heard than actually solving any problems. I wish I had known at the time that it would behoove me to set boundaries about getting home. Unsurprisingly, after years of this, she eventually burned me out on the job and the profession.

    5. Thankful for AAM*

      Yes, but it might have been a more toxic micromanaging boss who did not allow her to make work decisions or to go on to the next step without permission.

      She could be frustrated that the new supervisor/OP does not stop by and tell her what to do!

  3. AnotherJill*

    On the surface, this sounds like a classic case of someone who needs to learn how to work smarter, not harder. Is there some way to set up some sort of scenario training?

    1. Amber T*

      This is my gut reaction. I have a bad habit of taking slow mornings and leaving some things until the afternoon, knowing full well that’s when a lot of busywork comes in, so sometimes I’m stuck working late because I sat around getting caught in an AAM wormhole all morning and left my work until the afternoon. But that’s poor time management on me (and that’s also an occasional thing). Can you work on her time management skills? Is she someone who is actually right for the job?

      1. Miss Fisher - Lady Detective*

        We call that the 3pm dump here. Everything seems to dump everything they can on you at 3 so they can getout.

        1. Amber T*

          Yup. Don’t get me wrong, 99% of the time I can get out of here at my usual time, even with the 3pm dump (and the 1%, where I do have to stay late because of stuff that’s outside of my influence, is just part of the job). But sometimes, I’m the one with poor time management skills, and I see the clock say 4:30 and I have another 1.5 hours to do at least 2 hours of work, so… whoops.

        2. Emily K*

          Haha, yes. I’m in digital marketing where we do have pretty quick movement on projects, and 3 PM is like, the very last minute at which you can reasonably ask someone to do something by “COB” without a really good explanation for why you couldn’t give more time. Everyone knows that if they send the request at 3:30 they can’t reasonably ask for it back before lunchtime tomorrow.

    2. Snark*

      Yeah – bad time management coupled with either a) “oldboss flamed me to a crisp whenever I did stuff wrong” or b) “this is too complicated, I need boss to walk me through it and tell me what to do.”

      1. Just Another Analyst*

        Both of these seem like very plausible scenarios, particularly scenario b). If she wasn’t trained properly or is under qualified, that would seriously be compounding the issue. It could even be contributing towards it! I have a habit of procrastinating tasks that I struggle with, it’s something that I’m working on but it took me a while to recognize what I was doing and learn to overcome that habit.

    3. Bea*

      Yep. My kneejerk reaction says she’s possibly incapable of proper time management technique. So I agree that training is important…then if she just can’t (it’s a thing that is not intuitive to so many people and they need more hands on supervision their entire career), she needs transitioned to another job sadly enough.

      She will burn out. She’s already making comments that are a huge flag to me.

      1. Breda*

        Yeah, I’ve got some ADD issues that make proper time management a huge problem, and this often means I have to work on evenings & weekends, but a) my job is extremely autonomous and self-directed, so this is only a problem for me, & b) I am fully aware that it’s my own damn fault. This may or may not be the case for her, but even if it is, she needs to come up with some workarounds that will make the deadlines manageable.

  4. Doug Judy*

    I had a coworker that worked a few hours late every day. It wasn’t because her workload was so much greater than anyone else’s, she just had horrible time management. She would spend way too much time chatting or tracking things others were doing like typo frequency and bathroom breaks, definitely not her job, but she wanted to play the martyr of the overworked employee.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, this is often my perception of martyr coworkers who whine about how they have to stay late. Or even those who don’t complain but are always working late. Often, I was working very similar jobs to people and leaving on time 9 times out of ten, while they were staying late every day. I’ve never been involved enough to know if they were managing their time poorly, doing the tasks totally wrong, or goofing off half the day.

      Sometimes I’ve found that coworkers doing the same task as me would take longer because they didn’t know about a more efficient method. Often this was because of a lack of training (nothing was documented, so if you weren’t lucky enough to learn from someone competent you might not know the best method), and in at least one case the person didn’t trust the shorter method. (In that case, I had no sympathy if they chose to spend an hour doing a task that took me ten minutes.)

      I don’t know if this is the case for OP’s report, but maybe it’s worth it to see if she’s using her time effectively – ask her to walk you through a few common tasks and see if there’s anything you can help her to make more efficient?

      1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

        Oh man… Had a coworker who “didn’t trust” excel formulas. We had to compile a bunch of monthly/quarterly reports based on logs kept in excel (pretty basic stuff – how many times did each analyst use resource x, or how many calls did each team member take). She would sit there and manually count how many times a person’s name would show up in a specific column. Then she would stay late to check over the reports that I did by using a formula to just tally the number of times a person’s name appeared. Surprise – she loved to play the martyr over how late she worked.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          Ah the mistrust of excel. Had a co-worker who would double check EVERY excel formula with a separate desktop calculator, taking extreme pride in his excellent maths skills. Drove me absolutely potty! Made training him nearly impossible. He was poor in other areas too and was managed off the team before I managed him out of the window! (kidding, obv! Our windows don’t open…)

          1. TardyTardis*

            Oh, I know her! At least the version we had. But she was the Asset Queen, and was very good with that.

      2. sfigato*

        I’m someone who rarely stays late, and while there are certainly times that workload requires staying late, a lot of my colleagues in similar roles who stay later than me are just cruddy at time management. They dawdle around until 4pm when they get serious, and then they are at work until 6 or 7.

        Of course, it’s just as common that a person’s workload is such that it is impossible to get it done in 8 hours, especially if you are working against deadlines.

    2. Laurelma__01!*

      I’m also wondering how much the employee is on social media. OP might want to ask IT to monitor the amount of social networking or private computer work is being done during the day. I’m also wondering if the employee worked with a prior manager that was micromanaging, it’s hard to get back into thinking oneself after working under someone like that. Or the prior manager wasn’t happy with how she solved problems, etc., and she stopped trying. I highly recommend having IT look at her computer use before you talk to her. If you find out that she’s on Facebook, or watching funny videos during the day, that is a separate conversation. One thing if it’s less than an hour per day. Another if they are wasting 2 – 3 hours a day. If that’s an issue, you can have certain social networks blocked at work. Please let us know how the conversation went. If it’s a time management issue, you might have to train her, or have her do some on-line training to address the issue.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        I don’t think I’d jump to “have IT monitor my employee’s computer habits” without first talking to the employee. Just doesn’t feel right.

        Yes, yes, employees don’t really have an expectation of privacy in the legal sense on work computers, but employees aren’t expecting it, and unless some larger misconduct is suspected, it is just more respectful to actually have the hard conversations with the employee about how she spends her work time. (Also, do you really need to have IT monitor in order to know an employee visits FB too much? Unless you are offsite, you can find out by just walking by.)

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I think this is narrowing the issue down too much. It sounds like one of the issues could very well be wasting time, but that’s not exclusive to social media. It could be a whole lot of things, some of which one wouldn’t even need a computer to do. So while I agree that the OP should take a look at how her employee manages work, I don’t think I’d zero in on social media as the culprit quite yet.

        1. Artemesia*

          the LW needs data. She gets part of it by more closely managing and seeing how the steps get completed. She gets another part of it by finding out what the worker is doing when she isn’t around hence a scan for social media use on the computer. This is an employee that should probably be fired, so it is time for the LW to understand if she can be managed to better performance or not.

          1. Mike C.*

            It’s putting an unneeded strain on IT when there are many other avenues to explore first. They have mch more important things to do than watch someone’s web surfing.

            1. Opting for the Sidelines*

              And I can easily circumvent IT monitoring by cruising the internet on my phone using my data plan and not the company wi-fi.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I would love to hear that LW tells her she has to leave at quitting time. No excuses. That probably won’t happen.
            I do think that LW could tell her to quit remarking on the long hours she has. And this could be done by saying, “Yes, I see you work long hours. I want you to work on finding ways to streamline your efforts so it takes you less time. The goal is for you to go home when everyone else does.” It’s a redirect to talking about working more efficiently. You can try to redirect the conversation each time she mentions working late. This takes the wind out of her sails.

            Could be just me, but it seems that the people who talk about how hard they work have the most difficulty meeting deadlines and going home on time. My theory is that if they spent less time talking about working hard, they’d have more time and energy to do their jobs efficiently with less effort.

            1. Opting for the Sidelines*

              Excellent suggestion.

              LW may want to add: “What can I or the company do to help you streamline your efforts?”

            2. MsSolo*

              I really think telling employee to leave at quitting time, not ifs or buts, for a week, might help the employee reset some of the behaviours (and acknowledge she needs help in other areas). Maybe framing it as they need to see exactly what can be achieved within working hours. If employee is used to working until 10, then subconsciously she knows that she doesn’t need to start worrying about what she can get done that day until it’s almost 5 anyway. If you can bring that back to lunch time, then employee (a) might improve her time management, (b) be more willing to take risks and make decisions and (c) be able to evidence that she’s being given too much to do in the time allotted and needs someone to delegate to, if that is also the case. At the moment, as far as employee is concerned solving the problem is more work than the problem, so it’s easier to keep plowing on. That balance has to change.

              1. Angelinha*

                I like the idea of a weeklong experiment to establish the baseline of what can be done within normal hours. I would also suggest that after that, whether the employee gets stuff taken off her plate, gets coached on better time management, or whatever, that the LW give her as much flexibility as possible with her hours, while still sticking to 40 hours a week or whatever. I’ve had jobs where I was expected to be there 9-5 every day but where it was SO much better for my productivity if I could come in early while it was still quiet, or stay later, a couple days a week. I was never given flexibility to leave early on Friday if I’d made up all my hours but if I had, it would have made a huge difference in my work happiness! (I have relatively flexible hours at my current job and it’s a life saver.)

      3. Epocene*

        I definitely wouldn’t want my boss monitoring my computer usage without my knowledge. Personally I watch netflix while loading spreadsheets and it helps me stay on task. It feels like a serious invasion of privacy to do this without an employees knowledge. It’s one thing if employees are already aware that their internet traffic is being monitored but if they aren’t expecting it, doing so could seriously damage the relationship.

      4. Zillah*

        The employee likely has a phone with access to the internet, just like most people. Blocking social media networks is just going to punish people who are getting their work done for the sake of avoiding a difficult conversation. Even if SM is a problem – like, if you can’t trust your employee to stop using social media when you tell them they need to spend more time doing work, that person shouldn’t be your employee.

        And more than that… the issue is that the work isn’t getting done. Policing her social media usage seems to be missing the point to me. If she’s not spending the time on twitter, there’s still a core problem. If she is spending the time on twitter, stops, and continues to not get work done, there’s still a core problem.

        It’s not the OP’s place to launch a social media intervention for their employee. The OP’s concern needs to just be on the work getting done.

  5. It's a German thing*

    Is it possible that the manager before OP required the direct report to wait for sign-off before proceeding? I used to have a boss like this; once I got to a certain point in my work I HAD to stop and wait for boss to review and either give approval or make changes before carrying on. This lead to a similar problem of me twiddling my thumbs from 3-4:45 and then mad rushing to incorporate changes from 5-7. OP’s direct report may not realize that she has the level of autonomy that OP expects her to have.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, you mentioned that there was a ton of turnover – if it’s an environment where there’s no autonomy (either requiring sign off as mentioned above, or having specifications constantly change rendering previous work useless) then massive turnover is going to be a common symptom.

    2. CatCat*

      Yeah, this is exactly what I was thinking. There may be a norm here established by OP’s predecessor that OP doesn’t know about, but that the employee has adopted (and may have gotten in trouble in the past for not following it).

  6. John Rohan*

    “At first I tried resolving this problem by taking over part of her workload. This worked for a while, but I was soon fielding angry emails from finance, telling me projects weren’t scoped for this degree of involvement from me”

    I don’t understand this statement – unless the LW is an independent contractor hired for one specific job only, which doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    And isn’t a possible solution simply to help her with the work and don’t take credit for it?

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Helping her with the work and not disclosing that is like putting lipstick on a pig here; it just disguises the problem and doesn’t actually deal with it.

    2. The Ginger Ginger*

      Most likely OP is paid more than her employee, so having OP do the work that the employee should be doing IS more expensive and does change the cost calculation of the project. That’s the case even if OP isn’t a contractor.

      1. Antilles*

        That’s exactly how it works in my industry. We request budget from the client, they approve a maximum budget amount, then that’s that.
        For example, the Chief Executive Teapot Designer bills out at $500 an hour while a mere Junior Staff Teapotter bills out at $100 an hour. If a project has a budget of $6,000, that is based on assumptions that the junior person would do 40 hours writing the report and the Chief would spend 4 hours to review the report. If that time flip-flops so the junior person is doing 25 hours and the Chief is doing 15 hours, suddenly you’re wildly over-budget with no justification to ask for more budget, so the company ends up losing money on the project.

      2. Specialk9*

        Exactly. A project budgeted for a $50k analyst suddenly getting blitzed with the unexpected charges for an $80k manager will get finance involved in a hurry.

    3. pleaset*

      They bill clients or donors based on hours worked, but the by adding the LW’s time, the costs are going over what is in the agreement with the client/donor/

    4. Murphy*

      My interpretation was that it’s a billable hours thing, and OP is billed at a higher rate than her direct report.

    5. Helena Handbasket*

      I work in finance and we have rules around who can sign off on or approve certain deliverables based on their involvement – basically, you can’t approve something if you did most of the work for it. That would defeat the purpose of the approval process as being the second set of eyes to review the item. This may be their reasoning – for control purposes, we can’t allow people to approve their own work.

    6. Snark*

      OP may be a contractor of some kind, and there may be only so many hours for her position billable to that contract.

      1. Snark*

        At least in my world, if the “Biologist – Sr.” is billing more hours than “Biologist – Jr.” on an FFP contract, that is a BIG PROBLEMO.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          Yep. If the grant was only written for X number of hours by higher paid employee and they put in X*5 the money has to get pulled from another line

        2. hermit crab*

          It’s a big problemo on other kinds of contracts too. I work strictly on cost-reimbursable contracts but we still have budgets and ceilings!

    7. Cochrane*

      It can be a culture thing too. At one job, a manager would get major stink-eye from upper management if they were doing the work of a subordinate. At another job in the same industry, my boss always pitched in on busy days.

    8. Evil HR Person*

      I read it as a project management thing where every hour you spend on a task for a project has to be billed to that project. The client will be invoiced the amount agreed upon and no more. In my company, a Senior Project Manager is worth more than a Project Manager, so it wouldn’t make sense for the Senior PM to be doing a PM’s work except in a pinch – and even then, the project will lose money if a Senior PM is stuck doing that work, other than for brief consulting.

    9. Gumby*

      And isn’t a possible solution simply to help her with the work and don’t take credit for it?

      That would be illegal where I work. There are multiple projects in the company and they are funded by multiple contracts with different customers. Our time is charged to the projects on which we work. So if I spend 2 hours on TFE (Teapots for Everyone) but report 5 – them I am defrauding the government (in my case there is a government contract that is funding the TFE effort) and bad things happen. It’s also bad to under-report. I have less of a moral problem with that but the legal problem is still there and when we get audited…

      The contracts are funded based on certain (inevitably inaccurate) planned hours from planned people. If a senior person does the work that was planned for a junior person it throws the project budget out of whack.

    10. NW Mossy*

      The big problem with “help[ing] her with the work and [not] taking credit for it” is that it’s hiding critical issues that the organization needs to address to run effectively. Here are just a few of those:

      * The team’s capacity and output aren’t true numbers anymore. On an org chart, it looks like the LW’s team produces Y widgets with N employees. But in reality, the manager contributing X input means that her team produces Y widgets with N + X employees. It’s costing the company more than they think to achieve Y, and if X goes away for some reason, the team likely can’t maintain Y.

      * The LW has less time available to manage her employees, which is what she’s paid to do. Her own job performance will suffer if she’s not putting enough time into her core responsibilities, and if her boss finds out she’s been covering for a performance problem, it could be very detrimental to her career. She’s a new manager, and there will never be a better time to break the habit of doing individual contributor work.

      * It stifles growth and development for the employee, which is critical to current and future success. Using time well and problem-solving independently are crucial in most higher-level individual contributor jobs and leadership, so if the employee aspires to those things, they need to learn these skills.

      * A persistent problem with getting work done with the available resources is a bit like the business is running a fever – it’s a sign that something’s wrong and needs attention. Maybe the team is trying to do too much and needs to stop/delegate low-value work. Maybe an employee isn’t in the right role or performing at the right level. Maybe a process is broken and needs to be fixed. It could be some or all of these things, but if you paper over it with a manager jumping in, the underlying causes are not addressed.

    11. Jessica Fletcher*

      If taking over part of the workload helped – maybe the workload really does take a long time to complete! Maybe LW needs a second direct report to handle the volume.

    12. Bea*

      We all have our own unique identifiers in our system. It shows who processed what. So I can’t just log into Other Persons account and do their work without it looking bad during an audit.

      Unless it’s a task like filing or running errands that aren’t logged duties, you can’t just do a job without “credit”.

      It sounds like finance audits projects and sees OP doing tasks, that triggers the “this isn’t okay!” response. Either for regulatory/QC reasons or billing.

    13. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      I assumed the work was grant funded you you used a specific accounting code when you worked on specific projects

    14. Lilivati*

      There are a lot of jobs where employees have to “bill” each unit of time you work to a particular project number, even if the project is 100% internally funded. These jobs will also have charge numbers for overhead time, PTO, etc.

      Projects budgets are built by scoping out how many hours of time each task will take from particular individuals or departments or however the company is organized. Each department may have a different rate, which corresponds directly to how much it costs the project to utilize their time. If the manager has a different rate than her employee, than she’s blowing up the project budget by charging (ex.) 10 hrs a week to the project, rather than the 1-2 hours she was assigned.

      However, in that kind of job, the employee taking 50% longer than allocated to complete tasks will also impact the budget. So either she’s charging to a lot of random things inappropriately or finance should be going off about her, too. (Which is not out of the question if her line manager is not on top of auditing her charges.)

    15. Not A Morning Person*

      Sounds like a requirement for tracking to keep to the project budget. Very typical in IT, engineering, consulting, and other fields.

    16. TardyTardis*

      It may be a Sarbanes-Oxley issue–that’s how I was able to snag my 9-6 schedule the last couple of years, because we had a manager who liked staying late to review stuff, and wasn’t really supposed to post the stuff she needed to review.

  7. KarenT*

    I had a situation like this once, although in my case it was clear it was the employee’s own making. She’d spend her days chatting, catching up with everyone in the office, I even caught her watching an episode of SNL at her desk once. Then there’d be a big ‘poor me’ production on how late she had to stay and that she worked all day Sunday.

    What we found worked was a very structured day for her–this was clearly not going to be sustainable long term but I felt I needed more info before I put her on a PIP. I would meet with her every morning and talk about her priorities for the day, and help her map out what she’d work on when, and often meet with her end of day to debrief/map out the next day. It became very clear to me that she spent a lot of time goofing off and that was a big part of her problem, but outside of that she didn’t have the time management skills for the roll.

    1. Bea*

      I had a similar report who couldn’t prioritize or catch on quickly. I went so far as to make charts and a list of important vs filler tasks etc. I cried bitterly when it turned out I really can’t “save them all”.

      I wish he was just goofing off or too chatty, it would have made me take the disappointment so much easier.

  8. Sue Ellen Mischkey*

    Could it be that the staff is working late hours purposely for overtime money? I’m not sure if I caught if this person was salaried or not.

    1. SusieCruisie*

      This was my immediate thought – is the employee non-exempt? This is often a common issue with non-exempt employees who need to boost their paychecks. Perhaps if timing is really the issue, could you alter her normal working hours from 9-5 to perhaps noon-8?

      1. Hobbit*

        I agree. I’m a morning person and am most productive before lunch. I have a friend who is a night owl and is most productive after lunch. If your work has flexible hours, then this might be a solution.

        1. Anonymeece*


          She may be doing it on purpose, but it may be that her productive hours are different. I work 10 AM – 7 PM when possible, because at around 3 PMish, I suddenly get in the groove and knocking things out. Before 10, I’m pretty much useless for anything but sluggishly answering emails.

          There have been a lot of suggestions about her time management skills – and maybe it’s not possible for her job – but it may just be that she legitimately works better in the evenings.

    2. Shark Whisperer*

      I totally had a boss once who would “work late” for the comp time (we were government so comp time is legal). She always worked well past when the rest of us would leave. It wasn’t until I actually had to stay late one day to get work done for the grandboss (so my boss didn’t know I was staying late), that I found out she was just playing on facebook and flirting with the volunteer coordinator, not actually doing any work. She took a week vacation with that comp time.

    3. Thor*

      I’m guessing (although who knows) that if accounting was involved enough to make sure the manager wasn’t spending time on this project then it wouldn’t be that easy to bilk excess overtime pay.

      1. Bea*

        It most likely falls under a different set of auditors depending on the size of the company and it’s departments.

    4. LadyCop*

      This definitely crossed my mind. And even if they are salaried…there are less tangible things that some people gain by being the one that “works all the time.” I know a few former co-workers who were big on extra attention and pity parties to inflate their low self-esteem. They’re probably instagram queens now…

  9. NicoleK*

    My coworker works longer hours than I do. But it’s because she’s really slow, needs a lot of hand holding, socializes too much, struggles with email composition, and isn’t able to work independently despite being at the company for several years now. As her manager, you need to dig into why it takes her the length of time to complete her tasks. Either she’s not a good fit for the job, she does not work efficiently, or there is more work than one person can handle.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I think all of these things are possible here and there’s benefit from making them explicit. I’d also add a 2b: however frazzled she may seem, she may prefer working slowly in the morning and longer in the evening to changing up her pattern, and making that explicit is also a possibility.

    2. Kelly L.*

      I must be hitting the afternoon doldrums. I read that as “email constipation,” which I have definitely suffered from at times.

    3. CMart*

      A buddy of mine last year moved into a position known to be “stressful” based upon her predecessor’s workload and attitude. Always working long hours (they were salaried), constantly snapping at people because of how stressed she was, having to re-do her work several times because of errors made from “having to rush it” and constantly complaining about how overworked she was. She also never let anyone take work from her.

      Buddy took over, spent a day reading what existed of the desk procedures, two days reorganizing the file folders, and the rest of the first week taking her time to figure out the daily/weekly processes and spreadsheets. Week two rolled around and she finished the entire week’s worth of tasks before noon on Tuesday.

      Turns out her predecessor was just somehow incredibly inefficient. She still has no idea where the breakdown was, but she enjoyed her past year of essentially working 15-20 hours a week while her boss has been thrilled with the productivity and cleaning up of the disaster that had previously been in place.

  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Re: look how hard I’m working.

    If nothing else, you need to nip THAT bad attitude in the bud. Fast.

    Not only is it wrong for all the reasons AAM mentioned, but I worry with that attitude, your employee is going to try parlay her long hours into a request for more pay. After all, she’s working more hours, so she needs more money, right? And if she’s working past 5 PM, then she might need a flexible schedule, right? (I’d love to know if she comes to work on time the days after she works late.)

    Just because your employee is working late, doesn’t mean she’s working hard either. All it means is that she worked past 5 PM. Nothing more. (She could be watching Netflix on her phone for all you know.) I can think of two people who regularly work nights and weekends but don’t have much to show for it.

    For example, my coworker spent nearly six hours in one workday on one email. A single email. (Coworker has anxiety. Long story.) She then spent the rest of her night and weekend on a document that was only supposed to be one page. It ended up being five pages and none of the content met the original requirements. The whole thing had to be redone from scratch. Any other reasonable person could have completed those two tasks in an hour.

    Please, please, please stop helping her and let her sink or swim. I’m honestly surprised at the level of help you’ve given her at this point.

    1. Snark*

      Oh hell yes. If this person is recasting her poor time management and high need for guidance as “I’m working my ass off and bosslady is just waltzing out at 5!” that’s a whole lotta hell naw and needs to be corrected immediately. Explain the billable hours issue, too, and make sure she understands your role is review, not guidance.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          I felt a pang of recognition on the coworker. I have a similar situation with a report who I am going to bring up on Friday. I have a bad feeling we may be heading for PIPsville

    2. NW Mossy*

      I’ll add that businesses typically reward employees on the basis of their results, not their effort. In many situations, it’s notably better for the business if you achieve more results with less effort, because the effort-savings can be applied to other valuable work. Customers don’t care if you spent 10 minutes or 10 hours on something if it meets their needs, so it’s not a good idea for the business to encourage overworking when customers aren’t getting any additional benefit out of that work.

      This is a really common fallacy people have about work, and it’s a kindness to have a manager teach you why effort isn’t the measure of success. Trying hard matters, but we need to try hard in the right ways towards the right goals if we’re going to succeed. There’s no sense in firing a thousand arrows the opposite direction from the target.

    3. KRM*

      Re: your third paragraph–I found this in grad school. PIs expected grad students to work late, because it shows “dedication”. So grad students stay in the lab till 8-9-10PM. Now, some students genuinely loved to work later hours, and came in later in the morning. But most came in at 9, and then spent a good chunk of the day getting coffee, socializing, etc, so that they would have work to do at night, and would “look dedicated”. Same for putting in weekend hours.
      I hated that attitude so much–I had come from a regular job, where I worked 8 hour days (sometimes more, but sometimes less, depending on what the science needed), and somehow I managed to get just as much done in that job as an average grad student did over the same time period, because I managed my time to get my work done during the day. Now I work in a job that understands that as long as I’m here for meetings and get my work done in a reasonable time frame (as discussed with my boss), nobody cares what exact hours I work. Very refreshing.

    4. Artemesia*

      An old story but my daughter was on her college paper. One day she got reamed by the editor because she was supposed to work with Susie to lay out the paper and she had ‘gone home at 5 when poor Susie was stuck in the office till 2 am getting the layout finished.’ My daughter pointed out that she had laid out 6 pages of the 8 page paper before she left; poor Susie managed to finally get two done.

      Some very productive people work long hours. I bet most people who work long hours are not very productive people.

  11. Leela*

    I’m in no way implying that Lw’s situation is this one but in a previous role, I felt highly pressured to wait for detailed instructions even as the manager told me to solve issues myself because she would get incredibly frustrated if my decision wasn’t based on context she had but I was never given, and wasn’t exactly what she’d do even though we never outlined procedures or best practices. I often felt very stuck throughout the day because of this and felt like I wasn’t *really* allowed to make decisions no matter what she said, and she’d publicly disparage my work to colleagues (we were a two-person team) and go on and on about how she had to “fix” my work (like me setting up an interview with the person who always did those interviews, but this time it was to replace the interviewer and nobody told me that).

    LW since you said you’re newer I wonder if previous management made the employee feel like they weren’t allowed to make decisions and that information hasn’t made it to you yet? Totally possible that’s not what this is but I had an 11-month contract dealing with this and it definitely caused me anxiety about solving issues without confirmation in my next job

    1. Displaced Midwesterner*

      This was my reaction, too. And, if this is what’s going on, no wonder the OP has noticed that things seem to have improved after working more closely with her.

      I also wonder what the expected process and turnaround time for incorporating feedback is meant to look like at this workplace. This sentence leapt out at me:

      “It’s like she’ll wait all day for feedback (in the form of very prescriptive instructions), and then spend all night incorporating it.”

      Is the revised work something that this employee needs to hand off the next morning? If so, no wonder she is staying late, rather than risking the chance that she might not be able to make all of the necessary changes in the time that’s left during normal working hours. This happens all the time at my workplace. I’m in a position where I feel empowered to move forward with things on my own, but sometimes I do end up waiting until the last minute for vital information from higher-ups, and I have learned that explaining any delays on my end by pointing out that I didn’t receive key information from them has not been received well, even when everyone knows that’s what’s happening. So, I stay late to finish a thing rather than risking the chance that I won’t have adequate time to finish it the following day.

      If you do want to encourage her to be more a more proactive and independent decision-maker, it won’t really help unless she’s actually getting the feedback that she feels she needs earlier in the process.

    2. TardyTardis*

      I had that boss! I was supposed to read her mind (and she ran through five accountants that I know before she finally got one who could).

  12. voyager1*

    What jumped out at me was that when you took some of her work that this late night thing stopped AND her needing specific instructions. THAT coupled with huge turnover makes me wonder if previous manager was really bad and a micromanager who then blamed the staff for things that may or may not have been their fault—so in the end she is scared to make a mistake.

    Once someone is scared to make a mistake that is a hard rut to get out of.

    AAM is right, you need to talk to her and go in to that talk with the least number of preconceptions as possible as to why this employee is martyring herself.

    1. Marzipan*

      Mmm, I was thinking exactly this. I’ve seen perfectly capable and sensible people reduce themselves to automatons in response to inconsistent leadership that’s left them afraid of what the response will be if they make a decision themselves. If this has at all been the case in the past, this employee may be really reluctant to act autonomously, for fear of the reaction. So, the LW could work on helping the employee to recognise which decisions they have the freedom to make, and which areas they should check about.

      I also think it might be worth considering presenteeism – if the employee is, for example, getting stressed and gradually becoming less and less productive while working longer and longer hours.

      And, my other-other thought is, is there any mileage in rearranging the day slightly to help address this? It sounds as though the employee is waiting all day for instructions and then acting on them in the evening. Is there scope to have a quick post-lunch catch-up to give any necessary instructions then? Or to check in at the end of the day but explicitly say this is the work to be done tomorrow morning? Or to have that discussion first thing, instead?

      1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

        I was thinking this… Who is she waiting on for instructions or why are they getting to her so late in the day (I don’t mean that as an accusation – I mean it as a genuine question)? I imagine it would be better if she didn’t need that level of instruction, but as a first step/short term solution, is it possible to work on that lag time. Maybe it’s genuinely not, but if there is a way to get her the feedback/instructions she needs earlier in the day that could be a good way to see if she can start learning to work with less instruction.

        1. bonkerballs*

          It sounded to me (and maybe this is a misinterpretation) that the feedback/instructions are coming from the LW and it’s getting to the employee so late because the employee is just kind of waiting around until OP gives her feedback instead of either a) proactively seeking out the feedback when she’s ready and needs it and then incorporate said feedback exactly or b) problem solving on her own. Like she ran into a problem or was ready for the next step at mid-morning, but then instead of seeking out OP in order to move on, waited until their hypothetical late afternoon check in to address the issue with OP. Again, this is just an interpretation from OP’s more vague description, but it’s the impression I was left with.

    2. Bea*

      This is a good point. I had two amazing reports who did a killer job but were botj terrified of making mistakes or “overstepping” their self ingrained limited authority. It turned out their last manager was an asshole who publicly shamed staff for errors. So they would ask me a ton of things at first. I had to retool their internal controls and prove to them they could trust me at my word. We were all amazing together. Too bad the problems were rooted deeper that we left the company in the end but as our original team it was fantastic to see them flourish and their anxiety lessen just knowing I’m not a power tripping jackass like some bosses that ruin good people’s lives siiiiiigh.

  13. Katieinthemountains*

    At my former job, we’d charge a predetermined amount for each project, based on x hours at y billing rate. If my boss had done my work at 2y billing rate, we’d have blown our budget every time.

  14. AdminX2*

    Advice, of course, spot on.

    Possible employee perspective- my bosses keep changing, if I just keep my head down, do what they say and nothing else, I’ll be safe.

    You may have to put in some real work so they trust you as a boss in terms of just corporation stuff. I know I don’t count a change as being “really implemented” until I see signs of other progress first. I’ve saved myself a ton of work and re-work by just waiting sometimes.

    And the solution may just be as easy as a daily, then weekly morning review to get her focused and moving right away. Good luck!

  15. Nonnymousse*

    I had a similar direct report. She went out for coffee (sometimes multiple times a day), went to the gym, went for a walk, ran an errand, etc. She also overengineered simple processes and tasks. Then she wondered why she was the only person left in the office at 7pm. She concluded she must be a great, dedicated employee. Attempts to performance management were not welcome, and she ended up leaving the company. I took on 20-30% of her tasks, and she still stayed late. Sometimes it’s a sign of a low performer trying to compensate, and it doesn’t bode well. Have the conversations and document, document, document. It could come back to bite you down the road if you don’t.

    1. AdminX2*

      It always amazes me when people spend 20 min chatting AT me about how overloaded and late they have to stay- while I’m using every polite trick to get them to let ME do MY work. Sometimes it has been bad enough to think I must somehow be slacking cause I actually eat lunch and leave on time most days, but I don’t do any of the chit chat or distract stuff during the day.

  16. Quickbeam*

    OP are you sure the employee is actually working in the evenings? Maybe she’s writing her novel….or some other non-work activity she’d rather do without supervision.

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I used to stay an extra hour at an OldJob because their internet speed was so much faster and reliable than the one I had at home.

  17. LilyP*

    It sounds like she might just be stuck in toxic old habits from how the team used to all habitually work late. Hopefully just being really explicit that her working so late isn’t not an acceptable status quo fixes this.

    I also hope you can push back on finance if you need to — if there really is 10hrs/day of work to be done and you or another team member can’t take any of it on because “budget”, they need to scope their projects differently

  18. Bea*

    Sit down and talk about her time management and prioritization issues. Letting her swim in these shark infested waters are bad for both of you. She’ll burn out, resent you and leave.

    This is why there’s a turnover problem, hands off management styles only work with very specific people.

    I know because I’m stupidly good at time management, I’ll dick around plenty but know how long X takes on average so I’ll put it off. I know if it’s going to require more effort or more instruction, I nail my info down immediately to adjust. This isn’t natural for others, they put it aside and wait for you to walk by their desk instead of tracking down answers, etc.

    You should check in with her more frequently to see if she has questions to keep her on track. Then help train her to know you can be interrupted at times or how she may problem solve things herself. First become a hands on manager though.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      My boss marvels at how I seem to know how long everything takes. I don’t actually. I am just interested in timing and pacing. I do run slower in the afternoon and if I get a lot done in the morning it’s usually not a big problem. This also frees up my afternoon to look at special tasks or investigate problems that I would not have time for any other way. Somethings only require an hour or less and I can sort the problem out, but I can’t do that if my regular work is not done.

      1. Bea*

        Mine tend to be amazed by my speed and ease with most tasks. “When you get a chance when was the last time we bought an elephant?” before he’s out of my office I’ll usually have found it. Or by the time he’s at his office he’ll see my IM confirming it.

        My team knows they don’t have to wait on me because if it’s not just stuffed in my brain I have to just do some clicking to find the answer. I guess nobody I’ve ever replaced has had my speed or my prioritization.

        “How do you prioritize?” was asked in an interview once. “If it effects another person’s ability to do their job or a customer getting their order on time, it’s a priority to me.”

  19. Evil HR Person*

    Whoa! Deja vu… I have an employee who likes to do this AND is hourly so she ends up raking in beaucoup overtime. The frustrating part for her manager is that this employee is an honest-to-goodness workaholic. I had to coach the manager through the discussion on curbing the overtime. I feel you OP, and I wonder if you’re experiencing a little bit of “workaholism” from your own report? Maybe she feels better about herself when she can point to the excessively long hours at work with a “woe is me” attitude to get a little bit of a high? Just a thought…

    1. Hank*

      re: curbing the overtime…

      “You are NOT authorized for any overtime. If you clock out later than your scheduled time, it will be considered a performance issue and if it occurs more than once you will get a formal reprimand on your official record.”

      Hospitals all over the country have been hammered on this where nurses etc. would even clock out and return to finish their work. Labor orgs found out and read them all the riot act. Now unauthorized OT is a firing offence if repeatedly violated.

      1. Evil HR Person*

        Working off the clock is absolutely not allowed under my watch, that’s a given. And yes, I will push to fire anyone who does this. But I will also push to reprimand anybody working unauthorized overtime. I will not violate – or let my employer – violate the law by not paying the person, but I will definitely see it as a performance problem.

        That’s not to say that I don’t want to watch out for an employee’s bona fide problem with an addiction, whether it’s addiction to work or to something else. That’s why my company has set up the EAP and has a comprehensive benefits package to help. The employee simply cannot use the employer as the repository for her own issues.

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          When I worked for the govt. all overtime had to be approved BEFORE the overtime hours began. It cut down on a lot of bogus work because you had to show your manager exactly what you were doing to justify the overtime. That being said, during the first Gulf War, overtime was handed out like candy. No questions asked.

  20. Madeleine Matilda*

    The fact that when LW took some of the work on, the late nights stopped, makes me wonder if the direct report doesn’t possibly have more work than she can handle. If that is the case, then I wonder is it specific to this person and their abilities to do this job or would any competent person have too much work?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It’s good that LW did that because it gives her some sense of how long things take and what kinds of problems occur.
      I noticed that LW never mentioned if the subordinate complained about having too much work. This could be because subordinate sees she is a Team of One. Or it could be that she thinks she IS telling OP there is too much work by saying she stayed late AGAIN.

      LW, we don’t know what you folks do for work. Perhaps there is a way you can figure out the math on this. You did the work yourself at one point. Can you count units and figure the time per unit? Some work does not lend itself well to this. My x’s take 15 minutes each, until I hit one that takes an hour or two. I have no way of predicting if there is a long x in my pile of x’s. Now my y’s take at least 45 minutes. I walk in and find 10 y’s, my head is down and I am concentrating full bore. A y can take 2-3 hours if I am not lucky. And it often happens that I am not lucky. Let’s throw in computer problems, printer problems, phone problems and other problems too identifying for here and my workday is so lost. I do understand if you say you cannot figure out some rules of thumb on how long things should take.

    2. cncx*

      i had a job like this where i was definitely competent and able to do the work, but was interrupted so much by colleagues taht i couldn’t do anything meaningful during core work hours. i agree with you, the manager should dig deeper- why is the person working shorter hours when bossman takes over? Is it the fit, or is it something else about the job?

  21. Neosmom*

    My dear husband has experienced salaried co-workers who didn’t want to go home. So they spun their wheels during the day and channeled their work into 60+ hours weeks.

    Is it possible the LW’s direct report is in an abusive relationship or has a tumultuous home life and work is a safe haven?

    1. Bea*

      This is always possible but people usually aren’t salty about having a safe space at work. They’re relieved they can work 60hrs, not making snarky “it must be nice” comments when others leave. But everyone is different of course.

      1. Lis*

        This is my experience exactly, I had a bad situation in a house share a 10 minute walk from my work and I stayed at work until I was sure the person who was causing the bad situation and I would not be in the house with only each other there because yes I was that person avoiding a situation rather than dealing with it. I was salaried and there was no overtime accrued and being at work was just nicer. No-one knew how long I stayed until there was a contract employee who chose to do their contracted hours over 3 days rather than 5 so he was there late every day he worked. He had a number of talks to me about working smarter not longer, taking on too much work, etc.. A few years later I was in a group he was also in and told the story of my nightmare housemate and mentioned me staying at work to avoid them and he said how worried he had been about me but now it made sense, no one else had any idea I stayed late, I never complained, it was my choice and cost nothing to the company and I’d not have drawn attention to me staying late in case anyone told me I had to stop. It was only that he was there and couldn’t help notice, and to his credit tried to help.
        So in my experience someone who wants to avoid going home will not bring attention to it, had I had to clock in and out I’d have falsified the clocking out and stayed in the office (not a legal issue in the time and the place I was working, but I do know that is wrong)

      1. LCL*

        A little bit, yeah. It gives OP some information that could be useful while planning what to do next.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          It gives the OP some ideas — with no grounding — not information.

          There are literally endless potential reasons the employee could be working late. Maybe she’s allergic to her roommate’s cat so she avoids her apartment. Maybe her body rhythms make her more productive and focused in the evening. Maybe she really hates driving in traffic so she prefers to leave after rush hour is over. Maybe she is super anxious and spends all day psyching herself up and is only able to start a project once there’s a deadline. Maybe she’s having an affair with the night security guard. We have no evidence of any of this, and random speculation isn’t useful.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I will say though, if OP is going to have a conversation with her subordinate it’s good to realize that there are these curve balls in conversation. Being prepared with a redirect might be helpful.

              “So this means you have been stretching the work out so you can be here later? Well, no more stretching the work out. It needs to be done on time and all deadlines must be met. As it stands now you have been blaming other people for not responding to you so that means you have to stay late. You need to stop any false accusations, immediately, of course. We cannot have someone reporting falsely about others. Of the times you are waiting for an answer that comes late, you must _____[fill in the blank with what she should do].”

              If she wants to stay in the building for whatever reason, and that is allowed, she can do her Facebooking or whatever during that time as opposed to doing it during working hours.

              Continue on to explain that the problem with sandbagging a job is that eventually we forget how to work along and keep going from one task to the next. We develop bad work habits that can be very hard to break.
              IF it’s allowed, you can tell her that you do understand about At Home Problem and she can stay in the building if that helps but she cannot allow her work to suffer and she cannot feed bad work habits.

    2. Holly*

      I had a direct report whose husband and daughter are emotionally needy and draining. She came to work and used time to decompress and gather her thoughts each day. This caused her to work late, which on the surface seemed to be a downer, but comments she made throughout the day indicated otherwise. She was salaried.

    3. Cedrus Libani*

      It’s still not a long-term strategy for the employee, and more to the point, it’s not wise for a manager to let someone create a culture problem in their group. You don’t want the other employees wondering if they will be next in line to be saddled with excessive work, or fearing that their evaluations will suffer if they don’t camp out in the office too.

      A horror story: My dad once worked with a guy who was unhappy at home, so he came up with every excuse to stay at work. He hadn’t seen his four-year-old awake for months, so he didn’t know she’d been abused to the point where she could barely walk. The mom went to a locked psych ward, the kid went to foster care, and the dad had an awful time getting her back – because if he was a fit parent, how did he miss that? (The kid was okay in the end, but…yikes.)

  22. Massmatt*

    You mention you are new to the group, which had a lot of turnover. In addition to the possibility that the previous manager may have discouraged independence, are you sure her work load is appropriate? Is it possible she has had to take on work for people who have left? And are you certain that she has been trained appropriately to do her work? Maybe amidst the turnover that fell by the wayside.

    Having an employee routinely working 12-14 hour days in an office where 8-9 is the norm is usually a signal that either an employee can’t work at a normal pace, or the workload is messed up, neither of which reflects well on the person’s manager. Definitely don’t let this become normal because it isn’t sustainable, for either of you.

  23. sarah*

    A couple of things that jumped out to me:

    Maybe this employee is an extreme non-morning person, and a 10-6 or 11-7 schedule would work better for their productivity. Is a flexible schedule a possibility in your office? It sounds like the employee is already getting lots done in the later hours, so perhaps isn’t in a position where coordinating with others/butts in seats is super crucial.

    Also, maybe your office is super distracting and this person is able to focus and work more productively when other people aren’t around? A flexible schedule could help with that too, or seeing whether it’s possible to get them a lower distraction workspace.

    The employee waits all day for feedback and then incorporates it after hours. Part of this can be solved with more independent decision-making, yes, but I also wonder if it could be helped with scheduling your check-in meetings at a different time? For example, having a standing meeting first thing in the AM, during which you can cover any questions from the previous day. This would encourage holding questions until the morning (rather than sitting around after hours with nothing to do), and then the employee would be ready to go with those answers for the day.

    1. KH*

      Yes this. It me. Due to some medication I take, I am a TOTAL ZOMBIE during the day; my brain doesn’t really kick in until 3 or 4 PM. I’m really, really lucky that my boss has allowed me flexible work hours (and that my job _can_ be made somewhat flexible), but I could see this going really wrongly at another type of job, particularly if my boss wasn’t telling me that he was unhappy with the tempo of my productivity.

      (To be clear, there’s other stuff going on this letter that won’t be solved by a flexible work schedule.)

    2. fposte*

      Yes, I think that’s a possibility as well, and it would also help the optics issue. However, I think if that’s true the OP should work with the employee to approach her evening hours as a choice, not as a punishment. If it’s her own work style preferences that are causing this, snarky comments about others leaving need to stop (really they should stop anyway).

      1. sarah*

        Totally! But I can definitely see being saltier about a 12 hour workday versus an 8 hour one–flex hours are really a perk, while long hours are clearly not.

        1. fposte*

          Agreed, and also she may not really have concretized the “I work better in the evenings and that’s why stuff doesn’t get done until then.”

    3. LCL*

      Restaurant hours, eff yeah! When I worked with our relatively small work group on our schedule negotiations, I and one other coworker were pushing adding a restaurant shift, 10-6 or 11-7. Us two had worked those hours at various jobs, and we found that shift to be glorious. Not days, not swings, but the best of both. We dropped the idea because most of the group hated it and didn’t want to work those hours, ever.

    4. Amcb13*

      I’m coming from what sounds like a very different type of workplace (I teach high school) but I’m curious about the general assumption that working late = bad. I absolutely get why the snarking and sitting around waiting for feedback are bad, but if those behaviors changed and it was just a case of someone who needs more frequent breaks or who works at a slower pace (but is capable of doing the work well and regularly meets deadlines)—is there something inherently bad about simply taking longer to complete work? Would this feel similar if someone was coming in at 6 or 7 am to get a head start? I know I do better work if I give my brain some leeway—which often means working late, either in my classroom or (as is perhaps more typical for teachers) at home. Other colleagues may be better at getting work done during planning periods, or may have a different rhythm that works for them, but if we all do good work by the deadline, to what extent does it make sense to judge our processes against each other? In short: when does “this is my personal work style” become “this is idiosyncratic to the point of being detrimental to my professional success”?

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        It’s not about trying to force the employee to have a different work style just for the sake of having all square pegs in round holes. It’s about it not being great for any employee to regularly be at work for 12 hours a day.

        If the only way she can get her work done is by working 12 hours a day, then either her workload is too high or she isn’t the right person for the role or she needs more training or support – because for a lot of office jobs and a lot of people, 12 hours a day at work is not sustainable. It’s not about idiosyncrasies in style but about *physically being at work for 12 hours most days takes a big toll on people*

        1. Calpurrnia*

          I think this is kind of subjective, though. Because of my ADHD, I tend to jump around between tasks a lot until I run into something challenging, and then get “hyperfocused” where I get into a groove and get really deep into something for 4 hours without even realizing time is passing, until something interrupts me (like a pre-scheduled meeting). When I get thrown out of my groove, I completely lose the ability to re-focus on anything for another hour minimum. I’m most productive (and happiest!) when my days are structured so that I can get as much out of those stretches as possible – which means working as much as is feasible when nobody else is in the office (because it minimizes distractions and the likelihood of interruptions – nobody schedules meetings after 5pm), and staying late if I’m in a groove toward the end of the day.

          At my last job, I used to regularly work 8am-7pm days voluntarily so that I could get a lot done after most folks left at 4, and as an added bonus it meant I made my 80 hours early and got to take off by noon every other Friday. Those long weekends were absolutely precious to me, and I was a top performer at my work because I was able to make the schedule work with my productivity style.

          I know this is absolutely different from the LW’s employee (I definitely never got a complaint about my work quality in five years there, nor did I ever complain about other folks leaving earlier than me)… but at the same time, I’m sure some people who didn’t know the situation probably thought my boss was a slave driver and that I was due to burn out any say. But for some of us, long days are actually the antidote to burnout!

          1. Massmatt*

            OK this worked for YOU, and you had a boss/workplace that allowed flexible time. I have never worked anywhere that would allow someone to pile on hours m-th and have Fridays or every other Friday off.

            The context for the LW’s employee is different. Note when her manager leaves at a regular hour the employee makes sarcastic “that must be nice” comments. She is mentioning her late hours as a point of sacrifice, not appreciation. It’s not sustainable.

    5. cncx*

      super distracting office: this was my number one reason why i worked late. i couldn’t get anything done with other people in the office. It would have helped me and the optics had my desk been moved to a lower traffic area (and my coworkers respected boundaries but that’s on me)

  24. A tester, not a developer*

    I’m going to go with a simple workflow/’mechanical’ approach to the problem:

    If she doesn’t get what she needs until the end of the day, then she still goes home at her usual time. First thing tomorrow, she sends out any requests for information that she already knows about (assuming she won’t get a reply until the end of the day), then gets to work with the data she received end of day yesterday. As she finds she needs additional information throughout the day, she sends off those requests – with the assumption that she won’t be getting anything back until end of day at the earliest. Which means that she’ll actually look at it the next day.

    If deadlines aren’t being met because people who really DO need to provide information are taking too long, then that is an issue that should be addressed.

    1. nonymous*

      yes. I have a coworker who sends me stuff about half an hour before I’m scheduled to leave. If I tell him I won’t even start looking at it until I come in the next day, he amazingly doesn’t need my help any more!

    2. Lucille2*

      I agree with this strategy. Whenever I’m dependent on another person/group to complete a project, I usually give a due date a day or two earlier than when it’s needed. When possible. And send a reminder when the eleventh hour is near, or set up an Outlook reminder attached to the email request. Sometimes, just knowing the work habits of those around you is important so you can adjust your own to reduce stress. And understanding who’s pieces are critical to keep things moving, and who can you just work around. OP should be able to offer some solutions here if this is the problem.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I like this, and I think it needs to come from the LW. When she comes to you for input near the end of the day, give it to her, and then say “So, you’ll start on that first thing in the morning? I don’t want you staying late for this tonight.”

    4. Chaordic One*

      If deadlines aren’t being met because people who really DO need to provide information are taking too long, then that is an issue that should be addressed.

      I dealt with this a lot at bad old job. Information was either late, or incomplete and I had to request additional information to do what I needed. My boss refused to intervene on my behalf and I acquired a reputation as “The Nag.” Besides, it was easier to blame me than to go after the people who weren’t getting their information turned in on time.

      I experienced delightful schadenfreude on hearing that one of my replacements refused to play the nag game. She only requested information once and if it didn’t come in on time she didn’t worry about it. Some people didn’t get paid on time because their information came in late.

  25. Maddie*

    I have a coworker always complaining about working late. During the day she is chatting with whomever comes her way. Time management.

    1. irene adler*

      It can be quite a shock to discover one is not being paid to chat the time away.

  26. spocklady*

    I think working with your employee to reframe this as working more efficiently and independently is going to be key. If she’s already demonstrating signs of a bad attitude about the long hours she’s working (like with the “must be nice” comments), she probably won’t react well to being told she needs to work harder.

    That said, it sounds like you have a lot of room to reframe expectations around the extent to which you expect her to use her judgment. You can and should also talk about time management. It might be worth having her do either/both of the following:
    * Spend a week tracking what she spends her time on. She could make a new entry every time she switches tasks, or every half hour. If you think she might be embarrassed about showing you the literal log (like, to the point she might be tempted to alter/fabricate parts of it), you could ask her just to log for herself and let you know at the end of the week where she thinks she can find some extra time. If she says “I really can’t, I’m working super hard all day,” then maybe you both look at the log together, but that also tells you something.
    * Ask her to make a note every time she gets “stuck” on a task and feels like she needs assistance before she can move her project forward. Again, do this over the course of a week (or I guess longer if that makes more sense; you know the patterns of your projects best). At the end of the tracking period, does she notice any patterns that the two of you can start addressing?

    Both of these framings put the onus on the employee to be a troubleshooter of her own difficulty completing work in a timely fashion. I think you can make that explicit to her, as part of your longer conversation about things you want her to start using her judgment on. This all also assumes that you fundamentally trust her to engage in the process; if you don’t, that’s a whole other problem.

    Good luck, OP.

    1. LCL*

      Yes, I think you and A Tester not a Developer are on the right track. OP should start by basically analyzing slowworker’s job and figure out the workload, how the tasks flow, etc. From the little bit we have in the letter, my hypothesis is there is too much work to do, and it is poorly organized because it has just grown over the years, and slowworker has a need to present themselves as exceptionally hard working.

      OP, glad you are doing something about this. Employees doing this are really leading to a break down in working conditions. Many people don’t have a choice/can’t say no. You are doing the right thing by trying to stop it.

    2. Tabby Baltimore*

      I agree that having the employee record what she does during her workday seems like a good idea, but of course it will only really work if she’s honest about what she’s doing, when, and how long it’s taking her. If the OP isn’t confident the employee will do that (for whatever reason), then the only other way I can think of to learn exactly what the employee is doing is to examine the employee’s keyboard keystroke log, assuming the company’s IT shop provides that service. Comparing the keystroke log to what the employee records herself doing–especially if the LW is concerned with the *way* the employee is accomplishing her work–is likely to provide some insights that the employee’s log, on its own, might not reveal.

  27. Rae*

    To me this almost seems PIP worthy. It’s concerning to me when help was given the issue went away. If the work load is fair then it’s on the manager to nip the martyrdom in the bud. People like that can be extremely toxic.

    I had a coworker like that who my manager would not deal with, coworker was holding up my work, too. She worked for 10 or 12 hours a day. Worlds biggest martyr. I wound up going over my manager and she had no idea it had gotten that bad. During non-seasonal time working more than an hour late for a week merited an official warning and had to be approved in writing to avoid that. Of course, you owed your soul during our busy season, but that’s a different story.

  28. Allison*

    Sometimes I choose to work late, not because I’m up against a deadline or have too much on my plate, but because I have nothing to do that night, rush hour is a mess, and I have enough to do that it makes sense to just stay in the office until 7. It helped that the office was quiet, too! I don’t think I’ve ever resented my manager for it, although I am annoyed when she comes to me at 3:30 about some big project and she needs me to do a bunch of stuff ASAP and if she’d requested this HOURS AGO I’d be on track to get it to her by the end of the day, and now I gotta cancel my plans because there’s no way I’m getting out in time.

    Now, I used to work late when I had a bit of work to do that could absolutely wait until the next day, because I thought I’d earn brownie points with my boss and it would put me in the running for team lead, or employee of the month. Yeah, turns out you actually need a big project to be considered for employee of the month, and no amount of overtime was gonna make up for the fact that my boss simply didn’t see any leadership potential in me.

    That said, there are people who act like working only 40 hours a week is lazy, and that successful people with “hustle” put in at least 70-80 (there’s that meme that says “60 hours a week? I remember my first job!” over a picture of business men laughing). There are also people who look down on people for leaving at or even just after “quitting time,” and think it’s best to hang around at least an extra half hour for the optics. Some people work late to make people think they’re very busy and important.

    So don’t make assumptions about why your employee stays late. Talk to her, figure out why. She may say she honestly doesn’t have enough hours in the day, even then you can tell her that she doesn’t need to work late to impress you, and that you’d rather see her able to wrap things up at a certain time most nights, only working late when she has some big project that actually requires extra time. Or she might say she’d just rather go home at 7 due to traffic.

  29. SC*

    I work with a woman who works late ALL THE TIME!! And I know the full scope of her work and it is not that much. She is always talking about how busy she is and even convinced her boss that she needed someone else on her team because it was just “too much”. Except I’ve watched her take 2 hours to make a single slide powerpoint after I repeatedly told her I just needed a brief description. Should’ve take 10 minutes. I always say she is a pro at achieving job security. She makes it seem like no one else could possibly do what she does and since no one WANTS to, they just believe her. She is salary so they just let her do what she wants.

    1. Massmatt*

      Every medium to large organization probably has at least one person like this. The con can work for a while, but at some point a manager can see through it the same way you do and if layoffs come around they are often the first to go.

  30. new anon because I got bored*

    Huh, if the work is getting done and is of high quality, and other coworkers aren’t inconvenienced, I wouldn’t think twice about an employee choosing to work late. The idea that a manager might be in trouble because a direct report chooses to stay late is very weird to me! They’re adults, they can decide what’s best for their health/motivation/etc. If it’s something they’re doing by choice, you should be able to communicate that to the rest of the team.

    I’ve been the employee who stays too late, and in my case it was a combination of untreated ADHD making it difficult to focus without an immediate deadline, plus being a night owl — I’m more creative and productive after 5 pm. I still often stay late because it’s easier for me to get tasks done after my coworkers have gone home and aren’t interrupting me. My partner doesn’t stay late but does work at home many evenings, and in his case it’s because he has trouble getting uninterrupted focus time for bigger projects during the day due to internal and external meetings and events. I know other coworkers who prefer to work in the evenings when the office is quiet. Maybe this is because I work in an industry where there’s no assumption that people will clock out at 5?

    Still, there are plenty of other issues you’ve identified here — regularly missing deadlines, needing an intense degree of micromanagement, waiting all day for feedback rather than starting independently, etc. In general, they seem to not be meeting your expectations for someone in the role. I think the conversation you should have is primarily about that, with a side of “Why are you telling me what time you leave every day?”, rather than focusing on the evening work as the primary concern.

    1. Rae*

      Once the employee pulled the martyr card she lost her right to be viewed a reasonable adult doing what was best for her.

      1. new anon because I got bored*

        Oh, I agree that there are plenty of issues with this employee. I’m reacting more to Alison’s advice that “I would not, however, decide that you’re fine with her regularly working late nights as long as she’s not missing deadlines. It’s not really okay for someone to do that as a regular thing.”

        1. Rae*

          It’s different to adjust hours than to write a blank check for “whatever works” regarding hours. One would have to supervise closely and have a high level of trust—which isn’t appropriate or practical in most places.

      2. Trixie*

        The martyr card, this is what I keep coming back to and the unprofessional “must be nice” comments. If I were a coworker and witnessed such behavior rewarded with adjusting workloads or schedules, I would be moving on.

  31. Youth*

    Oh hey, this reminds me of something that happened a year or so ago. At my workplace, work is divided fairly strictly, but a person in my job title may take on some of the work of the next-highest job title in a pinch.

    A coworker (CW) of the next-highest job title and I were working on the same project. CW would assign me the work she needed me to do. My assigned work was always finished by the time 5 p.m. rolled around, so I would confirm that there wasn’t anything else for me to do and head out, while CW would stay late, sometimes until 10 p.m. or so.

    The head of the department said that CW had said she was working late because she had no help. Department head suggested to me that I offer CW additional help/stay late too so that CW didn’t have to work late/as late anymore. Over the next week or so, I made a point of staying late several days and sending emails to CW stating that I would be working late for X hours and would gladly help her with anything she needed.

    CW continued to work late. She would respond to the emails saying, “Sure! I’ll let you know!” but never took me up on the offer of help. I do think that she was assigned too much stuff that couldn’t be pawned off onto a lower-level employee like me and also that her prioritization wasn’t great, but since she would often humblebrag on Facebook about how late she worked, I suspect she liked the optics at least a little and wanted the department head to see she was working late. Sure enough, she got promoted not long afterward.

    1. Lucille2*

      She probably was a bit of a humblebragger, but sometimes requesting help is often more work than it’s worth. Especially if she has to fill someone in on a bunch of background and field questions from the helper. I think delegating work effectively is a skill, and some people just don’t have that skill. And some people are just territorial of their own work and reluctant to take up offers of help.

      1. Youth*

        All of the above is completely possible! I personally have a hard time delegating things, especially when I reckon that it will go more smoothly if I just do it myself/it will require way more work on my part to delegate and then oversee than it would if I did it myself. But when delegating goes well, it’s lovely.

      2. Bea*

        I’m bad at trusting others to do things because of the aftermath I’ve dealt with when untrained or just people who don’t care do certain things. I’m guilty of long hours in previous jobs that required them to stay on top of things however the difference is I never whine or act like I don’t have help. So anyone who pulls a “omg 12hr day!!! I’m sooooo swamped and have no help oh noooooo woe is me.” is instantly looked poorly upon but my general outlook on whiners is dim. “Oh, you don’t like late nights? How are you going to fix it? Oh you just want to complain. Not listening any more.”

      3. Chaordic One*

        Sometimes it seems like it takes longer to train someone, or explain to them what needs to be done, than it sould take to just do the thing yourself.

      4. Someone else*

        At the same time though, it’s weird to complain you have no help to a higher up if your perspective is that help is too time consuming to hand off.

  32. Decima Dewey*

    This situation is a problem, deadlines being met or not, and ignoring it could cost the OP professionally. OP doing her direct report’s work is not a solution. If the employee needs extra time to do this work, is there too much work for one person or is employee a poor time manager? If the employee works better in the evenings, should her hours be adjusted? Would adjusting her hours affect OP’s ability to manage her? If the employee needs more time to handle her current workload, what happens when there’s a big project or an emergency occurs?

    There are so many ways this can go bad.

  33. Thlayli*

    Apologies if this has already been suggested – have you considered suggesting to her that she just shift her working hours? I am a total night owl and I find it much easier to concentrate when the sun goes down. I would much prefer to work 12 noon to 8pm than 8am to 4pm. I would probably get more done too.

    1. ZenAndTonic*

      I came here to make this suggestion. I know I’m basically useless before noon and do my best work in the evening. If evenings are her most productive time, maybe experiment with shifting her schedule to accommodate that?

    2. Manager Mary*

      And it may be a medical thing, too. I know someone who has an chronic illness and her condition and medication leave her groggy and slow in the morning. You can force her to show up at 8, but she won’t do any good work till 11, so what’s the point? She does SO much better with a flexible schedule. But it’s one of those tricksy “invisible” conditions, so you wouldn’t know anything about it unless she specifically mentioned it to you.

      1. Manager Mary*

        (Edited to add, I did NOT intend to armchair diagnose OP’s employee; my intention was just to give one of many possible reasons that flex schedules are a good thing to consider for all workplaces where they are a viable option.)

  34. Lucille2*

    This sounds to me like a time management problem as others have suggested. Any good manager will realize that number of hours an ass is in the seat does not always equal productive time. I found that those who had the most effective time management skills were those who had a life outside of work they wanted to get home to. I’ve known some who, it seemed obvious, were avoiding spending time with the people in their household and “working late” was as good an excuse as any. Then there are the easily distracted who spent the majority of their business hours getting wrapped up in whatever the gossip-du-jour might be, and then buckling down after 5pm when the office clears to get actual work done. Or those who prefer to drive home after peak commute hours, but they usually aren’t complaining about how nice it would be to leave at 5.

    Based on OP’s description, I’m not sure how this can end well. Maybe she’s not as skilled at the work as OP thinks, even if she’s been at it the longest. I’d really love to hear how someone was able to effectively solve time management issues where it worked well for everyone involved, and for a tenured employee. To me, this is a really tough problem to solve without ending up in PIP territory.

  35. MrsMurphy*

    While LW‘s report is an extreme case, I look at my team and can think of a few examples with varied explanations.

    The first six months at my current job, I never left on time. Time management wasn‘t the issue – it was a combination of an insane workload due to massive restructuring, coupled with the fact it‘s my first part-time job. Ever. It felt so WRONG to me to leave in the middle of the day, inevitably with tasks left undone, and leave my coworkers to handle it. Wrong, I tell you!

    My boss never really sat down with me to discuss it – it was just a comment here and there, along the lines of „Shouldn‘t you be on your way home?“ or „No, I‘m not talking about teapots to you this afternoon. Try tomorrow morning.“ It… actually took me a while to catch on, because I suck at reading between the lines. (Things have settled down by now and I mostly leave on time! Boss actually thanked me for that.)

    Then I look at colleague 1, who absolutely can‘t stand leaving something unfinished at the end of the day, even when her manager tells her to leave be. That‘s certainly a case where she‘s responsible for her own misery, to an extent.

    Colleague 2, on the other hand, seems to be very dedicated, but I often get the feeling that she sort of skips between tasks – she starts to write an email, gets distracted by a list to update, but abandons that for another task, then goes back to email writing. Things take ages that way.

    So really, as usual spot-on advice: Talk to the employee. Might be the workload, or maybe you need a brief daily morning check in to go over information she needs to get her work done.

    1. Tabby Baltimore*

      “…maybe you need a brief daily morning check in to go over information she needs to get her work done.”

      I think this is one of the most useful pieces of advice for LW, and I hope s/he will consider implementing it.

  36. Can't Sit Still*

    This reminds me of a martyr co-worker who complained constantly about the “long” hours she worked. She would come in 45 minutes late every day, make a dozen or more personal phone calls a day with each call lasting 10-15 minutes, and take 2 hour lunches. She never understood why she had to work so late every day.

    1. mark132*

      The only thing that surprises me about your story is that she actually stayed late to complete her tasks. I’ve seen the same behavior as well except they leave 10-30 minutes early as well.

  37. Brittle Soup*

    I’m not a manager, but I do oversee projects with multiple contributors. Sometimes I work with one (or two or ten) that frequently hit roadblocks and will wait until I come to them before they tell me they need help. In those cases the best strategy I’ve found is to set regular syncs anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour – daily, weekly, bi-monthly (and any amount in between). The expectation is that any existing issues need to have an action plan by the end of the meeting, priorities are reviewed, and status is clearly articulated (Usually with concrete tasks that roll into project outcomes). Maybe OP could use a system like that. It has a way of changing the deadline from ‘as late as I need’ to ‘our 3pm sync because I don’t want to look like I was wasting time this morning’. It can stray into micro-management territory, but 15 minutes a day is just enough time to make sure a team is running smoothly without getting into details.

  38. LadyCop*

    This gives me flashbacks from high school and college…”I wrote a 14 page paper, yours is only 8, I worked harder than you!” No hun. You’re just far less concise, and less efficient. Quality over quantity!

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Ahh yes, One fellow student proudly turned in a 10 page essay when the requirement was for 3 pages. The prof rejected it on the spot and said, read the instructions, 3 pages only.

  39. Bean*

    I have a friend experiencing similar issues at her new position and based on what I heard from them, I’m going to take a moment to push on the manager a bit:

    1. Workload: Is the work assigned to your direct report too much? Are the deadlines realistic? Is it possible to hire another team member to split workload? Thinking about the high turnover – your report may also be more inclined to burn out because of lack of back up. Who covers when she is out? Is coverage adequate?
    2. Training: How are you supporting your direct report? Is there specific training available that she could make use of? I’m not talking about time management training, I’m talking procedures that cover the scope of the work that she is doing. Who/what are her resources aside from you? If your direct report is trying to learn as she goes (with or without guidance from management), that could affect the efficiency of the project.
    3. Communication: I don’t think micromanaging will help in this case, however holding regular types of check-ins could help bring up issues before they become larger problems (like missed deadlines). This needs to be a priority for both you and your report. If one of you is “too busy” to meet, then that’s even more of a reason to get together to chat!
    4. Expectations: Make sure that you and your report are on the same page for basic expectations of the position. That includes start time and end time. This also includes completeness of the work. I agree with one of the other commenters that your report could possibly have some perfectionist tendencies that are impacting deadlines.

    Definitely talk to your employee and listen to what she is saying. Best of luck in finding a better balance for her!

    1. OldJules*

      I totally agree with #1. Everyone on my team leaves on the dot at quitting time but here I am until 6 – 7pm finishing work. Because I am a high performer, I have to ‘lead’ the team of 3, do my projects, day to day and all the fires that happened during the day. Guess who’s boss thinks that I am letting things slide? She and I finally had a conversation about workloads and I outright told her that I will start saying no and that she needs to be ok with that. I am not a miracle worker. I can’t do everything for everyone and asking me to do it is unfair and leads to a skewed view of my performance.

      Why couldn’t OldJules finish everything on her plate when everyone else could? Well because OldJules has enough work for multiple people and she has the same hours in a day as others.

  40. Dirty Paws*

    Is there any chance that she doesn’t WANT to go home? I’m sorry if someone has already suggested this. I do see where the OP says that she makes comments like “It must be nice to go home” but she might be saying that and also be avoiding a situation at home.

  41. LilySparrow*

    I once had a job that required a lot of focused prep, planning, and independent work, but also required me to be “on-call” to several higher-ups during the day. They didn’t interrupt me constantly, but it was at least once or twice every day. If they did call me over, it had to take immediate priority over my independent tasks. This really wasn’t a management problem;it was the nature of the work and the relative priority of our jobs.

    As a result, I had a terrible time settling down to focus unless I knew they were in meetings or off site. I lost a lot of time looking unproductive, because I knew I’d have to drop what I was doing any second. On weeks where they were all in the office, I’d wind up working late after they were gone because it was my only chance at peace and quiet.

    I was at that job a couple of years before I was able to articulate the pattern, and it may have been a weakness of mine that I couldn’t focus under those conditions. There may have been something I could have done to adjust, but I wound up moving on before I figured it out.

    I wonder if OP’s employee just works better after everyone’s gone?

  42. Clementine*

    Here’s what I suggest, if it is possible. Have your employee take a Friday-Monday long weekend off. Tell her she is forbidden to work, and she must rest and relax. (I don’t know if this is possible to do, but I’m giving an ideal scenario.)

    There’s a good chance she is exhausted and is caught in a vicious cycle. She could work better and more efficiently if relaxed and well-rested, but she never gets the chance to make this happen. I’ve had this happen myself.

    Otherwise, start giving the prescriptive instructions proactively and early, just to reset things. Help her divide her work into chunks of hours. Maybe this shouldn’t be necessary, but things have gone badly, and given this is an employee who has endured some chaos, she might just need to be set on track and can’t quite get herself there.

  43. Jen*

    I had an employee who would play “feedback chicken” and wait way. Way too long to ask me for feedback and then run into deadlines. I started sending him earlier deadlines – If this needs X amount of review you need to get it to me 3 days before it is due, etc. By giving him artificial earlier deadlines he managed to be more proactive and get his work.done more efficiently, spending less time agonizing over things and being more decisive.

  44. Argh!*

    Before going to the employee, I would do more thinking about these additional instructions and the way deadlines are handled. Is there a pattern to the instructions? Is it possible for LW to be more proactive in giving instructions so that additional input shouldn’t be necessary? Can LW ask the employee earlier in the day whether she needs instructions?

    If the employee doesn’t know what to do for 8 hours that’s all on the manager, in my opinion. Some people require step-by-step details, and some find those details tedious (J vs. P in Myers-Briggs-speak)

    We who become managers often have inherent skills that make things easier for us than for the people we supervise, so we assume things should also be that easy for everyone else (corollary to Dunning-Kruger effect). It’s how we get promoted – by doing those things more easily than others.

    Most people don’t have the insight to know what they need from their managers until they haven’t received it. And most managers don’t have the insight to know where they fall short from the supervisee’s point of view. Asking for details as a regular thing at 3 or 4 p.m. indicates a need for those same details at 9 or 10 a.m. I would start there, and any conversation would be along the lines of “What would you need to be able to get work done in 40 hours per week?”

    If there’s overtime being paid out, putting a stop to that would be the incentive. (It could also be the incentive for quitting if the extra money is really needed for this person to meet expenses)

  45. Manager Mary*

    She’s waiting all day for feedback, which you’re giving to her, then you’re leaving, then she’s working all night. Why not just… give it to her earlier? Give it to her at 9 AM and then give her a reasonable deadline for finishing the task. If Finance is keeping tabs on your time, then surely there is some kind of overall expectation for how long a project should take? Could you possibly say something like “I see these TPS reports are taking you 12-15 hours. Finance is estimating these projects should take about 5 hours. Based on factors A, B, and C, that seems reasonable [or] That seems to be how long other departments take [or] I’m noticing inefficiencies in the following areas…” Then you can either discuss why that doesn’t seem reasonable to her, or you could say “let’s shoot for 10 hours on this one, and see what roadblocks we hit and how we can get through them.” From there, bring down the time until you get her until the actual time Finance or the project manager or whoever is saying it should take.

    At the end of the day, if a project is supposed to take 4 hours and it takes 12, there’s either something really wrong with the project design or with the person completing the project, or both. Just because your employee is a drama queen doesn’t mean the project design is good! She may be hamming it up for sympathy AND ALSO dealing with a project assignment that is no good.

  46. nnn*

    This depends greatly on the nature of the work, but something that has worked for me to get people under my supervision to ramp up and/or take the training wheels off is “Let’s try X and see what happens.”

    So if the problem is a lack of independent problem solving, you could say “Just for the next project/next week/[whatever’s appropriate], try it without any feedback from me, just using your own best judgement, and we’ll see what happens.”

    Or if you want her to work shorter hours, “This week, I want you to leave at 5 every day. Do your best to meet your deadlines within that timeframe, and we’ll see how it works out.”

    The complexity is you have to be ready to catch them if they fall, and you have to make sure they won’t get in trouble for taking the risk you told them to.

    But if you can make this work in your context, often they discover that they can do it themselves, and, if not, it helps you pinpoint where exactly the issue is.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I like this! It’s like website A/B testing. Try each scenario for one week and see what works.

  47. Indigo a la mode*

    I think there’s a good chance that the employee just has certain times of day when she’s more effective than others. I’ve come to realize that I’m fairly useless for a good part of the afternoon, so typically leave the office around 3-4 and open my laptop back up for a couple of hours in the evening. I have the flexibility to take my work with me; maybe she works in similar spurts but isn’t able to work from home, so she just does her own thing in the afternoon and picks back up when she can be productive. If deadlines aren’t being missed, I see no problem with this – but maybe her working from home might be an option to improve the appearance of her always being in the office.

  48. Perky*

    At a previous job I had the flexibility to set my own hours and worked 11am – 7:30pm.

    The first half of the day wasn’t task productive, with all the office interrupts and ad-hoc requests, but was important for water-cooler networking, collaboration and general presence.

    The second half of the day was usually uninterrupted and I could complete about twice as much task oriented work in that quiet half day as a standard office hours full day.

    Maybe your employee is experiencing something similar, and the evenings is where they’re most productive?

  49. qvaken*

    I might be overly paranoid, but when I think of people staying late at work by themselves, I think that if the chocolate fundraiser money or anything else of any value goes missing, then the late worker could be targeted as the prime suspect. So that’s another consideration when thinking about the appropriateness of a person regularly working late by so many hours.

  50. LGC*

    So I had to read this a couple of times (and read the first comment thread), but…LW, how new are you to this team? You say it’s been troubled in the recent past, so one of the things I’m thinking is that your report has internalized whatever cultural norms there were from her past managers. And if they valued butts in seats and didn’t value work/life balance, that might be why she’s living in the office. From past experience, it takes a while to “un-train” someone from their past work environment.

    (Or she could be non-exempt and getting that sweet, sweet OT $$$. Which is…an entirely different, and probably more serious issue.)

    Another more unconventional solution is…does she seem more productive after hours? Does she need to be in the office during all regular business hours? If the answers are “yes” and “no” respectively, why not let her work from (for example) 1-9 if possible?

  51. Solo*

    Is it possible that she might benefit from a shifted schedule, if that’s acailable in your workplace? The lack of morning productivity COULD be habits from a toxic workplace or lack of initiative, but it might also just be that her most productive hours are in the evening.

    1. Works at Night*

      I agree that something to explore is if the employee is a night owl. I simply get more done and think more clearly during my peak hours, which are around midnight to 2am. I push work I think is critical to this time since I know I’ll do a better job, make fewer mistakes, spot trends I might have missed, etc. There are also far fewer distractions like email and noisy coworkers at night. Staying late might feel like a break from the dysfunctional culture. If working at night is a preference, though, the employee needs to learn to how to explain this and advocate for herself. I’ve been successful at negotiating shifted hours at several jobs because I know how I like to work. I stay late, but I get other time off that balances it all out. Since the employee is staying late already, it sounds like this work does not have to be done during the day when coworkers are available.

      The one thing that suggests this may not be the case is that the employee makes jealous sounding comments when her supervisor leaves. If she’s working at night by preference, this doesn’t really make sense unless she somehow drifted into it unconsciously.

  52. cncx*

    late to the game on this, but at a former job one of the reasons i worked late is because people interrupted me like crazy during the day and if i wanted to do any kind of thinking work, writing, anything involving concentration, i had to wait for people to leave. Even now at my current job, i prefer to do anything intensive after hours. The other issue was my job was a hybrid, i was supposed to be the office manager AND do paralegal work. So during the day i would get interrupted for expense reports, plane tickets, questions abotu invoices…I found it easier to do my office management stuff nine to five, and do my paralegal stuff after hours. so i’m sure it looked like to outsiders that i couldn’t manage my time or wasn’t organizing myself properly when the reality was people just expected to bounce up to my desk whenever they wanted and have their issue dealt with then and there.

    So it wasn’t really a time management issue, it was how that job’s tasks were organized and the fact that my desk was in a high traffic area. I think it would be worth seeing if OP’s report is in a similar situation. At my old job, i could have easily finished my tasks within working hours had i had a desk in a quieter, low-traffic area and had i been able to make people respect boundaries (like giving me invoices on Mondays and not when they felt like it, not standing in front of my desk waving when i had headphones on, and so on).

  53. Anna*

    You know, this may have nothing to do with it, but the first thing that came to mind when you say this employee does a lot of late nights, is that maybe she prefers working by herself. It could likely be why she probably does better. And maybe she ALSO does really well when there’s a last minute deadline. Is there any way you could set up mini deadlines in advance of the big deadline? Also, what’s her surroundings during the day? Is she surrounded by workers and chit chat? Would it help her to have an office to get things done? Or maybe re-arrange the seating at all?

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