my employees keep changing their schedules at the last minute

A reader writes:

What is a reasonable policy for approving last-minute schedule changes or days off? I’m new to management and have a team of six. So far I’ve approved last-minute schedule changes because I understand that life happens. However, I think that I’ve been too relaxed.

I had about 14 last-minute requests over the last four weeks, ranging from finishing the day from home to working the entire day from home to taking the day off. The frequent changes result in multiple project shifts and sometimes delays. We haven’t had any major catastrophes, but I don’t want it to get that far.

Each person on my team is unique and many have family situations that play into this, from serious family illness to being a single parent and I don’t want to be unreasonable. For example, one person has a parent who is seriously ill, and will leave early or ask to work from home to drive them to their appointments. This person has a scheduled work from home day to allow for flexibility due to this, but appointments often come up on other days. Other team members have children and will ask to leave early to get them from the bus and finish the day from home. Multiple doctor appointments, a few family emergencies, sick days, and funerals have also come up over the last few weeks.

I want to say yes, no questions asked, on funerals and sick time … and family emergencies … and all of it! Life is messy and I want to be as supportive as possible. However, the volume and resulting disruption in project work is becoming a problem, and not all of our work can be completed from home. It also seems unfair to the people who never have last-minute schedule requests. What’s a fair policy that supports my team while still maintaining the work we need?

(As a side note, scheduled work from home days and days off are much less of a problem. If we know when someone is unavailable ahead of time, we can schedule assignments accordingly. This also allows me to make sure that there are enough people present to keep things moving smoothly.)

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 78 comments… read them below }

  1. Momma Bear*

    While some of it is just life, some of it is also due to the current pandemic. The daycare down the street from my office just closed for good – leaving many parents scrambling.

    I would look at it on a case by case basis. Who is asking for this time, can any of it be pre-scheduled, and are there core hours that people should be aiming for to help offset these appointments? Are the bulk of the changes one or two people? Being a “sandwich generation” person myself, I know that sometimes you don’t have a lot of warning when a kid thing OR a parent thing comes up. That said, would it be helpful to have people have set days for WFH privileges and then they are expected (as much as possible) to schedule appointments on those days? Are people willing to come in early on days they need to leave early? I would also look at the tasks and see if there are places where it would help to cross train folks so that there are more people who know more things in an emergency.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      This is from the archives, so pre-pandemic. That being said, there have been 14 changes requested. OP said there were at least 2 funerals, a few family emergencies, and sick days, which are all completely valid. (I’m leaving out doctor appts since those could be argued either way.)

      That adds up to probably 8 instances. That leaves 6 changes for 6 employees over a month. If each person had 1 schedule change in a month that was because of a last-minute doctor appt or childcare situation or a cable repair person coming by, they probably didn’t think asking to work from home once a month for an afternoon was a big deal. When you break it down like that, giving employees flexibility seems more important. I think it was just a bad month for OP’s people, and they felt the brunt of it.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        I think this is called “recency bias” or something like that – we tend to think that what’s happening *right now* is what’s happening *all the time.* So my first question would be, is this a normal month for her team, or is it an exceptionally bad one? Were there this many unscheduled absences last month, or the month before that? What about this month last year, and this month two years ago? Take a look at the actual data, rather than relying on your (completely justified!) frustration about the current month.

        Then, if it turns out that it really is an ongoing problem, all you need to do is figure out the minimum notice you genuinely *need* for most absences, and make that the standard procedure. Obviously you don’t want it to be too rigid – as you said, life is messy! But there’s certainly room to say to your team “Hey, all these last-minute absence requests are becoming disruptive; from now on I’d like you to give 2 days notice unless there’s an emergency.”

      2. 7310*

        This is where I landed…pre-Covid and now, it seems like our team “flexibility tolerance” gets used up faster some months than others and I really feel for our manager and supervisors. When you break it down, it’s stressful in the moment but not really as bad as it appears when looked at from the long view. It’s just the way life rolls!

  2. WhatTheJeep*

    I am so lucky that in “the before times” my boss was approachable enough that when I was calling in last minute all the time to WFH, I was able to be honest with him about my mental health problems. We made a plan together and set up very flexible hours and I also kept him informed on my treatment plan with counseling (there was a lot of trust there and I was able to see, bring up and address how my mental illness was impacting others and my work because of that trust.) Only saying this because OP seems very understanding and may take supportive steps if one of their employees is like I was, very much struggling.

  3. Lurking Tom*

    I think one big question is how many of these things NEED to be last-minute? If people could be giving you advance notice but aren’t, that might be another way to fine-tune your policy.

    1. Weekend Please*

      I agree. Picking the kids up from the bus stop seems like something that is going to need to happen regularly. Doctor’s appointments are rarely scheduled last minute. It seems like simply saying that they expect X days notice except when there is an actual urgent need for a last minute request may fix the problem. Flexible schedules are a great perk and the employees may not realize that the last minute schedule changes are causing any problems. If all the OP wants is more notice, it seems like that would be doable. They could also try making core hours that everyone is expected to be available while keeping time flexible otherwise.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I feel like everyone’s going to the example of picking kids up from the bus stop as an optional or advance notice one, but it seems entirely possible to me that it’s not. My kids are in a magnet program that draws from a large area, so the bus situation is different than for a normal school and bus stops are more centralized and may require a drive. My kids are also too young to be home alone, so if a regular sitter cancelled, meeting them at the bus stop would be an unscheduled personal emergency and not a whim. (We are walking distance and they’re in aftercare at the school in non-pandemic times, so this particular situation wouldn’t come up for us. But it’s easy to see how it could for others.)

        There are any number of combinations of age, location, special needs, normal care situation and disruptions thereof, etc. that could lead to picking kids up at the bus being an unscheduled emergency. Sure, maybe the person just feels like hanging out at home with their 12 year old that day, but I’m guessing there’s probably more to it than that.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yeah, I assume having to pick the kids up means the normal plans fell through for whatever reason.

        2. Annony*

          I wasn’t trying to say picking up their kids was optional, just that if it is happening often then maybe a permanent schedule change would work better than the current arrangement. If working from home from 2-6 is a legitimate option then it may work better for everyone to have that be the norm rather than dealing with last minute schedule changes.

        3. Yorick*

          But it’s rare that you would find out at the last minute that you need to get your kid from the bus stop. You would normally at least know that morning, if not days in advance.

          1. Flossie Bobbsey*

            This is absolutely not true for many people. My childcare situation is very fluid, particularly right now during the pandemic, involving two working parents, several trusted family members, and no paid childcare providers. There are definitely last-minute changes, and every day is different.

        4. Public Sector Manager*

          I agree with the bus stop being more of an emergency. Plenty could happen to make it at emergency. And we’re not sure if it’s a bus from the school or whether the school uses a voucher to have the kids ride a public bus. Maybe the kids missed their stop and got off in the wrong place. Maybe the bus was late or early and their ride wasn’t there (like the coworker’s partner had an emergency with their car and they are waiting for a tow). Maybe the bus broke down at a specific bus stop, but not the kids bus stop.

      2. corgi butts*

        Plenty of doctor’s appointments are scheduled last minute! Appointment cancelled same day? Call up patients to see if they want to come in earlier. Sometimes health issues can’t wait for the next week, and I know in my area of the US, our doctors typically have appointments same day or in the next few days.

        1. Snuck*

          Sure… but the driver of said person needs to be available… instead of “taking any spot available” there could be an understanding with ALL the people involved in getting to/being present for the appointment that “I can do after 3pm every day, or before 11am Mon, Tue, Thurs but not at other times” … especially if it’s not a sudden new onset illness but a long running illness. If you are seeing the doctor every week or two then why not set up a recurring appointment at a mutually agreeable time, don’t take the emergency / cancellation spaces (leave them for someone else) and let everyone who helps you get there plan their day.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Unscheduled reasons I had to pick up my daughter during her years on a school bus included snow days, tornado-caused power outage at the school, her spiking a fever, an after-school activity getting cancelled, and when I was “morning parent” sometimes my husband had a crisis at work. One memorable time his car was smashed. And I think I’m forgetting some.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Also be aware that in the United States at least, for many regions you are not allowed to have a child under a certain age walk themselves home for the bus stop anymore.

    2. Quinalla*

      Agreed! Some of these sound like legitimate last-minute concerns, but some seem that they could be planned ahead with you – appointments they should know at least a few days ahead of time for the most part and often longer. Wanting to pick up the kid from the school bus stop – possibly last minute, possibly not. But that is the first thing I would approach, say you want to continue to be flexible and that to do that you need everyone to give you as much notice as possible on requests so you can save the disruptive last minute for emergencies.

    3. Snuck*

      I was thinking along these lines too… Rarely are specialist appointments are last minute (what is last minute? Is 24hrs notice last minute? What about three days? A week? A schedule ahead?)….

      Is it possible to sit down and identify with your staff critical meetings and catch ups that need to take places, and their individual priorities… and then let them at it. Make sure they know they can’t skip A, B and C, but they can work flexibly (especially now with COVID) around those. Make sure that A, B and C are actually mission critical, and PQR are nice to have if you can and XYZ are entirely optional/flexible.

      If you help people understand their responsibilities and flexibility in their workload then they can deal with messy elsewhere. If someone needs to regularly break a ‘necessary’ then look to see if you can move that necessary to a more convenient time, and move it permanently.

      Ask that the person who is driving their parents around gets involved in deciding when they are available to take their parents – so they can factor in their availability. This is tricky, as health deteriorates then demands will increase and urgency of appointments (loss of notice) is likely, so a move to a broader arrangement might help then (half days, with lunchtime onwards off, or similar/whatever is best fit?).

      Random failures in childcare arrangements or kids being sick etc happen, and in times of COVID I know that any kid with a sneeze is being sent home immediately, so think through with those parents/staff what their work from home policy could look like. Do they NEED to be in the office on those days? Could they work from home? Could they dial into a video meeting instead?

      COVID is giving us a chance to retain and reward responsible effective staff, while all enduring a huge need for flexibility.

  4. HMM*

    I’d recommend the OP start codifying schedules. I.e. saying to Peter that, because you know he’s caring for a sick parent right now, he should pick 2 days per week where he always schedules appointments or WFH. Then Barbara should get 2x per week to pick her kids up from school early and WFH the rest of the day… (Of course, modify this advice to fit you/the company’s needs.) Or codify “core hours” for meetings and truly team-based work and let the rest be flexible. Then the truly exceptional things – illness, funerals, etc. can just be on an as needed basis.

    This helps you plan, retains flexibility, and also makes it so that you and your employees don’t have to do this “seeking permission” dance so often.

    1. snoopythedog*

      Currently being at the will the of the health care system, I can tell you that picking 2 days a week where you schedule appointments may not work in many cases. There are lots of specialist or high-demand and high-urgency appointments where you get what you get in terms of appointment availability.

      1. LizM*

        This is a good point. I’m currently going through hormonal treatments. Without going into too many details, I usually get 2-3 days notice that there is going to be a window for a treatment, and then I’m at the mercy of my doctor’s office to get me in during that window. Not every treatment or appointment lends itself to being scheduled on a specific day of the week, despite an employee’s best efforts.

        1. WellRed*

          I think in a case like this, you’d have a pre-emptive convo with the boss to alert them that there will be ongoing medical appts that may be last minute.

        2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          There’s also a matter of degrees. It sounds like the OP’s team ask the same day for these changes, so 2-3 days prior might be an improvement.

        3. Cary*

          Have been in a similar situation, didn’t know how to word it to preserve privacy, stealing your wording for potential future instances. Also, good luck.

          (For me, multiple past treatments did not work. On the bright side, they just diagnosed a reason why: I need surgery. Of course due to covid, surgery might not be available for a while now… :facepalm:)

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        Yes! Especially in bigger health systems you have to go by what the doctor has available or you might not be seen. So if they say tuesday at 1 you take Tuesday at 1.
        Now if they are regular appointmens, such as dialisis or chemo or something then maybe there would be the ability to WFH on specific days.

      3. Sarah*

        I agree. If I were Peter I would be frustrated with this request, because it’s likely not feasible. I mean, I’m basically healthy and have relatively few doctor’s appointments, but could definitely not reliably schedule every one two weekdays.

        1. Metadata minion*

          Agree. If it were feasible to do this, he would probably have already done it, since most people find it much easier to schedule things if they have a standing Tuesday PT appointment or whatever.

      4. MissM*

        Also, LW said as long as they know in advance, it’s fine and they can schedule around it. It’s when Peter calls in on Tuesday and says his mom has an appointment that afternoon (that he’s known the specific date/time for two weeks), that I could understand LW’s frustration and categorize that as last-minute. While not all doctor’s visits have that kind of lead time (especially when you’re dealing with emergency situations that need to be addressed now or you’re offered an earlier slot that allows you to shave a month off treatment because of the do-si-do between the specialists) a lot of them are set at least a week in advance. Different story if transportation falls through last minute, but if Lucy is flaky 50% of the time, then I’d ask Peter to give you a heads up when she’s scheduled to take mom to appointment so I can anticipate that he may have to dash out unexpectedly.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          It’s when Peter calls in on Tuesday and says his mom has an appointment that afternoon (that he’s known the specific date/time for two weeks), that I could understand LW’s frustration and categorize that as last-minute.

          Ugh, I feel this so much. My teammates treat PTO schedules as Defense Secrets until 24 hours out. I’d allow flex time for anything scheduled more than 72* hours in advance and charge PTO for anything inside 72 hours, if I were management.

          *Adjust the number to your taste.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          when Peter calls in on Tuesday and says his mom has an appointment that afternoon (that he’s known the specific date/time for two weeks), that I could understand LW’s frustration and categorize that as last-minute

          And in that case OP should refuse the time off (otherwise it just perpetuates the situation).

          1. introverted af*

            I think it’s wrong to think this punitively. There are other things you can do that don’t potentially jeopardize his mother’s access to healthcare, other conversations that can be had. If you mean this as, you require Peter to take accrued PTO instead of getting to just go, yeah, absolutely. But I think it’s a bit inhuman and immoral to essentially say, “well I have to put the needs of this job first, therefore you’re not allowed to leave.” You can be a professional with standards without making people put healthcare on the line.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              Yeah, this stuck me as pretty harsh. Making an employee choose between their parent’s access to health care and their job is not a good approach.

              Unless you’ve been working with Peter on this already and he knows well in advance it is against policy, you say okay to the appointment, then sit down with him the next day and talk about the impact his unpredictable schedule is having on the team and then work together to figure it out – maybe he can find someone else to cover some of the appointments, or make them more predictable, or whatever. But saying, essentially, “your mother can’t go to the cardiologist today” (because at that point the chances he can arrange someone else to take her are low) is not a humane thing to do. And it will hurt employee morale and loyalty.

              1. doreen*

                Sometime, it’s not a matter of needing someone else to cover the appointments or making them more predictable. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of Peter needing to say something before the day of the appointment. Sure, sometimes appointments are made for the same day – but other times they are made weeks or months or even a year in advance. I had a problem once where my predecessor apparently didn’t much care how the office ran. People were accustomed to routinely asking single days off the morning of – advance notice as far as they were concerned was only for multiple days off. At least once a week , I’d get a call at 8:30 am that Diana was taking the day off because her apartment was being painted or Irene was taking the day off because it was her mother’s birthday or Beverly needed the day off for a parent-teacher conference- all of which they absolutely knew about the day before. And people wondered why my employer created an unscheduled absence policy ( which actually wasn’t bad and did have the expected effect of people planning absences in advance when possible)

                1. Guacamole Bob*

                  That’s totally reasonable – but if you’re going to start saying no, you really owe your employees some notice about it. I took the suggestion above to be that OP should just say no going forward, and I don’t think that’s the right way to handle it. Address it with the employee, sure, but not by just refusing the time off for something like a family medical appointment unless they’ve had several warnings on prior instances of not giving notices when they can.

                2. No address , please.*

                  I second Alison’s idea to bring FMLA into Peter’s situation. (In fact, as soon as an employee asks for time off to care for a parent, the FMLA process should begin as there can be legal issues if not.) A lot of the issues the OP is experiencing would be covered. Under FMLA, the medical certification will give an indication of the frequency of the doctor visits and other treatment for Peter’s mother. Under FMLA, Peter will be obligated to provide advance notice of his mother’s appointment’s when known. The OP needs to go to HR to have them begin the FMLA process.

          2. Public Sector Manager*

            My wife does this to me all the time–she makes an appointment and she won’t tell me about it. Then the day of the appointment, she will call me at work around 10 am and say, “don’t forget, pick up our son after school because I have a doctor’s appointment at 2 pm.” I work downtown in my city and our son’s school is about 30 minutes away, each way, with no traffic. It happens once a quarter. And my wife won’t change.

            So while I get the frustration, you better believe I’m putting my son (or my wife or my parents) above my work. Refusing that time off is just going to have someone revise their resume. And it’s never the people you want to revise their resume that actually revise their resume. It’s always the people you can’t afford to lose.

            1. Uranus Wars*

              I think once a quarter and once a week are wildly different, though, and reasonable. I really don’t think anyone on this thread is saying the OP should say NO MORE LAST MINUTE REQUESTS.

              What I think they are saying, is be as flexible as you can and always understand life happens (which she says right in the letter she does) but also design a system where people give you notice when they know, since you work somewhere that requires shifting duties when someone is out unplanned. When was the last time someone painted your house and was like “hey, I’ll be there in 5 minutes?”

              And, as others said, look at the big picture – is this just something that came up in the last couple of weeks or is it a longer term pattern?

              I’ve worked in places with an unscheduled absence policy and you were still allowed something like 15 of them a year – average more than 1 a month, but less than 2 – for the last minute “I slept in”, “I got caught in traffic”, “My doc has an opening and I can get in if I go now”.

      5. HMM*

        Sure, it was just an example. It could be half-days every day WFH to accommodate or maybe at this time in this employee’s life where he needs the flexibility to WFH everyday. The principle still stands. The more the manager can go to an employee and say “can we make this mutually beneficial and standardized”, the better off both of them will be.

        1. Natalie*

          I think it would be easier for everyone to focus on the direct issue, which seems to be the amount of notice, rather than coming up with a detailed calendar of when people can and can’t have schedule flexibility. And if people can’t hang, then deal with it like any performance problem.

      6. Anon Anon*

        I agree. But, at the same time, typically when you are essentially assigned a time, you know in advance of the date and time. Peter’s issue seems to be that he’s making the request at the last minute regularly.

      7. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        Exactly. When my child was under the care of specialists for care after a life-threatening infection, you got what you got, and you dealt with it.

        And that was pre-Pandemic times.

        I did wind up altering my overall schedule (so I could leave early…because unlike the typical bus, the assistive bus she had to ride for the first two months of the school year required an adult guardian there to unfasten the wheelchair clips from the lift. The first week, I had backup plans 1-5 fall through three times and I had to haul tail to beat the bus home.) as a result, on a short term basis. But it worked because I was very open with management about what this was, why it was prudent and needed, and how long it needed to be for.

      8. Cat Tree*

        My dentist is only open three days a week. If I had to schedule appointments for two specific days and those were the days the dentist is closed, I guess I would never go.

        But also, some people just need a lot of appointments. I have multiple chronic conditions but I can have almost normal quality of life as long as I stay on top of them. One thing I love about my current company is that I don’t have to nickel and dime my vacation days for these appointments. Plus, some things are urgent but don’t rise to the level of going to the ER, so I have to go in whenever there’s an opening in the doctor’s schedule.

        1. KateM*

          But I understand you can choose the two specific days. Just choose them so that at least one day is suitable for your dentist (and who wants to go to dentist more often than that anyway?). My dentist had three working days and only one suited me, plus the one day when wisodm tooth puller worked did not suit so I went to another place for that.
          (One really doesn’t want to go to classroom with numb mouth.)

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            My GP isn’t available on Tuesdays. My ortho is only available on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I can make this work, but if I had a dentist who wasn’t available on Wednesdays, and suddenly needed another specialist who only had office hours in my city on Mondays, and a procedure that is only done on Fridays, I’d have a lot of problems with this setup.

              1. Barb*

                Yeah it’s like people enjoy looking for reasons that policies (which help everything run smoothly for the group!) absolutely could never work for them. It’s also weird to comment with your specific schedule on a general workplace advice site…

      9. MsChanandlerBong*

        Yep, same here. Around here, they don’t even ask you when/if you’re available. If you need a test, you get a letter in the mail with the date and time on it, with no input from you. You can either try to get the day off from work, or you can reschedule for a month or more later. Last time I went to my PCP, they handed me an appt. card for my next appt. without even asking me if I’d be available that day. They assume that if you want care, you’ll come when they tell you to.

      10. FoxyDog*

        Yep. I have multiple chronic conditions and see 4 different specialists. All of whom have different hours/days available for appointments.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      That’s what I was thinking. Emergency because your babysitter got the flu? OK, yes. But most appointments are scheduled, so I think it’s a bit odd that so many of them seem to need last-minute time-off requests. Also, I’m currently WFH two days a week and would schedule an appointment on my WFH days because it would be less likely to impact workflow on a day I was already going to be less available.

    3. pcake*

      When we were caring for my elderly mother, she had to go to emergency sometimes, I got called to help when she had issues where she was staying, and sometimes the specialists would get cancellations and we could get important appointments that were months away, but only if we could make it in the same day.

  5. Arvolin*

    This would also depend on what the work actually is. Most of my career (software development), it didn’t matter when or where I did most of my work as long as I got it done. Sometimes I would deal with people outside the department, or had to help inside the department in order not to delay someone else’s work, but mostly I could set my schedule and work from home as I liked. Jobs vary from less flexible than that to customer-facing jobs where there have to be X people on duty between times Y and Z, no exceptions.

  6. Brusque*

    What I miss in my current job are easy-access documentation and fair and well structured procedures.
    So in this case I would like:
    Clearly communicated, preferrably written down list of necessities that have to be considered to ask for unplanned time off, half days work from home etc. like for exaples deadlines in general, how much is left to do, who’s impacted etc.
    Some guidlines on which cases this will most likely be granted, this guidelines can easily contain a paragraf like: in doubt ask for individual evaluation.
    A template to fill and put in.
    That would help me decide if my request was reasonable and if I really want to gi through with this. Otherwhise I woul try how far I can push and when my requests were denied.
    But of course, I’m a German conservative. I love regulations and templates! We even have laws that determinate what can be called cheese and forms to ask our government for funds to sue our government if we are too poor to sue them ourselves and I like that.

  7. hbc*

    I find honesty really gets you a lot here. You’re used to being accommodating, they’ve probably gotten too used to it being no big deal. “Hey, guys, just a reminder that I’ll always be as flexible as I can, but the more notice I can get on these, the better. If you find out today that your doctor can fit you in, we’ll deal, but if you already know that you’ve got a likely appointment tomorrow or something midweek, let me know as soon as you can.”

    I’ve also had to get really specific with repeat offenders. “So your mom’s doctor won’t even give 24 hours notice on these appointments?” You end up finding that they’re 80% sure it’ll be sometime Thursday afternoon and they’re holding off to tell you when they know 100% it’s going to be Thursday at 3:15. (Though if you want them to tell you their best guess, you can’t grumble when their guess was wrong once a month.)

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, and OP is new to management, so this may be a culture that’s from the prior manager or from other places these employees have worked. She needs to be transparent about the impact on projects and colleagues so that she won’t come across as cracking down for no reason on a level of flexibility that people probably really appreciate.

      FWIW, on my team this many last-minute things would be an unusual month but wouldn’t really cause any big-picture issues. If OP has been accommodating so far then people may assume the same is true in her workplace – it’s only a couple of instances per person, after all. Pulling back on flexibility is tough – you have to be careful how that’s presented, so that it doesn’t seem capricious or overly rigid.

  8. Quickbeam*

    I get the feeling the employees who pick up the slack are getting hand waved here. I have a boss who for years was really easy going to the point that my colleagues took incredible advantage of her. When I asked for an ADA accommodation, I was told no. When I pointed out to HR that my colleagues with kids were getting that accommodation on a daily basis, my manager was caught unaware. Turns out the allowances she was making were far more than the company offered to other people.

    Those of us who are *always* the ones who get the extra end of day emergencies definitely derserve at least some consideration.

    1. cabbagepants*


      When evaluating the impact of the schedule changes, be extremely deliberate about *privately* checking in on the team-members of those who are making the schedule changes. “No one complained so I’m sure it’s fine” is a recipe for spiraling resentment.

      Being a flexible manager means that the company is willing to absorb the effect of having an employee be out sometimes, not just saying that it’s OK and then making other employees work extra. That’s not fair.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Some employees may want to work extra if they are getting paid for it. I hate the tit-for-tat comparisons that arise when discussing scheduling flexibility. Fair does not always mean equal. People without circumstances needing flexibility should appreciate that, and if they have such circumstances but do not seek to use available flexibilities, that’s on them. I will never understand resenting people for using a benefit that is available to everyone. Compassion is lacking sometimes also. I have been on the receiving end of mean and resentful coworkers who had zero responsibilities for any of my work! Made the office a very unpleasant place to be. Normally, these were judgmental people without any responsibilities who could live to work.

        In any event OP, don’t borrow tomorrow’s trouble today. Focus on the work and do not try to micromanage anyone’s personal life. If coworkers bring you unjustified complaints, shut it down.

        1. Anonapots*

          No, if I’m working more because you are taking advantage of flexibility, then it’s not about me not taking advantage of flexibility. It’s about you taking advantage of flexibility and still not keeping up with your work. The agreement is that the flexibility doesn’t impact your ability to complete your job. If you can’t and I’m not feeling good about it, it’s not on me to get over it; it’s on you to figure out how to keep up.

          1. SimplytheBest*

            Using a benefit is not taking advantage. If the boss is always allowing these kinds of last minute requests, but dumping extra work on other people, that’s a bad manager. Not bad coworkers. Your boss decides what your performance output should be, not your coworkers.

        2. cabbagepants*

          You seem pretty defensive about this, are you doing OK?

          The archives of this site are full of people unhappy that they have to pick up work that their co-workers aren’t doing. The problem often boils down to the boss not managing the situation correctly. The boss having a candid check-in with their more-regularly-attending employees hurts no-one and could avert a lot of bad stuff. I don’t see the downside.

  9. Safely Retired*

    What I keyed in on was “last minute”. I wouldn’t stop being flexible, but it seems reasonable to expect as much notice as practical for such a request. I have to wonder if people have become accustomed to asking at the last minute because nobody has every expected to be told sooner.

    Or perhaps they aren’t really last minute, the are just being seen that way by the OP.

  10. Jenn*

    “How will you make up this time and minimize the impact on the team?”

    I’d start hammering the team at the moment of request a little. Like “I do want to be accommodating but I’m concerned about XYZ getting done…what are your thoughts?” And even if that doesn’t change that request, hopefully people will start coming to you with their solutions – which may mean not asking as much in the first place.

    1. pcake*

      When I was my mother’s main caregiver, my only option would have been to quit. She had a variety of emergencies – health and otherwise – as well as last minute doctor appointments when other people cancelled. Luckily for me, I am very much appreciated by my job and managed to keep ahead of things – barely. But there was literally no more I could do.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        Yes, but in most offices 6 out of 6 won’t be in your situation. So, if the accomodation for one person is “The solution is due to my circumstance, I will need last minute flexibility for the indefinite” and that’s ok.

        It’s when people are coming last minute, even when they know their plans, that are causing the issue. Or maybe the solution the employees come up with is something completely different and last minute becomes ok. I read this suggestion as addressing and talking through it, not as “Come up with a solution or leave”

  11. learnedthehardway*

    This is a tough problem to deal with, and as someone new to management, perhaps your first approach might be to figure out what the previous standards were and whether your own manager thought they were appropriate. Regardless of what the employees want, your own manager’s expectations need to play a part in how you approach things, if for no other reason than that they will be evaluating your department’s productivity under your leadership.

    Also, your own manager may know whether what is happening now is a continuation of what was in place with the prior manager or if the employees are somewhat taking advantage of the fact that you’re a new manager. That fact alone would help to guide how you approach the situation – eg. by pulling back sharply to the prior standard or by doing some change management while introducing a new set of expectations.

    Of course, you want to go in with some ideas of what you plan to do about the situation, so I would have a few ideas to suggest – eg. explaining the expected workload and project outcomes and reminding the team that absences should be pre-planned whenever possible, followed by discussions with the specific workers who are having excessive last minute absences, followed by setting expectations, etc.

  12. Just Another Zebra*

    Question for OP – is this 14 instances with 14 people, or is it 3-4 people, 3-4 times each? Because yes, that does make a difference. I think you should continue to lean towards flexibility (most employees will agree that makes for a good manager), but if you notice it becoming a pattern, that’s worth a conversation. Is it just a difficult time for that person? Is there something more going on? Or are they truly taking advantage?

  13. CubeFarmer*

    What I’m hearing from LW is that this last-minute flexibility is starting to cause trouble with work. That’s a problem.

    I also disagree that this type of flexibility has no effects on those in the office who do not take it. It can be a morale killer. Perhaps those who do not indulge in these last minute schedule changes are more responsible, or do not feel as if they can behave this way because they’ll lose respect at work.

    1. TardyTardis*

      Yes, this is one reason I took early retirement–my husband’s emergencies really did affect the workload for everyone else. My workplace was amazing accommodating me, but it wasn’t going to get any better for them or for me

  14. Ori*

    I am one of those people who often asks at the last minute for time off. To be honest, usually it is stuff you can’t plan eg an impromptu invite or I just really need a day off. I usually know what needs to be done and tell my boss I have XYZ files that are urgent. Can I have Friday off as long as that is completed and he is fine with that. There has been once or twice where he has had to refuse as he genuinely needs me there on that day and I understand that. Emergencies are different and need understanding. But rather than blanket banning impromptu leave, set expectations. It is fine for impromptu leave requests to be conditional on certain work being completed first.

  15. Flossie Bobbsey*

    I rarely disagree with Alison, but “leaving early to pick up a kid from the bus stop” is on par with an emergency for many people and not “optional” as characterized in her response, particularly if alternate safe arrangements for the child to be greeted fall through unexpectedly. I would be out of there like lightening if I found out my child was about to have to get off the bus alone at a young age. In my area, the bus driver isn’t even allowed to leave if children below a certain age don’t have someone at the bus stop to meet them.

    1. Sharon*

      Yes, but you know ahead of time that your kid will be at the bus stop at 3 pm every day, and you plan accordingly. If whoever was supposed to meet them also had a last minute issue, that’s understandable. But if it’s a nice day and you just feel like leaving early and finishing the day at home, I can see why the boss is irritated if your absence impacts the work.

  16. YetAnotherAnalyst*

    Another thing for OP to consider, though this is going to be really dependent on the nature of the work, but – is this a flexibility issue, or a planning/prioritizing issue? Or maybe both?

    If you’re assigning out work so the team is at 100% capacity for the week (accounting for scheduled days off) with high-priority tasks, and then life happens and someone calls out sick one day, then either a deadline gets missed or someone else picks it up and ends up over capacity for the week. But if you assigned out work at 80% of capacity, or if 20% of the week was clearly low priority, then half your team could call out for a day and the team could still absorb it. It’s also really helpful on the occasions when a sudden high priority task appears out of nowhere, because you’ve already built enough buffer in to accommodate it.

    Obviously that’s not going to be practical for all types of work, and if folks are really abusing the flexibility you’d still need to address it. But it’s one way to offer flexibility without damaging work outcomes.

  17. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    I’m one of those who basically never requests time off. I requested a full day off last week to sign paperwork and ended up taking only 4 hours off due to the workload I had to get through. Before that, I think I last took time off (besides planned vacations) maybe 3 years ago? Do I resent that my coworker in the same role as me took the afternoon off today because of a medical situation? Of course not! Life happens. I appreciate that if I need the flexibility, it’s there. I may not use it much, but it’s there if I need it. And I understand it’s one of the benefits of working for my employer, along with other benefits that I do use frequently, but maybe my coworkers do not use as much.

  18. Sam R*

    The bit about fairness, “It also seems unfair to the people who never have last-minute schedule requests”, it’s not like people who have to suddenly change their schedules are doing so simply because they feel like it (hopefully). As someone who has had to make similar requests previously due to serious illness, I’d consider those people who don’t have such worries to be pretty lucky! And it’s good for everyone to know that flexibility is there if they need it, because who knows who might need that kind of consideration in the future.

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