is my employee taking advantage of the flexibility I give her?

A reader writes:

In my current position (where I’ve been for two years), I’m a first-time manager of two direct reports, both of whom are salaried, not hourly, employees.

One of them — who’s younger, less experienced, more eager — rarely asks to adjust her work hours or work from home, and is generally happy to do anything I ask her to do.

The other is about my age or a little older, has less of a teamwork attitude (“is this technically one of my job responsibilities?”) and frequently asks to work from home (one day per week) or leave early to take her daughter to appointments, etc. In other words, she enjoys a lot of flexibility and independence while generally defending her own job boundaries. She does seem to know she always needs to ask, and sometimes will even ask, “Am I asking too much?”

I’m trying to find a good balance when it comes to my managing style. I have no problem with either of them taking time to live their lives, as long as they get their work done, I don’t have to constantly keep track of whether or not they’re on top of things, they take initiative, and, most importantly, I feel like they actually show up and care.

But I can’t help feeling like always saying yes is a bad idea. I spent years under unreasonable managers and know how frustrating it can be to feel chained to your desk or unable to prioritize certain things outside of work, and as a manager, I don’t want to say no just to say no. That being said, I feel like there are reasonable boundaries I should be setting to let them both know that while I’m generally accommodating, they should not take advantage of me and there are limitations to what they can and should ask for, regardless of whether or not their work has been done for the day. Our organization’s policy states managing salaried employees’ time comes at the supervisor’s discretion. What’s your advice?

In general, as a manager, you want to maximize the freedom and flexibility that people have at work, as long as it doesn’t negatively harm their work or other people’s work.

Your job as a manager isn’t to “keep people in line” or to make sure they show proper deference to your authority. Your job is to ensure that people are getting the right results in their work, and that the environment of your team supports that.

In some cases, that might mean that you do need to say no to a request for work reasons. Or, if we’re getting into authority, in some cases you might need to talk to someone who’s undermining your authority in team meetings, or not running requests by you that you need to approve.

But none of that sounds like the case here. It sounds like you have an employee who’s asking for things that aren’t getting in the way of her work, and who’s giving you the opportunity to speak up if it would pose a problem.

You wrote that you want her to know that there are limitations to what she can ask for and she shouldn’t take advantage of you. But you can convey that by telling her no if she ever hits those limitations. If this stuff isn’t affecting anyone’s work, then she’s not hitting those limits, right? And saying yes now doesn’t obligate you to say yes every time in the future, if a future request does pose a problem.

So I’d take a really hard look at why you’re uneasy. When she leaves early or works from home, does it create workflow problems? More work for other people? Delays in her projects? Is she behind on her work so you’d like her maximizing her hours in the office? Does it make it harder for your other employee to leave early or work from home herself, because she needs to be in the office if her coworker isn’t? Those would all be legitimate reasons to reconsider saying yes.

But if it’s just the frequency with which she asks for things, things that help her and don’t harm the work … well, that in itself isn’t a reason to say no.

In fact, if you’re just uncomfortable with how often she’s asking, even though the individual requests themselves are fine, maybe that’s a sign that you should reconsider whether she needs to get your permission each time. Is there any reason you can’t allow her to manage her time on her own (still keeping you informed, but without the getting-permission piece)? It sounds like she’s been pretty good about only switching up her schedule when it won’t have a work impact — but of course, if that changed, you could address it at that point.

Lots of jobs do work that way, especially as people become more senior. The idea is that when you have competent, professional people who prioritize their work correctly, you can trust them to know when they do and don’t need to be in the office. I’d take this situation as a push to look at whether that should be the set-up here. You’d free both of you from a permission process that doesn’t sound all that necessary, and likely increase her happiness and investment in the job, because this is exactly the kind of flexibility that people value and that helps retain good workers. (You could do the same thing with your other employee if it made sense there as well.)

{ 352 comments… read them below }

  1. Maika

    Having that level of flexibility in my current position – I can adjust my work hours and my boss is good with it – is a huge bonus. Not only am I able to focus on what’s important in my personal life, but I am also highly motivated to get my work done competently knowing that I am not chained to a 9-5. Flexibility is a huge incentive and if the person is able to manage their time well and stay organized, then it’s fantastic.

    1. Kaitlyn

      Yeah, I think part of this is that one employee has access to a perk like flextime, and the other one doesn’t? So maybe it’s worth sitting down with one or both and codifying flextime protocols, or approaching the other employee about a perk that might suit them the way flextime suits this one!

      1. Ayup

        I read the letter as both employees having some degree of flexibility in their schedules, but only one of them is using it.

        1. Kaitlyn

          But that’s like stocking the fridge full of Coke when one employee is diabetic. A perk doesn’t have to be universal, but it should actually be a nice and accessible thing for the employee who’s meant to use it. If not flextime, then maybe something else? Also, maybe Younger Employee doesn’t know she can use flextime or WFH, and sees it as a function of Older Employee’s tenure/parent status rather than a universal perk.

          1. Oxford Comma

            “One of them — who’s younger, less experienced, more eager — rarely asks to adjust her work hours or work from home.”

            From the way the letter is phrased, it sounds like the younger employee can ask to work from home, but just doesn’t use the perk much.

            I don’t think we have enough information to go on to figure out why. Maybe the younger employee likes to come into the office. Maybe she’s just not experienced enough to know she can ask. If that’s the case, that’s a different issue for the OP.

            1. Roscoe

              Exactly. Its very possible younger employee wants to come into the office because they have a roommate or something that is distracting. IF they choose not to use something, that doesn’t make it less of a perk

              1. RUKiddingMe

                “IF they choose not to use something, that doesn’t make it less of a perk.”

                This.

              2. JSPA

                Or because the younger employee wants OP at hand in case she has a question, or to have the chance to make a great impression.

                If OP feels that the older employee will feel slighted if the younger employee is promoted, then maybe that’s the place to focus. Either respond to the “is this in my description” questions with, “no, but going above and beyond occasionally makes any one of us extra-valuable” (so the older employee isn’t blindsided)…or have a “career development” session with each of them, to see where they hope to be in 5 years. If the older employee says, “right here, still doing a great job” and the younger says, “Great, I was hoping to talk to you about paths to promotion internally, and a reasonable time-frame, and what skills I should work on,” then probably everyone’s entirely happy with the situation, and there’s absolutely no problem.

                After all, if OP chases older employee out, then loses driven younger employee to another employer because she wants to rise in job titles without coming gunning for OP’s job, OP will be left with zero good, competent, trained employees, as opposed to the two OP now has.

                1. JessaB

                  That kind of bugs me, the “is that really part of my job” business because how is this employee being so amazing and all if they’re rules lawyering the boss regarding the duties of the job. The boss asked them to do something, and the response wasn’t “If you want that I can’t do the report for Harry til Wednesday, is he going to come after us for that?” or “I have no idea how to do the framistat report, is that something you want to make part of my job or should Percy do it because really, it’s his thing.”

                2. JSPA

                  If you want to be competent at your job, but not take on additional duties, that’s often OK. It’s not going to land as being supremely helpful (if it’s a crap job nobody wants) nor as ambitious (if it’s an extra challenge or a task that might not really sit within your current skill set). But it can be very wise to remind your manager that it’s not the data entry supervisor’s job either to get coffee nor to moonlight at copywriting or graphic design.

                  Now, this could be an ambiguity in the question. If it’s your job to reconcile the ongoing Jones account, and mine to reconcile the ongoing Yamaguchi account, but nobody’s job to reconcile the Singh account (because Bobby left us last week after Singh took his business elsewhere, but there are still loose ends to tie up), then…yeah, it’s as much your job as mine, and one of us will have to do it.

                  Minor eye roll if the issue is, “I’ve been here too long to restock the paper in the copier, make the new person do it, even if she and I have the same job description.” Doing a bit extra when you’re the new person isn’t hazing; and if you can’t offer retention bonuses, letting people beg off of some of the extra tasks, over time, can be a way to reward them for staying. If I’d had to do it for 3 years when I was the newest person (but that was 17 years ago), I’d be a bit startled if the new manager suddenly made it my job again. Maybe OP should find out if the older coworker “paid her dues” in her own early years, and expects a bit of seniority deference. Either that, or put up a rota for tasks that either burdens everyone equally, or go with the union process (which is also the happy household process) of listing the irksome tasks that need to be shared, and letting people select theirs, with a nod to seniority, as far as picking first.

            2. OhGee

              Yeah, it could be anything! It could be that the office has A/C and her home doesn’t, that she has too many distractions at home, external noise at home, that she likes having a firm divide between work and home. It doesn’t at all sound like the younger employee doesn’t know she has the option to be more flexible, but if OP is worried about that, they can always check in with the younger employee to make that option explicit!

              1. Sarah N.

                She also might just not love working from home! Not everyone thinks this is a great thing — some people like the social aspect of their job, the ability to get facetime with the boss easily, don’t want to pay for a comfortable desk set-up/office space at home, etc. It’s okay for different people to value working from home differently.

                1. Lily Rowan

                  Yeah — at my job, it’s pretty common to work from home one day a week, but I have no interest. I have no good desk set-up at home, would rather leave work at the office, etc. I’m pretty senior and in general am the way the OP describes the more junior employee — I like working a regular schedule and calling it a day!

                  On the other hand, I have a staff person who travels a fair amount and works “from home” from other places sometimes, which I have no problem with, but my boss isn’t 100% comfortable with. I’m happy to give that flex, especially because the staff member will also go above and beyond at other times.

                2. JR

                  Yeah, it’s really convenient for me to work from home now that I have kids – get to know the babysitter better/keep a general eye on things, didn’t have to pump when my kids were babies, cut out the commute time so I can be home for dinner, etc. But I actually prefer to work from the office most of the time.

                  Though I will say, when I was younger, I also would probably have been less inclined to work from home because it felt “against the rules,” even if it was totally fine. So, OP, if you don’t work in an office where working from home is common, and especially if you yourself don’t work from home much, it’s probably worth reinforcing to the other direct report that it really is ok.

                3. Hamstring Disturbance

                  Yes, this. I telecommute 100% of the time; I’m a military spouse and happened to work for a company that was location flexible at the time this part of my life started. Most of the time I love it and would never want to go back, though if there was an office and teammates local to me, I might choose to work in the office one day per week. If I ever move back to my hometown near the office I was hired at, this is probably what I’ll do.

                  My boss, on the other hand, hates it (for herself). She likes being around people and genuinely enjoys coming to the office. She only works from home in inclement weather or to accommodate a necessary appointment.

                4. Liz

                  that’s me. I prefer to work from the office; at home my laptop is on my DR table, that’s my “office” And I find it hard to focus and concentrate at home. I can though, and do when the weather is nasty, etc. but unlike my other group members, who work from home one day a week, i only do it every once in a while.

                1. TardyTardis

                  It was harder for me to work from home (and those invoices went everywhere when Oregon State made a touchdown–oops, giving away state secrets) and I concentrate better in the office.

            3. Cobol

              It’s also quite possible that the younger employee doesn’t have kids. That’s a real obvious reason the one employee is constantly using her flexible schedule.

              1. Managed Chaos

                That was where my thought went as well. As long as the perk is offered equally to both, I don’t think anyone should police how it is used. I needed a lot less flexibility pre-kids. Now it is a huge factor for me in any job.

                1. EddieSherbert

                  I don’t have kids, but I still consider flex scheduling a huge advantage. I’ve been able to help a younger family member at a nearby college with no car and an elderly family member who no longer drives get to appointments, I do all the vet and car appointments for me and my spouse’s pets, etc.!

              2. DaffyDuck

                Yeah, this was my first thought also. When you have kids (especially young ones) having flexibility really helps. Just because the younger employee isn’t using the flexibility now doesn’t mean she won’t in the future.
                OP, please be careful not to “mommy track” your older employee just because she uses an approved perk. As Allison says, if she is doing a great job managing her work this shouldn’t count against her.

              3. Alanna of Trebond

                If the disparity is concerned and the early-career employee doesn’t have kids, it might be nice to give her an example or two of what she could use the flex time for, and make sure she knows she can use it too. I work in a fairly flexible office on a team where a lot of people have young kids, and it can sometimes seem like there’s only so much flexibility to go around and the people with kids (who are also more often homeowners) get most of it.

                Some non-kid examples: car stuff (picking up/dropping off for repairs), medical stuff (appointments, therapy), home stuff (waiting for a delivery that needs to be received in person, dealing with maintenance, etc).

                1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

                  This. Flex time isn’t just for parents.

                  I literally can’t get to the bank during the week because of my commute and core hours. But, if I WFH (work from home), I can do it on a lunch hour. Several people on our team have had car issues that required business hours stuff – WFH is great for that. Both my wife an I have appointments, and she doesn’t drive. WFH, with afk during the middle of the day, appointment on the shared calendar. Solved.

                  A lot of younger people in crowded living situations don’t like to WFH because they literally don’t have a private space to set up, so it’s awkward and inconvenient. I have a coworker like that. He still does weekend/late night stuff from home if he needs to.

            4. A Person

              While we don’t know why the younger employee doesn’t ask for more flexibility, it seems like a good idea for the manager to make sure she’s aware it’s also an option for her and that is doesn’t have to be family related.

              I’ve worked several places that tout their “flexibility” where one employee says the word “child” and gets all the flexibility they want without regard to workload, while those without children don’t feel like they can ask for nearly as much because their reason isn’t “good enough” (or worse, get pushback from their manager, even if the workload is covered.)

          2. Ayup

            For a split second I wondered if this letter was written by my boss (the details don’t line up but the attitude sure does).
            When I was recruited for my current (hourly) position, I was promised flexibility and an understanding that we all have families and lives outside of work. Flash forward two years… I would sometimes take longer lunches, not worry about appointments spilling over from my allotted one hour breaks, leave a little early if it’s a beautiful day and my work was done, etc. and it was *lovely* (of course I always let coworkers know if my schedule was going to be different, and took care of my work first).
            However.
            At my first formal review a month or so ago, I was told that my boss (who is physically in the office only a handful of days per month at most) perceives me as taking a lot of appointments and “just hopes that it’s reciprocal.” It felt like such a slap in the face because I can’t think of the last pay period when I hadn’t worked through lunches, stayed late to get something done, etc.. I did push back and point out that I frequently stay late/adjust my schedule to meet work deadlines and that I frequently did this without announcing it to others. It’s… crappy. Now I feel as though this perk isn’t really available to me even though it was very clearly promised.

            1. Fortitude Jones

              Yeah…this is a little bit different than the letter writer’s situation. If you’re hourly, then technically (and legally), your employer is supposed to be paying close attention to your hours worked, otherwise, they can be fined/sued. Where they erred was by telling you upfront that you could flex your time when most hourly employees don’t really have that option unless they’re strictly clocking in and out at certain times that add up to 8 hours a day.

              1. Kiwiii

                Though different countries/states might have different rules for hourly employees, my current hourly position is significantly more flexible than that. As long as my hours end up at 40 at the end of the week and I’m keeping my manager in the loop about what my planned schedule is (mostly so she knows when we share a late day/doesn’t wonder where I am when I leave before 4), I flex mine slightly pretty regularly, including when I need to take a long lunch to run errands. I would say more often than not I have a couple 8.5 + hr days and a day under 7 hrs. I also have about 1 week/month where I have a day or two of travel and will work 10+ hrs those days and will need to only work about 4 hrs on Friday. Ayup’s error might be more along the lines of not keeping her manager in the loop enough for them to understand how she’s managing her hours.

              2. Detective Amy Santiago

                I’m an hourly employee and I’m allowed to flex my time within that week.

                1. Kat in VA

                  I’m in an odd situation where I’ve had both sides – worked for my company as an hourly temp and now as a salaried full time employee.

                  It was understood the second I worked more than 8 minutes more than 8 hours in a day, I was to record it in quarter hour increments. Likewise, I was very conscientious about leaving early and either making it up where I could or taking the hit on my paycheck. I worked 8:00AM to 4:00PM because I always worked through lunch.

                  Cue being hired on salary, and I asked if I could continue the 8-4 schedule, as I obviously did my work well enough to be invited back full time. Then my boss starts with the mumblemumble 8-5 business hours so noooo, which lasted approximately 2 weeks of me complaining I wasn’t getting home until 7 and I was donating an hour of work every day through lunch and I also tend to get there at 0730.

                  Now I work around 0730-4, sometimes 8-4 and he doesn’t harp about 8-5 any more.

                  I also tend to put in hours in the evening and on the weekend. Tomorrow I’ll be at the office at 0700 and likely won’t leave the big after-work event I have planned until 9 or 10 PM. He figured it out, but it took some pressure on my end for him to understand that he’s a VP and I’m an EA and while I put in similar hours to his willingly, I could ALSO snap my laptop shut promptly at 5 and be completely unavailable on evenings/weekends/holidays/and yes also PTO…while *also* taking a full hourlong lunch off the premises.

                  Sometimes people get weird about your hours, and sometimes with some discussion, they can get unweird about them too.

          3. EventPlannerGal

            But where in the letter are you getting that the perk isn’t accessible for the younger employee? You’re right that perhaps she doesn’t know about it, but if she does and she chooses not to use it that’s hardly the company’s fault.

          4. KRM

            In that case, I’d be letting Younger Employee know that, as long as work is done and meetings are attended, that she too can use these perks. And then drop it. Maybe she knows and also knows that she’s terrible at working from home. Maybe she prefers to get out of the house so she doesn’t feel stuck all day. It doesn’t matter, really. As long as she knows that she has these perks as well, you have to let them manage their schedules the way they prefer. It’s more like stocking the fridge with Coke and one employee doesn’t realize it’s for everyone. Just tell her it is!

            1. RUKiddingMe

              When I was young I worked three jobs, including weekends (like about 18 hours a day/7 days a week because being at home sucked SO much…I’m only now catching up on my sleep). Younger employee does use WFH occasionally so I think she knows about it but chooses not to use it.

          5. Nanani

            Maybe younger employee just happens to have a noisier home life or less ability/desire to work from home or maybe a lot of things.

            Making sure she knows flexibility is available and encouraged surely wouldn’t go amiss, though.

          6. Alphabet Pony

            No, it’s like stocking the fridge with Diet Coke and having one person drink it less often than they could.

          7. Emily K

            I don’t think that’s quite the right analogy unless the younger employee has a disability that prevents her from flexing her hours. Even with the diabetic example, it’s only really a problem if the employee requests something like sparkling water and the employer insists they will only provide Coke. This is more akin to stocking the fridge full of Coke when one employee doesn’t care for pop or prefers Pepsi. There’s no need to make sure that every perk is equally appreciated by all employees – you just want to make a reasonable effort to offer perks that are equally accessible to employees who choose to use them, and to consider reasonable requests for additions or modifications to the perks if an employee feels that the current ones don’t actually have any retention value.

          8. Anna

            I feel like this is reading a lot into what the OP has provided. Why would you assume the younger employee can’t use the perk instead of just choosing not to use it?

            1. Kat in VA

              Because more often than not, when people write to this blog, the assumptions – and often the realities – fall on the side of “company/boss/coworker doing crappy things” rather than “innocuous explanation of what could be crappy but is actually not”.

    2. RUKiddingMe

      I think OP, like so many of us, likely has a “butts in seats” thinking about work. Not even necessarily on a conscious level, just under the surface because this is how the majority of us learned about working. Punch in, punch out for lunch, punch back in, punch out and go home. In the meantime have your butt in the seat where the overseer boss can see you at all times. And for the love of anything you hold dear don’t ask to leave early or mention any family kinds of stuff! Anything that deviates from this makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

    3. Jules the 3rd

      Having that level of flexibility is the standard for my employer (fortune 500 tech co). The one manager I know of who does require permissions and doesn’t allow 1 – 2 days / week wfh is considered unusual, and has 2 positions unfilled (we prioritize internal hires).

      I’m actually surprised Alison didn’t throw in a ‘know your culture’ sentence, because I think that should be part of it.

      OP, ask other managers in your area how they handle the balance between ‘is the work getting done’ and ‘are all butts in seats’.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        I think OP being relatively new to management, and having experience with micromanagers of her own is unsure how to manage.

        The thing is equitable doesn’t mean exactly the same all the time. What works for older report may not work for younger report. If older worker manages her time, gets her work done, etc….which OP says she does, then there’s no real reason to say no to other obligations or WFH except that OP thinks that she needs to say no. She doesn’t. She needs to trust that a competent (by her own description) employee can take care of stuff.

        As for the “is this technically my job” question… well OP is it or are you dumping stuff on her just because you can/think you should?

  2. [insert witty username here]

    OP, it seems like you have more of an issue with her not being as much of a team player as you might like (ie, “is this really my job?”) and I think that might be what is giving you the kneejerk reaction to want to draw boundaries somewhere. Are the things she’s not eager to do things that truly should be someone else’s job or are they things that you reasonably would expect her to do? Maybe that’s more the conversation you need to have (or at least get it straight in your mind first), as opposed to her hours/working from home.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      I was just about to quote this part of the letter and say the same thing. It sounds like OP is annoyed that the employee doesn’t take on anything that’s not explicitly in her job description while the other employee does, so OP’s making the comparisons between the two in her head and feeling some kind of way because the one who’s least likely to be flexible with OP’s work requests/assignments is the one most likely to ask for her own flexibility in scheduling.

      I have no problem with either of them taking time to live their lives, as long as they get their work done, I don’t have to constantly keep track of whether or not they’re on top of things, they take initiative, and, most importantly, I feel like they actually show up and care

    2. Anon for now

      Yeah, I think that the team player aspect is really what is bothering the OP. It is possible that although her specified job duties are done, there is other work that needs to be done and the other employee is left picking up the slack. If so, the conversation needs to be about even division of these extra tasks rather than flexible work hours.

      1. Alanna of Trebond

        I would suggest in that case that she do a little fact-finding with the other employee. The combination of an older, more experienced employee who’s comfortable drawing boundaries with a younger, less experienced, more eager employee does sound like a recipe for the younger one taking on more stuff.

        This isn’t necessarily a problem — more experienced employees do tend to earn more flexibility and the ability to say “no” to tasks over time, and sometimes less experienced employees are expected to be the go-getters/jacks of all trades — but it’s best if those expectations are made clear.

      2. EddieSherbert

        +100, this was my impression as well.

        OP could also make a point of reminding the other coworker that she has flex scheduling and the ability to WFH if she ever wants to use it (if OP is concerned she doesn’t know she has the same benefits as the less motivated employee).

      3. Lexi Lynn

        On the other hand, maybe the employee understands how easy it is to say “yes” to something and eventually end up with no time to do the important parts of their job and is confirming that the manager has thought through the implications.

        I’ve got an email sitting in my inbox that could be part of my job, but it’s low level work and would take a significant amount of time away from the higher level work I do on a permanent basis. I’m going to let my manager respond to this request. But, it doesn’t make sense for me to do junior level work for 30% of my week when we already have 150% of senior work that needs doing even though that 30% would be fun since I like teaching and having people do things properly.

    3. Dust Bunny

      Was just getting on here to say this.

      I’m in a department where we all do a lot of things that aren’t technically our jobs (because of limited staffing, and sometimes we need people to be that flexible) and pushing back would be a no-go. If she wants to claim flexibility, she needs to give it in return by not grousing when asked to do things that aren’t necessarily spelled out in her job description.

      1. Artemesia

        And the OP needs to reflect on what those things are so she can communicate that. ‘Francoise, when you are out of the office so much and leaving early I am finding that your share of the store room restocking, the filing of TPS reports, the last minute invoices and similar tasks etc are not getting done. I need both you and Jennifer to pick up these tasks routinely without being specifically assigned them and right now it is all falling to Jennifer which is getting in the way of her getting the rest done. How can we maintain the flexibility you enjoy but get these side tasks done timely and equitably?’

        Maybe she specifically is on call for such things 2.5 days a week and Jennifer the other 2.5 days. So she is in the office Tuesday and Thursday 9-5 and Wednesday mornings when she is ‘on’ for side tasks. Or maybe it is harder to quantify and you need to think harder. The point is, you need a very clear idea of what you need so you can manage her. And then don’t hesitate to do so.

      2. a1

        I think the reciprocity is some of it, too. I also think maybe the OP is feeling like she’s rewarding the “lesser” team player with more flexibility and that feels odd, too.

      3. Samwise

        Or maybe she’s getting a lot of technically not-her-job requests and they’re getting burdensome. We just don’t know. OP can think about how often and how onerous the not-her-job requests are, are they fairly/appropriately distributed, and so on. The employee may be asking a legitimate question.

        OP may also want to think about what constitutes “team player”. I’m not sure if the not-technically-my-job response is the only thing that = not a team player, or is it an example of a pervasive problem with this employee?

        Finally, OP is comparing this employee (who does good work, uses flexible time responsibly, and sets boundaries at work) with a newer employee (who does good work, almost never uses flex time for whatever reason, and says yes all the time — *I* certainly don’t say yes all the time, but I did at the start of my career because I thought I needed to show how eager I was and because I didn’t know I *could* say no).

      4. Alice

        Does asking = pushing back?
        I might ask “Is this technically part of my job?” — yes, even with the adverb — if I wanted to clarify if this task is something I should plan to do all the time, or a one-off. I am inviting my boss to clarify things, not complaining or pushing back.
        I think this is an ask-versus-guess culture. OP wants the employee to guess more (or to guess better), and I bet the employee would love it if OP was clearer about her preferences. I mean, “am I asking for too much?” is literally teeing it up for OP to say “Yes, I’m not going to approve this request.”

        1. Fortitude Jones

          It’s not so much that the question is being asked that makes it sound like push back, but how it’s said. You can ask your manager for clarification of your job duties in a way that doesn’t sound like you have an attitude about being asked to do it in the first place. “Is this a one-off project, or will I be receiving these kinds of projects going forward?” is a lot less off-putting than “Is this technically my job?” They’re both asking the same question, but one is more abrupt and negative sounding than the other, which is inquiring, especially if these questions are asked a lot.

          1. Alice

            You’re right — but at the same time, I think that there are no words in the dictionary that this employee can use to this OP that won’t come across as off-putting.

        2. Parenthetically

          This was exactly my read on it. Employee is an Ask and would be absolutely fine with a negative response, Manager is a Guess and wants Employee to read the room a little better.

      5. Curmudgeon in Califormia

        If it is stuff that would detract from her regular job then she is perfectly justified in questioning whether it’s part of her job and whether she should prioritize it.

        Anyone who always says yes to even the most inane stuff trying to be a “go getter” is headed for burnout. I know this from my young and stupid days.

        Maintaining healthy boundaries in your work is not “grousing”. It’s prioritizing her time for her actual job duties, not just doing everything under the sun because “other duties as assigned”. She’s asking her manager whether she should spend her time doing the other duties, not assuming yes, getting over worked and overextended, and not getting her primary work done. She know how to effectively manage her time, and that includes getting priorities from her boss and pushing back against the kitchen sink requests.

    4. kittymommy

      This is what I think the true issue is as well. I think that the time flexibility wouldn’t be an issue if the employee seemed more willing to be a “team player” and pick up occasional duties that are specifically laid out in her job description.

    5. Zip Silver

      Agreed. Nothing grinds my gears like having somebody tell you “that’s not my job”. I’ve let go of 3 people through the years who have had this attitude.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Sometimes it’s really not their job, and it’s reasonable for them to bring it up — for example, women who get asked to do an outsized share of admin work, people who came on board specifically to get away from X and now are being given a lot of X, etc. There’s an idea out there that you should never say “that’s not my job” and I actually think it’s fairly damaging, because it makes people uneasy about speaking up when they should.

        1. The Supreme Troll

          But Alison, what if it really is part of “and other duties” or “and other duties as needs may arise”. And I’m talking within reason, of course.

        2. Zip Silver

          I suppose it makes sense in the admin regard, but in my case I’ve got 3 departments reporting to me and one of them has 7 people all in the same role. If 6 of the 7 are doing X task that’s related to their main role, and the 7th pops off with “not my job”, then we have a conversation about what is and isn’t their job.

        3. KarenK

          I totally agree.

          When I started in my current position, I ceased being administrative support for a department that I had been in for over 25 years. So, a long time of administratively supporting a bunch of doctors. There have been some rough patches, especially since I’m still physically located in this department, but for the most part, they’ve come to terms. I’ve had to say “It’s not my job anymore” more than a few times, even when it would have been very easy to perform the requested task. I was specifically told by my current supervisors that I was to do no support work at all for the department. It’s been awesome!

        4. Mockingjay

          It’s reasonable to ask for clarification on job duties, especially when work crosses labor definitions between exempt and nonexempt. I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.

          I suspect in this case, work requirements have expanded, are probably still within the bounds of the senior report’s position, but the senior report just doesn’t want to do them or honestly doesn’t believe the tasks are within her purview. Perhaps OP should review senior report’s duties with her and go from there.

        5. Anax

          This can also relate to disability and other kinds of accommodation – “Is this an optional request, or a requirement? If it’s required, we need to have a whole disability discussion, which I’d rather not get into if this is a one-off I can avoid.”

          For myself, for instance – I’m a code monkey, and pretty stereotypically, I’d like to avoid team-building exercises, fancy meetings with higher-ups, and other mandatory social events. This can definitely come off as “not being a team player” – but for me, it’s actually because I have PTSD, which doesn’t come up in my ordinary duties, but DOES come up in these unusual one-offs.

        6. RUKiddingMe

          This. So much this. As women we get assigned a bunch of stuff that is only assigned to us because of gender. Party planning? Cleaning? Making coffee? How many men (no single “I know this one guy” data points please…we all know that one guy that washed the dishes that one time) really get asked to do these types of housekeeping/social type jobs, that are actually not part of their actual work? Veeerrryyy few.

        7. Curmudgeon in Califormia

          This.

          If you think “that’s not my job” is some sort of attitude problem, then you should take a closer look at your culture. Expecting people to do any and every task requested of them, no matter how tedious, distracting, outside of their expertise or sexist it is reeks of an “employee equals slave” mentality.

          If you ask me to do certain things, like secretarial work or personal assistant stuff when I’m a technical professional, I will tell you “that’s not my job”, because it literally isn’t. Period.

          If someone got bent out of shape about it, I would be looking for another job before they even thought about firing me.

          1. Working Mom Having It All

            Especially if you find you are letting person after person go for this problem. Either there are issues with how you are hiring/finding someone who is a good fit for a role that requires a lot of flexibility, or you are asking too much of people.

          2. Mike C.

            There are also issues of lacking domain expertise, legal/industry/regulatory certifications, established company processes and management from one department trying to borrow employees from another just to name a few examples.

        8. CM

          +1

          If your job is to do whatever random thing anyone asks at any time, what’s the point of even interviewing for a defined position? I’m sure there are some people who would happily sign up to do “whatever random tasks at company X,” but most people are negotiating to do a specific type of work in exchange for a specific amount of money.

          (Also, roles exist for a reason. I once worked at a place where the CEO’s philosophy was “no one has a job description; everyone does what I yell when I happen to see them in front of me” and it was total chaos).

      2. another anon

        Ooooof. Big oof. I really hope those people had other issues in the workplace, and you didn’t let them go because of this.

        1. Zip Silver

          Naturally. I don’t cut people loose willy nilly, my turnover is actually well below company average. I’ve found that people who have this constant pushback attitude tend to have a less-than-pleasant attitude in other areas as well.

          1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

            Tell me, were most of the people you let go for this women? Because I have found that stuff that is fine for a man to do gets accusations of “bad attitude” if done by a woman with the same job and qualifications.

              1. paralegal part deux

                Because some people have to make up stuff to fit the narrative they’re trying to argue.

                1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

                  Wow, that’s a reach.

                  I asked because I want to know if he is like my prior experience.

                  If I “assumed”, I would say “I bet most of the people you let go for this were women.”

                  But that’s not what I said. That question mark counts.

                  Sheesh.

              2. TardyTardis

                This is a question that needs to be asked, though. We all know that most guys aren’t going to be asked to do the kind of things that women are always asked to do.

      3. Rainy

        I mean, the question is, was it their job and they were trying to shuffle it off on other people, or were those things actually not their job or not something they were trained or prepared to do? I’m very protective of the actual boundaries of my role, because every time I agree to do something that’s not in those parameters, even if it’s “just this once”, it’s infringing on my ability to do the thing I’m actually here to do.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt

          I used to work for a very unorganized place where I got burned a couple of times by cheerfully doing things that weren’t my job. Suddenly people know that you can do it and everyone is sending it to you and it becomes part of your job and you have less time to do things that are the reason you got hired and that your annual review will rely on. You can have a sudden time sucking position as the person who puts the fatheads on the walls, even though you have zero artistic ability and a bad eye for when things are even, and you get zero good credit for giving up hours of work time to do it because now the logo is lopsided and everyone blames you.

          1. Anon for this

            +1000

            You take care of a duty one time. It’s a big ask, but you do it to help out. And then very suddenly, everyone assumes it’s part of your job.

            We had a person who used to be in charge of Teapot Maintenance. Her role changed and nobody was doing Teapot Maintenance. I agreed to do it the one time even though it’s a lot of extra work and hassle. After that, suddenly everyone kept dropping Teapot Maintenance issues at me. Word spread. I pushed back and people thought I was being difficult. I went to my manager and it’s been stopped although I still get the requests months and months later.

            Teamwork was me agreeing to do it the one time. Teamwork would have been other people stepping in to help with it the second or third time and maybe going to management about how we really needed to come up with a solution to the Teapot Maintenance issue. Teamwork was my manager realizing that I was being asked to do things not in my job description on a regular basis and her protecting me, her team member.

          2. Emily K

            This so much! I’ve actually found it to be one of the greatest challenges of having stayed in my role as long as I have. I possess so much institutional knowledge that there’s a lot of stuff I could do if we’re just talking about ability. A lot. And I’m one of the few people in my department that have been around so long, other long-tenured people outside our department just send everything to us first because they know us and haven’t met the newer hires yet.

            I have to vigorously defend the boundaries of my job, be able to say no or to redirect people to the appropriate person, or my entire week could be eaten up by stuff that isn’t my job. So easily!

            And that’s before getting into what your last sentence alludes to – if I veer into another employee’s lane because the request was brought to me and I didn’t want to look like “not a team player” by redirecting them to someone else, there’s no guarantee that I’m aware of every recent business rule or process update and a non-zero risk that I’ll do it wrong and the person whose job it actually is will be cheesed off at me for overstepping. In a large, bureaucratic organization “stay in your lane” is the golden rule you live by.

        2. Booksalot

          Strong agree. I work with multiple people who have to have specific degrees or certifications to do what they do, and they can be held legally liable for judgment calls (such as PEs). Even a seemingly innocuous task can have repercussions down the road. I’m not going to automatically fulfill any old request without checking if it’s something I should actually be doing.

      4. Kiki

        I understand how it’s unpleasant as an overall attitude, but sometimes it really isn’t their job. I’m happy to step in and take notes for a meeting, but I’m not going to be ~the notetaker~ for every meeting. I will run the dishwasher when I put something in it and see that it is now full, but I will not be ~the dishwasher~ of the office. And if anyone came to me to ask me to run the dishwasher, I would tell them: that is not my job.

      5. Jenn G

        I had someone on my team who would ask that question a lot, and 4 other people who never did. The thing is…the person who asked (and who also took /very exact/ breaks and holidays) actually MET all, 100%, of her deadlines. The people who said yes all the time also got overwhelmed and blew through responsibilities sometimes. So…I would still look at overall performance before I worried too much about this kind of question/attitude. Sometimes it’s to get out of work, sure. But sometimes it’s to get work DONE.

          1. The New Wanderer

            I think this is a case where the person pushing back with “Not my job” should instead phrase it as “I’m currently working full time on X, Y, and Z tasks (aka my actual work). If you need me to do A as well, please let me know how I should prioritize.”

          2. Emily K

            Or, just because there’s a benefit to doing something, doesn’t mean it’s the best use of someone’s time. Work hours are zero sum – time spent doing the task with a $20 value directly eats into time spent doing the task with a $200 value. There’s a benefit to doing the $20 task but that doesn’t mean it’s smart to pursue that benefit at the expense of the $200 task value.

    6. Caramel & Cheddar

      Yeah, it feels like OP isn’t loving the lack of reciprocity, for lack of a better term, i.e. OP gives her the flexibility to manage her own time, but doesn’t get any flexibility back in return re: doing things that might be above and beyond her job function. And, as you point out, the things she’s being asked may not necessarily be part of her function but they may also not be unreasonable tasks.

      That said, we hear about that in other letters all the time, i.e. as a salaried employee you don’t have to, say, make up hours for a doctor’s appointment, but conversely it’s not egregious for your boss to expect you to stay late on occasion when there’s a big deadline, for instance. If the stuff she’s being asked to do isn’t unreasonable, I can see why OP is a bit annoyed by it.

      1. valentine

        OP gives her the flexibility to manage her own time, but doesn’t get any flexibility back in return re: doing things that might be above and beyond her job function.
        OP can point this out at any time and the nature of the tasks is everything. There’s nothing wrong with the employee guarding her time (I’m proud of her). Maybe OP says yes to too many things, expecting this employee to do them. It’s terrible when managers see common-sense policy as simultaneously a massive gift and a debt to be repaid.

    7. AnonEMoose

      I agree with this, too. Maybe it’s my own experience, but I really feel that the OP resents that the more experienced employee is “generally defending her job boundaries.” But here’s my take on this: For the newer, less experienced employee, it can make a lot of practical sense for her to take on things that aren’t really technically her job, because she can really benefit from the experience. That can be a very good use of the company’s resources in terms of her salary, because she may be learning things that could be useful to both her and the company.

      For the more experienced employee…how much sense does it make to ask her to take these things on? Are these tasks that, maybe it makes sense for her to pitch in if someone is really in a bind and needs help short term, but long term aren’t a good use of this employee’s time and skill? Using a more experienced employee to complete these tasks is actually kind of waste of the company’s money. She’s being compensated for her skill, and if that skill isn’t being used at the level for which she’s being compensated, the company is being, as the expression goes “penny wise and pound foolish.”

      Don’t resent your more experienced employee for having boundaries and asking whether it actually makes sense for her to be doing some things. Just because the work is there and needs doing doesn’t mean it makes sense for it to be done by her if the company would be better served by her experience and skill being applied elsewhere. And don’t cast her as “not a team player” for this, either.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Just because the work is there and needs doing doesn’t mean it makes sense for it to be done by her if the company would be better served by her experience and skill being applied elsewhere.

        I agree, but then the employee can broach that conversation differently. Asking, “is this really a part of my job description?” is going to be incredibly off-putting for a lot of people, especially if the person making the request also regularly does things outside of their job description. Saying something like, “I’d like to help, but I’m not sure I’m the best person to do X because I don’t have the [experience/capacity/etc.] right now – maybe Person A would be better for this?” is less problematic, especially if she then volunteers from time to time with other tasks that don’t necessarily fall within her job description.

        1. fposte

          I agree; as so often, I would give the employee some advice if she were the one writing in. But until she does, I don’t want to overly ding her for asking a reasonable question in a suboptimal way, either, and I’d encourage the OP to find a way to look beyond the phraseology if that’s what’s sticking for her.

        2. Emily K

          I think how I receive that question is very different depending on whether it’s about something I asked the employee to do, or something they’re bringing me that someone else asked them to do. In the first context it’s definitely push-back even though it’s “just a question” – the implication is that I am erring in asking her and she wants me to reconsider, which is fine to do occasionally but should be done very sparingly. In the second context, I would just look at it as the employee seeking clarification on what I, their actual manager, expect of them before fulfilling requests for peers.

      2. Roza

        +100 to this. When I first started working, I was always eager to jump in, take extra assignments, and grow my skillset as much as possible, because I wanted to advance. I’ve now reached the stage where I’m fairly happy at my current level. Yes, I want to continue to learn and be better at my job, and am always happy to pitch in to put out a dumpster fire, but I’m not necessarily always gunning for stretch assignments that will let me move another rung up the ladder. They aren’t always worth the hit to my work-life balance in the way they once were. I realize the cost of this is that a promotion is unlikely, and that’s fine — my industry isn’t up or out.

        Maybe there’s a bit of the same thing going on here (assuming older co-worker is not NEVER willing to pitch in on unusual tasks). It may seem unfair in the short run, since the younger co-worker isn’t taking as much advantage of a perk, but in the medium/longer term I’d expect the younger one to be getting faster promotions or bigger raises than the older as a result of this.

    8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      That stood out to me as well. It made me wonder if OP is bristling a little bit by their feelings that the employee is less of a team player, which makes OP feel more suspicious or less generous/gracious about granting the flexibility requests.

      Regardless, it will help OP to do a deep dive into what’s making them feel squicky or uneasy about the arrangement. If it’s a legitimate issue related to the employee’s work performance, then focus on the performance issue and not the flexibility. If it’s more about feelings about whether these requests are proper (or other values-based feelings) or over-frequent, then I would take a step back and evaluate if it affects performance and workflow. And if it doesn’t relate back to performance and workflow, then OP should let it go.

    9. Paper Jam

      I’m surprised Alison didn’t mention this, because that jumped out to me too. Depending on the company, it can be completely reasonable to expect that your employee would sometimes have to take on tasks outside of the job she was hired to do (like at my company with no internal IT department, the person who sets up a new employee’s computer is an accountant). Especially if the lion’s share of these extra tasks are falling on the employee who doesn’t request the flexibility, it feels unfair. I think you absolutely can address her willingness to do extra tasks and just be direct about what you need her to do (especially if that is a key expectation).

      “Sometimes when I ask you to do certain tasks, you push back asking if something is in your job description. Part of this job does require you to be flexible to some ad hoc tasks that might not be typical of your role, and I do expect both you and your colleague to do some of these from time to time – can you do that without this type of push back going forward?”

      But the flexibility itself is a non issue – it probably just FEELS off if you have one employee taking on extra tasks and have another seemingly leaving early more regularly.

      1. designbot

        It may also be about responding differently when she asks if something is really in her job description! If she asked that and OP said something like “Contributing to getting this project done/the overall office environment/whatever is part of your job, yes.” instead of folding, this might start going differently.

    10. Jaydee

      I think the answer is not to compare the two employees but to ask what makes an employee “good enough” to get the benefits that come with the job (because it sounds like working from home/schedule flexibility isn’t a special prize for top employees but something available to anyone, like PTO or insurance or casual Fridays). And I think this LW has a list already in mind – “they get their work done, I don’t have to constantly keep track of whether or not they’re on top of things, they take initiative, and, most importantly, I feel like they actually show up and care.”

      So if the employee in question is meeting those requirements, no problem. If not, then start by talking to them about what you want to see differently. Not because you’ll rescind WFH privileges (although depending on the issue, that might be a reasonable step later if you don’t see improvement), but because it’s a workplace expectation. If you want this employee to be more receptive to requests, discuss that with her. If you want her to do certain tasks, tell her that. If you need more frequent updates on what she’s doing, or if she’s not meeting deadlines, tell her what your expectations are.

      1. Rainy

        Well, and realize when your internal assumptions are leading you to make unreasonable demands. “I need to feel like you care” can be a very reasonable expectation depending on the job and on what quantifiable acts or speech the manager is relying upon to convey that feeling that someone cares, or it can be a very unreasonable demand.

        1. One of the Sarahs

          Yes, or needing to feel that the employee is grateful for the terms of the job – but that’s never going to work, because if the employee has taken the job on the basis that it’s flexible, she’s going to (naturally! Correctly!) assume that that flexibility is the standard, not something to thank her boss for.

          In so many letters here, we’ve seen bosses wanting a level of gratitude that’s just not reasonable, and I hope OP just checks herself, to make sure she’s not being unfair on her employee, in wanting certain levels of gratitude – but if flexibility is part of the job package, expecting thanks for allowing it is on a par with expecting thanks for paying employees on time, providing a work computer etc etc.

    11. Jules the 3rd

      Enh, I really get more the vibe of ‘first time manager not sure how to handle this balance.’

      But if you’re right, I think OP needs to dig into her expectations about ‘work getting done’ vs ‘butts in seats’, and reasonable work load. If the work’s getting done, does it really have to be with a passion? What does ‘initiative’ really look like in their work context?

      1. Jules the 3rd

        Here’s the thing for me: A manager shouldn’t be basing things on ‘I feel like they actually show up and care’. Emotional commitment is not a reasonable request from employees.

        A manager should be basing things on ‘Here’s the work we needed to get done. It did / didn’t get done. Here’s what it would take to go above and beyond. We did / did not get to those.’

        Yes, a big part of the *way* to get that work done is based on employee satisfaction and work ethic, but people work for the paycheck and perks. Liking the work itself is a bonus, not a requirement.

          1. Mr. Tyzik

            Seriously. I was let go from a team and transferred for not being “interested enough” in routine IT maintenance projects with unwavering plans that went through contractual gates. It was the same headaches every time with the same people who didn’t understand deadlines and missed every one while I was the one dinged for “not managing” the projects “correctly”.

            Let’s keep in mind that prior to that, I had been recognized across the company for my PM efforts. I had so many conversations with my (male) boss about my “engagement level” for those projects and I told him just as often that I needed puzzles to break the monotony. He didn’t listen and gave me more grunt work with no support. I know some would be happy to do the same thing every day, yet I am not one of those people.

            I wasn’t sorry about being let go from that team – which happened without warning. We had an open office; I came in one morning and my boss told me I was on another team and to sit at a table 3 rows down. The whole thing (obviously) left a bad taste. So glad to be away from the bullsh!t.

        1. The New Wanderer

          Exactly this. That wording in the letter really bothered me. If the employee is getting her work done well and on time and she’s keeping reasonable boundaries, she cares about her work quality. But this wording combined with how OP interprets the “technically my job” questions as not a team player makes it sound like a primarily subjective assessment, which is a recipe for downgrading a perfectly effective employee because they’re not a young go-getter with lots of face time with the boss.

        2. Kbbcw

          i recently took a new job and promptly quit it after 4 months. One of the big reasons was my manager was very picky, gave no direction yet had a problem with how I approached every task and the big issue was she felt I showed no emotion about mt job. But why should I? I went to work and tried my best but I wasn’t emotionally invested.

        3. Sadie

          100% agree.

          Employers are entitled to have employees complete their job duties in a timely, comptent, “successful” manner.

          You’re not entitled to have me feel a certain way about it. You can require me to behave a certain way, but it’s not a job duty to “make your boss feel like you care”.

    12. Gumby

      I have worked with this person. Very many things she was asked to do were “not really my job.” But she said this while she had maybe 20 hours of work in a busy week (while a full-time employee) and said it to people who were working 50+ hours per week regularly. I found it off-putting even though my role was merely as an observer. If you aren’t otherwise busy and there is a task that is adjacent to your role that needs to be done, then help out the person who is asking! Also? People notice this stuff. It is unlikely to happen but if I were called upon to serve as a reference I’d be trying to find a semi-tactful way to say “competent but sort of lazy.” (Which would not be my reaction if she were otherwise swamped, or even moderately busy. It’s the combination of ‘clearly has available time/bandwidth’ and ‘unwilling to pitch in to help a busier person’ that galls.)

    13. designbot

      Exactly! I thought this line was incredibly well stated, “In other words, she enjoys a lot of flexibility and independence while generally defending her own job boundaries.”
      I think it’s perfectly fine as a manager to say hey, I have no problem with you asking for some flexibility so that you can handle your life, but this is a two way street and I often need a little more flexibility on your part.

  3. Amber Rose

    If I may put on my extrapolation glasses here, I’m going to guess that your uneasiness stems partly from being a new manager, and partly from trying to balance not being a pushover with not becoming like your old toxic managers. Often when we spend too much time with unreasonable people, we develop a fear both of becoming them, and going too far the other way.

    So do your best to ditch the emotions and deal solely with the facts, and the facts involve whether work is getting done and whether its getting done well and on time.

    1. Sally

      So do your best to ditch the emotions and deal solely with the facts, and the facts involve whether work is getting done and whether its getting done well and on time.

      …which can be hard for a new manager! I managed a small team for a few year a while back, and I loved it! In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what my role was supposed to be, whether I should say yes or no to certain requests. The previous manager always said “no” first, but I asked around, and found that lots of things she said we couldn’t do, we actually could do. So I started expanding the reach of our team (we were providing training, so the more people we could help, the better) and holding weekly Lunch & Learns, online “classroom” training, etc. One of my staff members asked if she could manage her own time, sometimes coming in early, sometimes a little later, making sure that all client trainings were covered. She had a child and needed to take him to school sometimes. My first reaction was to say no, but I couldn’t think of a good reason why not, so I said yes. I, too, worried that this meant I could never say no, but that isn’t the case, and that didn’t happen. I figured if the employee could make a case for what they were asking for, I would think about it and be open to saying yes.

      On the other side of the situation, I’m now working for a manager and on a team where my work needs to get done, and deadlines need to be met, and I am trusted to make sure it happens. But I can manage my time however I want. If I want to schedule my bi-weekly therapy session for the middle of the day or take vacation time, I just do. We have a calendar where we keep the in/out of office information. I know who my coverage person is and make sure she will be here if I’m going to be out. At first, I didn’t believe my new manager that I could just decide to work from home if I needed to. But I asked her again to confirm, and she said it’s fine. Plus I’ve seen other team members doing the same thing with no bad consequences. I would urge the OP to make sure the members of their team know that flexibility is available and OK to take advantage of.

  4. Redhead in NY

    I love AMA’s response here and I am totally your employee. I love having a flexible schedule to run errands, go to the gym during lunch, leave early on a Friday, and work from home *sometimes* more than our 1 day/week policy. However, I’m always answering emails/texts/calls outside of the office and will hop online at any hour of the day (within reason) and on the weekends to answer an important email or finish a project.

    I do have more flexibility than my teammates because my boss trusts me and he knows I’ll get my work done, and we have a good working relationship. I also give him the option to tell me “no,” and he always says as long as no one’s asking about it, he doesn’t care what my schedule is. I don’t know if they’ve ever asked him for more flexibility though, and I’m sure he would grant it to them if it was important but they do not like to answer emails outside of work hours, rarely bring their lap top home, and don’t have email on their phone.

    For me, having this flexibility is so important to work life balance. I would rather work for a few hours, take a break for a few hours, work for a few more hours, another break, then finish up the day in the evening than sit in an office on my bum for 8 hours a day. It’s mentally exhausting.

    1. KRM

      Yes. I love that my boss doesn’t care that I need to leave early for appointments sometimes, or want to take a half day. He knows I come in on the weekend when needed, and will stay late if needed. He figures it all balances out in the end, and things get done. If the employee’s work is good, and the “is this part of my job” pushbacks are fairly reasonable, I think it’s fine to let them be flexible. If you suddenly start saying ‘no’ just because you can and you think you need to be stricter, you could find yourself down a good employee.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        “If you suddenly start saying ‘no’ just because you can and you think you need to be stricter, you could find yourself down a good employee.”

        Yup.

    2. The New Wanderer

      Me too, I am this employee. I’ve had this level of flexibility for the past 10 years at my company, under 14 different direct managers, and it is crucial to my work-life balance and job satisfaction. I WFH at least once a week, have flexible hours when I need them, and I routinely check in with my manager about how it’s going and whether there’s a problem with the optics because I don’t hold as regular (or as early) hours as most of my colleagues.

      It has never interfered with my availability, and I’ve been scrupulous about being available online most of the time and responsive to emails, calls, and requests. I work primarily independently or with virtual teams and I make a point of attending meetings in person when I can even though calling in is almost always an option b/c there are lots of remote employees.

      The only pushback I’ve gotten is from my current manager, who hasn’t had someone like me on her team previously – her last team was collocated and highly collaborative so having someone not be around did impact their work. Even then, it was more curiosity from her about what I find valuable about WFH (“well, I work in an open office, usually as a team of one, and need to read, write, and think 95% of the time”) and at no point has she said I need to change. If she did, I would, but I would begrudge my loss of autonomy for no actual work reasons and probably be much more motivated to find a different internal position.

  5. Flexible

    It sounds like she’s a competent worker who makes boundaries a priority for herself (“is this in my job description” line and such), and has a life/responsibilities outside of work, like we all do. None of that means she’s taking advantage of you. OP, I know you expressed that you don’t want to become one of those unreasonable managers – so…don’t. In my opinion, things here look fine.

    I also wouldn’t say taking her daughter to appointments means she’s “enjoying flexibility and independence.” I really resent that statement, actually. This past year multiple family members of mine faced major health issues. It was emotionally tough to begin with, but on top of it my job took a hit since I was suddenly the only one able to drive others to their appointments and things. While my manager knew the jist – and trusts me, so I’m sure she didn’t doubt me – I didn’t disclose every detail. I would hate it if she thought I were taking advantage of the flexibility she gave me, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying “independence.”

    Lord knows your employee might not be going through all that. But maybe she prioritizes her family more than your younger employee, or more than you. I just feel like nothing you explained about her hints at her taking advantage of you. Keep being conscientious of your workers’ needs and try not to become paranoid! I know it must be hard as a manager to do that, but I think you’re doing a good job.

    1. Anonysand

      These are all really great points. One thing also to consider, it seems like OP may be unfairly comparing this employee to the younger, more eager employee. As a young worker myself, I often don’t feel like I can say no to a request, and I don’t really think I have enough capital to be able to draw a line and say “is that my job?” More often than not, part of being a young person (and especially a woman) in the workplace is saying yes to whatever your boss asks. Sometimes we’re just forced to suck it up and do what we’re told, rather than push back. This older employee seems to me like she may be a lot more confident/established in her career and is, fairly, putting her boundaries in place while enjoying the flexibility offered AND completing her job duties at the same time.

      1. Justme, The OG

        Yes, to this. And also that I’ve been in my job for a number of years, I feel like I have more leeway to question things than the newer employees do.

        1. Mr. Tyzik

          When I was in my twenties, I took all work that came my way because I was young and couldn’t say no.
          In my thirties, when I had a child and got married, I took most work because I wanted to avoid the mommy track.
          Now in my forties, with a teenager and established marriage, I draw strong boundaries. I get to do the family stuff only once and they live with me. They come first.

      2. Turanga Leela

        I came here to say this. It sounds like you may be comparing the two employees in an unhelpful way, OP. I was the young, eager, never-say-no employee… until I got older, had a kid, and realized I was spending valuable time on a lot of things that genuinely weren’t my job. (I did a lot of admin despite being a high-level non-admin employee.) I changed jobs, and now I’m more protective of both my schedule and my boundaries. I’m also excellent at my job—as good or better than I was when I seemed more eager. I just know that I’m good and I’m more willing to push back when I’m uncomfortable.

        That’s not to say that this is the situation for your employees, but the contrast resonated so much with my experience that I wanted to jump in.

      3. Karo

        I know that there are tons of exceptions to this, but younger employees are also less likely to have kids – that means they don’t have to use flex time in order to support them, and are more able to run errands after standard working hours. I don’t have kids, so if I have to stay late to help out with something I don’t have to track someone down to pick my kid up from daycare; the only doctor’s appointments I have to worry about mine. So comparing my butt-in-seat time to that of a busy working parent isn’t fair. If it’s not impacting the employee’s work, it shouldn’t be a problem.

        1. Mr. Bob Dobalina

          There should be no disparity in treatment based on whether someone has children or not. If an employer offers flexible scheduling for certain jobs, the employer shouldn’t be judging the worthiness of the employee’s reason for wanting flexible scheduling.

          1. Parenthetically

            That’s very much not the point of Karo’s comment — there’s no indication here that Experienced Employee is being granted flextime BECAUSE she’s a parent, just that Younger Employee might not need to use the flextime as much as a working parent.

          2. a clockwork lemon

            Younger worker here. I’m the youngest and least experienced person in my office by a solid ten years, and the least-senior person I work with has been here for five years. My company is generous with flex time, and I use it when appropriate (plumber needs to come to the house, car needs to be at the mechanic, etc), but I also just honestly prefer being in the office to get work done.

            I have a customized desktop set-up at my office that I have no desire to replicate at home, and I value being able to chat and have good face-time with my bosses by virtue of being here (my big boss took me to lunch on a whim the other day, just because I happened to be in my cube when most everyone else was working from home). I get to hop in on random projects just because I’m around and have comparatively little to do.

            I have a coworker who pretty much sets his own schedule. He’s committed to the boundaries around his work responsibilities, because he has a ton of them and also a small child and also assists with caretaking for an aging relative. All his work gets done, but he’s very clear about when he will and won’t do things that aren’t his job–those things get punted to me (because part of my job is “miscellaneous assigned tasks.) That said, he showed up at the office on a day he’d scheduled for PTO weeks in advance just because he saw me flailing on an email and wanted to make sure I was confident and comfortable with my task.

            We both get our work done, we both do a good job, and we’re both at very different stages at our careers and lives. I’m more eager to take on random projects and jump in to help anyone who needs a hand. He came in on a day off even though he didn’t have to because a coworker he’s been unofficially mentoring needed a hands-on assist. We’re both team players, it just manifests differently.

      4. Marion Cotesworth-Haye

        100% this. This describes my evolution as a young junior employee to a mid-level employee very well. I do think I benefited, too, from having most of my current managers see that evolution — since they have personal experience with my willingness to pitch in, take on extraneous tasks, etc., they often give me the benefit of the doubt when I now push back (respectfully!) on deadlines or tasks. Since the OP is a relatively new manager, she may not have the benefit of having seen that in her older employee and is internally penalizing her by comparing two folks at very different stages of their careers (despite the similarity in title).

      5. Mr. Bob Dobalina

        I came to say this, more or less. It’s the disparity. I think it’s the comparison of the two employees that is bothering the OP. One employee liberally using flexible scheduling, the other employee not using it. If flexibility is available to all employees on an equal basis, then OP should make sure that her reports are aware of that, that they are free to use the flexibility, and don’t feel pressure to be chained to the desk either because of their age or inexperience.

      6. JamieS

        Yeah I get the same impression. A report is asking for reasonable flexibility but then OP compares her to someone who asks for zero flexibility and suddenly reasonable requests seem like taking advantage. OP needs to remember that a younger worker is often isn’t as willing to ask for reasonable flexibility or otherwise speak up because they’re at the beginning stages of building their reputation whereas a veteran worker isn’t.

    2. Lucette Kensack

      Well, she IS enjoying flexibility and independence in her work, which is what is relevant to the OP. And that’s good! But it’s not helpful to pretend it isn’t true; having the flexibility to leave work to handle family issues is a great benefit, and having the independence to determine your own workflow is a privilege lots of folks don’t have (and those of us who are lucky enough to have that ability typically had to earn it with years of experience).

      1. Flexible

        Of course it’s a privilege and a great benefit – I wasn’t suggesting it isn’t. I just think the idea of “enjoying” it minimizes a lot of peoples’ experiences. Like I said, and I cannot speak for OP or her report, my need for flexibility was out of necessity. I got the idea from OP’s letter that she might think that when her report is OOO, she is tooling about, driving with the windows down, etc. She could be! But I think it’s important that managers trust their employees, especially when given no reason not to.

        1. Jennifer Thneed

          I think you’re focusing on that word rather than the phrase. In this setting, “enjoys” just means “has”. It’s a little old-fashioned, perhaps.

      2. Hiring Mgr

        Personally I think things like flexibility and independence should be the default, not some gift benevolently bestowed by the manager… But one step at a time I suppose..

        1. Dan

          Yeah… I was going to write a separate comment along the lines of “I think one of OP’s problems is that she sees flexible schedules and work from home as a perk.” It’s not. In 2019, it’s the cost of doing business, like giving your employees office space, a computer, and paying them. That’s doubly true in tech world, where for the most part as long you go to team meetings and client meetings as appropriate, when/how/where you do your individual work just doesn’t matter.

          And for those who thing that working at home is full of distractions and what not — don’t tell my boss, but I’m in the office posting on AAM.

          1. Midwest writer

            I really, really like that framing. I agree that working from home at this point is something that should be way more standard in a lot of industries — it’s something my last job offered that I made sure my current job matched. It’s not something I want to give up anytime soon.

    3. Anon for this

      I agree 100% with your point about family obligations not being the same as “enjoying flexibility and independence” and I have to chime in about this. One of my relatives died in a very public accident while on vacation and I was their only next of kin able to travel. I had to go across the country to pick up their remains, vehicle, and belongings, drive them back home, fend off phone calls from reporters (SO MANY phone calls from reporters), and while at the time my boss was very accommodating in letting me take time off to do this… it crept up later that boss actually kind of resented doing that. And maybe felt like I was taking advantage of their flexibility? It was a tough thing to deal with and it was harder still when I felt like my boss had said “yes” when they didn’t want to and it’s affecting the way they treat me now. It certainly doesn’t inspire me to work hard at this job anymore. OP, I would encourage you to reframe your thinking about this. If she is doing good work and you like having her on your team, allowing her flexibility to deal with life while also doing her job is good management.

      1. Flexible

        Oh boy, I am sooooo sorry about your loss. And your experience afterwards. This is exactly what I was getting at – the general attitude toward people who ask for flexibility in the office needs to change unless there is a real reason not to trust them. Like myself, I am sure you didn’t disclose every last heart-wrenching detail, leaving your manager to trust you (something that is apparently super hard for managers to do).

        I may be getting a bit dramatic here, but I think this letter really speaks to a massive overarching issue in the workplace. The general all-or-nothingness of expectations at work, having to sacrifice life for work, and honestly lack of trust in other people. Asking for flexibility, if reasonable, should not be a deal breaker for a job.

      2. willow19

        “It certainly doesn’t inspire me to work hard at this job anymore.” Yeah, funny how it works out that way. I kind of get the same feeling at annual review time, when all my cohorts say how awesome I am to work with and how I really know my stuff and am a great help in making the projects run smoothly, then there’s a 1% raise. Watch how hard I work now.

        1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

          “I kind of get the same feeling at annual review time, when all my cohorts say how awesome I am to work with and how I really know my stuff and am a great help in making the projects run smoothly, then there’s a 1% raise. Watch how hard I work now.”

          Yeah, I have that a lot. National inflation is 2%, but local inflation is more like 5%. “Merit” raises are 2% across the board. If it wasn’t for some other perks, I’d ge long gone.

      3. TechWorker

        I’m sorry to hear your boss said yes but then turned out to begrudge it afterwards. I think Alison’s advice here is good (don’t say no unless you actually need to!) but I also think a manager saying yes but internally griping about it and wishing they said no is damaging. If the answer really is no – then say that.

        1. Anon for this

          “If the answer really is no – then say that.” YES AGREED. Something similar happened to me when I was much younger and my SO was still in the military. I asked for time off to spend with them before they deployed, and it was granted, but I was punished for it later in all kinds of ways. I think people say yes to “be nice” (and also to be able to tell others how nice they are, and how much they’ve done for you), but it’s more of a kindness to say no if it is going to affect your treatment of the employee later. In the case of my relative’s death, the leave was actually granted by HR because of extenuating circumstances – so my boss didn’t have the same kind of choice. I could probably have gone to HR about what happened after but honestly I didn’t have the bandwidth.

      4. Anon for anonymity

        I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

        It sometimes amazes me how unkind people can be. One of our employees was dealing with a spouse dying of cancer (they weren’t even 35!), with a toddler at home, and people on her team were resentful of her “time off”. I still have a hard time interacting with the person who made the nasty comment that I overheard.

    4. pr

      yes! Thank you. Taking your kid to appointments (medical? mental health oriented? IEP / tutoring related) is no walk in the park. It’s not like the employee is taking time off to get manicures (not that that would be bad, but could be seen as enjoying flexibility and independence)… You sound very dismissive.

    5. Not Me

      She’s enjoying the flexibility regardless of whether she’s enjoying the time away from work.

  6. Honestly Curious

    Not being a manager… I can understand why this manager asks. I am all for flexibility if the work is done. But I worry that it can often feel like favoritism for the employee who gets to leave early and work from home, even if they are getting their job done. Especially if you are the junior employee who is new, doesn’t have the confidence or know how or ask for reasonable requests… or has had a terrible boss who definitely does play favorites.

    I don’t know I am probably projecting, but is there any way for this manager to express to the junior employee that similar practices are acceptable to avoid the potential for assumptions of favoritism and weird power dynamics?

    1. DCompliance

      Let the employee know they can leave early on days there work is done. If you have one employee WFH one day a week, tell the other employee they can too. Just be direct and say flexibility is fine as long as the work is being done with quality.

      This is also when WFH policy is helpful.

      1. MonteCristo

        My boss helps to foster this by simply telling us to go home. Because we just weren’t used to the idea that work could be flexible. Now he just starts joking about the department’s “offsite meeting” and we all get the hint and pack it in.

      2. Onyx

        Yes! My previous manager was great about actually explaining the unwritten policy. E.g., we’re exempt employees who bill our time to various categories, and we have an explicit, official policy that if you need to take off less than 4 hours within a workweek, you should just report less than 40 hours without making it up out of PTO (useful for appointments, getting on the road early for a trip, getting back from a business trip late enough that driving to the office would be silly, etc.). But you’re obviously not expected to do this every week—you’re usually expected to work your full nominal hours. This manager made a point of proactively explaining to all her new folks that she used this policy (working only between 36 and 40 hours without taking PTO) roughly once a month on average and expected her reports to take advantage of it at a similar rate.

        It was wonderful having that spelled out. There have certainly been months I needed to take a couple of hours in more than one week due to a bunch of appointments or other things requiring flexibility, but other months where I didn’t take any (or worked beyond 40 hours), and I very rarely use the maximum of 4 hours. Since I know what her benchmark is, I never had to worry about whether my use of the policy was excessive (plus, I was confident that she’d tell me if I was pushing it, due to the same forthrightness that led her to spell this out in the first place).

    2. Alice

      Of course — the manager can tell them employee, “those flexible practices that employee A uses? You can ask for flexibility too. The expectations are _____.”

    3. LilyP

      I agree OP should make sure the junior employee knows she can take advantage of the same flexibility and perks. She may well be assuming that they’re only for senior staff, or only for extreme circumstances, or that one person needs to be in the office and her co-worker has priority for taking flextime.

      More broadly, this actually reminds me a bit of the “you shouldn’t only give raises to people who ask for raises” arguments — if you only give perks to people who directly ask for them you’re not necessarily going to end up distributing them equally or fairly, since not everyone will feel comfortable asking (and I know in this case it’s two women, but statistically that often breaks down along race/gender/privilege lines that you should be aware of in general).

  7. MonteCristo

    One of the things I love about my manager is he is really really hands off with you managing your own work. Took me a little while to adapt, but after the 10th time he responded to one of my request with “really, just do whatever you want, just answer the phone when I call you” I’ve started to take him at his word. Flexibility is one thing, not having to go “begging” for it is a whole other. It really puts the cherry on the top of the flexibility sundae.

    1. JJ Bittenbinder

      Totally agree! I almost cried the first time my previous boss said, “JJ, I really don’t give a shit when and where you are when you do your work, as long as it gets done.”

      After that job, I very briefly worked for a “you must be in the office for 8.5 hours/day, no matter what” person, despite the fact that my job tasks do not require office time or a set schedule, and I left as quickly as I could. I understand that there are some jobs that by their very nature cannot have that flexibility, and there’s a reason why I am not in one of those jobs.

      1. Allison

        My first job was a very strict atmosphere where you HAD to be in the office, laptop on, butt in seat, work applications open, starting your work at or before 8:30, and you weren’t allowed to start shutting down or packing up until 5:30. And yes, this would have made sense in a call center, but no, not a call center or any similar sort of customer service job. This was 6+ years ago, every job I’ve had since then has been very chill about when you start and end your day as long as the work gets done, but I still get anxious when I enter the office at 8:35 and not 8:30 when our workday starts, according to the handbook.

    2. EddieSherbert

      My manager answered my every request when I first started (to leave early, go to an appointment, take a late lunch, etc) with “Is it on the outlook calendar? Then great!” After a couple months, I caught on and stopped asking for permission to do anything :)

  8. Snarkus Aurelius

    Here’s a good indication that you’re out of line and she’s not: if you’re itching to say no for no substantive, logical, and/or transparent reason, then it’s your issue, not hers. I’d urge you to really do some self-examination on your own discomfort before saying anything to this employee.

    I think almost everyone in the workforce has had a manager who says no for no reason. That’s ridiculous! We’re not children, although I’d argue children can understand logic and reason on some level, but that’s another debate. The irony is that the manager sincerely believes saying “no” is flexing authority, but in reality, the gesture fuels disrespect and resentment and many, many eye rolls.

    Maybe what’s really bugging you is her overall attitude — the “Do I have to?” sentiment. That’s a completely different topic than asking for flexibility. Is it worth having a separate conversation with her about that? I don’t know. But if you do, I advise you to get her perspective before responding. (I’m learning ALL about this in a management training I’m in.) Maybe she had a bad experience. Maybe she burned out quickly in other jobs. Maybe she has stuff going on at home. Maybe she was raised to never complain and do everything you’re told…like me! Maybe she’s in therapy and learning to set boundaries. I don’t know, but those comments really bug you, I bet it’s worth exploring with her.

    1. the_scientist

      I agree with everyone else that it’s the “do I have to?” attitude that is likely what is really bugging the OP. As others have pointed out, there are a number of reasons for this attitude – maybe it’s truly negative and truly reflective of her not being a team player. Or maybe she’s at capacity and can’t take on any more work. Maybe she feels like this additional work is not going to benefit her career growth or development. Maybe she really feels like there is someone else who is better suited/more skilled at that work.

      As a new manager myself, something that has been challenging but helpful is for me to be *extremely* clear about my expectations. Unspoken expectations aren’t fair for your staff and will quickly breed resentment. So if OP feels that these additional pieces of work are truly part of the job description….it’s time to spell that out. It sounds like that is the conversation OP needs to have rather than a conversation about WFH policy.

  9. Myrin

    I feel like this might be a clash of expectations and communication (or, as people often refer to it here and elsewhere, “Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture”) – Direct Report might be thinking “Whatever, I’d like to do X, so I’ll just ask OP about it, she can always say No.” whereas OP might be thinking “Why is Direct Report not realising herself that her weekly questions are a burden/annoying/out-of-step with the team’s culture/whatever and why does she continue asking?”.

    But it also sounds like OP just gets along better profesionally with Younger Report than with Older Report. Reading the letter, it seems a bit like OP has problems with Older Report’s work style beyond this issue and that that’s why Report’s many quests for flexibility are grating on her in way they wouldn’t if it were someone else making them.

    1. The Supreme Troll

      I completely get this vibe myself here, too. And I also feel that it is hard to ignore that when the older report keeps asking “is this technically one of my job responsibilities”…it is not a matter-of-fact question, just a not-so-subtle way of making it clear “I don’t want to do this”.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      + 1 to your last paragraph. I think that’s really OP’s problem with the employee in question. Look, I’m all for employees setting professional boundaries at work because no one wants to be overloaded to the point of burnout, but when OP asks her to do something and her response is, “is this technically one of my job responsibilities?” Yeah…that’s not really how you draw those boundaries.

      She could say, “I would be happy to help with that, but first I have X, Y, and Z to do. Can I do A next week?” or “I’m not really familiar with how to do that task – could I sit with you after I’m done with my current assignments to go over it?” And if she just truly doesn’t want to do it, something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, but I don’t have the capacity to work on that project since I have X, Y, and Z going on right now. If you need help with something when my workload goes down, let me know and I’ll be happy to help.” I’ve always gotten good responses from management when I’ve said stuff like this, and none of my good managers ever questioned my desire to be at work or my ability to work well with the team as a whole.

  10. A Jane

    As a manager I get more requests like this from people with kids than those without kids and then it feels like I’m being unfair to those without kids as they have fewer reasons to need to have flexible hours or be able to work from home. I wonder if that’s what LW was partially feeling here? That they feel they should be saying to no because the other person doesn’t ask as often and it seems unfair. Perhaps LW themselves doesn’t have a reason to ask to work from home and would like to? It does feel hard to get the fairness balance right as a manager sometimes when people have such different life situations.

    I managed someone once who didn’t have kids but let her change her work hours for several weeks once a week to be able to attend a dance class, because the change in hours had no affect on the team or work product. It was nice to be able to be flexible to someone without kids for a change!

    1. Anonynon

      You are a cool manager. This is exactly what I was wondering… everyone here gets flexibility because they have kids. I don’t have kids and am pretty sure that similar requests coming from me would get the side-eye because everyone knows I am single and so why would I ever need that time.

      1. MonteCristo

        I’m firmly of the opinion that you don’t give a reason for this request unless you are denied, and you need to up the stakes. Your boss doesn’t need to know why you need off, unless he has a work reason to make you stay and you want to use your reason plead your case. I just say appointment. No details.

      2. Aquawoman

        Really? I have folks work from home because of appointments for themselves, their parents, their pets, their house (plumber/electrician), and unspecified reasons.

      3. Jules the 3rd

        That does suck. A good manager will be consistent – either be a ‘butts in seats’ person, or not, but be that way with everyone. Their reason for wanting flexibility is not really the boss’s business. The boss’s business is whether the work is being done.

    2. AnotherLibrarian

      Yes, I am wondering about that as well. If the younger employee doesn’t have children or health issues or any of the things that we are taught are “worthy” of work flexibility, that might contribute to her not asking as often.

    3. government worker

      For sure. I think the reason the LW mentioned the morale difference is because she feels guilty that the younger coworker without kids isn’t taking advantage of the flexibility. If that’s the case, perhaps she should encourage the younger coworker to request more flexibility in her schedule, too.

      1. Moray

        That’s what I was thinking too. Make her aware that the flexibility the other coworker enjoys isn’t a result of her seniority, and isn’t only available because she’s a parent. The younger report may truly not show she could be asking for similar flexibility when she needs it.

        That said, I wouldn’t push the issue much. Some people like structure.

      2. RUKiddingMe

        Agreed. She should encourage younger worker and not penalize older worker just because.

      3. Lizzy May

        And I think it’s important to remember that maybe the younger employee doesn’t want some of that flexibility. I personally could never work from home. I know I wouldn’t be productive. I need to be in a workplace setting to get into the right frame of mind to work. As for leaving early, maybe she rents a place without AC and staying in the office is a blessing. Maybe she likes a scheduled day. It could be many things.

        It’s absolutely important to make sure the time is there if she needs it, but it’s also good to remember that not everyone works the same way and she might prefer to be in her seat nearly all of the regular work time. Some people genuinely do.

    4. Dust Bunny

      “without kids as they have fewer reasons to need to have flexible hours or be able to work from home”

      Except they don’t, necessarily, but we often catch some flak if we want a day off to monitor a sick pet vs. a sick child. I’m not saying pets are equivalent to children but if my cat is having an asthma flare-up, I don’t want to come home and find her in distress or worse, but she doesn’t need the stress of being boarded at the vet’s for monitoring when I could do it if I weren’t shamed for asking for a day off. So we don’t ask.

      1. Gidget

        Exactly. As a rabbit owner, getting a sick (or even appearing a little sick) rabbit to the vet ASAP is essential as they probably wouldn’t be alive by the time I got home. But I would definitely feel judged by asking for the time off to take them to the vet.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Eh, people with kids do generally have way more appointments, etc. They have more demands on their time — it’s just math because they’re responsible for an additional person who’s dependent on them for driving, care, etc. That doesn’t mean that people without kids don’t also have flexibility needs — of course they do, and those should be respected as well. But we can recognize that the need for flexibility often increases when kids are involved.

        1. Artemesia

          Exactly as does caring for an elderly parent in one’s home or a chronically ill spouse. Being flexible to need increases the likelihood of having productive employees.

        2. Extra non-child dependent

          Respectfully, I think that the difference comes from how the flexibility-granter is likely to treat hearing “kids” vs. some other responsibility. I mean, sure, adding kids to the mix does have the potential to increase the need for flexibility, but so do a lot of other things that are less “photogenic”/attractive, for lack of a better term. Those of us who don’t have children but have other care responsibilities (ex. for a disabled sibling or parent who isn’t old enough for this to be considered elder care) are often not taken as seriously, regardless of the fact that it’s still care for a whole other person. With children, there are usually no probing questions asked about why the flexibility is needed, but I get side-eye anytime that I need to take my mother to her appointments because of the supposition that a 50-year-old should be able to get to appointments on their own (spoiler alert – she legitimately can’t). I really, really want to push back on the idea that whether you have kids is a reliable predictor of how much flexibility you need.

          1. New Jack Karyn

            Adult + pet + deliveries + other family member care + house issues (plumber, etc.)

            Adult + pet + deliveries + other family member care + house issues (plumber, etc.) + kids

      3. A Jane

        Perhaps I should have said that “in my experience” employees without kids “often” have fewer reasons to need to have flexible hours etc …
        I have managed people with chronic illnesses who’ve needed a lot of time off (more than some people with kids) that I didn’t even think about when writing my first reply as I’ve never had a reason to not approve an absence for any health related appointment etc.
        As long as it wasn’t going to cause huge problem (in the same way as approving any absence) I would let someone work from home or leave early to look after or pick up a sick pet too, it’s a shame a lot of people don’t feel they can ask their manager’s about that.

      4. AnonEMoose

        That’s one of the reasons I really like my current boss. I have emailed him in the morning and told him I’m working from home because I wanted to keep an eye on a pet who was acting “off.” And then emailed him later that day to let him know I was logging off early to take said pet to the vet.

        I caught no flak whatsoever. But then, he knows I always make sure my work gets done.

      5. TiffanyAching

        Right, as someone without kids, who rents, and is pretty healthy I have way fewer “kid appointments/school conference/waiting for the plumber/meeting the landscaper/am in less pain working from bed” type reasons for working from home. I feel bad asking to work from home just because I want to and sometimes it would be nice to work in my pajamas, when others on my team have “legitimate” reasons. If the LW’s office is one where one report being out means the other has to be in the office, like mine, then the younger colleague might feel like they have flexibility on paper but can’t actually take advantage of it.

    5. Observer

      Wait, are you saying that fairness requires that you give everyone the same thing regardless of what they need?

      The bottom line is that one employee wants flexibility and the other one seems content without it. That doesn’t make it unfair to give the first employee the flexibility she wants. It WOULD be unfair if the OP told employee 2 that she can’t have that flexibility because Emp 1 has “a family” or the like. And Alison does address the issue of impact up front.

      1. government worker

        I think that’s a pretty harsh misreading of what A Jane actually said. I think her point was that she’s open to flexibility irrespective of it being family oriented or not.

        1. Observer

          I hear that. But framing it as “unfair” as a starting point is really not helpful. And for people who have to deal with it, the second part is likely not to be “heard”. Because there really ARE a lot of bosses who take that attitude.

          I realize that that’s not what A Jane actually meant, but framing does affect how the message gets out.

          1. A Jane

            Personally I am open to be flexible to requests whether kids are the reason or not, but I know a lot of people aren’t. I was wondering whether it was fairness that was causing LW to wonder if they were handling the situation right as it might not seem “fair” to be giving more flexibility to one person than the other, even if the other person doesn’t want it.

            The points others have been making about making sure that the other report is aware that they can have flexibility if they need it would make the situation more “fair”.

            Perhaps the word “balanced” is a better to use than “fair”?

    6. Diana

      “they have fewer reasons to need to have flexible hours or be able to work from home”

      Stop thinking of it as a need. It’s a perk – it’s something to be enjoyed, not exercised when needed. If your employees are skilled, enthusiastic, competent workers, they should be able to have flexible hours or work from home not because they have a Worthy Reason, but because they want to. Because it’s Wednesday. Because they don’t want to change out of pajamas. Because they’re valuable employees and working from home will bring them joy, which will keep them on board with your company. (It sounds like you’re doing just this from your second paragraph, way to go awesome boss, I’m just saying that the wording you used is really common, and reinforces the problem!)

      1. Artemesia

        And some people like the bright line between work and home and don’t see working from home as a perk. If the worker who isn’t using the perk is happy with it, it may be better meeting her need than working from home. I know many people who find it difficult to actually get work done unless they get up, get dressed and drive away from home.

      2. fhqwhgads

        I mean….at some companies it’s not a perk? It is something to be exercised “as needed”, as in explicitly spelled out as such in their policy. I get that your point may be in the ideal scenario it should not be implemented as such, but reality is it often is. So it’s a know-your-employer kinda sitch to be sure someone is operating under what is their reality and not what they think it should be.

      3. A Jane

        For my direct reports it does need to be a “need” rather than a perk. I work in a customer service type environment where people generally “need” to be in the office to answer the phone to customers or to manage other people who do that. It’s possible to be flexible when people “need” to have a change in working hours or have sick kids, pets or elderly relatives etc. but not something I’m able to offer as a “perk” such as offering someone to work from home once a week to enhance work-life balance (wish I could!!).

  11. fposte

    It sounds like you may find it stressful to say no, and maybe that you’re worried you’ll give a yes when you mean a no. I get that it’s less fun than saying yes, but it’s not necessarily a big deal, either. Can you figure out in advance how you’d say no so you’re more comfortable with it?

    1. Myrin

      I got that impression as well. I’d add that it might help OP to make it clear in her head what would be actual reasons for her to say no so that she can articulate them clearly should it come up – she doesn’t want to be left feeling a vague sense of unease and like she should say “No!” but doesn’t because she doesn’t have a reason, only to later be reminded that Younger Report has been doing the Alpaca Sunglasses List for three weeks in a row now when actually, both reports should be alternating them.

      1. fposte

        Maybe, but it doesn’t sound like she’s had a reason to say no. I think, as mentioned upthread in the Ask vs. Guess description, the employee is asking simply and literally and the OP is reading it as a larger question, and she feels like her in-the-moment reasonable yes answers are committing her to yesses down the line.

        But they’re not, and I think it might be helpful for the OP to say explicitly to her team “We are fortunate to be able to offer flexibility. Obviously sometimes I’ll have to say no to requests to be out of the office, but I’ll try my best to say yes.” Then give herself a quick checklist for out of office/work from home requests–will needed work be delayed? Will co-workers have to do more work in a way that’s inconvenient in the moment or doesn’t get reciprocated over time? If there’s a yes to those, that’s a reason to say no to the request.

        Overall, I think some structures and clear protocols for the OP would help her feel less uneasy about being asked, because it’ll just be following the procedure for a yes or no and moving on.

        1. a1

          I agree. It seems like she’s worried about when the time comes where a No will be warranted, that she has perhaps set the expectation to always give a Yes.

          1. Jules the 3rd

            My experience has been that as long as the ‘no’ was based in a real and explained business need, it went over ok with reasonable employees. It was the ‘no because we’re going to start a big unimportant project during our slack time’ that got push back.

        2. smoke tree

          I also got the impression that the LW was concerned she was just starting to agree to these requests out of habit, or because she was uncomfortable saying no. I agree that having an internal process for evaluating the requests will probably make the whole situation feel more structured and easier to manage.

        3. Fish Microwaver

          But it sounds like Older Report is open to being told no if there is a business need. “Am I asking too much”. I think OP is carrying baggage from her experience with poor managers in the past, who might have said no just to flex their authority, rather than a legitimate business need.

  12. Bend & Snap

    Yuck.

    Working from home one day a week isn’t a giant ask if her work can easily be done from home.

    People need to take off for themselves and their families. Are you going to say no to a doctor’s appointment?

    I have approx 6 million more appointments as a parent than I did before kids. Do I have the flexibility to take care of these without my boss giving me a hard time? Yes. Do my coworkers get the same flexibility if they need it? Yes. Does my work get done no matter what? Also yes.

    If that sounds like your employee I fail to see what the problem is.

    1. MicroManagered

      “Yuck” was my reaction too. OP isn’t able to articulate an actual problem, but wonders if she should say no, just because? Yuck. No OP. You are doing fine.

      The “is this technically my job” thing is probably OP’s real issue. But really, I’m not convinced that’s a problem either. We see enough letters about “my employee takes over work that’s not hers and it’s a problem” or “I can’t say no at work and it’s burning me out” that I’m willing to take a wide view of someone asking if something is their job. That can actually be a very good thing!

      1. Ethyl

        Yeah it sounds like LW knows saying no for no reason is pretty and toxic, but they kind of want to say no for no reason…..

        1. The Supreme Troll

          I disagree. While I do get a vibe that OP is not 100% happy with the older report’s work ethic, I do believe that she is working on fighting the urges to just say “no for no’s sake” or to be a general hardass for no reason. I also feel that the OP is also looking to see how she can show she’s being fair with providing the flexibility policy to both of her reports.

          1. MicroManagered

            To clarify–I see it this way too. I think OP is having the thought to say no for no’s sake, which I think might be new-manager-jitters. I read her letter as seeking reassurance that being flexible is the right thing.

          2. Ethyl

            I dunno, all the talk in the letter about respect and taking advantage and such seemed to me to be the LW trying to find a way of saying no for no reason that had a sort of…..plausible deniability reason? Idk though, I have A Thing about people who value the *appearance* of things like work or respect or flexibility above the actual existence of them. So like, for example, a boss who prioritized butts in seats over actual productivity, or their own personal sense of how much WFH was too much over, again, productivity. That kind of valuing of appearances can be quite toxic.

            1. fhqwhgads

              I didn’t read it that way. I read it more like the OP has been knee-jerking to “yes” and so far it’s been fine, but is worried she’s overlooked reasons to say no (such as effects on other employees and/or work processes) but because of her hesitation to say no, did she miss the boat and is she actually being walked all over? We can’t know the answer to that. But the questions Alison told OP to ask herself will allow her to figure it out. If the employee frequently asks last minute, or leaves the other direct report hanging for example, where it’s not that the work isn’t getting done, it still is, but certain things that should be even are now disproportionately going to The One Who Is In The Office, that would be a valid reason to say no. And there are others. But it sounds like OP hasn’t thought through what they are so that when one of those occasions occurs she’d actually be prepared to say no.

      2. Bend & Snap

        I actually read all of that as the sign of a mature employee. Probably an off-putting way to say it, but not blindly taking on every little thing isn’t always a bad thing.

        1. MicroManagered

          I did too. I actually had to tell someone TWICE today that the question they were asking me for help with is not my job. It’s not because I am not a team player, but because I am not the right person to ask and may not give correct information!

          1. government worker

            Yeah, but there’s a difference between saying “that’s not my job” and saying “oh, Jane is the person to ask about x”. One is rude and unhelpful, the other is not.

            1. MicroManagered

              And we don’t really know which one we are dealing with in this letter because, other than a parenthetical note about it, the situation is not explained. I immediately thought of many examples (as have others) where flagging something as not your job is right thing to do.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

                Agree. In most jobs I’ve had, people were occasionally assigned misrouted tickets or work tasks, for no reason other than the person assigning was new to their job, or otherwise confused, and got them mixed up with someone else, or their area of expertise confused with an adjacent one. “This bug fix request needs to go to Jane’s team, because they worked on the original app that has the bug” is a perfectly correct thing to say. No reason whatsoever to spend two weeks trying to figure out and fix a bug that Jane’s team will fix in five minutes, because they are familiar with that system and you are not. I need more detail before I can decide how I feel about the “is this technically my job?”

            2. DCompliance

              Agree. This is actually something I have coached my employees- there is a tactful way to say something is not their job or that they are ready for more challenging work.

            1. a1

              Right! For example, my management has made it clear we are “not the reporting team” (for example). However, if my manager then asks me to create a report, even a production report and not a one-off, I am going to do it. BUT if someone on a different team asks me to make a report, I will redirect them to the reporting team. So, no, creating reports is not in my job description (nor the broader team) but if my manager asks, I’m not going to say “not in my job description” or ask “is this really part of my job?”.

          2. Jules the 3rd

            oh yeah… ‘hey, you need to ask finance that question, they make sure the reporting is GAAP / SarbOx compliant.’

      3. Alanna of Trebond

        Yeah, I’d suggest the LW should worry a bit less about saying no more often, and a bit more about saying yes more often — as in “Yes, this is part of your job, and I need you to do it” — especially if she’s concerned about morale/fairness.

        It’s not crazy for a manager to prefer an eager, reliable “Sure, whatever you need, boss!” type to someone who draws firmer boundaries around their work and frequently asks to work from home, be out of office, etc. Especially as an inexperienced manager, though, there’s a strong temptation to assign work to the person who will do it without complaint (or just the person who is around) rather than the person who will push back, regardless of who’s best suited for it, who has the most free time to tackle a task right now, etc. If the younger, eager employee is in effect being penalized for being around and eager, that’s going to be a bigger issue in the long run than schedule flexibility is.

  13. londonedit

    Hmm, I don’t know. I’m in my late thirties and fairly settled in my career, and because of that I can totally see myself asking whether something is actually one of my responsibilities, whereas when I was younger and less confident and had less experience, I’d probably have done it without a second thought in an effort to appear keen and helpful. I’m always happy to pitch in with teamwork, and if someone is on a deadline and needs help, sure, I’ll help out. But otherwise I probably would question it. There are things I’m occasionally asked to do that actually fall under my colleague’s job description, and I always let the person know that while I’d be happy to do it if she isn’t able to on this occasion, it’s actually something they generally need to go to her with. Perhaps the older employee just has more confidence in speaking up when something isn’t technically within the scope of her role.

    It sounds like you’re seeing that and the fact that she asks for a more flexible schedule as evidence that she’s not as much of a team player as the younger employee, and I definitely think you should question that assumption. If she’s getting her work done, the work is up to standard, and she’s not late with her projects or refusing to do things in a rude manner, or whatever, then why shouldn’t she have a flexible schedule if it’s something your employer allows?

    1. another anon

      I wholeheartedly agree. Asking if something is part of your job is absolutely not equivalent to not being a team player. It’s really easy to take far too much on with the “team player” attitude, or even be taken advantage of in your own right. Just because someone does not go above and beyond, like a younger person might in order to make a good impression or due to naivete, does not mean they are bad at their job or will take advantage of you. I think the OP’s attitude is kind of toxic, to be honest.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        “I think the OP’s attitude is kind of toxic, to be honest.”

        Agreed. She wants to say no just to say no. Younger employee has the same perks. She is choosing to not use them. Why should older employee be penalized?

        “Is that part of my job?” Welllll what are you asking her to do? Is it part of her job? Ex: Not wanting to do the vacuuming when I am a highly skilled attorney doesn’t make me not a team player. Is it busy work with no real reason she needs to do it?Is it something that less senior staff should be doing?

        Not for nothing but I despise any version of “other duties as assigned.” It just screams “take advantage of me!”

        1. smoke tree

          Hmm, to me the LW didn’t strike me as a toxic manager so much as a slightly insecure and inexperienced one. I think she is concerned about protecting her authority and is concerned that the older employee may be eroding it, whereas the younger employee feels easier to manage because she doesn’t push back or ask for much. I think Alison’s redirection to focusing on the work product rather than managing employees’ behaviour should be helpful.

    2. Ethyl

      I completely agree about the difference in where in their careers each employee is! I know I too was a very “take on all the extra work” kind of 20something, but at 40+ it’s just no longer sustainable. LW, you should keep an eye on younger coworker for burnout btw.

      Also, I think LW needs to do some thinking about how work and “other duties as assigned” is assigned and how it flows. I doubt that the “is this actually part of my job” comments are coming out of nowhere (or out of a lack of understanding of workplace norms the way it might if the direct report was fresh out of school). Maybe LW can drill down and figure out whether these “other duties as assigned” are really necessary, or should really go to someone else, or are coming so frequently they are interfering with other work, etc.

    3. Kaaaaaren

      And maybe, as someone who has been working for a longer time, the OP’s older employee has experienced doing something outside of her role once or twice and having it then foisted on her forevermore. She’s probably learned to push back based on experiences that the younger employee simply hasn’t had yet.

      1. londonedit

        Yes, exactly. If the employee is saying ‘Um, hell no, that’s not my job’ then it’s a different matter, but to me ‘Is this technically in my job description?’ definitely suggests the follow-up would be ‘…because I don’t mind doing it once or twice, but it’s not something I want to end up doing forevermore…’

    4. so many resumes, so little time

      I’ve had managers who would pile tasks onto employees regardless of job description. Sometimes that can be a good thing–an employee can learn about a new role and move into it–and sometimes it can be not so good, as I’ve seen employees who become dumping grounds for any task the manager can’t figure out or can’t figure out who should really be doing it. Sometimes taking on the “extra” work means the employee’s actual work does not get done in a timely fashion or at all, and that can lead to trouble down the road in terms of annual reviews, raises and promotions, etc.

      So while there are advantages in some situations to being “a team player,” employees should not be penalized for trying to protect their jobs and not have them turn into free-for-alls. It’s possible that the LW’s older employee has experienced this in the past and therefore is trying to protect herself.

      As a manager, if I had someone regularly ask me if the tasks they were being given fell within their job description, I might try to have a more substantive conversation about that. I’d start by thinking, “How often am I assigning tasks outside the employee’s area of responsibility? Are they tasks my employee should be doing, or do they belong to another department? Will this task come up repeatedly, and therefore, should it be added to the job description/responsibilities? If I really want them to do new work, is there other work that they should not be doing, to make room for this?”

      Then I’d want to talk with the employee about their workload, if they feel they can handle additional tasks outside the usual workflow, and if not, why. If they can, how many tasks/how much time can they devote to such tasks in an average week? Then I hopefully would have a sense of what I can ask of my employee.

    5. CM

      Yeah, it reads to me like the difference is mostly to do with the older employee having a more seasoned/mature/confident attitude toward the business relationship. Asking for things and setting boundaries are skills that I wish MORE people had in the workplace. It’s not a cause for alarm. (And working from home one day a week is not a lot to me… she’s at work four times more than she’s at home!)

      I find it a little bit disquieting that the OP seems to strongly prefer the attitude of her younger employee, since younger employees tend to be easier to control and take advantage of (given that they’re worse at asking for things and setting boundaries). And there is an orientation toward control in the question overall — it could almost be summarized as “Should I tell her no just to establish dominance?”

      You shouldn’t be trying to establish dominance over your team. You should be trying to find a way for all of you to work together that respects their individual needs and the company’s.

  14. CookieWookiee

    As long as the work gets done in a timely manner, and it doesn’t cause problems in the workflow, I don’t see how schedule flexibility is a problem.

    I feel like this is telling: “and, most importantly, I feel like they actually show up and care.” Are you one of those people who equates “showing up and caring” with “having your butt in your office chair for 8+ hours a day”? Because those are not even remotely close to the same thing.

    If you’re irritated by the constant requests, why not tell your reports that they can work offsite for a certain number of days per week without asking permission, as long as they tell you in advance what days they won’t physically be in the office that week?

  15. AnotherLibrarian

    One thing to consider is- Is there an issue with your employee that you are frustrated by that needs to be addressed? Such as you need her to be more willing to take on tasks that aren’t officially part of her job or you need her to be more willing to X. And maybe you feel, on some subconscious level, that she is taking advantage of the flexibility without having earned it through other forms of “good behavior”? Because I think it sounds like she gets everything done you ask of her and if that’s the case, than you really need to decide if there is some other issue you need to address that you’re avoiding.

  16. Elly

    Honestly, if you’re worried about fairness, I think the better strategy would be to make sure your other employee understands that the same flexibility is available to her. This coming from a young recovering perfectionist/workaholic whose amazing boss made it his mission to help me understand work/life balance.

    Lack of team spirit is definitely frustrating and it can be maddening when a coworker won’t do a single extra thing to help the team if it’s not chiseled into the stone tablet of their job description. That’s an entirely separate problem to address. I’m telling you from experience – young eager workers may seem ideal but can come with their own set of problems. Risk of burnout, trouble drawing professional boundaries, job performance suffering because they’re taking on too many things outside their role, etc. One of the best and most useful things my boss taught me very early on that it was okay not to say a knee-jerk “YES!” to everything, but instead review my priorities and communicate what I was working on before accepting new projects.

    1. Dust Bunny

      This.

      If you discover that one of the things that affords Older Employee flexibility is that Younger Employee reliably doesn’t ask for flexibility, maybe that’s part of your hesitation?

    2. Quinalla

      Agreed! I would make sure your other employee feels free to take flexibility she needs as well. And I know you’ve said that you have, but I would occasionally bring it up with her so she knows it isn’t just lip service and maybe even suggest “Hey, it’s slow here today and beautiful out, why don’t you take off at 3pm today?” With new employees, they don’t always really believe it is ok until you practically kick them out the door :)

      As for the “Is this really my job?” it really depends how that is being asked. If it is more along the lines of, “I’m happy to do this, but is it really the best use of my time?” which is valid and something senior employees should be asking themselves. Or is it more “Ugh, this task is beneath me and I’m not doing it unless you ‘make’ me!”. It really comes down to where this is coming from. If you aren’t sure, when it comes up again, maybe a “Why do you ask?” response to let her explain why she is asking the question. And if you still need her to do it and it makes sense, just take a few minutes to explain why. If you are still getting resistance, I’d get concerned.

  17. Antilles

    The use of phrases like “reasonable boundaries” and “not taking advantage of me” makes me wonder if there’s a disconnect here between what OP thinks of as flexibility versus how the employee defines it.
    Because even though phrases like work-life balance, flexibility, ability to deal with life, etc are simple to say, the practical reality is that it’s really a whole spectrum involved in the word “flexible work-hours”.
    On one end, there are managers who think of flexibility as just the opportunity to deal with rare life events – car in the shop, kid with the flu, HVAC guy coming to fix the furnace, etc; it’s not a daily or even weekly thing; it’s the ability to deal with the realities of life a few times a year but on a normal basis you’re still in the 9-5.
    On the other end, there are people who basically believe that hours should be shifted freely as long as it’s not creating a work issue. So as long as everybody knows when you’ll be in and it’s not causing a workload issue, you can shift your hours if needed, leave early on a Friday, take a longer lunch Tuesday to run some errands, and so forth.

  18. Jimming

    It’s odd that “frequently” asking to work from home means once a week. Why not just let her pick a day that will be her WFH day and she can switch it up if there’s an important meeting one week. That way she’s not asking all the time. If her daughter has an appointment that sounds reasonable to let her flex her time. My workplace is mostly remote and highly flexible so we let our managers and team know if there will be a change in our schedule. Taking away the “permission” aspect of going to a doctor appointment is great because we know we are valued as people as well as employees.

    That should be a different conversation from the “is that technically my job duty?” comment. Maybe she does need to be more of a team player or maybe she’s overwhelmed with work.

    1. PhillyRedhead

      “Why not just let her pick a day that will be her WFH day and she can switch it up if there’s an important meeting one week.”

      I was going to make the same suggestion. :)

    2. Autumnheart

      Or, if it doesn’t need to be on a consistent day, just plot out the calendar for the next few months at once. We do that for our outages.

  19. Kiki

    Not having a reason to say no to requests is actually a good thing! It means your employees are in-sync with the business and are only asking for reasonable things. I understand the urge to set boundaries as a manager, but I think you already have (even if not explicitly) and everyone is abiding by them. Good managing! Hurray!

  20. Roscoe

    This honestly sounds like you have no real problem with it, but you don’t like it just because. As Alison said, there doesnt’ seem to be any issues with what she is doing. Its just that she is using the perk more than the other person. don’t be that manager.

  21. Lille

    When someone can enjoy a lot of flexibility at work, I sometimes wonder if they have enough to do. By lot of flexibility I actually mean constantly working less than 40h/week when they are FT and never staying longer. So better said, they can cut many of their days short. This doesn’t seem to be the case above though.
    I have always worked at notoriously understaffed places except for a three-month temp position between gigs so I have close to zero experience with what normal workload is

  22. Michele

    OP, if anything, perhaps you should have a conversation with the more junior employee to ensure she understands that she can and should enjoy the same level of autonomy and flexibility that the more senior employee does, regardless of age or stage of life.

  23. SarahKay

    One thing I picked up on is that your younger less-experienced person isn’t asking to adjust her hours much. If you do decide that you’re happy with the freedom you’re giving to your older employee, then it would probably be kind to give some explicit coaching to the younger one encouraging her to become comfortable with making use of this freedom also.
    Certainly when I became salaried it just didn’t occur to me that I could ask for that sort of freedom. Luckily I had an excellent manager who spelt out for me that I was a reliable and trusted employee who would get the work done, and therefore could manage my own time to a great extent.

  24. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

    Ditto to what Alison said. I have a horrible commute, so my boss allows me to work from home 2 days a week, leave by 3:30 when I’m in the office and finish up at home (to avoid the bulk of rush hour), and WFH in the morning and come in once traffic dies down to get my stepson on the bus during the school year. She also allows me to WFH when needed for deliveries or home repairs. Having that flexibility is such a blessing, and it sounds like your employee is aware of what she’s asking and how often, and is not taking advantage. The only thing you may want to bring up is her reluctance to do things that she doesn’t consider to be her job. That’s part of being a team player, and she needs to understand that, as long as what you’re asking her to do is legitimate (like not asking her to take on more than one person can handle, or making her do someone else’s work because they other person is incompetent and you’re not willing to work with the other person to resolve it).

  25. MoneyBeets

    I have worked for both extremes — a lead whose answer to everything (taking kids to pediatrician, going to the DMV to replace a lost driver’s license, taking any sort of vacation time) was a disgusted, incredulous NO-how-dare-you, and an Amazing Boss whose answer to just about everything was “let’s make sure you’re able to (have that long lunch with your husband, work from home a couple days a month, take that vacation you already paid for).” I haven’t worked for Amazing Boss in a year and a half and I still pine for her. My current boss is fairly supportive, but not as much as Amazing Boss was. When your work is done, the quality is there, and no one is asking “Where is MoneyBeets?!”, having this flexibility tells your employees: “I appreciate you, and I want you to feel supported; and I trust you, so I have no reason to say no.” This is rare and is actually a huge, huge benefit. I always work hard no matter who I’m working for, but I’d have run through a brick wall for Amazing Boss.

    1. Jules the 3rd

      I think the “I trust you” may be the hang up here.

      I’ve been reading this whole thing through a ‘new manager jitters’ lens, and not knowing when / how much to trust employees is very much a ‘new mgr’ thing.

      OP – Remember that in the end, you are the boss. You set the tasks and workload. You can hire and fire. You are in charge. Own it, deep down in your soul.

      You may find that really feeling your authority makes you more comfortable not exercising it. Because that’s what you want to do – exercise some authority even when there’s no evidence (from your letter) that you need to. There’s nothing about work not getting done.

      It can be hard not to take action, but sometimes it’s the best option.

  26. so many resumes, so little time

    Offering flexibility is a great way to build employee loyalty. My place offers flexibility to a significant number of employees, whether or not they have children. We have people who work at home one or two days a week every week. We have people who leave early for therapy or classes or other appointments. We have people who work extra hours M-Th and take Fridays off. Some people here have worked here literally for decades and I’ve heard people say that being able to take time to see their children’s school plays or accompany others to doctors’ appointments, or take a mental health day without having to justify it, have contributed to their wanting to stay with this employer.

    1. Falling Diphthong

      And people who don’t need whatever the perk is now might still really appreciate that the perk is there and usable if they need it in future. Like good health insurance–just because you haven’t needed it and your coworker has doesn’t mean most normal people want to get rid of the good health insurance.

    2. ThatGirl

      Yep. WFH is no longer quite as important to me because I live much closer to my current job, but I truly appreciate that I have the option – whether it’s due to weather, appointments, taking the dog to the vet, or whatever.

  27. Bulldog

    Nothing chafes me more than an employee telling me something isn’t their job. Every job description I’ve ever seen has some variation of “all other duties as deemed necessary.” So, the answer to the question of whether something is their job is always “yes.” I would never ask my reports to do anything illegal, immoral, unethical, or dangerous. Anything else needs to be done with a good attitude.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      We discussed this further up, but it’s really not true. There are lots of legitimate reasons for someone to raise concerns that something shouldn’t be part of their role. Also, these are professionals hired to do a particular job; they’re not indentured servants and they’re allowed to push back when something is outside the scope of what they understood they were offering their labor to do.

      1. MoneyBeets

        This is something I have wondered about frequently. In my role, we have specific contract language outlining what our job includes, and so it doesn’t come up as often. Where my husband works, though, he has been asked to apply for promotions with different titles, better pay and better shifts – and BOTH TIMES, he has been given all the new responsibilities, with NO change in title, pay or hours, leaving him stressed with extra duties and not even a pay bump or an update for his resume to show for it. Talk about taking advantage! As far as he is concerned he has no recourse at all.

        “All duties as assigned” within reason, but it is not a free pass to just heap extra work on someone when it’s totally outside their scope.

    2. AJK

      I have a co-worker who never wants to say “this isn’t my job,” to anyone, whatsoever – however, since she had my job before I did, people still come to her with tasks that are really my job, and since she does them they keep coming back. Then she complains about doing so much of her old job still, while I’m left with not enough to do. If she’d tell them “That’s (AJK’s) job now,” it would be much better, but she won’t – so while I understand what you’re saying, sometimes there are good reasons to use those words.

      1. Perpal

        Imho, it’s different to say “go to so and so!” Than just “not me!” It’s helpful to be told the right person to go to (presuming it is accurate), sucks to just be blocked with no idea what to do next

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch

      It depends, there are some people who are asked to do things that shouldn’t be requested of employees, even though it’s not illegal, immoral, unethical or dangerous. There are lot of gendered issues with the distribution of “other” duties. I also cringe and flee places that like to assign their employees “chores” because they’re too cheap to hire a proper janitorial company or have an assistant of some kind that takes care of the housekeeping duties. Instead you’re asking your engineers and accountant to vacuum the floor, no thanks, I’ll find another job and have done it. So yeah, there’s that.

      Job descriptions are pretty meaningless in the end, especially in a mostly at-will employment geared country.

    4. Bend & Snap

      I ask if something is my job regularly, because sometimes what’s being asked of me is scoped as another person’s responsibility. I’m not going to do someone else’s job and step on their toes without clearing it first.

    5. Alice

      I think there’s a difference between “telling” and “asking,” which is what OP said. And even “telling” is reasonable in plenty of cases.

    6. Kelly L.

      “Other duties as assigned” is not supposed to be carte blanche for the employer to take advantage and pile on unrelated tasks.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        + 100

        There should be a “within reason and workload permitting” attached to that.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Thank you for this! I couldn’t find the right way to say that.

        It’s to cover the special projects and new things that may come up due to evolving of the business.

        I say this as an accountant/business manager that has often pitched in for absolutely unrelated things because someone was sick. I’m all in for that, the person in shipping is out unexpectedly, okay I’ll pack boxes all day for a few days but I’ve had this then become part of my “duties”, just no.

    7. Dino

      I’m not saying this to cast aspersions on you, but I had to go to battle with a former boss over “other duties as assigned” and I can guarantee that she thought she wasn’t asking me to do anything illegal, immoral, unethical, or dangerous when she truly was. Think “person who works as a phlebotomist being told by their boss that they’re going to be a psych ward orderly for the day with zero training in patient safety, restraint, or how to keep themselves safe from patients” kind of situation and it’s Bad News. And yet my former boss still thinks that I was disrespectful, lazy, and stuck-up for saying no to her reasonable request.

    8. Arctic

      No, you really don’t get to have someone come in thinking one thing is their job and then regularly have them do a lot of completely unrelated things and claim “other duties” covers that.

    9. Aquawoman

      Hard disagree. The employee was hired to do a job, and asking questions to inform her priorities is not a bad thing. We have folks in other departments who frequently try to unload their job responsibilities on the folks in my department. And sometimes we do it but other times, it is 100% appropriate and necessary to push back. This letter raised questions in my mind about the OP’s boundaries (because she seems more comfortable with the person who does not ask for boundaries and uncomfortable for no practical reason with the person who asserts boundaries). And if someone has a boss with bad boundaries, they can find their workload growing in all kinds of ways that actually distract from the job they were hired to do. Also, this is how women wind up doing duties that are below their pay grade that men don’t have to do.

    10. Colette

      I once worked with a guy in a technical support role who didn’t want to say that an issue wasn’t ours, and it caused problems. His support calls were way longer than they should have been, and it set the wrong expectations for what our group was supposed to handle. Sometimes it’s just not your problem.

      1. boo bot

        Yes, and I think this is a good example of when it’s not just about self-preservation (and I think it often is, quite fairly, about self-preservation).

        The boss is ultimately responsible for the overall work product, so it’s not actually helpful to them when someone says yes to everything out of deference to authority, and then ends up overloaded. I feel like part of being good at my job is giving the person I’m working for accurate information, which might mean saying, “Actually, I don’t generally handle that, and if I try it will slow us all down.”

    11. Pescadero

      Sometimes I need to know if what constitutes my job has drastically changed, and whether it’s time to quit that job.

      You can task an employee with anything you’d like… but I might need to know whether it is permanent or temporary to decide whether I’m going to do it, or just walk out the door and find another job.

    12. Diana

      This is a gigantic red flag to me that a company is poorly organized and managed. The accountant shouldn’t be proofreading the help center articles. If that task needs to be done and isn’t, then hire someone to do that task. Otherwise you waste the accountant’s skills and talents on inappropriate tasks, which is a great way to end up with shitty help center articles and an empty seat where your accountant used to be.

    13. Jules the 3rd

      I guess you haven’t worked in really large companies much. I see invoices but I am not a legal / financial professional, I should not be giving cost reports / forecasts to my execs. Execs really need to go to our very competent finance team who roll up the invoices and other costs according to the correct GAAP / SarbOx requirements.

      It’s often a totally reasonable answer, and OP hasn’t given us enough context to know if it’s reasonable from her employee or not.

    14. Tinker

      Another view:

      Pushing back on requests that don’t seem to be sensible for whatever reason, “not within my role” and “not well aligned with my abilities” potentially being reasons, is one of my professional responsibilities. If a manager told me to go work the front desk and I went “okay, well, other duties as assigned! better not say it’s not my job because my job is to do whatever I’m told!” I would be partly at fault for the fact that the company was paying for a software engineer, needed software engineering to get done, was getting from me bad receptionisting and no software engineering, and was not aware of this problem.

      Also, even if they are aware and making the choice consciously, there’s only so much misuse I’m going to put up with before I decide that it doesn’t serve my interests to stay — and being reasonably up-front about that within the bounds of social norms typical to the work environment is also something that I consider myself expected to do.

    15. smoke tree

      I think this is totally context dependent. We’ve had a number of letters here where a company pulled a bait-and-switch and ended up making the employee’s job 80 percent something that was never mentioned in the hiring process. And in less extreme cases, that can gradually build over time. It’s also not in most employers’ best interest to pay someone to spend a big chunk of their time doing admin work when they were hired to do something a lot more specialized. Or to spend tons of their time helping coworkers with tasks they should know how to do.

    16. Elizabeth

      There’s also a difference between “that isn’t my job” and “I’m not the right person; I’ll help you find the right person.”

      I do a lot of the latter, because IT isn’t clear-cut on who takes care of what within the department, and no one can know everything. On the other hand, I am most assuredly not a nurse, and I should not be taking vital signs or assisting a patient to the bathroom, and I will say to the person asking me that I have no business doing direct patient care. But again, let me get the person who can help with that.

      Over the last *mumble* years, we’ve had repeated customer service initiatives about “anyone walking by”, including non-trained, non-clinical staff, answering call lights and helping patients, and every time I push back that I won’t do it. When I remind The Powers That Be the fully a third of the employees in the facility do not have training on how to care for patients, they always seem to blink and decide that maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea after all.

    17. Malty

      Bulldog I think you have to consider that while YOU know you would never ask your reports to do anything illegal, immoral, unethical, or dangerous, they don’t necessarily know that, or may have worked with employers before who have. They are doing nothing wrong in asking, and the attitude that it’s galling for them to question that is all the more reason for them to have the question! That’s not to question your character personally but many employers do not have their employees best interests at heart or simply aren’t well trained. I work retail and have had managers ask me to do things that are illegal without them realising they were, and if I hadn’t questioned it they wouldn’t have learned, but probably would have said they would never ask an employee to do anything illegal

    18. New Jack Karyn

      I used to work as a DJ in a public radio station. It was owned by a larger governmental group, which had its main offices ten miles from the station. The organization’s janitorial service didn’t want to ride out there to take care of our small facility, so management tried to get us to do the chores on a rotating schedule. There was a *lot* of pushback on this idea, and they eventually worked it out so that the DJs and ad staff weren’t cleaning the toilets.

  28. Not All

    One of the many reasons I’m leaving my current position is that I am *technically* on a maxi-flex schedule (means I put in 80 hrs each 2 week pay period and must be in the office during core hours of 10-2 Tues-Thurs…in/out status & schedule posted on calendar viewable by anyone). However, the current manager interprets that as I must request in advance any shift of more than 15 minutes from M-F 8-4:30. After 7 years in other locations where I had true maxi-flex, being treated like an intern or child who can’t manage their time rather than a high achieving mid-career professional is a constant irritation.

    Don’t be my office and enforce set hours/butts-in-seats…you’ll burn out any goodwill or benefit of the doubt your employees accustomed to better treatment may have otherwise had for you.

    1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

      +1000

      I loathe “butts in seats” management. (I got chewed out by a C level person for calling it that – WTF?)

      You can have “results based management” or “presence based management”, but not both.

      I am in an open plan office. I do my best thinking alone, or while reading something unrelated to my direct job (It’s called backgrounding.) Interruptions, chatter and all that blow my mental “stack” away, and I have to start over.

      Fortunately, my immediate boss is cool with flexibility, yet touches base and coordinates with me frequently (we work on some of the samne stuff, so we divvy up who does what.)

      If I had to do the equivalent of clocking in, I’d be looking hard, and maybe even quit cold. My work is not presence based. I work at 2 am if I need to meet a maintenance window or fix a problem that I got paged for.

  29. Phillip

    OP might be feeling uneasy because the employee requests are reasonable, so the answer is always yes, leading to OP feeling like a pushover, when the reality is the employee is mostly demonstrating how in tune they are.

    1. Falling Diphthong

      This is a good point–the requests are not unreasonable because the employee is being discerning and nuanced in what she asks for.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      That’s another excellent point to consider. Always saying yes to reasonable questions isn’t being a pushover, that’s good management.

  30. Memyselfandi

    I’m in exactly the same place as the letter writer. My less accommodating staff member has put in paperwork to make every three day weekend a four day weekend. There was a part of me that questioned whether or not I should approve that or say something. But the fact of the matter is that she can be out of the office on those days without impacting our work. In fact, we can all be out of the office on the same day from time to time without consequence. But when I recognized the pattern (she did it gradually) my mind went to the letter from someone in an office where vacation days were claimed on a first-come-first serve basis on an annual calendar and someone in the office went through it on the first of January and claimed all the Fridays before Monday holidays. It created hard feelings. That doesn’t apply to me so I dropped it.

    1. Falling Diphthong

      In all sincerity, thank you for recognizing that that pattern didn’t fit your context.

    2. MonteCristo

      Yeah, I remember that letter. Made me happy to remember my past job, where it was required that at least two people from our department (of 4) be onsite for inventory at the end of year. Which fell between x-mas and new years. The way our holidays worked is we got off two days for christmas and 2 days for new years, so you could take off just 3 vacation days in the middle and be off 9 days. So, we had the unofficial policy (ie we inforced ourselves) that we took turns doing the inventory day. If you did it the last year, you didn’t have to do it this year. It would be really annoying if someone just snapped up all the holidays like that. Aside from inventory, I’ve never worked a job where I had to have someone cover my spot, so it doesn’t actually affect me, but it would be really demoralizing if it did.

    3. Roscoe

      I’m glad you recognized that it didnt’ apply to you, but I’m just not clear why it bugged you in the first place. If you have no policies against it, and it wouldn’t impact you, it just seemed like you don’t want them using their days as they see fit.

      1. Memyselfandi

        I wouldn’t say it bugged me. I had a thought process about it is all. I think in general people think it is “a thing you shouldn’t do” and even if it doesn’t impact our office, there are other people who work here who would not be allowed to do the same and would question it, so their is a perception issue. In fact, the person concerned made an oblique reference to it which clued me in that she wasn’t sure it was OK.

  31. Falling Diphthong

    Just because the younger employee isn’t using the flexibility now doesn’t mean she wouldn’t value it in the future.

    Example: One of my kids’ teachers explained that when he started teaching he would tell parents and kids to contact him anytime–he was young, single, and lived in an apartment with roommates. Then he got married, bought a house, and had a kid–instant responsiveness just wasn’t easy the way it was when he didn’t have any of those things.

    Your younger employee could get a dog whose care requires her to leave predictably. Her parent could become ill and she’ll need to leave to drive her mom to chemo rather than her kid to dance class. She could buy a home and need to wait around for the furnace guy. A hundred life events, voluntary and not, could shift her from someone who almost never needs to flex her time or location to someone who really values that in her job.

  32. The Man, Becky Lynch

    Flexibility can be taken advantage of but it doesn’t sound like it’s an issue at all here. I think the only issue is that she’s drawing attention to it by having to run everything by you.

    I have core hours, so as long as I’m here between 10am-2pm, then who cares what time I come in or leave, if I need to cut out at 2:30 to pick up a kid or something, it’s no big deal. If it’s something within those hours, then I’d need to flag it for my boss, otherwise it’s on my calendar, that my boss can check if he’s like “Where’s she at tho? Oh she left early, cool.”

    I’m a person who is more like your other employee, who rarely needs to change my schedule and I’ll do anything that’s flung at me with limited questions involved. Don’t use us to gauge your expectations of others, we’re the exception, not the rule! Everyone else needs a lot more flexibility and shouldn’t be penalized for it.

  33. canamera

    Someone mentioned “codifying” flextime protocols (which seems like an oxymoron). I have had some experiences where the employer tried this, and it totally backfired! The whole point of flextime is for it to be flexible. If you say, for example, “You can have flexibility to work from home one day/week, and I’ll let you know which day,” that is the opposite of flexibility! I have also seen employers require employees to take extra check-in steps or give summaries to prove they are working when they’re not in the office. Again, not flexible! Trust your people to get their work done. Or get new people.

    1. canamera

      And when I say it “backfired,” I mean that many good people got fed up and left while the slackers stayed.

    2. ThatGirl

      I don’t see having a set day a week or set hours during that day as inflexible, as long as it’s changeable in case of new circumstances or emergency. My manager wants two days’ notice before a WFH day if possible, but that doesn’t mean she’d turn me down if I said “oh, crap, can I work from home tomorrow, something came up”.

  34. Jennifer

    It just sounds like one employee may have more responsibility outside of work than the other, so she needs the flexibility more. Life can change on a dime, so one day the younger employee may need flexibility. As long as the work is getting done and both employees are being respectful and not taking advantage, I don’t see the problem. I’d also make certain that the younger person is not picking up the other person’s slack. I agree that the solution may be to let her leave early or work from home without having to ask every time, just inform.

  35. Customer Service Flashbacks

    I feel like this OP has New Manager Syndrome, where as a manager you are trying to get your employees to work like robots to prove yourself. If you go on like this the workers you have will be that type of worker and that type of worker only works well in a job that can be computerized and eliminated. Innovation and creativity doesn’t come from a cell.

    My Mentor when I became a manager gave me great advice that has helped me so much. As a manager you are the advocate for the best of everything for your people (Time off, work life balance, tools, equipment, etc), these are the things you fight to get for your people so that they want to come to work with you and produce and create for you at the top of their game. They wont do that if they are worried about loosing their job because their kid is taking Art class and they can’t pick them up.

    1. Redux

      I love this lesson from your mentor. Could we get a sub-thread on Useful Rules for New Managers? I’m about to be one myself, and could really use some guidance (a book, a blog, a podcast?) in addition to thissite.

      1. Jules the 3rd

        Well… Alison has a book. “Managing to Change the World” is aimed for non-profit managers, but she’s said most of it is transferable.

  36. Jesse

    I caution new managers against making a judgement without some sort of baseline, holistic view of their employees. On the surface, an eager go-getter who never demands flexibility may be easier to manage at first, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their productivity/results in the long run are better than the “less flexible, more demanding employee”.

    When we get “older” (I have no idea the ages in this post), we learn that for long-term success, we need to be mindful of balancing work/home life and not necessarily trying to do everything for everyone. We are more mindful of what urgency is, what priorities are, why we shouldn’t take on more than necessary, and other sorts of things. In a nutshell, it’s not always about saying “that’s not my job!” (unless it is!). When we’re younger, we often want to please people at the expense of our own exhaustion.

    1. Former Retail Manager

      Very well put….and entirely true. The older I get, the less willing I am to make personal sacrifices to please my boss/employer, who at the end of the day, views me as expendable. We’re all expendable. If I quit tomorrow, they’d fill my spot again and the machine would keep humming along, so why am I going to let my health/personal life/mental well-being suffer for the occasional pat on the back? I know I sound cynical, but balance really is crucial. When I was younger, I poo-pooed that advice, and ran myself into the ground. Those days are over.

  37. CommanderBanana

    I think the flexibility and the willingness to take on projects that aren’t strictly in her job purview are two separate issues but I understand why the LW is conflating them – it must be frustrating to feel like you’re extending flexibility to an employee who isn’t reciprocating, but the flextime perk isn’t predicated on her taking on job responsibilities that may be outside of her actual job.

    If the issue is that you’re seeing a rigidness from her regarding what work she’s willing to do, I think you should address that. And if you appreciate the team mentality from the younger employee, you should commend her for that.

    FWIW I’ve worked in offices with similar dynamics to this; what usually happens is that the proactive team players get fed up with coworkers like her and quit.

  38. Decima Dewey

    I’ve been the team player in several jobs. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Most recently, because Perpetually Late Guy in circulation was out so much, I’d end up covering the circulation desk for someone’s lunch a couple of times a week. This was a problem, because we’ve switched to a new money handling system that I haven’t been trained in. So far, the training has only been offered by IT at times I can’t take it: when my boss is on vacation for a week, or when I have a doctor’s appointment scheduled. However, since I haven’t had the training, I’m not allowed to take in fines. So when I’m on the circulation desk, patrons can’t pay their fines, buy Books to Go (weeded books for resale). Not good customer service. I’m also expected to continue to help patrons with the public computers, help patrons find books, while covering the desk.

    Right now I’m trying to find ways to continue to be a team player, without running myself ragged.

  39. softcastle mccormick

    Thanks for posting this, Alison. As a young person just starting their career with no kids, relatively good health, and few personal responsibilities, the hours I’ve asked to flex with my manager are few and far between. I’ve occasionally felt jealous when my older colleagues with younger kids take frequent half-days, leave for hours for appointments, and work from home for what seemed to me to be negligible reasons like “unwinding from a busy week” or “taking time after a crazy shift at their other job”. I often felt almost jealous, because since I never had reasons to take off or flex, I never did, and was starting to resent them for it. But honestly…they still got their work done! It never got foisted onto me, and deadlines didn’t get missed, so I don’t know why I was so pressed about it. It took some soul searching, and some honest conversations with them about their perspective, and I realized that the problem was MY attitude, not their desire for flexibility.

    I think that we’re taught in college (or at least in my educational path) that hard work looks like showing up and staying late at the office, turning down personal commitments to make sure deadlines and projects are completed, and basically putting your nose to the grindstone no matter the cost. Of course, it can be that, especially in certain environments and work cultures, but it certainly isn’t in mine. Thanks for another reality check, Alison!

    1. Former Retail Manager

      Kudos for reframing your viewpoint. I am in my late thirties and while I don’t believe I take off frequently, I do take time off more frequently than my co-workers with no outside responsibilities, personal or otherwise. I am honestly surprised that your co-workers are able to still get everything done. My position doesn’t work that way. If I have hard deadlines and get a stomach virus, rest assured that I will be working on the weekend (with no credit time or compensation) to ensure that I meet my deadline. And I do agree about the general info that is put out there saying that butt in seat time and coming early/staying late = excellence.

      1. softcastle mccormick

        I see from your username that you used to work in Retail as well–I think that a lot of my attitude came from my years of retail work during college where the law was You Work Your Scheduled Shift Or Else. Flexing time or calling off in retail meant that your coworkers were directly and often sorely impacted, especially during holidays. It bred a lot of resentment and I know I personally was pretty scandalized at first when my coworkers would take days off for things that would, frankly, get you canned in retail if you ever tried it there (or at least at our company). It took a long time for me to realize that maybe that attitude is actually pretty dang toxic and that folks shouldn’t have to be worked to the bone for every second in order to be valuable or “good.”

        As for my current coworkers, I think that there’s definitely some extra hustle when end of month/quarter comes around, but mostly their jobs are kind of like, if it gets done, it gets done when I get it done. So that level of responsibility works for them since they flex so much. For my personal role, I have daily deadlines, so it makes sense that I flex less.

    2. Observer

      they still got their work done! It never got foisted onto me, and deadlines didn’t get missed,

      This is the key. As long as you (generic) don’t get saddled with stuff because the other person took some time, it shouldn’t matter to you whether and why they take time. On the other hand, if it DOES hit you, you can push back with your boss with very little regard to the why.

  40. Observer

    OP one of the signs of an unreasonable manager is one who says “no” for reasons like:

    Because
    To set limits (that have no relationship to the workload)
    To show I’m boss

    Right now you are talking about saying no for 2 out of those three reasons. That’s a major red flag.

    If your company has the infrastructure to allow WFH, she’s getting her work done (and her workload is appropriate), and it’s not having a negative impact on others, what she is asking for is TOTALLY reasonable. Putting arbitrary limits on scheduling changes or WFH is not reasonable. Because the only reasonable limits are really only related to capacity and impact.

    Get really clear in your head what situation(s) would constitute a failure to complete her work or a genuine negative impact on others (including the junior coworker). And then if that happens, ABSOLUTELY say no. You may even want to practice some scripts. And until then, keep saying yes.

    Also, make sure that your junior employee also gets as much flexibility as her job allows. Don’t insist on her taking it, but make sure that she knows that she REALLY can take it. Don’t sigh when you give the senior employee permission for whatever, don’t praise the junior for never taking a day off , etc. Otherwise, no matter what you say, she’s going to know that she really CANNOT take that flexibility.

    Also, think about what kind of boundaries your senior employee is drawing. You say that she is on top of her work, she “shows up and cares” and that she takes initiative. Is it it possible that when she pushes back on “is this my job”, that she is actually RIGHT? Really, really think that through.

    If you decide that there are some areas where she really is drawing to strong of a boundary, have that conversation with her. The good thing for you is that because you’ve developed a track record of being a reasonable and flexible boss, pushing back on overly tight boundaries will be easier and a lot less likely to make you be seen as “unreasonable”.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House

      For the junior employee, make sure that Senior Employee’s flexibility isn’t coming at the expense of Junior Employee’s ability to take any flexibility. Ex: “You can work from home/go home early/come in late as long as someone’s here to answer the phone,” and that someone is always Junior Employee.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      The OP said it’s the younger employee who shows initiative, not the senior employee.

      1. Observer

        Nope. The OP says that THEY take initiative, etc. In this case “they” is plural, as the OP uses the singular pronouns when talking about each individual.

        1. Fortitude Jones

          I have no problem with either of them taking time to live their lives, as long as they get their work done, I don’t have to constantly keep track of whether or not they’re on top of things, they take initiative, and, most importantly, I feel like they actually show up and care.

          This was the exact quote where OP says she would have no problem granting flexibility to both employees as long as they (meaning both of them) do the following things she listed. But she also stated that the employee she wrote in about protects her exact schedule and asks about job duties while the younger employee does whatever is asked of her – I could be reading that wrong, but that infers the older employee does not in fact take initiative or the OP wouldn’t have drawn the comparisons between the two in the first place.

          1. Fish Microwaver

            Older Employee can still show initiative, show up and care while maintaining her boundaries.

            1. Fortitude Jones

              Of course, but it sounds like the OP doesn’t think that’s the case here, which is why she feels like her flexibility is being taken advantage of.

  41. Isabelle

    A sentence stood out to me “frequently asks to work from home (one day per week)”
    Working one day from home per week has become the norm in many non-customer facing jobs, actually I know plenty of people who work from home two or more days per week.

    Does this employee’s productivity drop when she works from home? If not, there is no reason for concern and I would even go further: maybe your team would benefit from a clear work-from-home policy. The other employee reporting to you might appreciate the opportunity to work from home too.

    1. Former Retail Manager

      Agreed! At my agency, we have people who work from home full-time! I don’t think one day a week is that great unless it’s an industry anomaly.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      My old company was against us working from home if we weren’t on the sales team – grandboss values face time in the office over actual productivity, and we sat on the same floor as the company’s president, who apparently would comment when he’d see people’s desks empty. The fact that our jobs were almost 100% writing and design based, which means all you need is a laptop and internet functionality to do the job, didn’t seem to matter to either one of them. I quit and found another job where I do virtually the same thing, but get to be fully remote – life is so much better for me with this arrangement.

      1. Mr. Tyzik

        Similar. The same boss I mentioned in a previous comment would let developers work from home because they “needed the solitude”. I was frowned upon for working from home because I “needed to communicate”. I had the same desk and equipment setup as the developers (who were doing pair programming!) but not the same perks.

        Looking back, I think my boss, who had been a developer, had no idea how to manage a non-tech knowledge worker.

        I’m in a position now where I am 100% remote. It’s a mid-level position whish requires more communication. My boss trusts me to make my own decisions and manage my own time, and I get results. She measures me against those results, which is refreshing after having a clock-watching boss.

  42. Oxford Comma

    I read this and kept expecting the other shoe to drop and it never did.

    The example for less of a teamwork attitude doesn’t seem too out there. You’re a newer manager. Has your older employee worked there longer than you? Is she perhaps trying to set up boundaries because she might think you don’t understand the scope of her duties? Has she had to deal with managers who have overstepped them in the past? Is she afraid that accepting new tasks will redefine her job? I’ve had that happen to me. Teamwork spirit doesn’t enter into.

    One day a week doesn’t seem frequent to me unless there’s no culture for WFH in your organization. Leaving early, how often is that happening?

    It sounds like she’s asking permission and not assuming it and I would have thought that’s a good thing.

  43. Former Retail Manager

    The way this letter came across to me was a bias in favor of the young, eager employee who is willing to do whatever, whenever, and never asks for much in terms of scheduling flexibility, presumably because she may not know that she can ask for that or because she doesn’t have the same level of responsibility outside of work that your slightly older employee with a family has. It also sounds like the employee who is asking for flexibility is not the classic “it’s not my job” problem employee. It sounds like she wants to be clear about doing those duties that are her responsibility which will enable her to complete what she must complete and leave on time to tend to her outside, personal commitments. That is very different from someone who claims that everything isn’t their job and is generally difficult to work with. And for what it’s worth, working from home 1 day a week isn’t that great (unless your in an industry in which WFH is very infrequent or just not done.)

    I really think you need to reframe how you view this employee’s requests, unless the issues that Alison raised are present. Also, is there any possibility that the employee has been dumped on in the past or been asked to do a disproportionate share of other people’s work on a long-term basis? If so, she may have seen you coming on board as an opportunity for a fresh start to set some boundaries so as not to find herself in that position again.

  44. Rainy days

    Hmmm. I totally agree with Alison’s answer, but having worked in a *very* permissive and flexible workplace, I can see that it can also be a slippery slope and I think the manager is right to be a little wary. I’ve seen many people start off using flexible hours for what most people would consider “necessary” issues, like taking care of kids, going to the doctor, etc, but then slide into a more gray area of not bothering to ask for flexibility, but rather informing the rest of us on the day of that they will not be able to make it, sometimes for pretty light reasons. For example, I was forced to cancel a long-scheduled meeting because a colleague wanted to take the day off to care for his daughter who is **17** because she did not have school that day (she does not have any special needs that would make her unable to spend the day alone). He is not my subordinate and our boss didn’t say anything–this is just one example. People who hold themselves to a higher standard end up bearing the brunt of the work that involves being present and available.

    I think the key is to make sure work gets done and the flexibility doesn’t impact the rest of your team too much.

  45. Lies, damn lies and...

    Would sitting down to work up a schedule for her to have 1 day/week WFH be easier on you? Then instead of asking “is this ok” she can say “Tuesdays will be my WFH day. I may be out in the afternoon managing an appointment but will be available by phone.” Then if something comes up, like a all staff meeting or event, you can say “we have X coming up next week and that’s regularly the day you work from home. Can you be in the office that day?” Maybe she will ask to switch to another day, maybe she won’t.

    1. Alienor

      That’s how it works in my office–you get one or two regularly scheduled remote days, but are required to be there physically if certain events (an all-hands meeting, quarter-end day, etc.) happen to fall when you’d otherwise be remote. I’d personally like to be full-time remote, but this is a lot better than a few years ago when we weren’t allowed to WFH at all.

  46. lost academic

    It’s one thing to be wary and it’s quite another to start setting arbitrary limits not based in reality because you feel like you need to remind everyone of your authority with some regularity. That can’t be the reason you say no to things, or create a culture where people stop asking or don’t ask if something is an option because the perception is that you will say no just because. You have to know what your requirements and expectations are for your team and communicate them clearly – starting with yourself. That way when someone asks for something, you have a clear idea if it’s going to work out or not. You do NOT want to fall into a pattern of “I told this person yes to the last 5 requests so I’m going to say no or put limits on the 6th just to exert my position”. That’s what makes you a bad manager and that’s when people start to look elsewhere to get away from you.

  47. atalanta0jess

    “she enjoys a lot of flexibility and independence while generally defending her own job boundaries”

    GOALS. Good on her. Let her do that.

  48. Dwight

    To the question “is my employee taking advantage of the flexibility I give her?”, I think the answer is “yes”, but that’s ok. They SHOULD be able to take advantage. The question is whether they’re abusing it. I won’t get into the reasons listed by Allison and others about why simply using flexibility is not abusive, but I think offering flexibility should be genuine, and not one of those benefits employers offer, but expect no one to actually use.

  49. Another Academic Librarian

    OP, you describe some questions that your employee asks, but not how she responds to your answers. I think this is an important missing piece of the puzzle.

    “Am I asking too much?” > How would she respond if you were to say “Well, actually, it would be better if you were in the office on Wednesday”? Or “No, it’s fine to ask, but I do expect that you’ll call into this meeting/get all of XYZ tasks done/something else”?

    “Is this technically one of my job responsibilities?” > How does she respond when you say “Yes, I expect you and Other Employee to take turns completing this report”? Or “I know it’s a little outside the scope of your normal duties, but I am swamped and really need someone to do these tasks for me”? Or “Yes, you will be responsible for this from now on”?

  50. voyager1

    LW:
    When the comments about “is this my job” are made, are they in a space where the other coworker can hear them? Have you had any one on ones with the younger coworker to see how she feels about her situation? She could be really frustrated with the older coworker.

  51. Introvert girl

    I’m not a teamplayer who also takes a lot of home-office (due to medical reasons). But I always try to do excellent work and help when asked. A lot of managers are extroverts for whom team bonding and atmosphere is very important. Being social just takes a lot of my energy and requires recuperation at home. You just have to understand that some people just come to the office to work, do a good job but don’t see it as their live. And that’s ok.

  52. Serious Pillowfight

    Yes, please, please don’t say no just to say no. I spent almost five years working under a boss who sucked at managing and seemed to view his position as a chance to have his underlings at his beck and call to make himself feel important. He barely spoke to us, so there was absolutely no need for us to have our butts-in-seats crammed in the toxic little room we were all shoved into — yet there we were, at his insistence, day after day. I’m not getting paid to stroke your ego, I’m getting paid to produce a product.

  53. CM

    OP, maybe it would help to think about what your own policy should be on flexibility/WFH. You don’t necessarily have to write it down and send it out, but you could think through the issues to make sure that you’re being fair and consistent. You could think about, for instance:
    – How much is too much? Is there some threshold, like number of hours/days a week, where it seems fine for someone to be out of the office for that long but not for longer?
    – Are there circumstances for which you’ll allow flexibility and others for which you won’t? Either personal (is it equally OK to leave early for a doctor’s appointment or a date) or work (is it OK to leave early as long as it’s not the busy season)?
    – Will you check up to see if work is being completed? If so, how?
    – How will you communicate to your reports what is and isn’t acceptable?

    I think if you go through this exercise, and then think about why you answered that way, it will help you clarify in your own mind whether what you’ve been doing is OK. And then you’ll also be able to communicate clearly with your two reports — I strongly agree with the commenters advising you to explicitly tell your younger, more eager report that she’s welcome to use this flexibility too if she wants.

  54. Megasaurusus

    My son is an adult, whereas many of my co-workers have younger kids and use a lot of flexing to make their schedules work – and I’m totally happy for them to have that kind of flexiblity, while I myself, do not utilize it – it’s nice to know it’s available if anything comes up in my future.

    I hate to work from home with a passion, we occasionally do it here on snow days and I’d rather just hike through a blizzard and sit in my office where it’s easier to work. I like a clear balance between home and work and hate mixing the two. Working from home is not necessarily a bonus to all employees. But that’s what flexible means, individuals having the ability to make choices that work best for them. I’d go out of your way once to make the junior employee know flexible options are available to her as well – but it’s up to her to use them, and maybe she just doesn’t want to.

  55. Allison

    As a woman, and not a woman in any sort of executive role where I might be immune to this, I’m often worried about being unofficially pigeonholed as a team admin, where people expect me to take on their grunt work when they’re too busy with more important things to be bothered with such trivial tasks, and that could in turn hamper my career growth. I had a coworker straight up forget that we had someone to handle scheduling, and expected me to suddenly handle a bunch of last-minute scheduling requests with no experience, and I took it up because I didn’t wanna be that person saying “that’s not my job” but my boss actually asked why I didn’t just direct said coworker to the person who actually schedules things. Lesson learned. Anyway, I do think it’s important for people, especially women, to make sure people don’t take advantage of their supposed willingness to help, by making sure that certain types of requests are appropriate to their position.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Especially if you have someone else who handles something! Then it should be pretty standard to say “Oh actually Julie does scheduling, you should ask her.”

      But yeah, it can become where you’re the person who’s the go-to for grunt labor and it should always be okay to steer someone away, some companies don’t allow for it and those companies stink the stinkiest stink [ask me how I know!].

      It’s also not just a “dudes do this to women” a lot of women are also great at dumping this stuff on other women, they aren’t there to protect you and will step on you to get places.

      1. londonedit

        Totally agree. The way things are where I work, there’s a system that shows who’s working on each project. But you can only have one name on there per project. So my name is next to various things, because I have overall supervision for them. But not every stage of the project is my remit – I have a colleague who deals with certain parts of the process. Still, because it’s my name on the system, people will come to me with queries on things that I don’t deal with. Yes, I could look up the answer for them, and in most cases I’d probably have a good idea of what’s going on anyway, because my colleague and I communicate on what’s happening with the overall project, but in the long run it’s not helpful to do that. People need to grasp the fact that I work on ABC and my colleague works on XYZ, and we need to stick to our own jobs, otherwise the systems we’ve put in place (for good reason) won’t work at all!

    2. AnonEMoose

      This. I’ve gotten grunt work dumped on me because other people were “too busy,” and once it’s happened, it’s really difficult to push back against it happening again, and pretty soon it becomes part of my job. Been there, done that, and it’s not a good thing to do to people.

  56. Curmudgeon in Califormia

    I would add the following:

    “As far as her laying/clarifying boundaries around what is and isn’t her job, that’s actually part of a healthy work life balance. Just as you don’t want to always say yes, she doesn’t either. This is very typical of mid-career professionals who have had bad previous experiences.

    It may be reasonable to say ‘X, Y and Z types of work schedule adjustment don’t require specific permission, just a entry on a shared calendar and an eamail to the team.”

    The latter part is how my work team handles it. Vacations, appointments and WFH days are added to our group calendar. Vacations are broiught up in our weekly team meetings, so everyone knows who needs coverage. We all have regular WFH days, on the calendar. If we are sick or have an appointment, we also WFH part of a day, and inform the team by email or slack.

    We also do changes from home “after hours”, so it’s not like we actually have to be in the office to work.

  57. Acornia

    “I stock my office with post it notes, pens and scotch tape. They use these things! Are they taking advantage of me?”
    “My employees get health, vision and dental insurance. Last week one came in with new glasses, and another put braces on her kids’ teeth! Are they taking advantage of me?”
    Actually using the perks offered isn’t a problem. If you offer flexibility and your employee takes you up on that, it’s no more a problem than if they use provided office supplies or other benefits like vision insurance.
    If you “offer flexibility” you’d better mean it. To do otherwise is not fair to your employees.

      1. New Jack Karyn

        I’m not sure that it is. The company offers flex time and WFH. LW doesn’t say that the report is missing deadlines or shoving work off on the coworker. She’s using a perk as it’s meant to be used.

        LW was right to question her own feelings about this, and write in.

    1. Rebecca

      This. I’m reminded of the recent letter from the person who had taken a job specifically because she was told during recruitment that WFH wasn’t a problem then found herself trying to navigate a boss who clearly didn’t want her to WFH but wouldn’t actually say so. If the LW is offering flexible working as a perk and then resenting her employee for using that perk it’s very unfair and unreasonable to the employee. If there are good business reasons that mean that the perk can’t be limitless that’s totally fair and she should make them clear.

  58. Mini-Mer

    I have been the junior employee in this scenario, and am now the senior. Here’s why!

    My level has been under-staffed for years, and I got tired of being the person who makes sure it does not ever affect the office at all. So I have gotten less scrupulous about considering the company’s needs before requesting flexibility or time off. If management wants full coverage, they can hire it, handle it themselves, or deny reasonable requests and gamble that I will stay. It’s very clear that that’s not my call, so it’s also not my problem. (That said: I do not deliberately sabotage deadlines or hog all the holiday-adjacent time. That’s real rude.)

    Also, I have to do a full-time job’s worth of ‘my’ work, every year. There is lots of work that the office needs that does not count towards that. If I say yes to everything, maybe management will remember and decide it was worth something? but that’s a big ‘if’ and I’ve gotten penalized in the past. So if I’m busy with ‘my’ work, I absolutely push back on work that doesn’t count by default. And if I’m already working full time and then some, which happens since we’ve been understaffed for a while, I will push back on work that I think someone else could do, that I can’t get done within a reasonable time.

  59. ForMeow

    If you’re giving someone a perk, ideally they would take advantage of it. The wording in this letter feels a little off to me. It reminds me of being a kid and having a friend whose father would randomly say no to some of his requests, just so “he knew that he could do that”. Flexing your authority just so they “know” that you have it, but for no real reason is unlikely to go over well with anyone. Maybe take some time and reflect on why this is bothering you so much when you say this is an otherwise good employee who gets their work done.

  60. Robin J

    It took me a while to realise “taking advantage of” was supposed to mean a bad thing. I read it as concern that the employee might not be using their flexibility enough (otherwise why make the offer?) It’s sad to think that even some good managers have a voice in the back of their head telling them they’re not being mean enough.

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