my boss accidentally sent me a message complaining about me

A reader writes:

I’ve been working for a small firm for the past two years. The atmosphere is very friendly and casual and the hours are flexible. My boss (let’s call her Diane) has said in the past that it’s fine to come in earlier or later as long as the work gets done. Most people work 9-5, but for the past several months I have been doing 9:30-5:30 most days.

A couple of days ago, I received a message from Diane on our internal messaging platform that said (paraphrased): “Don’t you think Alice should try to arrive on time in the morning? Even if they don’t have set times, Jane is always at her desk by 9.”

I’m Alice and Jane is my colleague who always works 9-5. I believe this message was meant for the firm’s other boss, whom I do not directly report to, but Diane typed it in a hurry and sent it to me by mistake. It would not be out of character for her.

Aside from the embarrassment of receiving a message meant for someone else, and a message reprimanding me to boot, I am very upset and annoyed by the implication that I have been slacking off when for the past week I’ve been staying late (usually until 6 or 6:30) sometimes even locking up after everyone else is gone. I work alone most of the time (so it’s not a matter of being on a team where everyone needs to be present). I am not late if there are morning meetings, and my projects are on track.

At first I didn’t know how to respond to the message, so I just ignored it. Diane hasn’t said anything about it to me. For the past two days, I have arrived at 9 and left at 5. I should talk to Diane but I hate confrontation and I hate the idea of comparing my schedule to my coworkers’. Up until two days ago, I really wasn’t thinking about office hours and I didn’t think I was “staying late” or “arriving late.” I was simply putting in the hours I needed to complete my tasks. Now my productivity is down the drain and I’m feeling demoralized.

I thought I could say something like, “I was under the impression that you were okay with me arriving later because I always made up for it, but if you prefer I will arrive at 9 like the others. Of course that means I will leave at 5 like the others instead of staying late.” But I don’t want to sound passive-aggressive or like I’m bragging that I worked more hours than Jane and the others who are all great coworkers.

Should I mention the message or not? The longer I wait, the more awkward it would be to bring it up. Should I stress the fact that I have worked (unpaid, willing) overtime last week, in case Diane somehow forgot? Have I crossed some invisible boundary by taking too much advantage of our “flexible” hours? Am I making too big a deal out of this? Some perspective would be really appreciated.

It’s weird that Diane has said in the past that it’s fine to come in earlier or later as long as the work gets done, but now is criticizing you for moving your schedule forward by half an hour. So who knows, maybe she didn’t mean it when she said it. Maybe she thought it sounded good but she doesn’t actually believe it, and now that’s coming out. Or maybe she meant something far more limited — like that she doesn’t care if you’re a few minutes late, or that it’s fine to come in at 9:30 occasionally but not to make it your regular schedule. Or maybe she’s changed her mind and doesn’t realize she didn’t tell people that. Who knows!

On the other hand, she acknowledged in the message that you and your coworkers don’t have a set time of arrival! Saying “don’t you think Alice should try to arrive on time” while in the very next sentence saying “even though they don’t have set times” is … a particularly impressive failure of logic.

In any case, there’s a real benefit to getting her unvarnished thoughts on the matter, even though they weren’t intended for you, since now you have a window into how she really thinks. She’s obviously not the clearest communicator (or even thinker?), at least not on this matter, so in a twisted way it might be good that it happened — since even if she’s being unfair and unclear, it’s useful to you to know how she really sees your schedule, so that you can decide if you want to do anything differently.

As for how to handle it with her … The best thing would have been to address it with her the day you received the message. You could have gone to her office and said, “I’m not sure if you meant to send that message about my time of arrival to me or to someone else, but I wanted to ask you about it because my understanding was that we don’t actually have set times of arrival, and that it was fine for us to come in earlier or later as long as our work is getting done. That’s why I’ve been working 9:30-5:30 much of the time. Should I not be doing that? This is the first indication I’m getting that it might be a problem, and I wanted to check with you directly to clear it up.”

(Frankly, you also could have pretended that you missed that the message wasn’t for you — perhaps you thought she was addressing you in the third person, like a small child — and just replied to it with, “Oh! I had thought we had flexibility with our hours and it was okay to shift our schedules forward or back a bit. Did I get that totally wrong?”)

Of course, you don’t have a time machine so that doesn’t help you now. But you can still do a version of the first approach; you just need to change the lead-in to something like, “You sent me a message a few days ago that I think might not have been intended for me, but where you expressed concern about my time of arrival.”

There’s a pretty good chance that Diane has already figured out that she misdirected the message, because if at some point she wondered why the intended recipient hadn’t responded to her, she might have gone back to look at it, realized what happened, and then felt the Burning Shame of Misdirected Messages. If so, it’s ridiculous that she hasn’t addressed it with you (and it’s also further evidence that she’s not a great communicator), but ignoring something uncomfortable isn’t an uncommon way of dealing with embarrassing events.

Anyway, the guiding principles I’d use here are (a) appreciation that you got an unfiltered look at what she really thinks, annoying as it is and (b) a willingness to push through the awkwardness and just address it head-on now that you know, and see what you can work out.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 174 comments… read them below }

  1. Em Dash*

    To be honest, when I first read the boss’s message, it didn’t seem like a criticism as much as a “do you think we should start enforcing start times” query. I didn’t read any annoyance into it; it felt more like “would it look better for us to be fully staffed by 9:00, or no?”

    1. Les G*

      If she’d said “*do* you think,” maybe, but “don’t you think” is to passive-aggressive folks who address conflict purely though leading questions as “um” is to the rest of is.

      1. ChimericalOne*

        Yes, this. “Don’t you think” is a way of saying, “I’m sure you agree” and/or “back me up on this complaint, will you?” If she’d said, “Do you think,” that’d be different.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        The OP says that she paraphrased the message, so I don’t think it’s useful to examine the boss’ language too closely.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          Since she paraphrased it that way, though, I’d assume the original wording came across as a specific criticism of her arrival time and not querying whether a new arrival time is generally better. Still an assumption, but the presumably negative intent is what prompted the OP to ask the question in the first place.

          1. OP*

            It’s paraphrased to spare you from a slew of typos, which are the hallmark of Diane-typing-in-a-hurry-without-proofreading. Don’t read too much into the wording.

            1. AnotherKate*

              I would like to congratulate you on this shade, as well as that in the original letter. “It would not be out of character for her.” Beautiful.

              I agree with all of Alison’s advice here, but I also would suggest it might be wise to keep your eyes peeled for other opportunities (whether in this same company or outside it). It’s more fun to work for a boss you can respect.

    2. Noah*

      I totally agree. It reads like boss wondering if they should change the policy. I find it weird that they are calling it criticism. At worst, it’s very light, gentle criticism and doesn’t suggest that boss actually has a problem with OP.

    3. designbot*

      Either way, she’s being compared unfavorably to her coworker who shows up at 9, and I think that says a lot.

    4. Doctor Schmoctor*

      I was thinking the same thing. I would say go talk to the boss, tell her you received that email by mistake, and would like some clarification. Is there a problem with the schedule, would they prefer that everybody works strictly 9-5, etc. It doesn’t have to be a confrontation.

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    It’s not passive-aggressive to be as inflexible as your boss is, assuming she really does want you there right at the crack of nine. But I wouldn’t say it; I would just do it.

    The ability to have flexible start and end times benefits both employer and employee. The employee works best on their start and end times, while also allowing the employer to ask people to stay late/come in early if need something is press. “Hey can you stay until seven tonight? Feel free to come in later tomorrow then.”

    Where I get super irritated is when the flexibility only benefits the employer, i.e. you’re supposed to be there at a specific time and if you need to stay later, then you have to without having the option to make up that time later. That’s being rigid for rigidity’s sake, which has the added bonus of getting unpaid work out of you whenever Diane wants.

    So if Diane wants your butt in your seat by nine, then you do that. But, yes, you leave right at five. You’re not being passive-aggressive about it; you’re merely adhering to the strict times you’ve been given. You’re mirroring Diane here.

    I had a boss like this, and she learned the hard way when none of us responded to an urgent inquiry from her over a weekend. Even though our jobs didn’t need us in right at nine, she required it and made us take time off for an hour-long doctor’s appointment. She completely disregarded that our department checked email and worked when needed to on nights and weekends. But bonus for us! No more checking working email on nights and weekends after that.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      A friend of mine has usual working hours of 10-7, plus a lot of nights and weekends as needed. A lot of his work is best done outside normal business hours, or involves dealing with emergencies that don’t care about scheduled work hours.

      Someone proposed having a daily meeting at 8 or 8:30. My friend’s boss told him he needed to adjust his schedule so friend could be at the daily meeting. My friend said “Sure. I’ll work 8-5. And that’s all I’ll work. No more nights, no more weekends.”

      Management looked at when my friend actually worked, and what he was doing. They decided his presence at an 8 am meeting wasn’t nearly as important as they’d originally thought. My friend still works 10-7, plus nights and weekends (or both) as needed, and never has to commute in rush hour traffic. (I’m pretty sure he also gets some additional flexibility to make up for the nights and weekends, too.)

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Oh, and for anyone wondering about overtime, my friend is an exempt employee doing high level IT work (with a salary to match).

    2. MLB*

      I can’t stand managers who clock watch for their employees. Unless your job has a set time for answering phones, there’s no reason to be so inflexible. What managers don’t seem to realize is that if they treated their people like adults, they’d get a lot more out of them than micromanaging every detail.

      1. Kathlynn*

        In regards to start times, there are a few different reasons for a stiff start time, like shift work or opening the business.

        1. Close Bracket*

          MLB acknowledged that there are jobs with reasons for start times. It doesn’t add further value to point out something that they did not miss.

        2. MLB*

          Thanks for pointing out that I only mentioned answering phones as a reason for starting at a specific time, as there are other reasons, because that’s clearly the point I’m trying to make.

      2. Tuesday*

        Ugh yes to this. I was in a similar situation as OP. I was explicitly told that we have flexible start times, agreed, and informed my manager of the hours I would aim to keep — but big-boss always took it as a personal affront if I arrived later than she did, regardless of how much longer I would stay at the end of the day.

        Thankfully, I now have a new big-boss who understands that butts-in-seats will never work out in the favour of the company, since we all do so much unpaid overtime.

      3. TootsNYC*

        plus, if you treat me like an adult, then on the days that all kinds of stuff is blowing up, I will probably be in there EARLY. Because, you know, it’s crucial.

      4. designbot*

        I will admit that I’ve found myself clock watching for employees a couple of times, but at the end of the day, I know it’s not really about that. It’s a sign that I don’t feel like they’re pulling their weight, they aren’t around when I need them, aren’t getting enough done… I’m just fed up already. So when I notice that I was the last one here and the first one here and they’re waltzing in half an hour late, it’s not about that half hour. It’s about so much more.

        1. thankful for AAM.*

          I work for a city, everyone punches a clock (even exempt staff), 1 minutes late is late, and 4 lates in a year and you go to HR to explain why.

          And even exempt staff have to be there when the schedule says and any deviation from the printed schedule requires a report exlaining why the schedule was not followed. We do have service desk time but that has a scedule too so you know when you have to take on the forward facing or opening role.

          There is a lot that is good about the job but I sure would like to be treated like an adult.

          1. Busy*

            Just THINK of all the time and energy wasted. I mean you have to pay people to write reports of where they were and why. And then you need to pay people to review all that. And then you need to pay people to sit in meetings to discuss it.

            When you write it all out like that, it seems rather obsessive for very little reason.

        2. JulieCanCan*

          Yeah I’m the same way sometimes – it’s not the actual issue of them coming in late/having flexible hours….it’s the not being around every single time I swing by their desk or buzz their extension or sent them a slack message ON TOP OF their seemingly shortened hours and lack of any apparent drive and motivation.

          Sure we’re flexible and encourage keeping a schedule that is beneficial for both parties that the employee has a say in – but your weekly pay is based on you contributing 40 hours of your time, so ideally you’ll be,you know, working 40 hours.

          1. Linda Evangelista*

            This time thing I’ve never grasped. I always assume a salary is based on the duties of the job (i.e. you get paid a salary to do the things in your job description), so why would it matter to have butts-in-seats for 40 hours, or less, or more? Of course, hourly structures are different.

            P.S. This comment was not meant to disparage yours at all, I know where you’re coming from. It sounds like you have employees who aren’t meeting that first requirement.

            I talk a lot about shortening the average work week in the U.S., and people will ask me about how anyone would get paid as much. My answer is always, they don’t get paid enough anyway, and if they’re doing the same job, why does time matter?

            1. AliceW*

              My take is that it depends on the company and duties. For my department, when my employees are not available to take an internal client call or complete a high priority job because it comes in after 5 or before 8:30 am, I have to do it. Even though 90% of the job is project oriented, and so long as it gets done on time, no one cares about your hours, we also are available to provide advice to other departments and when my employees are never around to field emergency calls they don’t learn how to trouble-shoot because I handle these calls for them. “Butts in seats” can be important some of the time, if your employees do not have company phones and generally figure they are “off the clock” after hours and do not respond to after hour emails.

              1. Busy*

                But see, you need to make it clear to them that they not only have job duties X, their job is also an on-call job. But you also have to provide them with what all on-call jobs contain. I would look into common policies for on-call type jobs and see which one fits for your employees. But I will say this, if your employees are expected to answer and work at any hour of the day or night, then being much more flexible with their hours opposed to being rigid is going to be the most logical and fair actions.

                Most people do X job that needs Y done by Z amount of time. Your employees do X, with the Y and Z PLUS on call.

            2. m00nstar*

              I struggle with this one.

              Like on one hand, my output isn’t defined, and my duties could be never-ending. So I should, hypothetically always be here for 40 hours. On the other hand, if my output is better than everyone else doing 40 hours, is it okay to leave early? If not, I assume my payrate should be where I see the difference?

              I also manage people who are software developers. It’s tricky in that some folks could do the output of 1 person in half the time. Do they get to work 20h? or should we expect 2x from them and pay them accordingly?

              I swing both ways all of the time, but I admit I do get frustrated when people regularly work 6h days, and then I default to the standard 40 hr work week for them. I also strive to be a good example, so I put in full days. I don’t know how to balance both of these thoughts. And my industry is paid very well, so it’s less about that.

              Any thoughts there? I could use the clarity!

            3. Aitch Arr*

              I work at a company that supposedly has a 37.5 hour work week.

              In reality, some of us are just treated like hourly employees.

              I work 9-5:30 and in theory supposed to take lunch, even though I’m exempt.

              Don’t get me started.

      5. Peter the Bubblehead*

        One of the benefits my current job has is flexible hours. The office is open 5:30am to 5:30pm and we are allowed to work up to 10 hours in a day but no more than 40 in a week. It makes it very easy to schedule outside of work appointments or even give ourselves an extra day off if we work four 10’s, as long as our work gets done and the customer is supported.

        Every now and then we hear rumors that the flex hours could be lost on the next contract renewal, and that all employees would be required to work 7:30 to 3:30. It has been discussed among the employees, and were that ever to happen, 50-75% of our work force would look for new jobs or go back into retirement.

    3. noahwynn*

      This is one of the big reasons I left my last job. At the end we were all expected to be sitting at our desks starting at 9am every morning and work until 6pm with a 1 hour lunch.

      Before I started I broached the topic of flexible hours with my supervisor and was told they were flexible as long as work was completed. On my first day in the office I was asked “what are your hours?” and told them I planned to work 9:30am-6:30pm each day because it made a huge difference in commute times due to traffic. Often we would end up working later until 7pm-8pm to accommodate our west coast operations as well.

      The last year there was a huge shift in office culture. There were layoffs and reorganizations and we were told to be at our desks by 9am. Which was ok, but then they often wanted us to stay late like before. I said fine, but I’m leaving at 6pm and taking a 1 hour lunch everyday then. If you show me no flexibility then I can do the same.

  3. Agent J*

    Saying “don’t you think Alice should try to arrive on time” while in the very next sentence saying “even though they don’t have set times” is … a particularly impressive failure of logic.

    This is what struck me as well. It feels similar to the letter writer who wanted to wear jeans to the office but her boss didn’t want her to. The company policy may say there are no set hours but your boss sounds like she prefers for you to be in at 9am.

    I hate confrontation as well but an added benefit of addressing this with your boss is establishing that you can handle tough discussions with her. Who knows, it may help her to be less passive aggressive and more direct about her expectations or future concerns.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Likewise. I don’t know why, but whenever someone asks me, ‘Don’t you think…’ it seems like their point is so muddled, and so very much not in sync with business norms, that my head hurts.

    2. OP*

      The company policy may say there are no set hours but your boss sounds like she prefers for you to be in at 9am.

      Diane owns the company so she can make the policy be whatever she wants. Maybe she’s changed her mind about not having set times for employees? I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s confused… (although the replies, especially the bit about addressing this with her, are really helpful)

      1. animaniactoo*

        I’d say it sounds like she looks at it as a professional working attitude to be there at 9 am as the start of the business day. Potentially what she meant by not having a set schedule was more along the lines of “If you show up at 9:30 a couple of times a month, it’s not an issue.”, and she sees the lack of effort to be there at 9:00 as a sign of sloppy work ethic/slacking.

        I’d talk to her and come at it as a misunderstanding and discuss why regularly starting at 9:30 works for you, and whether that’s acceptable to her with that understanding of why you’re doing it. Also while noting that you’ve given towards the company and not just taken in this flexible setup by staying past 5:30 when needed, and never making an issue of that as part of the “as long as all the work is done” understanding. If she had something else in mind, can she clarify that? Because you truly have not been intending to take advantage, simply to work within what you thought was being offered to best effect for both you and the company.

        1. Kes*

          That’s a good point – it’s possible Diane is okay with arriving or leaving at different times occasionally, but actually thinks it reflects badly on employees to arrive “late” consistently.

          It’s also possible she wants to be seen as a cool, casual, flexible workplace – but actually just isn’t as okay with the flexibility as she thinks she is.

          1. Willis*

            This. I feel like there are a lot of people say something is flexible when they really mean it’s flexible within some un-communicated and impossible to infer range of possibilities that they prefer.

            1. Kiki*

              I feel like a lot of people have preconceived notions of normal that don’t actually match up to normal within the population at large. They don’t realize that their normal isn’t global, so they don’t specify what they mean. I think the more people you meet and more people you work with, the better you get at specifying what needs to be specified.

              A common, non-work example of this is when people say, “Call me anytime!” Most people don’t actually mean you should call them at 3:00 am for a non-emergency and I think most people understand that implicit caveat. But what about 9pm? I’m cool with 9pm calls from friends, but plenty of people are trying to sleep around that hour too. What about 8am on a Saturday? Plenty of people will be up and at it well before 8am, whereas the caller would be waking me up.

          2. Approval is optional*

            I think there is something in this: Diane might have implemented a ‘no set times’ policy as a way employees can deal with appointments, tradespeople visits etc on an ad hoc basis without having to use PTO, and she therefore now thinks the LW is not complying with the policy. The policy might not be clear about this because she didn’t think there was any other way to interpret it. Writing clear, unambiguous policies is harder than a lot of people, particularly business owners, think!

        2. bonkerballs*

          I agree, “flexible” can be a whole spectrum of meaning. On one hand, it means “we won’t ding you if you have an emergency and need to come in late once in a while” and on the other hand it means “choose whatever schedule works for you.” It sounds like OP and her boss are operating under two different interpretations of the word flexible.

      2. Agent J*

        Diane being the owner of the company makes this situation even more confusing. She has the authority to change the policy as she sees fit but still chose not to address it with you directly?

        I think Alison’s and the commentariat’s advice still holds true. But I would encourage you even more to be proactive in addressing this and future issues with her. She sounds like she doesn’t like confrontation either (or at the very least, doesn’t have the best communication skills). It will benefit you to not shy away from confronting her or otherwise, history may repeat itself.

        1. Beanie*

          That’s what I thought was weird! Diane is OPs direct boss. So why is she asking for input from another manager who has nothing to do with OP in the first place? Unless I’m misunderstanding something.

          There would be a part of me that would be so tempted to reply, “Don’t you think that Diane should double check who she’s sending critical emails to before she hits send? I know she can be in a hurry, but it would save a lot of parties all sorts of embarrassment.”

          If only we lived in such a world…

          1. Liane*

            Because that’s something people who are being passive-aggressive in an a–h-t way do? Ask questions of Third (&/or 4th &/or 5th) Person Not Involved where their Involved Target can hear/read/see the questions. If Diane had a pattern of passive-agressive tricks like this–which the OP doesn’t say is the case–I’d be guessing that Diane “accidentally on purpose,” as my dad would say, sent it to OP.

            Either way, OP should address it with Diane, using an Alison script.

            1. Beanie*

              That thought crossed my mind too, though I hope that’s not the case. That level of passive aggressive is the most toxic psychological effect in a workspace.

          2. Emily K*

            This actually kinda makes perfect sense to me. Small business owners have to wear a lot of hats, and effective management isn’t likely the skill they started a business on.

            This is something a pathologically conflict-averse person who is not sure of herself as a manager would do. Try to seek validation from others before making a management decision, but phrase it as a leading question (and ask it of a subordinate) to try to manufacture the agreement whether it really exists or not.

      3. sacados*

        It’s also possible that Diane is frustrated about something else and it’s coming out with this. My first job, my boss was very inconsistent in that way — things that were totally not a problem when he was in a good mood suddenly became an issue when he was in a bad mood.
        For example, we were generally supposed to be in the office at 9:30am. Occasionally due to train delays I would be a few minutes (really, just 3-5 mins) late. I rush into the office, “Sorry, so sorry I’m late” and most of the time my boss would be all smiles, “No worries, it’s only a couple of minutes, it’s not a problem at all.”
        But on days when he was frustrated about something/in a bad mood, it was yelling and “I get here early every morning and I need to be able to rely on you to be here when I need you, you MUST be at your desk by 9:30 exactly!”

        And there was really no way of telling which boss I would get. So I don’t know if Diane has similar kinds of inconsistencies/mood swings but that could be a factor.
        Either way, your first step is as Allison has said, to talk to her and see if the policy has “officially” changed. But if the answer is no and she reiterates that you’re free to have flexible start times, well then I think you are pretty safe to ignore any further griping you may overhear.

    3. Adlib*

      Yes, this. I work with people who like to go running to my boss the minute that I do something they don’t like or if I’m not doing exactly what they want. I’ve since told my boss to redirect them to me first instead of letting them whip him up, but still, I always go back to them after hearing from my boss to signal to them that I’m going to address it head on (you know, like an adult).

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it’s Alison’s second option, she knows this is a thing good managers say, but in practice she doesn’t like it.

      I was reminded of the tech CEO who was told to offer good health insurance to attract talent, which he did, and then he discovered that if people actually USE the health insurance it’s expensive, so he was trying wellness initiatives of the “there’s no need to go to a doctor” inspirational drive-bys.

    5. Blunt Bunny*

      Yeah to be honest I would ignore it and keep coming in at the time you have been. You have a flexible working hours until she directly tells you otherwise and I would ignore any of her passive aggressive comments and stop staying late if it’s not appreciated. Starting half an hour later is hardly drastic. Not much gets done in the first half an hour at work people are just getting settled and starting up. At my company some people come in at 7.30-3.30 some do 9-5 some people work part time eg 9-3.30 or they have one whole day off a week. How we manage this is a calendar and out of office messages with who to speak to when they are not there. You are currently working set hours, not coming in at different times every day so she has no reason to complain but she obviously just wants you to be chained to the desk.

  4. Bekx*

    My last week at my job, my boss’ boss sent the following message intended for my boss (that he was having an affair with) to me:
    “She’s on the phone telling someone why she’s leaving. Shouldn’t she be clocked out by now?” It was 1 minute past my shift.

    I was also multi-tasking. I was on the phone with a coworker who had a work question but then asked me if it was true I was leaving, but also waiting for a file to export so I could send it to my boss before I left for the day. It wasn’t a long drawn out conversation. I was livid that he sent me that and frankly was embarrassed myself. I took a screenshot, emailed it to myself on my private email and sent off the exported file I was waiting on to my boss. I did not reply to his message.

    The next day, he tried to take away my vacation payout days because he said that I used them when I attended my grandfather’s funeral (uh, no, I had bereavement leave). I went straight to HR and told them I was packing up my desk and leaving instead of working the last 4 days. It was seriously the final straw for me. I handed them the email he sent me that morning about my vacation days, as well as the IM he accidentally sent to me and told them that I expected better from their managers.

    Then I walked out and burnt all my bridges there. It was incredibly out of character for me, but man did it feel good. I know nothing happened to him, and I don’t advise anyone do this, but when you are talking crap about someone, maybeeeee make sure you are sending it to the right person.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I would’ve also mentioned your boss and grandboss were having an affair. At that point, who cares.

      1. Bekx*

        Oh I did! My other coworker did too a few weeks before! They were caught on camera in the parking lot making out, too. I’ve heard that they moved their offices for a bit, but then someone retired and now they have side by side offices tucked in a corner. So clearly no one cares.

  5. AdAgencyChick*

    Not excusing Diane, who should be communicating directly with OP if she doesn’t like the hours OP is coming in (and also taking a hard look at whether she needs OP in the time she says).

    However, now that I’ve had to manage someone who really bucked me on coming in at a certain time with the argument “but as long as the work gets done…”, I will ask OP: When you think of the work getting done, are you thinking of your specific assigned output, or are you also considering the impromptu collaboration that sometimes happens between you and your boss, or between you and other team members, as part of the work? I explained to my employee repeatedly that my choice of X time for him to be here was not arbitrary: 95% of the broader team (not just the sub-team that I manage) is in by X hour, and when he came in an hour after that, those team members might want to ask him something to move the work forward, and not finding him, would come bug me. Or I myself would have a ton of meetings booked starting at X:30, so those first 30 minutes of the day were the best time for me to meet with him to give direction/discuss priorities for the day/etc.

    Again, if Diane means this but isn’t saying it to OP, she should be saying it explicitly, not grousing about OP to others.

    1. Roscoe*

      So basically, you didn’t have a flexible time?
      I don’t think there is anything wrong with rigid times. But if you are going to say they are flexible, then make them flexible.
      In your situation, I hope you didn’t expect your co-worker to stay later than normal based on your whims if you wouldn’t let him come in later than he would prefer.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      True. There also might be considerations about staying at work later, especially if the office empties out and that worker is more or less alone in the office at 6:30pm because they started at 10am. At most places this isn’t an issue, but I can see how it could be for smaller companies.

    3. CupcakeCounter*

      the difference is that you explicitly told your employee when he needed to be in – OP’s employer specifically said there is no set start time

    4. OP*

      However, now that I’ve had to manage someone who really bucked me on coming in at a certain time with the argument “but as long as the work gets done…”, I will ask OP: When you think of the work getting done, are you thinking of your specific assigned output, or are you also considering the impromptu collaboration that sometimes happens between you and your boss, or between you and other team members, as part of the work?

      It’s true that when I arrived at 9:30 I wasn’t available to my colleagues for a while, and after most of them left after 5 I wouldn’t be able to talk with them if I had questions about a project. Like I wrote in my letter, I work alone most of the time so for me it wasn’t a problem if I had to wait until the next day to talk to a coworker.

      That said, I would 100% have understood if Diane had told me “I know I told you in the past that we don’t have a set time in this office but I would prefer you to arrive at 9 from now on because it’s better for the team to be available at the same time” — heck, she doesn’t even need to give me a reason, she’s the boss so she has the right to set the schedule. I’m just finding it incredibly weird that she said one thing and then apparently changed her mind without letting me know…?

      1. Aggretsuko*

        There are plenty of people in the world who say one thing but really mean another and probably can’t be trusted to give you a straight answer. Diane may very well be one of those people. She may want to be “cool with it” but at heart really isn’t cool with it at all.

        I’d just do 9-5 from now on and not talk to her about it directly, but that’s me.

          1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

            Because it’s clear from Diane’s message – whether or not that should be the case – that it’s what she wants and will value. Even if she’s being unreasonable (she is) and indirect and confusing (she is), if you want to prioritise getting on her good side the correct move is to move work times accordingly.

            1. Liz T*

              As someone who would really hugely value that extra half an hour, there’s no way I’d just give it up without a conversation.

              I probably would’ve texted back something like, “Ha, this is [OP], actually. Would you like to discuss this?”

      2. Kiki*

        The lack of collaborative time that AdAgency Chick brought up is something I could see being an issue if everyone were getting in at 8 and you were getting in at 10, but there’s only a half-hour difference right now, which seems like a non-issue in most industries. I guess I might ask your coworkers (besides Diane) if they’re having any issues collaborating with you on the current schedule— I would be surprised if the answer is yes.

        1. Emily K*

          I’m on the east coast and among the people I work closest with on a day to day basis, about half are located on the west coast. They do unofficially tend to work an earlier shifted schedule, because they answer a lot of my emails in the morning and duck out early pretty frequently in the summer to go do outdoorsy west coast person things before it gets dark, but they aren’t officially required to keep east coast hours.

          To be honest, I kind of love that I know I will almost never be scheduled for a meeting before noon, because almost any meeting I’m in will also include my west coast colleagues, and nobody wants to be the dick who made the west coast team members be awake and functional enough to attend a meeting at 7am unless there was literally no other option.

      3. Close Bracket*

        I’m just finding it incredibly weird that she said one thing and then apparently changed her mind without letting me know…?

        Yes, that’s incredibly weird. It’s well within the limits of behavior that I have some to expect from people in general, but it’s still weird. Since reading in your other comment that she is the owner, I believe she was indirectly/passive aggressively (potato/potahto) telling the other boss to set and enforce working hours starting at 9. Why not tell you directly? Bc being the big boss does not immunize people against being passive aggressive.

        You’re going to have to be the one to bring this up to her, since she clearly cannot be expected to be forthright herself.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          It reminded me of the letter writer who asked Alison what do about employees working from home. They were working from home more than she liked. This was in line with company policy and with company culture. Most other departments had people working from home even more. But she didn’t like it. She felt they weren’t as effective and wanted them in the office more. But never said that.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      AdAgencyChick, it’s not clear whether you have told this guy (who is being weirdly obtuse about it) that you require him to be in by X time at the latest, full stop. He should be picking that up when you tell him repeatedly that his being way later than X is causing a team problem, but it sounds like you’ll have to be explicit on this or he’ll just keep pretending that the schedule is overly flexible even though it’s only flexible until X time. My previous office instituted core hours – mandating a set start time for everyone wouldn’t work for various reasons, but everyone was held responsible for being available between X and Y hours every day.

    6. Risha*

      The difference here is that you’re telling your employee that they need to be in at a set time, and Diane is telling her employee that they don’t need to be in at a set time. It is literally not the same situation in any form other than your annoyance at your employee.

      (Not to mention a half hour offset barely counts as one – almost any question that isn’t coming from an employee who works a different shift or time zone can wait half an hour, because that’s barely enough time at the start of a workday for them to even encounter a situation needing consultation. An hour is an entirely different matter.)

  6. Owlicks*

    At one of my first real jobs, I saw a G Chat from one of my managers to the other (we were supposed to be logged into their emails to send out sales emails), that said “I think we should get rid of Jane.” I am Jane, and it was so phenomenally rude that I gave notice the next day and left a week later.

    Just writing to say, I know how it feels to accidentally get a boss’s message about you, and it sucks!

    1. irene adler*

      Back in the day (late 1980’s ? maybe), a friend of mine stumbled onto a strangely titled file located somewhere in the company’s computer system. This was back when one could assume not everyone was computer savvy. Guess they figured my friend wasn’t too savvy. Apparently, this file was something most of her co-workers had been working on for several months. Talking management and staff.

      She opened it.

      Inside, it was a lengthy trashing of my friend. It went on and on about her looks, clothes, personality, not having a husband, etc. Is she a lesbian? How some were trying to get her fired. What practical jokes they planned to play on her. And lots of just plain ugliness. All about my friend.

      Copy made.

      Attorney consulted.

      Letters sent.

      Yep, settlement reached (over time). A big one.
      This also caused my friend a huge amount of upset -understandably. Couldn’t work there any more. I think she also had to seek counseling too.

      1. Hallowflame*

        Holy smokes! That is some next-level Mean Girls BS right there. I’m so sorry your friend had to go through all of that, and I hope her circumstances have vastly improved since then. I also hope the participants in that digital burn book have since been visited by karmic justice!

      2. Brandy*

        Similar thing happened to me. I used to sit next to Juan and the boss sat across from us. Juan quit and I was assigned his job. IT didnt know what they were doing and merged his email with mine, I dont know how it happened, I was new to the corporate world and didnt work on computers much beforehand, this was early internet days. I had to go thru the email and delete his since there were a million and alot were asking others about lunch. Buuuut I also found a bunch of emails of him chatting with my boss about me, they didnt like me, was I a virgin, stuff way out of line. Especially because I was a quite person and they didnt know me. The company owner waived it off when I printed and showed these to him. Sandy got to keep her job as my boss and stayed my boss until it was sold. Still mad to this day.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Especially because I was a quite person and they didnt know me.

          Woooooooow. I have also had problems bc I am a quiet person (and mildly autistic, hence being fairly quiet and not getting to know people). This makes me see red. I am so sorry, and I hope things have been better at other jobs.

          1. Brandy*

            Sorry I meant quiet. Jobs since have steadly been better. I know work from home and the people I work with now like me enough and we’re all so similar we can easily get along. Never knew why Sandy never liked me but it was Day One level. She was a Queen Bee and Im not down for that. I didnt worship her.

    2. michelenyc*

      I accidentally found a spreadsheet once in my old companies Sharepoint that detailed who they thought was on the promotion track and who they thought were just OK and would not be considered. I was on the not so great list. I found this after I had moved on to another role within a different area. It felt pretty bad in the moment but then I remembered that I did move into a higher position. People should really learn to password protect documents like that; you never know who is going to find them.

    3. Beanie*

      I was dealing with an incident at a previous workplace where a shareholder had behaved inappropriately, and police had to be involved. (Geez, 2 workplaces with this type of stuff, what are the odds?) Anyway, management was putting heavy pressure on me to drop the case, I guess because they assumed that me being younger meant I wouldn’t know how to fight back.

      One thing the manager did was send out an email to all supervisors (that’s what my position was too) telling them not to make any plans because they would need to be available “in case she finds another reason to call out again.” It was poisonous enough that one of my colleagues came up to me and begged me to not take off a certain day because he really couldn’t afford to cover me for that day. Naturally I was confused, and that’s when he showed me the email. Basically, she was trying to turn everyone against me. Sadly, it worked with a few of them.

  7. Interviewer*

    Should I stress the fact that I have worked (unpaid, willing) overtime last week, in case Diane somehow forgot?

    Please put all hours worked on your timecard. In the US, if you are non-exempt, your employer is breaking the law by not paying you for all time worked – willing or not. You are not a volunteer.

    1. CR*

      Yes, exactly. OP needs to stop being a martyr for this organization. Clearly staying late isn’t winning her any brownie points.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, I wanted to mention this point too. Working unpaid overtime is NOT a good thing. It’s NOT a favor to your employer. It’s illegal, and it can actually get you fired.

    3. Queen of Cans and Jars*

      I came here to say exactly that. Whether you’re willing to work OT unpaid or not, it’s illegal for them not to pay you for it.

    4. MLB*

      Not everyone has to fill out a time card. I have always been salaried, and have never had to fill out a time card until recently, since I now work for a government subcontractor.

      I got the sense from the letter that she just wants to remind her manager that she is working later, and not just coming in late and leaving on time with everyone else. Unfortunately some managers don’t care. All they see is that you’re coming in “late”, not that you’re working 9-10 hours per day (been there, she said one thing and passive-aggressively hinted at the opposite).

      Bottom line is that if her manager is bothered by the hours she’s working, she needs to communicate that to OP, and not send venting emails to another manager. Since she’s neglecting to do so, OP needs to have a chat with her and ask what’s expected of her. I don’t enjoy conflict, but someone has to speak up instead of pretending it didn’t happen.

        1. Qosanchia*

          I feel your pain. I’m salaried, and have to fill out time records across two unrelated systems. One is for tracking time with regards to client relationships, so is actually important and understandable, but the other is just because that’s how our payroll works, or something? It’s delightful

      1. Judy (since 2010)*

        I’m salaried and have been for all of my career, but as an engineer I’ve always had to charge my time to projects. It wasn’t a timecard of start and end times, it’s time tracking of 4 hours to project A, 2 hours to project B, 1 hour to project C and one hour overhead. It forms data that engineering organizations use to estimate their next projects.

        1. Clisby Williams*

          Same here. I’m now retired, but when I was a salaried exempt computer programmer, I had to fill out a time card every week. (Non-profit, not government). As Judy says, it was to track what was charged to what project.

    5. ChimericalOne*

      OP may just mean that she’s salaried and working more than the standard workday. People sometimes use “overtime” loosely.

        1. OP*

          Yes! I should have have been clearer in my letter, I know people here are really sensitive when it comes to unpaid overtime. I meant I have been working more than the standard workday but I am salaried & don’t have a timecard.

          1. LarsTheRealGirl*

            Neither of those things necessarily mean you’re exempt. There is a legal definition to exempt positions that your company must meet (ie, they can’t just decide you’re exempt because of how they pay you.)

            It may be worthwhile to see if you’re classified correctly.

  8. Roscoe*

    I had a boss kind of like this once. Although, I didn’t get a message meant for someone else. We had hours we were supposed to work. Mine was 8-5. Most of the office didn’t come in until 8:30 or 9. I’d regularly get in before 8, but would still work until 5. At one performance eval he commented how I leave exactly at 5 everyday and said it looks bad. At which point I said that the people it supposedly looks bad too don’t see my full day because I’m here before them everyday. People like that drive me crazy

  9. CupcakeCounter*

    I sent one of those oopsy IM’s to my boss complaining about my boss. Since he really was a great guy and knew that my complaint was more about the bigger bosses and he was just the messenger he was extremely nice about it. Helped that he was also super pissed about the situation that was going on but had to toe the company line at that point. We had a long conversation that ended with him telling me to use him as a reference in my job search and there would be no repercussions.

  10. ChimericalOne*

    I don’t disagree with anything Alison says here, but if you need to follow up to try to defend your flex hours (and it sounds like you might), you can positively reframe this bit: “I was under the impression that you were okay with me arriving later because I always made up for it, but if you prefer I will arrive at 9 like the others. Of course that means I will leave at 5 like the others instead of staying late.” And instead say something like, “I had understood that our policy allowed us to work a little earlier or a little later than 9 to 5, and I’ll be honest that 9:30 to 5:30 has been working really well for me the past few months, and I’ve even stayed later than that on more than one occasion. I feel sharper and more alert by 9:30 and I find that I’ve been able to focus better in a quieter office after 5. I do think it’s helped my productivity a lot. But if it’s really important to you that I be here at 9 and leave at 5 every day — or more regularly than I have been — that is something I’d want to know so I can plan for that.”

    1. OP*

      That’s a really great script and I will keep it in mind :)
      To be honest, now that I’ve had a few days to adjust to it, the 9-5 schedule isn’t too bad either. My productivity is still not as good as it used to be (although I am now working fewer hours so that also plays a role!) but personally I’m finding that I like getting home earlier and having the entire evening to myself. So I think I’ll talk to Diane about my timetable and see what she says.

      1. pegster*

        I would add that I think it’s really good practice (i.e. it gets a lot easier) to have honest, forthright communications with your manager when possible. I find that over time it has helped me to take the personal out of the professional. So even though you are now on the 9 to 5 and you don’t mind, I would still encourage you to discuss everything with your manager – about her expectations and whether they had changed so that you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Being clear about expecting clear and consistent direction is part of helping foster a professional environment and ideally would come from the top down, but sometimes (in my experience) requires a nudge up. If done dispassionately and professional, that is, and that comes with practice. In fact this seems like the perfect opportunity – she initiated it (sent you the message by accident) and it doesn’t seem as though you really mind about the outcome all that much.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Please follow up. I’m curious to see if she responds with “what brought this on?” or “I thought you might find that working within regular hours would suit you better.” My money is on, “Oh, I hadn’t realized you changed your hours! Did you find coming in late, er um later, wasn’t working for you?”

  11. Snarkus Aurelius*

    In my experience, managers who focus on inconsequential, controlling details are in over their heads so they wield what authority they have to cover their anxieties up.

    That boss in my original post? Instead of approving major reports and documents, she’d nitpick font size and margins instead. She’d never make a decision though. We knew she was out of her element, and those interactions proved it.

  12. Ooopsie*

    Very early in my career, when I was a receptionist, I got a long IM from the president of the company lamenting how his affair with the intended recipient was going to affect their families. A few seconds later, he flew around the corner to my area and told me I’d received an IM not intended for me, and to delete it. I told him it was already deleted. About 30 seconds later, the company’s accountant came and nearly hissed in my ear that the IM I’d received in error was a “confidential financial matter and YOU WILL NOT tell a SOUL!” Yeah, well, I was young but not stupid. Nonetheless, I worked there for 2 more years and never breathed a word to anyone, even when the president’s sweet wife called multiple times a day and I had to field her calls. Eventually, the company went through a layoff, and to my knowledge, I was the first person called into HR to be let go. The president was there but wouldn’t look me in the eye the whole time he told me I was losing my job. I’ll never know if the layoff and the dirty little secret were related, but I had a better job within a month, so it was really a moot point.

    1. Red Sky*

      *gasps audibly* Man, I feel like I would have been soooo tempted to leverage that IM into job security, prolly wouldn’t have done it, but the fantasy alone would have sustained me thru unemployment and job searching.

      Glad to hear you moved on to greener pastures.

  13. Oh no, not another Jennifer*

    I’m sorry you found out this way.
    I agree with Alison. It may be awkward, but you are putting yourself through the ringer by wondering what is going on with your boss. Whatever joy you had for this job will drain away down the worry hole if this is left unsaid.

  14. Shalla*

    I’ve been in situations where “flexible start time” meant you could start earlier and leave earlier but not start later and leave later. Which is weird and should be spelled out explicitly, but I’m wondering if that’s what the manager really wants here.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      Yeah, there’s this weird thing that people do that assigns superior moral fiber to morning people.

      1. Non profit pro*

        I hate that. I’m in an office with nominal 8-5 hours and several of my coworkers work 7:30-4:30 and one even works 4-10s starting at 6am. I have trouble with mornings so usually get in around 8:30-9am, but I’m constantly staying til 6 or later. This gets looked down on despite all my work being done . So frustrating!

          1. gmg22*

            I’m torn on this one — I also struggle with mornings, and 10-6 is really the best schedule for me, but because my commute is on the longer side, I feel like by the time I get home from a 10-6 day, there is no time to truly decompress. And forget it if I have evening plans, or am trying to get to the gym, or arrive home starving and need to find the energy to assemble dinner.

            Really, what I need is for the length of a day to magically increase from, say, 24 to 26 hours. (I don’t want to push it farther than that because of circadian rhythms, violating laws of astrophysics etc.)

            1. anon4this*

              Ugh… what we all *need* is a dramatic reduction of the working days, why 8 hours/40 hours a week?

              1. Aggretsuko*

                So we can make enough to pay the rent? I dunno if I could survive on shorter hours and less pay.

                1. anon4this*

                  To pay the rent? I meant work less and still get paid the same.
                  China’s already won the working 24/7 production output of any country, and Germany’s just as productive as USA and has a standard 35 work week.
                  40 hours per week/8 hours/8-5 days aren’t magical numbers that suddenly mean a worker is meeting the minimum requirements of productivity. It’s based on historical tradition, that were most effective for agricultural workers (daylight hours), right?

                2. Bostonian*

                  Anon4this has a point. While it’s true that there are roles we hear about in which people are putting in 60+ hours a week and still not getting everything done, I’ve learned from reading the comments on this blog that there are a LOT of people who only have 4 or so hours of work to do in a day on a regular basis, with some periods of being busy and actually working 8 hours.

                  So it would make sense that those roles are paid the same salary because people are essentially doing the same job, but eliminating the “wasted” time.

                3. wittyrepartee*

                  Yeah, so… Unless your job actively requires someone to be chilling out waiting for something to happen (client services, retail, that kind of thing)- your workday is probably longer than it actually needs to be. Also, plenty of your work could probably be done from home. In a better world we’d be able to eat breakfast, answer emails from home, plan out the daily schedule and then roll in around 10:30 or whatever for the first meeting or to get the real concentrated work done.

              2. gmg22*

                Oh, I very much agree — at my first newspaper job our mandated work week was 35 hours (thanks, strong union!). Unfortunately, in large swaths of the US white-collar world 40 hours is now considered below the bare minimum, so it’s hard to imagine a shift to a more European way of doing things, as much as I wish we would. 40 hours is what we have to account for at my current job, but people regularly work closer to 45, 50 if they are on a project deadline (and if you also calculate in travel for some of our field staff, forget it — 50 is a minimum most weeks). There is a “we’re the smart ones, there’s no one else but us who can do this hence the hours have to be crazy” way of thinking that definitely pervades some knowledge-economy workplaces, and while I’m at a nonprofit, we have the same problematic attitude here.

            2. TooTiredToThink*

              I’m part of the 10-7 crowd and I LOVE it. My commute is also half of what it is when I leave the office; so I spend less time on the road too.

              1. wittyrepartee*

                I take subway, so my commute is exactly the same length as long as nothing catastrophic happens. It’s just a question of getting a seat on the way home.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, my office does that. We cater to early birds here. It would cause so much drama if I asked to work 9-6.

    3. londonedit*

      I think I’ve seen both sides of this. Yes, the early starters get the ‘morning person’ kudos, but they also get massive side-eye from people when they ‘waltz out of the door’ at 4pm. People who stay until 6pm often get more kudos for ‘staying late’, because all people see is that they’re always the last ones to leave in the evening, conveniently forgetting that they didn’t actually arrive until 10am.

  15. Alex*

    This reminds me of “I know we require fifteen pieces of flair, but BRIAN has 37 pieces of flair….”

    1. Aggretsuko*

      “I don’t want to talk about my flair.”

      Yeah, this is appropriate. Guess Culture vs. Ask Culture.

  16. wittyrepartee*

    Luckily this is an email about something that’s not a huge deal. It would kill me on the inside, but I think I’d be able to go up to the boss and say “Hey! I’m pretty sure that this email wasn’t meant for me, but the opportunity to hash this out might be a mixed blessing anyway. Would you prefer me to switch to a 9-5 schedule, the 9:30 – 5:30 works better for me, particularly recently when ____ has been keeping me late. It’s an easy change if you’d prefer that.”

  17. Not So NewReader*

    Alison is right on saying that should have been addressed the day you saw it, OP. Don’t let stuff like this fester. It only gets worse if you don’t confront it immediately. I understand, no one likes arguing or confrontation of any sort. But if you really think about it, haven’t the last few days been just as bad,if not worse than a few minutes of heavy discussion?
    That is the way I sorted it in my mind. I can either carry it around with me for days and feel lousy OR I can go right in and discuss it and feel lousy. Either way I am going to feel lousy. So might as well shorten the time period of feeling lousy.

    Peers do check in with each other, OP, and that does go on at most levels. She did not say you dress funny and you are too tall. It was not a personal comment, it was a work related comment and it is a fixable situation. We don’t know how that cohort would have replied. Maybe the cohort would have given An Alison Answer, “Hey, did you try to talk to OP?” In other words the cohort would have have been very practical about it all. Don’t assume they were gossiping and ruining people’s lives, the conversation could have been limited to exactly what you saw because the cohort would have redirected her back to you.

    As far as the time thing, I come from a retail back ground so to me it’s all small potatoes what time I have to go into work. I am going to be there 8 hours no matter what. I see reading here that people put a high value on coming and going as they wish. In my thinking the boss calls the shots. New bosses can change old rules. It happens. The problem with your boss is she should say what she means and mean what she says. This thing of X is okay then three months later X is not okay drives me nuts. A boss should set their expectations clearly and then keep their expectations consistent. We as employees can’t hit a moving target. And we definitely cannot hit a target we don’t know about. If she wants you in at the same time your coworker comes in then she needs to say so. If a boss sees a need to change she should explain what the change is and why it is needed. That is just the intelligent and human approach to handling things.

    I would have printed it right out and carried it into her office and said, “I don’t think this was meant for me. But I would like us to talk about it and resolve it.” There is something about saying “I would like” and something about referring to the other person as an “us” and there is also something about the optimism of resolving it that seems to catch people off guard. Perhaps it’s the sincerity? Perhaps it’s the openness? Or maybe it’s the willingness to rise above the matter.

    I have had to confront a lot of people over the years. I have found that 99% of the time they step back or dial back. Very seldom does a person escalate when I have initiated a conversation. I don’t think that has anything to do me, I think it is because the willingness to talk about it defuses a situation. In other words, I think that this works with most adult-acting people. The hard part is finding the words. Be sincere at all times. As you think about what you are going to say, think of things that you sincerely mean. “Boss, I am concerned here because I understood it was okay to come in at different times.” This is sincere and it’s the truth.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      One of my therapists in grad school told me to lean into people’s feelings in these situations. “Hey! This is embarassing, but I think I got an email that wasn’t meant for me. It sounds like my 9:30-5:30 schedule is annoying you.”

  18. CommanderBanana*

    This sounds like my former boss – she was terribly afraid of “confrontation” (re: managing) and when you asked about something she’d usually say it was ok in the moment – then stew over it later, and a lot of what she noticed was based on whether she liked you. We had a very similar “no set times” office, but she disliked one of her direct reports and picked at her for not being on time, while ignoring other people who arrived late enough to be actually outside of the normal operating hours.

    Hint: her department had total turnover about every year. Meaning everyone who worked for her usually quit after about a year.

    1. Her Blondeness*

      Hey, I’ve worked for her too. I could hardly believe my eyes when I ran the turnover report my first month and it showed 515 new hires over the past twelve months in a company of 500 employees. The kicker? The person I worked for was the VP of HR.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Their GlassDoor reviews are something to see. Another one just popped up and said the same thing. They have such a history of similarly bad reviews that now that people aren’t quite as desperate for a job in our area, they’re having trouble filling existing positions.

  19. nnn*

    In addition to whatever direct action you decide to take, it couldn’t hurt to send Diane routine emails etc. towards the end of your day, around 6 or 6:30 pm, so every once in a while she opens her morning email to a reminder that you’re in the office later than everyone else.

    1. gmg22*

      It doesn’t sound to me like Diane cares all that much whether people stay late or not, so long as butts are in seats by 9 am. And judging by the OP’s comment above about enjoying having more of her evenings back (though feeling like her productivity has dropped now that she goes right out the door at 5), she has reached that same conclusion as well. To me this is a potential long-term red flag about Diane’s ability to think and act with flexibility as a manager — but for now it sounds like the OP has worked out a solution that’s best for her given that she may have missed a time window to address this more directly.

    2. OP*

      I routinely send her emails at the end of my workday (I have to send constant status reports because we have a time-sensitive project due in a few weeks). She’s a bit scatterbrained sometimes but she knows the hours I worked.

  20. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I suspect she meant that your schedule is flexible on occasion not an every day change. That’s what most bosses I’ve had until my true flex schedule position meant. If you get caught in traffic or miss your regular bus or have an early AM appointment, then come in later but the norm is 9-5 otherwise.

    Still she’s being a coward not just talking and clarifying her actual expectations since you can’t read her mind (nor should you be able to…I’m just used to figuring out WTFFFF someone really means from years of doing EA work)

    1. Kevin*

      This is my thought as well. We’ve had this come up at my employer. The manager thought they communicated “It’s okay to come in late once and a while if everything gets done.” And the employee hears “Come in whenever you want as long as everything gets done.”

      We had an employee ask to leave at 3pm on a Wednesday for a “family emergency” to pick up his kids. Somehow that became him leaving every Wednesday at 3pm and upper management decided that wouldn’t work for us and he was let go.

  21. Alice in Start Up Land*

    The only thing I could think after reading this was that at least it was accidental. At my last company, my grandboss forwarded me an email from our CEO saying “Alice has really messed up, she has to go”. Literally just that one line. Put me in serious shock and panic of course, especially since I don’t know WHY he’s saying that. Then my grandboss brought me into his office to ask what happened. Long story short, I was helping the CEO with his travel plans for a trip to Germany while he was between assistants. He decided to switch hotels at the last minute (which took me hours to switch over everything and get him a new room since the place was booked up for the conference he was attending) but didn’t seem to remember this and had his driver bring him to the wrong hotel. So of course, I should be fired because he didn’t remember which hotel he wanted to stay at and didn’t check his calendar that contained all the updated info. I pleaded my case and wasn’t fired. And of course got a talking to when he returned, buuuuut it was about how the room in the new hotel was horrible and small and in the basement and why couldn’t I have gotten something better??!!! Yeah, wasn’t sad when they started to run out of money a few months later and had to let me and a bunch of other newly hired people go because they couldn’t afford us anymore.
    So I feel for you Alice and you should definitely address this with her. Maybe even adding something like “I’m always open to your feedback and hope you feel you can address issues with me directly in the future”. Because seriously, she needs to grow up.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      He switched hotels on a whim at the last minute and couldn’t do it himself? At a start up? They went broke? I AM SHOCKED! (Sarcasm of course). Bleeding money on lodging for a conference, bless their hearts. I’m glad the grandboss got your POV and didn’t fire you due to a cruddy hair trigger CEO. No wonder he was between assistants.

      1. Alice in Start Up Land*

        Hahaha I know! It was my first time at a start up and I was too wowed by the benefits to think about the disorganization. Plus I got kind of cornered into helping him in the first place even though he was a bit of a sociopath. His next assistant lasted about 3 months before she jumped ship and the company is still going apparently but the Glassdoor reviews are horrendous (and true) so those are always fun to read lol

  22. Adminx2*

    Most things aren’t confrontations, they are clarifications. We are often taught it’s scary to ask for ourselves, but that’s what good and productive communication is. Approach with an intent to clarify and harmonize, and you can be confident this isn’t a confrontation so you don’t have to worry about avoiding it.

  23. IL JimP*

    I just want to put out there that here we don’t have set times and people can set their own schedule but they also set a schedule that we agreed to in advance. If they say they will be working 930-530 every day and then they consistently change it every day to 10-6 or even 9-5 I’d get frustrated too.

    I don’t the details of how your schedule is set but maybe it’s the ad hoc nature of it that she’s getting frustrated with at the moment.

  24. Adminx2*

    In sympathy, I found out my predecessor at horrible job(TM) found out about getting fired when the boss accidentally emailed the admin instead of the wife on an email chain talking about how awful she was and where they were in the process of letting her go.
    It was no surprise I was job searching the moment my probation period ended. I got the boot when my boss was on vacation, he had his underlings do it.

  25. kittymommy*

    I’m wondering if the “we don’t have set hours, just get your work done” is really more of a once in a while thing rather than an everyday, at least without running it by your boss first. It’s one thing to swing by Diane’s office and say “Hey Diane, if it’s cool with you, I need to start coming in at 9:30 and of course I’ll be here till 5:30. Just wanted to keep you in the loop.” vs. not say anything and just doing – I can see the latter creating confusion for the boss. I get that technically one may not need to get permission, I think it’s more of a transparency/courtesy thing for the boss.

  26. OP (and just one more thing...)*

    Very grateful for the feedback. I’m not great at communication, so I’m glad for the suggestions about how to address this with my boss. Also glad that other commenters are puzzled by Diane’s behaviour. I’ve been mulling over her message and wondering if Alison’s reply would be along the lines of “she clearly means X so it’s obvious you should have done Y and how come you’ve been late for so many months”. At least I’m not alone in thinking her message is kinda weird.

    I do regret not talking to her immediately when I got the message, although part of why I didn’t (aside from feeling uncomfortable) is I work in a dreaded open space where nobody has their own private office. Not even Diane. So yeah, that makes it just a bit more uncomfortable than it would normally be.

    1. Elbe*

      This is one of the reasons that I dislike open spaces! Awkward conversations are required from time to time and booking a conference room to chat about it seems like escalating the issue’s importance. The layout doesn’t give people the option of nipping it in the bud, in the moment, and makes everyone a lot more likely to avoid things.

    2. LGC*

      I’m not great at communication

      I mean, at least you’re better than Diane…

      That said, can you arrange to grab a conference room or something for a private convo? That’s kind of what I do. Or even the break room – this doesn’t sound like a long conversation at all.

    3. UtOh!*

      Yeah, I really think this is a case of a manager saying one thing, the reality of it looks different than what they had imagined it to be (or that no one would take them seriously on it) so they have second (and/or irrational) thoughts. You should still have a chat with Diane and yes, even bring up the misdirected email, to have a clearer understanding of what is expected. And even if Diane did not realize she sent you that email, you have changed your hours to start coming in at 9…wonder what she thinks about that? ;)

      My boss is always saying things but I’ve learned she does not mean them! It’s an annoying trait to have in a manager.

  27. Red Sky*

    Allison, can we please have a post about things inadvertently seen in the office we weren’t supposed/meant to see?! I’m finding all the stories about seeing stuff not meant for you and the resulting fall-out/karma fascinating!

  28. jk*

    Just so you know… you confronting your boss about the issue is not passive aggressive. It’s the opposite! :)

  29. AnotherKate*

    I’ve been that manager who said “I don’t care if you do 9-5, 9:30-5:30 or 10-6” and then got annoyed when it started looking more like 10:20-?? because I leave before 6 generally. HOW CAN I KNOW IF THEY’RE STAYING??

    I remind myself to get over it and judge the quantity and quality of work done, not the number of hours a butt is in a seat.

    1. The Doctor*

      In my office, we all had to declare “official” hours (e.g. 9:00-5:00 or 7:45-3:45) for purposes of our electronic timekeeping system, but we’re free to flex those hours as needed (with supervisory permission, of course). Since EVERYBODY has to swipe in and out (even executives), we know that our subordinates arrive “early” or stay “late” when they say they do.

      We still make sure to put in at least 8 clock hours each day. It’s a great system and we know not to abuse it (or else the higher ups will take it away from us).

  30. Lynn Whitehat*

    There are people out there who think 9 AM is the Official Work Start Time of the United States or something. Like *obviously* you would have to come in before *nine*, that just goes without saying. You may have gotten one of those.

  31. Anxious Andy*

    I had a somewhat similar experience last month where my supervisor forwarded me an email thread, apparently not realizing that it included a discussion between her and her boss in which she engaged in some serious speculation about my gender identity, mental health, and personal life… (She apparently has a pretty different teaching philosophy, and instead of addressing it directly with me, she decided there must be some pathology related to my transness and the imaginary bullying that I must certainly have endured as a child.) I’m teaching a different class this term, so for now I can get away with just avoiding her, but I really ought to address it at some point…

      1. Anxious Andy*

        Thanks for the support. I’m a graduate student TA at a large research university, so it’s a little unclear whether I should go through Title IX or the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, but I do hope to make a report so that they can hopefully make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

      2. LadyofLasers*

        This is really shitty and I’m sorry you’re experiencing it. From my experience of academia structure, I think you should start with Title IX. I hope they can help… but be prepared that they may be pretty ineffective. :/

    1. Texan In Exile*

      It’s not bad enough that people are gossiping about these things, but they are also so stupid they put it in writing?

  32. Dr. Doll*

    Based on all this, I am the rockstar of all bosses because I’m perfectly happy for people to set their hours anywhere from 7 to 10 to start and 4 to 7 to leave. All I want is for it to be fairly consistent so that if I go looking for people, I know they’ll likely be available. If you need to change for a day here and there just email me. I’m probably the person who is most apt to nudge it half an hour forward or back with no notice, but then 1) I’m the boss, and 2) do I work enough to make up for it, oh yeah.

    We do file an “alternative schedule” with HR as well because our office Follows Rules.

    1. The Doctor*

      My office has done that for the past 15 years or so. We all set our preferred “official” hours (e.g. 9:00-5:00 or 7:45-3:45) for purposes of timekeeping, but we’re free to flex those hours as needed with advance notice and supervisory permission.

    2. Argh!*

      That flexibility is probably my No. 1 favorite thing about CurrentJob. We have people coming in as early as 6:30 and I’m one of the late ones at about 9:30. We also tell HR, and I’d want them to know who’s supposed to be there if there’s a fire or explosion or something, so it’s fine with me.

      My only issue is with the early birds try to set up meetings as soon as I arrive. I finally had to block out that time in my calendar to prevent that.

    3. londonedit*

      I really love the flexibility of my current job, too. I’ve worked for companies where it was ‘bums in seats’ that mattered, and anyone who had the nerve to walk out of the door at 6:00 on the dot got serious side-eye from the boss, but here it’s not like that at all. We don’t even have to tell our boss/HR/anyone – we have a set number of hours to work, but some people come in at 8am and leave at 4:30, some come in at 10am and leave at 6:30. We all have days where we have to be in the office for meetings, but other than that, we can be flexible on our hours and we can work at home whenever we like – we just email our immediate colleagues to let us know if we’re planning to work from home.

      I feel like the nicest companies to work for are always the ones that treat employees like adults – if you’re constantly nitpicking people because they’re coming in at 9:02am or leaving at 4:58pm, it’s not going to create a good working environment (obviously I’m saying that as a salaried employee in the UK who doesn’t get paid overtime).

  33. Mrs. Fenris*

    One of my bosses accidentally sent me a text she had meant to send to my other boss, about me. It wasn’t anything too bad, just “I talked to MrsF about X issue.” I was mostly just confused for a minute, and just as I figured out what happened she immediately texted me, “I meant that for Otherboss.” I just said, “Ha! Well, at least I know that’s all you’re saying about me.”

  34. Argh!*

    I’d wonder what else the boss hasn’t said. My current boss is very non-confrontational, and in her case it leads to being dishonest and passive aggressive. I confronted her on a big lie (which translated into at least $20,000 in lost wages for me), and things have gotten progressively worse for me.

    My advice: GET OUT NOW!!!! Dishonest bosses, whatever the reason, are destructive and can only bring you down.

  35. LGC*

    So, I read through a lot of the comments, and…as much as I dislike Diane (hate is too strong a word, but I hope that her chair is replaced with one made entirely out of Lego), might she have a point? I feel dirty even validating that message, but in the case where you would need to be on-call for stuff, it might be better for you to work 9-5. (I’m not entirely sure what field you work in, but given the wording you used, I have one relatively expansive guess.)

    On the other hand…actually, no, she threw her point away. I feel like even if you did misunderstand her, the fact that she 1) didn’t clear this up after months and 2) dumped on you to her peer (and you by accident) instead of fixing it is a huge failure on her part. And to go further – really, this should be on her to sort this out, not you. Just because she’s terrible at Slack (or Gchat or Teams or whatever y’all use) doesn’t mean she’s exempt from decency.

    And – like – OP, I get the feeling of tying yourself in knots because your boss is mad at you, but it just sounded like you were beating yourself up a bit for not being able to read Diane’s mind. And…like, I don’t think you did anything wrong here, you know? The worst you did was possibly misunderstand something Diane said and didn’t pick up on her seething about it.

    1. londonedit*

      Definitely. If this is a misunderstanding, and Diane meant ‘flexible working now and then if you need to’ whereas OP took that as ‘you can work 9:30-5:30 every day’, and Diane wasn’t happy about that, she should have said something straight away. She’s the boss, she gets to decide the rules. How hard would it have been for her to say ‘Hey, Alice – I know I mentioned flexible working, but I should have been clearer that I actually meant people could come in later occasionally if they needed to, not every day. I’d really like everyone to be here 9-5 for the majority of the time’?

  36. Storie*

    The person who uses flextime to arrive later/stay later almost always appears less productive to others in my experience. It’s not right or fair, it’s a perception thing like you’re just sliding in at 9:30. They aren’t there to see you work late so that doesn’t really factor in. At my old stupid job, I arranged to come in a bit later to drop off my child at daycare and always stayed late. Even the people that knew what I was doing each am gave me attitude like I was getting special treatment. Thanks, guys! this is why I feel flextime can be a weird trap, if the company isn’t really committed to standing behind it and the employees that use it. End rant!

    1. Peter the Bubblehead*

      I have one co-worker that consistently comes in early (used to be 6:30 until too many of the work group started arriving at 6:30 so he moved it up to 5:30) and then would make passive-aggressive comments about doing so much more work than anyone else in the group because it never occurred to him that co-workers coming in 2 hours later than him were still at work 2 hours after he left at EXACTLY 8 hours after he had arrived in the office.

      (When it was unofficially looked into, it was discovered he generally wasn’t even sitting at his deck – preferring to walk around the office and hold 45 to 60 minute conversations with ‘friends’ who were there – until more people started coming in earlier (including our task manager) and he realized he wasn’t able to get away with it like he used to.)

  37. MayLou*

    A few years ago I got my dream job (I had no direct experience in the role, but lots of passion and ideas, and I was told by the person who hired me that it was this which made them choose me over two candidates who did have direct experience) and was thrilled. At the time my partner was very seriously ill – I completed the job application from her bedside in the Intensive Care Unit – and when I had a meeting with my new manager on my first day I told her that I was a carer for a disabled person (protected status in the UK) and also that I had chronic fatigue syndrome. I’d talked about that to occupational health too and they were happy for me to start work.

    My manager, who was NOT the person who hired me – they had moved onto a new role, appointing me was the last thing they did in the manager post – said all the right things. She wrote it on the meeting notes – MayLou is a carer and we will support her, MayLou has a medical condition which is well-managed but might have an effect on her punctuality at times. We agreed that as long as I did my contracted 30 hours a week, and as long as I was working during the “core hours” of 10-2 on the four days a week I was rota’ed, and as long as I was on time for the staff meeting (in an office closer to my house than my usual base) at 9.15am on Tuesdays, it would be okay if I arrived later some days. There was never any talk of an expiry date for this allowance, and I was never told it was being varied/revoked. My job role involved meeting with clients but never first thing in the morning, and I was in charge of managing my own diary anyway.

    Flash forward five months, and I’m being notified of a formal review of my probation period. I don’t know if this is standard outside the UK but I had a six-month probationary period, during which time they could take me through a review procedure and end my employment without notice. After six months I’d have a lot more employment protection and rights, including a notice period. They had to cite the reasons why they were taking me to review, and then a panel of senior management from other teams in the organisation would decide whether or not to keep me on. I was allowed to bring someone for moral support but couldn’t get any help from my union rep because I’d not been a member long enough, so I had to represent myself and try to dispute their evidence that I was unsuitable for the role.

    There were lots of things cited in the paperwork I was provided, some of which were valid but fairly minor on their own, some of which was flagrantly misrepresenting the facts, but one of the main points was that I was late on two occasions. Late meaning that in one case I sent a text message at 9.01am saying that I was on my way in, and on another that I arrived at 9.15am. The paperwork said that we had “initially” agreed I could have a transition period into starting at 9am as it was my first job, but that this had ended. That was not remotely my understanding, the issue wasn’t that it was my first job (oddly enough, three years later, I still have CFS and would STILL need some understanding and allowances around that, although things are actually better now that other circumstances have improved) and I was never told that it was a transition period. I had been under the impression it was a reasonable adjustment being made to accommodate my needs due to a disability/chronic illness. Silly me.

    I wasn’t remotely surprised when the outcome of the probation hearing was that I lost the job. My colleagues were – they had all said they thought I’d be fine, and that there was no reason to fire me. I knew that it wouldn’t go in my favour, and even if it had, I can’t see how I’d ever have been able to work with that manager again.

    Anyway, there’s loads more to this story and I don’t want to write an essay, but my point is that what managers SAY is acceptable and what they THINK is not always the same, even when there’s written documentation of them saying that thing. The whole saga for me was, in hindsight, a huge lesson in communicating very clearly and documenting everything in detail. I’ve not been employed since – I’m still recovering from how horrible and traumatic the whole experience was, and find the financial uncertainty and lack of structure inherent in being self-employed is still preferable than risking a repeat of that disaster.

    Don’t be me, is what I’m saying I guess! Challenge them directly and be sure that when they say it’s okay to start at 9.30am, make sure they actually mean it, or don’t do it. As soon as someone has decided you’re not a team player, or are a problem employee, then even tiny things get seen as evidence that you should be fired.

  38. Greg*

    This post got me thinking about the recent podcast Alison did with the author of “Cringeworthy”. Isn’t it kind of weird that when someone else makes a mistake the person on the receiving end is often the one who feels awkward? That’s not meant as a criticism of the OP; it’s a totally common reaction (I’ve done it myself a bunch of times), but when you step back and think about it, it’s odd that humans react that way. I’ve also noticed that in a lot of the recent #MeToo exposes, the women who were victims of inappropriate male behavior often ended up feeling ashamed and embarrassed. (In those cases, I think the men were very deliberately taking advantage of that dynamic.)

    So my advice to the OP is that your boss is the one who should feel awkward, not you. You haven’t done anything wrong. Put yourself in that mindset and I think you’ll feel far more empowered to deal with the situation.

  39. M H*

    My husband had a situation like this. He was hired for an IT job at a heavy-duty manufacturing plant, and told that they were flexible on starting times. The first day, he went in at 9, and they were quite unhappy, because by “flexible” they meant “anytime between 5am and 8am”. Silicon Valley culture meets Midwest steel culture.

Comments are closed.