my employee doesn’t work enough hours

A reader writes:

I supervise a very good employee. She is exempt and full-time. She is very efficient, but she rarely puts a full day in at the office. I haven’t had a problem with this because of her efficiency, and I don’t think hours worked is as important as productivity.

Lately she has been telling me that she does not have time to take on projects. But I know she can fit in more work because she isn’t working the full 40 hours she is supposed to. How do I approach this without making it seem as if my concern is that I don’t see her in the office from 8-5 every day?

I answer this question — and four others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Is it okay to cry when firing someone?
  • My interview got canceled because another team is interested in me
  • Can I tell my employee she might need glasses?
  • Asking why a job is open again so soon

{ 300 comments… read them below }

  1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    LW #4: If your employee needs glasses AND isn’t covered by a health plan that includes a vision benefit, you may be asking her to take on an unreasonable financial burden. Make sure the company offers some kind of help with this (it should), and that way you can bring it up by helpfully informing her of the benefits that are available to her.

    1. middle name danger*

      It could also help to give a recommendation of an eye doctor you know is covered. One of the biggest things that stops me from making an appointment when I know I need one is having to research who is covered, is accepting new patients, has hours I can access, all of that.

      1. mediamaven*

        But why would that be the employers responsibility? We all have to do research to find a doctor?

        1. Rach*

          It isn’t? The LW was asking for ways to help not lose her and this is a way they can help if they so choose.

        2. I'm just here for the cats*

          Its not on the employer, but it would be a nice thing to do. The lw says she where glasses too. She, presumably, has a local eye doctand has vision coverage through work. She could very much offer her advice, “i know we’ve spoken about you needing glasses. I thought I’d let you know dr. X on main Street is an excellent dr, is always taking new patients and with the company insurance you get 50% off.

          1. middle name danger*

            This – it’s not the company’s responsibility, or LW’s responsibility, it is just another option. LW doesn’t know what might be stopping the employee from making an appointment and getting this taken care of, and if LW wants to help, this is an option on how they can remove an obstacle. Bringing up your own eye doctor can also be a softer way of bringing up the topic. It’s just nice, not necessary.

    2. Rainy*


      My employer-offered vision plan is “shockingly good” according to my optometrist, and even with the really large discounts, eyeglasses that are exactly what my optometrist recommends are still >$400 my cost. I can get cheaper ones from zenni and similar services, of course, but because of my weird vision situation, bulk e-tailers like zenni/warby parker/whatever can only do part of my prescription, because one of the corrections needed is so minor it’s under the threshold for discount e-tailers. I’m in the position of hoping presbyopia will finally hit so I can afford discount glasses that correct for more than just my astigmatism.

      1. Anon here*

        So much this. Minor prescriptions or prescriptions that are complicated will not go thru the discount places. If it’s very minor sometimes reading glasses can fix the problem well enough, but that doesn’t always work – and for reasons known only to the lens makers- well, glasses are way too expensive.

        (Spoken as the cheapest person in my family from an eyeglass perspective – and mine with insurance still routinely are about $300 a pop. My middle schooler’s last pair of glasses cost almost $600 just for the lenses. Glasses are way too expensive, and way too necessary. Oh, and yeah – that’s after fed gov’t employee insurance coverage.)

        1. Aaron*

          In my experience the discount places also aren’t as good for repairs and warranties. I’m clumsier than average, but I’ve never bought a pair I didn’t need repaired at least once.

      2. Liz*

        Same, same, same. as someone who’s worn glasses for the better part of 50 years, including bifocals as a child, then separate reading and distance glasses and now progressives, I cannot like this enough! I also (according to my eye dr. and and optical shop staff there) have AMAZING vision insurance. they laughed when, the first time I used this insurance, was HAPPY mine were only $500. And that’s with the significant discounts i get with my plan. its all about the lenses. i’ve paid over 1K for glasses under an old plan, so the cheaper options just won’t work for me.

      3. rachel in nyc*

        I’ve never gotten any- or rather not in recent memory- but I know one of my co-workers said that our vision plan for glasses only goes into effect if there is no discount on the glasses.

        Buy $X off a pair of glasses? Vision plan doesn’t apply.

        But it does become a good use for everyone’s end of year FSA spending.

    3. Colette*

      Yes, an eye exam and glasses can be expensive; losing your job is far more expensive. It’s not the OP’s responsibility to figure out what she needs to do to get glasses or pay for them; it’s her job to be clear with her employee that these mistakes are serious and she needs to fix them.

      1. Colette*

        It’s interesting, because if I needed screen reader software, a different monitor, or a special keyboard, my employer would pay for it – but I don’t think I could get them to pay for my glasses outside of what is covered by our health care plan.

        On the other hand, when I needed a knee scooter, I didn’t even consider asking them to pay for it.

        I think the difference is that glasses/mobility aids are things you need for life, not the specific job. It’s sometimes a fine line.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I need glasses mainly for work, and also for sewing, but that’s not necessarily something my employer would need to know about. Also, I only started needing glasses after I started staring at my screen for hours every day, which only happened once I started working at the agency. (I’d been working as a teacher before that, then free-lanced briefly, but that was very part-time, basically I worked while my baby napped, and on a few occasions I worked all night just before a big deadline.) I think it’s totally on the employer to ensure your ocular health given the importance it plays in work. After all I could just give up on the sewing (much as it would make me unhappy), but I can’t give up on working.

      2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        Everyone’s eyes get worse with age; it seems unnecessary to punish the person for allowing this to happen. I feel like a good manager would help her solve the problem instead of issuing threats.

        1. Colette*

          It’s not about punishing her; it’s about whether she meets the requirements or not. If it’s a 3-person company, maybe they can offer to help pay for it. Most large companies don’t want to start paying for everyone’s glasses (outside of their health care plan), so they’re not going to do it for one person.

        2. Sharpie*

          The comment about eyes getting worse with age is not entirely true. I’ve been short-sighted in my left eye all my life, and at my recent eye test, I was informed that it had improved, something which is not unusual as a person ages. Other conditions, and long-sightedness, may well not improve – and I don’t think I will ever not need glasses for driving and other distance work.

          (And I’m very grateful that the total cost of my eye test, eye health check and glasses was under £250. I honestly don’t know how you guys in the US manage when you’re looking at $300+ for the same level of service.)

          1. MassMatt*

            I’m trying to make sense of your math. British pound is worth $1.42 USD. Your 250 pounds worth of optometry would be $355 USD. Your prices are higher and you are wondering how WE manage it?

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              I’m confused for a different reason: I’ve never paid more than £10 for an eye test, even lasting over an hour, and usually get two pairs of glasses for around £100 even with anti-glare, etc (though admittedly not bi- or varifocals or super slim or anything). £250 is more like what my sibling pays for their complicated prescription in designer frames.

              Also, if you need glasses for work specifically (used to be called “VDU”) then usually your employer has to reimburse you.

              1. Heatherbelles*

                I was about to say – if the glasses are just work-related, and not needed in day-to-day life, then yes, my understanding was work had to reimburse you (or at least contribute.)

                Back in my call-centre days, when I did nothing but computer based work, they’d pay for the eyetest.

                Even now it’s about 25 quid for my eye test, but it’s a great, non-chain optician I use. Had to visit for the biannual check last summer, and they were so on it with Covid Safety etc, I felt really safe.

                No change to my prescription (which I only need to drive with), thank goodness, so no new glasses needed!

              2. somethingchronic*

                That’s interesting. I’m pretty shortsighted, and my lenses tend to come in at £100 or so per pair. There’s no way I could get two pairs of glasses for £100.

                1. londonedit*

                  I have a pretty straightforward prescription and I can go to Specsavers and get a couple of pairs of glasses for under £100 with their 2 for 1 deals. 99% of the time I wear contact lenses, so what I do is pay into an eyecare plan with my optician, which is £13 a month but gives me as many eye appointments as I like in a year (so I can have a full sight test and a full contact lens check every year, including things like retinal photography, as well as not having to pay for any additional appointments I might need if something happens to go wrong) and I get a 10% discount on my contact lenses. The sight test and contact lens check are about £80 each so it works out pretty well!

          2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            My company pays for “computer glasses”, i.e. reading glasses optimized for a typical screen distance (about an arm’s length) or progressives with an enlarged near-field area. They have contracted with a large chain of opticians and I’d just hand in the bill to HR for reimbursement.

    4. Selena*

      LW4 should also keep it in the back of their head that ‘i forgot my glasses’ is a common excuse of people who suffer from dyslexia or illiteracy (and are embarrased about it).
      Unless LW has proof that employee used to be a much better reader they might discretely mention adult literacy classes on top of figuring out the cost of glasses.

      (If i am wrong and it’s just about glasses than LW should point out that driving a car without glasses is very dangerous)

      1. vlookup*

        Yes, I like how Alison’s script zooms out from the glasses and focuses on the impact of the errors instead. It seems a bit sticky for the manager to get too caught up in the details of what medical intervention is needed to solve the problem.

      2. Rainy*

        (If i am wrong and it’s just about glasses than LW should point out that driving a car without glasses is very dangerous)

        That’s absolutely untrue even for people who wear glasses. Glasses make me more comfortable if I’m staring at a screen or correcting documents all day. My prescription has never been strong enough that I needed glasses to drive, and not everyone owns a car or drives to work.

        1. Kay*

          LW specifically mentioned that the employee noticed a difference on her commute. It seems like it could be an issue in this case.

          1. Forrest*

            Doesn’t necessarily mean she drives — my first sign that I needed glasses was that I couldn’t read the numbers on buses until they were really close!

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          And someone who is farsighted will be able to drive without glasses, but not read without glasses (in general).

          All of this makes me wonder if she could use a cheap pair of non-prescription readers. That’s what I use for computer glasses.

      3. Jack Straw*

        This. As I was reading my brain was shouting SHE MAY BE DXSLESIC the whole time. If it were purely a vision problem, the numbers would be wrong, not transposed.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I wondered about that too, but didn’t the LW say this is a recent problem?

          1. Jack Straw*

            LW says that the employee “continually makes typos and transposes numbers” and “over the past several months, she has made comments that she may need glasses.” As a person who has dyslexia, the typo/transposition was a flag for me.

            I consistently type certain words incorrectly, even when I focus on spelling/typing them the right way. I transpose numbers pretty regularly, too. Any budgeting or data analysis I do I have at least one other person review.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              This. My vision is an absolute mess (nearsighted and wearing a bifocal contact in one eye, three surgeries in the other, two for retina issues and one for a resulting cataract). I also sometimes transpose numbers. But that’s not because I cannot see. I’m guessing the transposition is caused by my attention deficit. If her errors were due to her bad vision, she’d be typing 3 instead of 8, 0 instead of 9 etc. She would *not* be transposing numbers!

              1. ArtsNerd*

                Reading this letter had me screaming “CONSIDER ADHD” in my head.

                I used to wonder if I had some kind of mild dyslexia. As it turns out, these kind of typos and number transpositions (beyond just not reading something carefully) can also occur with ADHD. It’s such an absurd condition.

                Of course, learning differences and neurodivergence in the workplace isn’t something LAOP needs to diagnose or accommodate without disclosure, but it could be helpful for them to consider other scenarios as a root cause.

                1. ArtsNerd*

                  Caveat: I’ve only recently started treating my ADHD with meds and I’m still in the annoying part where I see shades of ADHD everywhere and want to tell everyone the non-stereotypical ways it shows up and that stimulants are medically considered a first-line treatment and not a last resort.

        2. Fiddle_Faddle*

          I have a mild case of dysgraphia: no problems whatever reading/learning, but regularly transpose things as I type. Writing by hand doesn’t cause the same problem, presumably because it’s slower than typing – but it does happen when I play the piano. Sub-optimal brain-fingers interface. :-)

          Sometimes I can actually feel my brain transpose the letters just before my fingers move. However, the fix for this in my case is proofreading (and avoiding pianos). Whether that would help the employee in question is a different question.

      4. pleaset cheap rolls*

        “(If i am wrong and it’s just about glasses than LW should point out that driving a car without glasses is very dangerous)”

        Depends what the glasses are for.

        I wear glasses almost all the time at home and in the office for seeing close (particularly reading). I don’t need them driving.

      5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        A former boss had what he called a mild form of dyslexia, he used to invert sixes and eights, nothing else. We all learned never to trust him with figures, and double check every time. As trade union rep at that company, I even negotiated a bigger pay rise for the teachers: they were being paid 65 French francs an hour and the boss suggested bumping it up to 68. I pointed out that he might end up paying them 86 by accident because of his dyslexia and convinced him to go all the way up to 70 just to avoid those dreaded figures completely.
        Yes this was last century, and yes he filled our pay slips in by hand. It was even before the fall of the Communist bloc, when workers could ask for all sorts of stuff and the boss would give in to avoid sparking a revolution.

  2. Nanani*

    Q1 strikes me a bit as punishing efficiency? If the employee is getting their work done efficiently to a suitably high level, don’t punish that. Nothing like being rewarded for being good at your job with higher expectations than your peers for no greater reward.

    1. chewingle*

      I think the issue is that they are saying they don’t have time for projects that they would have time for if they were showing up for the standard 40 hours that are expected of them.

      1. ShanShan*

        Sure, but they could also just work more slowly.

        It sounds like the projects this person wants them to take on are outside normal job responsibilities, and that this person is only considering offering them because this person works quickly and therefore has extra time.

        If this person worked at a normal speed, they still wouldn’t have time for projects.

        1. Calliope*

          Normally, the benefit of working fast and well is that you get promoted and have a good reputation, not that you get paid full time for doing part time work. It’s different if you’re a contractor paid by the piece.

          1. StressedButOkay*

            I was going to say, I can occasionally get away with working quickly and well and logging off early but I can’t expect that to fly every day. Each job is different, of course, but projects come up and expectations of what folks need to work on can change.

            You’re not punishing someone’s efficiency by asking them to make sure they come in if there’s work for them to do if it’s within the realm of their job and their normal hours that were set before they started to leave early.

          2. TardyTardis*

            Ha ha ha ha ha ha! My reward for working quickly and well was…another pile of invoices because they knew I would get it done. Promotions? We no spikka that language!

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yeah, I was more productive as a part-timer than my full-time colleague who’d even stay late several times a week, or take work home once she had her kids.
              Yet she was the one who got a pay rise, precisely because she stayed late so often. So I just slacked off and spent more time working for the NGO I volunteer with, instead of getting even more paid work done.

            2. Kat in VA*

              My joke for working efficiently and well and doing a good job is: It’s like I won a pie-eating contest, where the prize is…more pie!

    2. Panhandlerann*

      But if she’s refusing to take on more work when she’s working fewer than 40 hours per week in what’s supposed to be a fulltime job, I fail to see how what the OP speaks of would entail a punishment.

      1. Nanani*

        They’re exempt and full-time so hours shouldn’t be the issue. The LW even says they don’t think hours matter as much as productivity.
        If Jane needs 35 hours to get 40 hours “worth” of work done, making Jane do 45 hours of work going forward is fundamentally unfair.

        1. Cooper*

          I would wager that there’s a decent number of high performers/quick workers out there who intentionally obfuscate how quickly they work because otherwise, they get more tasks thrown at them than others, and almost always without an increase in pay. Not that I’d know personally, or anything. Definitely not.

          1. Anonny nonny*

            I do that but only because I know it’s busy work and I’m continually piled upon. I took on extra work in 2020 for other coworkers and lots of it is still on my plate. Did I get fairly compensated for this? NO! Still angry about it. I work fast but always overestimate my time so I don’t get voluntold for more projects.

            1. MassMatt*

              I had someone on my team that was very fast with a weekly busywork task everyone hated as it took away from their ability to make sales. We managers (3-5 of us) would take turns assigning the tasks to everyone and doing QC to make sure they were done. Ryan could get his done in 20 minutes, and most people would take 45 minutes, some well over an hour. Another manager gave him 2x as much to do as everyone else, and a slowpoke got even less. Slowpoke’s manager claimed “fairness” meant everyone should be taken off from sales the same amount of time. Ryan (and I) pointed out that this incentivized him to work slower and be less productive. The rest of the staff agreed everyone should get the same number of tasks and it became clear that slowpoke and his manager were in the distinct minority.

              With that said, I don’t think this is the same situation. Presumably this employee was hired to work full time, not simply do an arbitrarily derived “average person 40 hours worth of work”. In cases where someone is efficient, it stands to reason they should get more tasks versus going home for the day, and from the employee perspective this is showing the employer they are capable and should be at the front of the line for interesting projects, advancement, etc.

              1. No Longer Looking*

                The belief that everyone must work a set number of hours a week, is toxic.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  It really depends on what your industry is or what type of work that you do. If you have projects and tasks that are set and allow you to work at your own pace as long as you hit deadlines, sure, no problem. If you have any sort of coverage situation or are expected to be available during certain hours, then yes, everyone needs to participate in the coverage or be available for unscheduled assignments.

                  I am fast and efficient. It takes me very little time to do things. But part of my job is to be available to respond to client needs, so, if I left at 3:30 and a project arose at 4 and I wasn’t there to pick it up, that would be problematic. My to-do list is fluid and priorities constantly shift.

                  I have also worked in environments where you were expected to bill a certain number of hours, which you’d never do by working less than full-time hours and declining new projects/tasks.

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  When it’s a matter of manning the phones or having someone on duty to handle whatever might crop, it’s essential.
                  When it’s work that can be measured in terms of productivity (the number of words for a translator, for example), then counting hours is indeed toxic.

                  My colleague only translated half the words I managed, yet she was paid a handsome full-time wage (and even overtime) and I was paid a measly part-time wage. Once I saw that I wasn’t getting any kind of compensation for my extra output, I slacked off.

                  Then I went freelance, took some customers with me and now produce the same amount of work for more money, and I feel like I work fewer hours – this may simply be because I organise my work as I see fit rather than having to put in set hours at the office.

                3. Dust Bunny*

                  Oh, please.

                  If the agreement is X salary for a full-time job, then her options are to work the full-time job or to reduce the salary to fit the hours she feels like working. As it is, there is work for her to do to fill those hours, so her employer is not at all unreasonable in asking her to do it.

          2. TiffIf*

            Immediately reminded me of this scene from Star Trek: TNG episode “Relics”

            Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Look, Mr. Scott, I’d love to explain everything to you, but the Captain wants this spectrographic analysis done by 1300 hours.
            Scotty: Do you mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.
            Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Yeah, well, I told the Captain I’d have this analysis done in an hour.
            Scotty: How long will it really take?
            Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: An hour!
            Scotty: Oh, you didn’t tell him how long it would *really* take, did ya?
            Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Well, of course I did.
            Scotty: Oh, laddie. You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

            1. The New Wanderer*

              Or you could go with worst secret code ever (also Star Trek): in Wrath of Khan, Kirk and Spock are talking about how badly the Enterprise is damaged when they know Khan can hear their communications. Spock says something like “hours can seem as days” and then says it’ll take 3 days to complete repairs. To the surprise of only the super-genius Khan, it of course takes only 3 hours.

            2. Cedarthea*

              As we learned from the the team on the USS Cerritos, everyone needs some buffer time, well everyone but Ensign Boimler of the Boimler Principle.

            3. Cooper*

              My dad had me sit down to watch this specific episode with him when I was a kid *specifically* for this scene– it was important advice!
              (Right up there with “you can make no mistakes and still lose” for Star Trek life lessons, imo)

          3. I'm A Little Teapot*

            Yep. I have deliberately slowed down. I am fully capable of doing about 1.5 FTEs worth of work in 1 FTE worth of time. Unless you’re going to pay me for 1.5 FTEs however, I don’t feel like doing that.

          4. Calliope*

            That’s not really being a “high performer.” Which is fine – it’s being a deliberate middle-of-the-road performer. I think the bigger issue there is not the hours, it’s being somewhere where hard work isn’t valued.

        2. Beth*

          Agreed–the question here needs to be about whether this employee’s workload is on par with the rest of the team, not how many hours they take to do it. If a salaried employee with a normal level of tasks assigned takes 45 hours to complete it, no one bats an eye; part of being salaried is that you work extra hours sometimes, and it’s not considered ‘overtime’ or ‘extra’. By the same token, if, on a different week, you’re able to complete the same amount of work to the same standard in 35 hours, that’s not you being ‘underworked’ or ‘getting off early’; it’s you having had a really productive, efficient week!

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            This. If she’s doing 10 projects in 35 hours, and everyone else is doing 10 projects in 40 or 45 hours, it would be punishing her for being efficient. But if everyone else is doing 11 or 12, and she balks at adding one, that’s different.

        3. Snark*

          Fairness is not an operative concept here, I don’t really think. If there’s work that needs done, and it’s part of Jane’s position to do it, and Jane’s scheduled work hours have time available, it makes sense to task her with that. 40 hours “worth” of work is such an entirely subjective measure that it’s going to vary person to person and position to position.

          1. sofar*

            Agreed. And it can vary within the same person. When I first started my job, what I could accomplish within 40 hours was much less (as I was learning). When that same amount of work started taking 30 hours, I took on new projects, eventually getting promoted.

            Now, if a company is piling on, giving you tasks above your role, and not promoting, that’s when you move on — hopefully with a more impressive resume because you were efficient and got involved with a lot of projects in your role.

            It also depends on how often LW is leaving early/starting late. Is it a “leaving at 4 p.m. on a Friday?” thing? Or a “consistently leaving two hours early every day” thing?

        4. Anny*

          Agreed. More work isn’t a great reward for being productive and efficient. Perhaps it’s worthwhile for OP to ask the employee what kinds of projects they would be interested in taking on. If the employee is looking to advance in a certain area, there might be opportunities there–especially if there is potential for promotion.

          1. Snark*

            “Reward” is also not an operative concept here. The reward for being productive and efficient is a promotion or a raise for employees who merit them, and if that’s not on offer, then the real problem lies there. Being able to skip out early is a nice perk for a slow week where there’s legitimately nothing that needs doing and I’ve been working hard, but there’s a reason the concept of the fulltime equivalent exists. My salary is for 40 hours a week of my labor, not just what I might define as “enough” or “40 hours worth.”

          2. TardyTardis*

            Yes, it’s always good to pile more stuff on someone who works well and quickly (with of course no difference in pay from the local snail). Right?

            Of course, finding the two and a half people to take on the workload when that person leaves?


        5. Ask a Manager* Post author

          As I noted below, this isn’t the way exempt jobs generally work, and arguing for it here without noting that risks giving really bad advice to people who don’t know that (i.e., a reader who thinks they can now refuse to do more work, thinking that’s how this works)..

          1. londonedit*

            We don’t have exempt/non-exempt but I’m paid a salary in exchange for 37.5 hours of work every week. Yes it fluctuates and no one’s tracking my time to the minute, so it’s fine for me to sometimes start earlier and finish earlier, or start later and finish later, or take a longer lunch one day, but I’m expected to work my contracted hours and I’m expected to be available during the hours I’m meant to be working. Sometimes I have less work to do than other times, but that doesn’t mean I can just pack up and stop working at 2pm for a week – there’s always something I can find to do, or I can take a bit of extra downtime during the day, but I can’t just stop working because I feel like it.

        6. justanobody*

          Not if she’s only working 40 hours a week and is getting paid for 40 hours.

        7. Calliope*

          That’s true if they’re working 35 hours instead of 40. It’s not true if they’re working 30 hours instead of 40. The point of being “exempt” is not to continually get to shorten your workday by 25%; that’s not really fair to anyone.

      2. Speaks to Dragonflies*

        Because if your efficient and get the same amount of things done than the average person,with the same or better quality, then your ” reward” is to have MORE work put on your plate. I’ve seen this happen and had it happen to me. It builds resentment from the employee,and they will travel on to better places a wiser employee.

        1. Calliope*

          But that better employer will probably pay them more and recognize their work more, not give them less work.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Foolish mortal, Calliope. What it means is that when the person leaves, the employer will have to find a couple of people to take on the same workload, when they could have paid the first employee 25% more and kept them

            But alas, few employers are so wise.

        2. Queen Anon*

          Additionally, in my experience the efficient person is “rewarded” not just with more work – but more crap work or busy work or jobs that no one else wants to do (which is often why they’re taking so long to finish their own work in the first place). Work efficiently and instead of getting something more interesting to work on, you’re asked to do Jane’s filing because she works so ridiculously slowly she never has time to do it. No thank.

          1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

            Yep…IME ,Queen Anon gets the prize. Sorry ,Calliope. In a perfect world, what you describe is what should happen, and I’m sure it has. But this world isn’t perfect etc etc etc…Not every employer is “good”.
            I’m sure if we did a poll, there would be as many of not more people who got more work piled on because they were more efficient than thier peers.Hopefully, the piled upon left to go work for a “good” employer. That’s what I did, and if the Op’s employee gets her peers leftovers to finish, I would guess that’s what they will do.
            We have all read on this site from folks being given more and more work to do, for whatever reason, and the advice given is to ” set boundaries” to try to have work/ life balance, or leave for greener pastures.That’s what this employee is doing.
            The folks saying that those boundaries should be trampled over sound like crusty, bitter, hard nose managers that just can’t seem to squeeze the last little bit of work out of their reports. If this rant seems dramatic, it’s because this subject hits close to home. Worked hard, did a great job, made things more efficient. All I got to show for it was a “Good job.By the way, we need you to go to the night shift next week. Raise? Oh we don’t have the budget for that at the moment, but maybe if you can figure out how to do this even faster, we maybe could find something for you.” Those words and the broke down, worn out body I have now. So it’s personal to me.

      3. Sleeping after sunrise*

        I successfully argued at a job that it was fundamentally unfair to pay me less to do more work at a higher standard than others just because I was good at my job and could work efficiently.

        If you expect an employee to do more work than their colleagues you should be willing to pay them more. That’s why senior people earn more, either because they are working at a higher level or because they achieve more on the time allotted.

        Equal pay for equal work applies here.

        1. DireRaven*

          Except what happens, if there is no “extra” work that can be fobbed off onto the efficient employee, is that people notice that employee “isn’t doing anything” or is “slacking off” because all tasks are completed, and helping with their colleagues’ tasks is out because either explaining background knowledge needed would be more time consuming or it was designed for one person to do start to finish. So, the person ends up getting fired or managed out or made so miserable that they quit for slacking off and “not being dedicated” (especially if coworkers are staying late to finish their tasks, and all said employee would be doing is thumb twiddling). And they realize later that they need to hire two or three people to replace that one person.

    3. middle name danger*

      I guess the question would be if the additional projects are within the normal scope of the employee’s job. If the new projects are above and beyond the usual requirements, sure, but it sounds like these are things that should be able to fit in a normal work week.

      1. Selena*

        OP does not come of as an overly-demanding manager who wants to pile tasks on the desk of their most efficient worker. The question seems aimed much more at tasks that would be reasonable to ask of any fulltime employee.

    4. ENFP in Texas*

      If you’re salaried, you’re being paid for 40 hours a week. If you aren’t working 40 hours a week, then you have time to take on additional work.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        I’d be sure to tell her how impressive her efficiency is and that I’ll try to see that gets rewarded. But that not showing up is “a very bad look.” That doesn’t encourage promotions or raises.

        Of course, if you won’t offer her either of those, why should she care?

        1. Joan Rivers*

          They both could be playing this game better.
          Mgr. should be talking about rewarding her for more work, and employee should be acting more motivated.

          Maybe employee knows there’s no reward coming, so she’d rather finish fast and have time off. But does that mean she doesn’t enjoy the work? A salaried person who acts unenthusiastic is an odd combo.

          1. DireRaven*

            Working efficiently, getting work done, leaving when the tasks are complete, acting unenthusiastic? Probably not spending time socializing with colleagues, so the tasks can fit well into less than the full scheduled work hours. But, at the end of the day, when tasks are complete, brain is like “lol. no.” to any additional demands – whether work or social. Pretty similar to me on that aspect. I was often “talked to” about working only my scheduled hours (output was excellent, but I didn’t put in the overtime my colleagues did – not my problem they spent all day chatting with each other and the bosses) and seemed unmotivated and unenthusiastic. I have limited energy due to a couple invisible disabilities (not diagnosing, as I am not her doctor, but if that is an issue, then she has the right to request ADA accommodations or her country’s equivalent) and prefer to spend it on the necessary tasks to get the job done and an unexpressive resting/concentration/thinking face.

      2. Spearmint*

        Nope. If you’re salaried you’re paid for what you produce not how long you work. If an employee is being paid for how much they work rather than what they produce, then they should be made hourly and be eligible for overtime pay whenever they work even an hour more than 40 per week.

        1. Snark*

          Maybe this works differently where you work, but whether private or public sector, every job I’ve had for the last 15 years has been salaried and the position description specified 80-hour pay periods. There’s latitude around that, and I often get to fade out on a slow Friday afternoon, but I certainly am not paid for what I produce and there’s an expectation that I am here during the core hours described in my core documents.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s not how it usually works in reality. I don’t disagree in theory, but that’s not how most organizations actually handle exempt employees. It’s why it’s so common for exempt employees to have to use PTO if they take off a half day. It’s yet another example of how things do work vs. how things should work.

          1. Spearmint*

            You’re right. I should have made it clear that I was talking about how things *should* work, not how they actually work.

            1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

              On the downside, that would cause possible resentment on the part of non-exempt staff. Before those categories existed, most of the staff where I worked didn’t pay much attention to what grade an employee was, and there were generous overlaps in the pay bands. It suddenly changed, and things like going out to lunch with colleagues became a sticky issue because the exempt people could be gone for 90 minutes or so, but the non-exempt ones had to be back at their desks at exactly one hour. And when there were special projects, the exempt people had to shoulder a bigger load because our place wouldn’t authorize overtime for non-exempt staff. That divide started to drive a wedge deeper and deeper, where there hadn’t previously been one.

          2. Anon for this*

            Yep. My workplace is cracking down on this with salaried folks. I predict that the same amount of work will get done, and the only change will be to morale.

          3. Calliope*

            Is it how they “should” work though? I’m not sure I agree with that. That’s how being a contractor often works. Being exempt “should” in my mind usually be more about flexibility than consistently working 75% time for 100% pay. I’m not saying that people who do more work shouldn’t be rewarded – but usually that’s with a raise, not with part time hours (unless that is specifically negotiated).

            1. Calliope*

              And thinking more about this, I think part of my issue is that in a lot of exempt jobs, the issue isn’t that you’re hired to do X widgets vs. Y widgets and nothing else. There’s a lot of other stuff that needs to be done – training, hiring, leadership, documentation of procedures and methods, innovating new procedures. I do think in an ideal world there would be WAY more part-time opportunities and no stigma about taking them, but I don’t think “if you’re exempt, you come in and do X and then leave even if it only takes you 20 hours every week consistently” makes a lot of sense as the best system in the world.

      3. KRM*

        But LW doesn’t know if the worker leaves early to pick up children/elders/run errands/go to the laundromat, and then works later at night? So the employee IS working 40 hr a week, they’re just not all in the office. And maybe employee is afraid to say that because they don’t want to lose the flexibility they have. So no, they don’t have bandwith for something else, but they’re scared to say “I pick up my kids at 3:30 but then do 80′ or so of work after bedtime” in case the boss says “you can’t do that!!”
        Note: I’m not judging on if LW would do that or not. As we all know, people have been burned by other things in their lives and thus don’t want to make the same mistake going forward.

        1. Hedgehog O'Brien*

          This was my thought exactly. I’ve been that worker and I know many colleagues who have been. The employee should communicate that to the LW for sure, but it’s possible this person already is working 40 hours a week or more, they’re just doing some of it at home.

        2. Sal*

          +1. This was my immediate thought. I wonder if that would change OP’s mind about the employee’s bandwidth, though? I would hope the answer would be yes, but I would worry that the response would be to reduce the flexibility instead (“if you’re really doing 40 hours, then prove it”).

        3. Yorick*

          Either way, Alison’s advice would work – ask the employee why they think they don’t have time for new projects, even though they don’t work the full-time hours.

          And let’s not try to make up reasons for the worker’s behavior that there’s no evidence for.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Because we’ve known too many bosses who think ‘she’s not working hard enough’ to people with surprising out of office obligations.

    5. Elliott*

      I’m not sure. I think the OP’s perspective, that the employee would have time for those projects if she worked 40 hours, is understandable. Maybe reasonable. But I also wonder what effect it would have on the employee to take on more, since work takes effort and mental energy as well as time. Just because she’s finishing early right now doesn’t necessarily mean that she wouldn’t be stressed if she took on more, or that the quality of her work wouldn’t suffer.

      I think this is probably a situation where it’d be helpful to think about the type of work being done, and take into consideration why the employee feels she doesn’t have time.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        How much does “enthusiasm” matter? Turning down work is not a good look, if you have time to do it.
        I didn’t know acting uninterested in your job is an option, actually. I thought we at least have to say “It’s tiring when I push hard and get done faster than others, it’s just how I tend to work.” We at least pretend we care about what we’re doing that they’re paying us for.
        Is she rushing cause she doesn’t enjoy her job? And turning down more work for the same reason? She’s not bringing up a raise.

        1. Aron*

          Maintaining boundaries at work and not being dumped on for being more efficient than coworkers is a better look. I learned when I was 25 to stop being an over-eager, can-do-will-do! people pleaser at work.

      2. pbnj*

        I agree, there is only so much mental bandwidth a person has for managing projects before performance drops.

      3. Essay*

        This was my first thought as well. Especially in creative work, if I’m getting everything done in, say, 35 hours and you want to add more creative work….buddy, I just don’t have it in the tank. Instead, I could take on more administrative tasks or advise on something, etc etc. But coming up with writing/art/plans/etc from scratch often doesn’t translate to “if you have more hours, you can do more.”

        1. CatsOnAKeyboard*

          This is me as well. I do twice as much as the other two people in my role at the company in about 30 hours – I’m very fast and work in bursts, they’re more methodical. They often both work after hours to catch up. But if I take on more pieces than I do, the overall quality of all my work will suffer – it won’t be fresh or original, and it’ll be more likely to have mistakes. I can’t work 40 hours in my role at my regular pace – I’d burn out. If the employee doesn’t have the mental bandwidth to do more – and is already doing what’s typical in the job – then they don’t.

          1. somethingchronic*

            Same here. I’m autistic, and I work with laser-sharp focus that means I zoom through my work. It’s just the way my brain works. But, you can’t give me extra work on top of that as standard, because I can’t keep it up for 40h per week every week without burning out.

            1. Violet Rose*

              It’s very comforting to see posts from people like me! I can get a lot done very efficiently, as long as I’m not focusing on similar tasks for more than about 20-25 hours a week. Past that, my overall efficiency drops, and past 30-35 hours, the drop is pretty precipitous. I’m finally coming to accept that this is just how I do things: I go full-throttle, which means I can only do it for less time.

              Mental bandwidth, like pbnj said, is also limited, and for me it fills up REALLY fast, so I have to budget it strictly. Reading this letter, I was internally screaming, “she may not be able to add another project before balls start to drop!”

      4. Dust Bunny*

        . . . so what?

        I’m hourly and if I finish something early my boss will still give me more work because a) it needs to be done and b) I have time to do it. Salaried or not is irrelevant. But the agreement is that they pay me for a full-time job and I work a full-time job.

        1. JM60*

          But the agreement is that they pay me for a full-time job and I work a full-time job.

          But whole whole point of salaried work (at least in theory) is that you’re paid for the work, not the time. If a salaried and exempt employee gets 40 hours worth of work done in a given week, they’ve done full-time work that week regardless of how many hours it took them.

          …of course, that’s not how it tends to work. In practice, most employees who are salaried and exempt are expected to work potentially much more than 40 hours/week when the workload is high, but are still expected to work ~40 hrs/week even if they could finish in only 25 hours.

          my boss will still give me more work because a) it needs to be done and b) I have time to do it.

          A) It’s almost always possible for there to be more work for employees to do (either by creating more work or by understaffing), and b) mathematically, most people have enough time to work 80 hrs/week. However, that’s very unhealthy. We’re better of as a society if we have good work/life balance, rather than working as much as we can.

    6. Beth*

      It really depends on whether the projects OP1 wants to assign would keep the employee at a normal workload or whether they would be extra.

      If the work being assigned is on par with the amount other employees on the team are doing, the employee needs to be open to taking them on. It’s great to get to leave early when your workload allows—that’s strong motivation to be efficient and hardworking!—but it’s a perk, not something you can expect to be consistent forever.

      If, on the other hand, OP is hoping that this employee will take on extra work above and beyond what everyone else is doing…I mean, they can still require it, but they’re likely to be shooting themselves in the foot. If the ‘reward’ for efficiency is just extra work, then why should the employee keep pushing themselves so hard? As an employee, that would tell me that I should slow down a bit—there’s no sense wearing myself out when that extra work doesn’t benefit me at all.

      1. calonkat*

        “If the ‘reward’ for efficiency is just extra work, then why should the employee keep pushing themselves so hard? ”
        Correct, 100% can confirm. While it’s nice to know that when I finally quit a job it takes 2 people to replace me, it’s annoying when I realize how little I was valued until I finally quit.

        1. Exhausted Trope*

          Oh, gosh, yes. I keep having that thought. And if I’m so valued, why doesn’t my compensation reflect that?

          1. Joan Rivers*

            But slower employees may have OTHER virtues:
            * showing more “excitement” and team spirit
            * being there to help out in a sudden crunch when the fast one isn’t
            * acting motivated
            Does the fast one know what slack others may be picking up in her absence? Providing continuity, answering questions, etc.? Fast work isn’t necessarily the only contribution needed at work.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              I’m picturing those moments when “slower” people “pitch in” in an emergency even if it’s not their job. Being “fast” is great but sometimes the admin. is out or there’s a glitch and people step up and help out. Or they know the answer to an urgent question.

            2. Autumnheart*

              I’m sure the fast one does know what slack others are picking up in her absence, because she’s the one picking up their slack on all the other days.

              I mean, if working slowly and then giving a performance of “helping” makes me a more “valuable” employee than a person who actually does more work in less time, then shit! I think I’ll go take a 17-minute coffee break or four, then come back and volunteer myself enthusiastically to “help”. I’m sure the boss will be super impressed with my excitement and team spirit.

              1. Simply the best*

                She’s not picking up any slack if she’s going home the second she’s finished with her projects.

            3. TardyTardis*

              And being available to sympathize with the boss and chat him or her up whenever the boss has spare time. Trust me, I’ve seen that one.

      2. Selena*

        …If the ‘reward’ for efficiency is just extra work, then why should the employee keep pushing themselves so hard?…

        Exactely. It’s good practise to allow your workers to go home a bit early if they did a good job.

      3. Snark*

        If there’s a higher workload on a regular basis, I think the solution is a raise and promotion. But I don’t think any individual contributor should really expect to be on par with their coworkers at all times. Work ebbs and flows. Sometimes, if there’s taskers for a whole group that aren’t getting done, you give it to the person who has the time in a given work week to do it or the one who you know will do it right.

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, exactly.

          And the OP didn’t say, for example, “September to November is our busy season; she normally works 50 hours a week during those months and then 30 the rest of the time”. That would be a case where the work ebbs and flows, and the employee sometimes works more and sometimes less. In this case, it seems like the employee always works less than a 40 hour week. While we can say that she is paid by the work, her salary was likely calculated based on the work taking about 40 hours a week, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect her to work around that number of hours.

          A lot of this depends on the details, though. Is she working when she’s not in the office? What is the work the OP wants her to take on – would it move her from, say 35 hours a week to 50? Is it complex work or fairly straightforward?

          1. All the words*

            It just doesn’t seem realistic that the employee wouldn’t have mentioned any hours worked outside of the office when the OP asked them take on the tasks in question.

        2. Beth*

          Yes, that’s true, the goal isn’t to nitpick whether everyone is exactly on par with everyone else at any given instant. (That would be so impossible in most work environments! How would you even quantify it?) But I don’t think that changes the overall point; if this employee is, in general, already doing the same amount of work as everyone else, then making her the go-to person to assign extra projects to would be a bad move.

          I don’t really think the raise-and-promotion concept is relevant here, though—or at least, it isn’t the automatic solution. A promotion to the next level up might substantially change the job (e.g. moving from an individual contributor to management); there might not be room in the company hierarchy to promote; the employee might prefer doing an average workload and having some time flexibility over getting a raise; there might not be room in the budget for a raise. If none of those are an issue, then a promotion and raise might be one way to acknowledge the employee’s contributions, but whether it’s a real fix depends on so many factors.

    7. giraffecat*

      That was my thinking as well. When OP is asking her to take on additional projects, would that make her workload higher than others in her role? If the employee is able to get her work done in fewer hours than others, and does that work well, why punish her for being more efficient? All that will likely happen is that this employee will just stop being so efficient and decide to just take longer on her work to make up the hours without having to take on extra work that others don’t have to do. If the OP wants her to take on more work than others because she is so efficient, then that probably should be reflected in a suitable raise.

      Perhaps OP could raise this as an issue for promotion/raises? If the employee wants to be considered for promotion or raises, then taking on this extra work would be a way to demonstrate that?

    8. meyer lemon*

      I don’t know–I think in a lot of ways our view of workers and productivity is still heavily influenced by the factory model, even in jobs where it doesn’t make sense. In most “information industry” jobs, it’s not really about moving widgets around at a predictable rate.

      It’s good for employees to have flexibility around their hours and to have the ability to leave early when they’re finished with their work, but “work” isn’t a uniform, interchangeable mass that gets sloughed on on employees until they can’t take it anymore. I’d say that if one employee finds the work easier/quicker to get through, a reasonable response would be to give her more interesting, challenging work, which isn’t necessarily a punishment. Of course, if she starts consistently working at a higher level than her peers without a raise or promotion to recognize that, that would be a problem.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, but for some people, work is just work. They want to do what’s assigned to them and to get to leave when they’re done. For them, getting to work 7 hours a day instead of 8 for the same pay is vastly preferable to more challenging work for slightly more pay if it involves more hours. Not everyone wants to continuously improve in their job, or a raise, or a promotion, if they mean ever more work.

        I’m not in the US, but are all part-time jobs always hourly, or can you have a pt exempt job?

        1. pbnj*

          I know a few people that have had salaried part-time jobs, but they never worked out well. They negotiated for 20-30 hours/week, but still ended up working 40 but with only part-time pay.

    9. Smishy*

      This may be because I’m in public accounting and am pretty burnt on what people consider a “normal day in the office” but I kind of wonder if there’s some scope creep going on here that OP isn’t acknowledging. They say they want a 40 hour day, and then like two sentences later, they say they want 8 to 5, which is a 45 hour day. And if this employee is anything like pretty much my entire industry, they ain’t taking an hour of fun time for lunch; they’re wolfing down Doritos over their keyboard. I just wonder here if this person has a truly realistic impression of what this employee is even working, because they very well may not.

    10. Mack*

      I am curious if the employee is actually working remotely after leaving the office early? It’s common at my current office but I haven’t heard of it at many others, and it would explain having a busy work schedule while not being in the office as many hours.

    11. More Pizza*

      I agree with you. I can imagine a scenario where piling more work on this person would be a terrible management decision. The letter says the worker is very efficient and does not want to take on new projects. When you are very efficient it can be that you are cramming in 40+ hours of work a week into a compressed time frame, and that can be stressful and intense. That level of intensity and stress is not sustainable over the long term, and that may be why the employee is not logging 40 hours. As the manager, you are probably not seeing the intensity, only the overall hours. It is typical to see in a creative field periods of intense work followed by periods of equally intense breaks. In other words, there are definitely situations where having the downtime would be so imperative to long-term success that I would count it as work, and trying to fill that downtime with new projects would be catastrophic. It’s also possible that the new projects the manager is pushing are not well thought out, defined, and understood, and would require more time than the employee actually has ‘free’.

    12. Introvert girl*

      What’s also interesting to know is if the employee is WFH. Because working in a quiet place without distractions could be the reason why she’s getting it all done in less than 40 hours. If that’s the case I would check what her output was when working in the office. I’m wondering about this as his is what happened to me. I was working in an open space with a 100 people and have been WFH since the pandemic began. The lack of constant noise, bad heating and dry air has had a huge impact on my ability to focus. I need 6 hours to do 8 hours of work and am less tired. I’ve been open about this with my manager. I pitch in when there’s a lot to do in the team but not every day. When we’ll be going back to the office management will have to decide what’s best for the company: having someone do their job during 40 hours in an office or having them do their job in 30 hours WFH but being able to do extra work without having to pay overtime.

  3. Shell*

    I’ve been in the position of my boss telling me to get my eyes checked. It was hard to hear as I took it as negative feedback about my performance. But when I got them checked and got glasses it made a world of difference. Some things were so much easier to do!

  4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    If Jane needs 35 hours to get 40 hours “worth” of work done, making Jane do 45 hours of work going forward is fundamentally unfair.

    There’s always overtime…

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        She’s not entitled to it. OP can still offer it or an on-completion incentive.

        1. Pop*

          Well….no, a lot of times that’s not how overtime works. Usually being entitled or overtime or not is laid out in an offer letter as part of a compensation package, which has been approved by HR and takes into things like experience and pay equity across similar roles/the company. Managers can’t just randomly offer to pay employees more if they feel like it.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I guess I work at a rare place; I’ve had supervisors, grandbosses, and even the owner schedule conference calls and offer bounties on tasks above and beyond my team’s normal responsibilities. Granted, the take rate is low because they’ve usually underestimated the work (a $250 pre-tax bonus for 24-36 hours of work and liability if anything goes wrong is often a hard sell).

            If a supervisor wants more work done, nothing I know of stops them from buying it from an existing employee (even salaried) instead of a new employee or vendor–please correct me if I’m wrong, Alison.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              In light of Alison’s advice elsewhere on this page, let me be explicit; I’m suggesting OP compensate the employee for taking on more work to motivate the employee to take on more work. I’m not suggesting the employee can demand it of OP.

              Whether that’s nominal OT, (so she’s only paying for what time in excess of 40 the employee is putting in), an on-completion bonus, a promotion and/or a raise is a secondary concern.

              1. Lunar Caustic*

                This would absolutely never be allowed where I work and I have never before heard of any workplace that permitted it. I love the idea, but it’s highly unlikely that the OP would be permitted to do this.

                1. RussianInTexas*

                  I have never in my life heard about such things. And never had an option of refusing projects, even if they are not strictly in my normal responsibilities.
                  The most for going above and beyond would be a lunch, or a small gift card*
                  *not talking about promotions and raises, but for specific projects.

            2. Reba*

              I think that’s pretty unusual! (I associate bounties with like, cybersecurity firms and Zappos.)

              And, it sounds like what the OP is asking is still within the job scope of her employee — yes, perhaps it’s “above and beyond” what this person habitually does, but it’s not unreasonable to have busier periods and calmer periods in one position.

      2. TheAG*

        Not necessarily true. My company has a category called “salaried non-exempt” (which in some part is dictated by state law) that certain categories of work do fall under, where after 40 hours of work they get paid time and a half based on the hourly breakdown of their salaries. So basically there are salaried scientists who do bench work getting paid this way.

    1. Yorick*

      Overtime isn’t really a thing here. The comment you responded to is about the fact that she’s doing 40 hours worth of work done in 35, and that if she worked 5 more hours each week, she’d be doing 45 hours worth of work.

      You wouldn’t pay overtime because she wouldn’t be working overtime, and there’s usually not extra pay based on how hard you work/how much stuff you get done. But if bonuses are possible, OP could think about that.

  5. sunny-dee*

    Re Q1, I think one question the OP should ask is if the employee is working from home. I knew one (very good) coworker who left at 3:30 or earlier every day to avoid rush hour, but she worked for 2-3 hours consistently at night. In that kind of scenario, the employee really wouldn’t have a lot of extra time to take on new projects, because the in-office time wouldn’t reflect her full workday.

    If it’s the kind of job that has to be done in the office, so there isn’t any kind of outside work, then the employee needs to adjust her hours.

    1. Rich*

      Great point! I have lived in some terrible commuting environments, and used this strategy often. I tried to informally remind coworkers and bosses of my plans to complete X or Y at home specifically tied to commuting improvements. I had to “train” them to understand the degree of commute-improvement: “I’ll get that to you this evening. If I don’t take off by 3:30, my drive is 90 minutes longer” was compelling to the boss who lived around the corner. But it didn’t work until I quantified what I was asking for.

    2. Hedgehog O'Brien*

      I said this above but that was my exact thought after reading the letter. It’s totally possible that the employee is leaving early to avoid rush hour, or because they have to pick up their kids, and is then working later in the evening from home. I know a LOT of parents from two-parent working households who do this (myself included sometimes). Is it weird that the employee didn’t communicate to OP that this was happening? Sure, but there are a bunch of reasons why that might happen.

      My advice to OP would be to first find out whether this employee is actually working 40 hours a week, rather than assume they’re not. If they find out the employee is working from home in the evenings, then it’s totally fair to say they need to communicate that to OP. But before assuming they’re not working full-time hours and should be able to take on more projects, find out if they *are* definitely working less than full-time.

    3. Jack Straw*

      Agreed. I had a coworker who could only do certain parts of her job quickly/efficiently from 7-9pm because the person she needed answers from worked in a different time zone.

      Rather than asking a question at 4pm on Day 1, waiting until Day 2 for answer, asking a follow up question on Day 2, waiting until the morning of Day 3 for a reply to the follow up, etc.–she opted to work at home for two hours after her kids went to bed.

  6. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP3, a lot of companies have a ‘one department at a time’ interview policy because they don’t want 2 or more groups to compete with each other for candidates. I’ve seen bidding wars happen, it got ridiculous.

    But employers also expect the candidate to make a decision about their fit with, and interest, in the role as a stand-alone, not because they compared it with another role. I don’t always agree with this approach; sometimes the roles are so similar the differences are sheer nuance, other times they’re quite different but intriguing to the candidate for different yet valid reasons.

    Regardless, the employer makes the call about their interview process and its rationale…well, unless you’re a Bill Gates-level of superstar. But that’s another issue.

    1. Sal*

      It’s interesting, though, because the company could end up losing the candidate altogether if Dept 1 (the winner) is ultimately not offering the candidate a position they want, but Dept 2 would have. (I’ve been in an analogous situation several years back, and to their credit, the company seemed at least moderately responsive when I cautiously mentioned my reservations about Dept 2. It’s really tough for candidates, though, because you don’t want to sound unenthusiastic about Dept 2 if you’re not going to be in a position to actually get the Dept 1 job.)

      1. anonymouse*

        I agree. If that is what they are doing, they should be upfront.
        I applied for a job in Company with Department A. I was called by HR and told, “we got your resume. We have an opening in Department B that matches your skills as well. Would you be interested in interviewing for that position? Please understand that you can only choose one. We will not interview you for both positions at the same time.”
        So, with that information, I was able to make an informed decision. Unlike OP’s, “hey, yeah, well, cool for you, so anyway, bye.”
        (Oh, and I didn’t get the job. After two months, they went with someone else. After three months, they called me back and asked if I was still interested in Department A. Been there ever since. It was a gamble, I broke even, I guess!)

  7. Lifelong student*

    I don’t understand those who seem to think that it is appropriate for the person able to perform duties in less than the standard number of hours to refuse additional duties. I presume that the position was described as a standard 40 hour work week. Just because others may take those 40 hours to do tasks doesn’t mean that should be the expectation. I suspect that the others just may not be as productive during the day- but it doesn’t show up as clearly because they are butts in seats. Honestly, I might consider raising expectations for all.

    Plus- there seems to be a tinge of people thinking doing more would lead to burn-out. If the person in question wanted a less than full time job, that’s what they should have negotiated.

    I do not think it is unreasonable to expect any employee to work fewer hours than others just because they are faster, more efficient, smarter, whatever. Let them use that information to negotiate increased compensation because of adding increased value.
    If an employee did this, it would seriously damage any chances for future advancement in my opinion.

    1. Lifelong student*

      I do not think it is unreasonable- should be reasonable. Changed where the sentence was going but didn’t change the leading phrase.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Apart from appropriateness, the entirely likely and rational response from the employee will be to ensure that her work takes exactly forty hours each week.

      To look at it another way, is she being paid for her time or her work? She doesn’t get overtime if her work takes over forty hours, so she clearly is not being paid for her time.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        They could do this, but there’s risk. If the projects are part of the employee’s responsibilities, they will get them regardless (this is what I would do as the manager in the scenario). Then the employee can choose to quit because of additional workload, absorb the work and maybe work more hours, or not complete the work and probably be fired for not performing their job duties.

        I agree with Life Long Student in that the terms of the job is 40 hours (give or take depending on company policy) and that any job can have additional duties added at any time. It’s then up to the employee to choose one of the options I mentioned above.

        I mean the worst that happens is they decide they don’t want to do the work that is needed and they quit or are fired. The manager then hires someone knowing the expectation is to do this body of work. Yes does it suck to lose employees, sure it does. But at the end of the day all employees leave at some point, so it sucks a whole lot less when you are able to replace someone who will do the work you need completed.

      2. Snark*

        But if you’re paying someone for her work, and there’s work that needs to be done, and that work isn’t being done because the employee is not in the office for the typical number of hours a full-time worker is reasonably expected to be in the office…..then why is she leaving before the work is done?

        1. biobotb*

          But the OP says she isn’t leaving work undone. She’s finishing all her work, which is why the OP wants to give her more.

          1. Yorick*

            She’s refusing new work, so work isn’t getting done. She’s only getting “her” work done because her manager is allowing her to define “her work” a certain way.

            1. Elsajeni*

              Yeah, anyone could finish all their work in 35 hours a week if their boss allowed them to refuse, say, maybe about 1/8 of the projects they would otherwise be asked to do, right?

              More seriously, I think the idea that we can define what is “one hour’s worth of work” in some standardized way, that is not based on the amount of work done by the actual employee in question, and thus arrive at a standard amount of work that counts as “full-time” regardless of how long any given employee takes to do it, is just not that realistic for a lot of jobs. It’s probably worth the OP sitting down and looking at her employee’s workload, and making sure she’s not actually asking her employee to do way more than most people would find reasonable — but asking someone who you pay a full-time salary to work a full-time schedule is not actually unreasonable, even if the amount of work they do in that time might take a different person longer.

          2. Snark*

            She’s finishing all the work she was previously assigned, but to this biologist who has also at various times been a class A/B underground tank operator, an environmental management system auditor, a CERCLA remedial project manager, and my own boss, this notion of “all her work” is completely alien.

        2. The Rural Juror*

          It’s also probably safe to assume that the time the projects take are going to ebb and flow each week. Some weeks I leave 30 minutes early almost every day, while other weeks I stay 10-15 minutes late almost every day. I typically only work about 35 hours each week partially because we all take off early on Friday once our work is done. It’s just part of being exempt and getting to take a breather when your schedule allows (which everyone gets to enjoy, regardless of our position).

          If someone on our team felt like they could *constantly* work 35 hours per week because they just didn’t want to be there, that would seriously put this cush environment we have at risk. I don’t want my boss to frown on me leaving at 5:00 when my typical hours are until 5:30 just because someone else abused the system – high performer or not!

          1. Yorick*

            Totally agree. If the employee is ALWAYS working fewer hours and work is being left undone because she doesn’t want to do it, that’s a huge problem. The manager should be able to have her spend 5 hours a week on the new projects.

        3. Autumnheart*

          Unless you’re putting that work on everyone’s desk and telling everyone that they have to take on an additional project’s worth of work per week, then it is a fundamentally unfair environment that punishes high performers for performing highly. It’s a stupid way to run an office.

          If a company wants a high performer to take on additional projects and do more valuable work with their time, then they should assign that high-value work and take away some of the low-value work so that the high performer isn’t just taking on “more” for the sake of “more”. Or they could promote the high performer. Or give them a raise. Or more than one of the above.

          Giving someone more work because they’re TOO EFFICIENT and you expect a butt in a seat for 40 hours is backwards and punitive. It’s a morale-killer. It’s dishonest. It’s a double standard. Unless you can demonstrate that paying them for 40 hours and getting 40 hours’ of work in 35 hours is somehow costing you money, then shut up and sign the paycheck.

          1. Simply the best*

            This only makes sense if everyone has the same job. I’ve never worked anywhere where I had the same job as anybody else I worked with. Saying you can only give me an extra project if you magically have an extra project you can give to everyone else just doesn’t make sense.

            1. Autumnheart*

              Well, I work at a place where a lot of people have the same job, and in fact we track projects and metrics in order to make sure the workload is evenly distributed, and to figure out if any individual in a given role is performing above, at, or under the average for that role.

              If someone is continually working at a higher level than their peers, they’re considered a high performer. Same with low performers. We have an ongoing issue with scope creep in the department (no workplace is perfect) but I guarantee you that everyone knows who the low performer is, and while critical work is not given to those people to mess up, it is also not the expectation that high performers are required to do 20% more projects simply because they work faster.

              The idea that you’re expected to be maximally productive for 40 full hours is not a thing at my job. For one thing, that’s an impossible expectation (people have meetings, need to eat and use the restroom, need some downtime during the day) and it’s a lousy measurement of productivity anyway. You measure productivity by what gets done, not by what hasn’t been done yet. There’s ALWAYS more work. That doesn’t mean an employee is unproductive. The typical expectation is that a worker is doing project work for 80% of their time. The rest is emails, breaks, waiting for work to come in or for someone to respond to emails, meetings, and general workday stuff that doesn’t fall into a given project.

              Companies that expect 40 hours of project work AND that 20% of general stuff, while only paying for 40 hours of work, are stealing their employees’ time.

          2. Snark*

            This is one of many comments on this site that make me wonder if the poster has ever actually been in a real workplace.

            Filling the time you pay someone for with work is not punishment. Getting tasked with as much work as you can feasibly take on for the time you are paid is not exploitation and is not generally perceived as such. Every individual contributor position, even peers on the same team, is not necessarily going to do the same amount, type, or scope of work at all times. Some people on your team will be assigned more work, or more of a certain type of work, than others, and that double standard is legitimate and nothing to apologize for. And if there is work to be done and there is someone with the time available to do it, assigning it to them is not backward, punitive, or dishonest.

            1. Lalaroo*

              This makes me wonder if you really don’t understand the concept of working more furiously, or faster, or harder, or more focused, or cutting down on normal chit-chat and breaks because you have a lot to get done that day. Do you always, every day, do the max work you can feasibly take on, for the full 8 hour work day?

              Personally, I can work harder and faster, but it takes more effort. I cannot sustain that increased effort over the same period of time it would take to do that same work at a normal rate of effort. I don’t think this is unusual.

              For example, maybe the max amount of time I can work at 100% effort is 7 hours per day. The max effort I can work for 8 hours per day is 90%. Working both 7 hours at 100% and 8 hours at 90% I can complete 1 FTE worth of work. Realistically, I can’t add another hour each day and do any more work – I’m maxed out.

              1. Snark*

                “Do you always, every day, do the max work you can feasibly take on, for the full 8 hour work day?”

                Of course not. There are days where that’s warranted, of course, during really busy periods or when we’re understaffed – in which case, I get it done and pull an oar. If there’s not much going on and my programs are in good shape, I post on AAM or whatever. But I don’t post on AAM if there’s a project that needs to be done, and I have the availability to do it.

          3. rubble*

            I’ve never worked in an office, so maybe I’m missing something here, but how would you handle this scenario?

            manager has 4 employees who are all of similar skillset and pay. manager has 20 tasks that need to be done each week by those employees, so gives each employee 5 tasks to do. all the tasks are of similar complexity etc. one employee consistently completes all their tasks by the end of Thursday.

            every few weeks, manager’s boss turns up on Wednesday or Thursday and says “hey, get these 2 additional tasks done by the end of the week.” the manager says “sorry, our schedule is full for this week, we can’t,” the boss says “find a way” and leaves.

            manager now has two extra tasks to assign to their employees. in my mind, they give one to the employee who’s already finished their 5 tasks by Thurday, and do the other task themselves unless another employee volunteers to take it on. the way your comment reads, it sounds like you would expect the tasks to be ignored, or for them to replace other tasks which then creates a never-ending backlog as no one should ever do more than 5 tasks a week.

            I understand that adding to the employee’s standard workday just because they work fast isn’t fair because now you’ve changed the job without changing the compensation, but when unexpected extra work comes up that isn’t ongoing, I don’t really understand what’s supposed to happen if you can’t give it to the person who has nothing to do all Friday.

    3. Spearmint*

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that *if* they get some sort of compensation for doing more work, such as a raise or promotion. But if they’re expected to do more work than their coworkers with no guarantee of extra compensation, then yeah it’s going to be a morale killer.

      You say they can use this to negotiate higher pay, but this is often not the case. Many workplaces don’t give merit raises, and even those that do often cap how high those raises can be far below what the employee would be able to get by switching jobs.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        Genuine question… where is the ‘more work than coworkers coming from’ did I miss that in the OP’s letter?

        1. Spearmint*

          We don’t know for sure, but the OP says she’s “efficient” and a “very good employee”, so I think it’s a reasonable guess that the employee would be assigned projects beyond the normal scope of her position. If it turned out the extra work was something other people in her position were doing, that changes things.

          1. SomebodyElse*

            Thanks, thought I was going a little nutty there thinking I missed key points in the letter.

            Working under the supposition this is work that above and beyond any peers (and based on my organization experience) I would probably look to do a few things. First off go for a promotion to a step up for the employee, so from Paper Clip Sorter to Paper Clip Sorter II or something like that, and make sure that the different work is included in the job description. If that weren’t an option for whatever reason, I would absolutely make sure that the additional work is reflected in performance appraisals, which usually equates to more money.

            I’ve done both in past as well as just assigned new work that needs done to team members with the expectation that it is now just part of the job.

      2. Colette*

        Sometimes the compensation is better opportunites, solid accomplishments for your resume, and chances for promotion in the future, not cash.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          This I agree with and believe in. My career has advanced so many times because of a ‘project’ I was assigned to. I don’t think people should be taken advantage of at work, but I also caution everyone on being too militant about the “THIS IS MY JOB DESCRIPTION AND I SHALL NOT DEVIATE” mentality.

          Like everything in life, there needs to be balance and reasonableness.

          1. Canary*

            I’ve had quite the opposite experience. All I’ve ever gotten for being my employers’ best employee and taking on more projects is worsening mental and physical health. I’m done with it. If you hire me for a certain number of hours each week, that’s how many hours you get. If you hire me to complete certain projects, those are the projects you get.

            Maybe if I’d been better treated in the past, it would be different.

            1. SomebodyElse*

              That’s unfortunate and certainly your prerogative. But your experience is not a universal and nor is mine. The majority of experiences fall somewhere on the continuum and the bottom line is if you aren’t growing in your job (which usually involves new and different experiences) then you can expect that you will plateau at some point. Sure you may find another position that pays more at another company, but without something new to bring to the table you’re likely going to go from one experience to another without the growth that Colette mentions.

              1. Canary*

                Your initial response didn’t make it clear that you recognized your experience was not universal, which is why I added my perspective. Additionally, I think it’s important to recognize not every employee might want to grow professional. For some, the ideal very well may be “do the exact same thing but get paid more for it.”

            2. Elizabeth West*

              It really depends on the job and company. A lot of companies will just pile it on you, particularly if you’re hourly because you have no power at that level. I had to fight back against job creep at OldExjob and it was so stressful I had to 1) go into therapy and 2) just stop giving a shit. I wasn’t the only one, either.

              Whereas at Exjob, AwesomeBoss didn’t do that and was very flexible with arrival/exit times, etc. Unfortunately, the company was too partitioned for me to easily assist on other projects, even though I asked frequently.

          2. Andy*

            It depends on what the work is. I am programmer working in agile team. Doing more gives zero additional resume benefit. There ia nowhere to be promoted and then just fixing few more bugs is not how you get it.

            Pay raise … maybe a little. Depending on how much I trust leadership to actually do that.

            1. Colette*

              That’s just not true in most programming organizations. Being the go-to expert on a problem/technology/etc. is really valuable – both because it can get you access to the more fun/leading edge stuff and it gives you options to move to other teams/projects/jobs. Most programming organizations have team leads, architects, and subject matter experts, and many also have a technical stream that you can be promoted to instead of management.

              That doesn’t mean you should work 50 or 60 hours a week – agile explicitely disallows that – but if you’re working 30 hours when everyone else is working 40, that’s a problem.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                That doesn’t mean you should work 50 or 60 hours a week – agile explicitely disallows that

                Hmmm. *eyes another certification*

                1. Colette*

                  Yeah, you plan sprints (which is how agile organizes the work) on the assumption of a normal work week; you shouldn’t be planning work on the assumption that people will work overtime. In fact, I encourage groups to plan for 75% of their time to account for meetings, admin stuff, and sick time.

              2. Minerva*

                Doing extra also gets me people willing to refer me to cool well paid jobs when they move on, and be a good reference. Being the one who helps other people solve problems gets you doing more tricky work and less routine stuff too.

              3. Andy*

                You don’t become go-to expert purely by taking on additional work. You become go-to expert by being strategic about what you work on. You become go-to expert refusing time consuming repetitive tasks that dont add to reputation.

                > That doesn’t mean you should work 50 or 60 hours a week – agile explicitely disallows that – but if you’re working 30 hours when everyone else is working 40, that’s a problem.

                A bit off-topic, but agile leads to that situation fairly often. It is build so that individual has little actual independence.

                > also have a technical stream that you can be promoted to instead of management

                These just pay raise buckets. How the people get those grossly depends on local management.

                > team leads, architects, and subject matter experts

                “Subject matter expert” is analyst and it is not promotion. It is different but transferable job. I explicitly don’t want it.

                Kind of similar with architecture and team leading. Those positions are also quite rare unless the organization is particularly unstable and I dont think working more hours would got me one.

          3. Spearmint*

            Sure, I don’t disagree, but why can’t an employee who is doing an otherwise good job say that they prefer to have more flexibility and a slower routine over growing in their career? And that they’d rather just do the core responsibilities they were hired to do?

            1. Colette*

              I think the issue is that a lot of jobs don’t have a list of core responsibilities that are all you are responsible for – particularly if you expect to do them and then go home early.

        2. TardyTardis*

          Cool beans, but if you worked where I did, they’d just lie to you about future opportunities while shoveling more of the same kind of work your way.

    4. Girasol*

      Agreed. It seems strange that if you’re a slow worker and it takes 50 hours a week to do 40 hours a week work, you work 50 hours, but if you’re a fast worker who does the work in 35 hours you get 45 hours worth of work to do so that you’re assured of having to work 40. The first is an exempt worker whose contribution is measured on results, and the second is an exempt worker measured on butt in seat time. If worker B does get more work to expand their week to 40 hours, then worker B needs a raise.

      1. Lalaroo*

        EXACTLY – the managers really want to have it both ways. If it takes you more than 40 hours, well, you’re paid to get the work done and you won’t get overtime. If it takes you less than 40 hours, well, you’re paid for 40 hours, so you better do extra work.

  8. Yvette*

    Re #5
    Is it possible that they opened up another position with the same requirements? Perhaps they realized that they needed more than one person.

  9. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Last one: Asking why a job is open again so soon. I wouldn’t ask about it directly. They probably won’t give a direct honest answer and they might be put on the defensive if it turns out that they know there is a problem in their office that they can’t/won’t fix, ie. a bad manager or a customer that makes a toxic work environment. I know as a job seeker, YOU WANT to know stuff like that, but they don’t want to tell you. I think Alison has recommended the question: “What sort of person would excel in this position?” or “Can you describe the culture of the office” Sometimes the answers to those questions reveal a lot more about the position (and why it keeps getting posted) than asking directly why it keeps getting posted.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’ve been asked this question a number of times and don’t find it to be a big deal. The jobs we hire for can be difficult, and sometimes the hire wasn’t right but more often the team needed to be staffed up again based on workload. I had one team that went from 8 to 12 people in 18 months, and I got that question a lot – why is this reposted? Well, we won a lot more business and we’d like the current staff to have some help so they can get back to working normal hours. I’ve also had two strong candidates for a role and picked one, then had an opportunity to hire the other one two weeks later – the candidate asked for a call to find out why, and we had a very good conversation. Both candidates ultimately accepted the roles offered and both of them have been amazing – one has been promoted to a management role.

      I think the, “What sort of person would excel in this position?” is an excellent one, and if people don’t ask it, I tell them anyway. I never understand trying to rosy up a difficult work environment – people just quit after you’ve invested in training them and you’re worse off than before.

    2. Zephy*

      I disagree, I think it’s worth asking directly why the position is open – asking like that, using the phrasing Alison suggested, doesn’t presuppose it’s because of anything nefarious. Maybe there was a hiring freeze (more likely now than whenever this question originally appeared, but certainly not unheard of in most industries), maybe business is booming and they realized they need another llama grooming specialist, maybe the role is a known “stepping-stone” position to other roles in the company or the broader industry, maybe the last llama grooming specialist left after less than a year for reasons that have nothing to do with the company at all, maybe the posting last year appeared in error. Tons of reasons could be at play besides “we’re toxic af and she couldn’t hack it so we shitcanned her after 8 months.”

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Eh, I always ask. You can tell a lot about the employer and the job by the way they answer. It gives you an idea of good follow-up questions. If they tell me it’s a newly created position or an additional one (i.e., “We have more work in Engineering than two ensigns can handle, so Captain Picard asked us to hire another”), I can move on to questions about their specific needs.

      If they hem and haw, I assume they have either a problem employee or they’re the problem. Then I can probe a bit more about the culture.

      1. SuperDiva*

        This. It’s important information that the candidate deserves to have, and it benefits the employer too, because it gives the candidate more insight into what success in the role looks like. (Or might be a red flag that the company/manager/role is problematic.) I’ve been in the position of having been interviewed and rejected for a job that was quickly reposted, and then invited to apply and interview again. There is no way in hell I would have considered their offer if the employer hadn’t volunteered a good explanation for 1) why I wasn’t selected the first time around, and 2) why the job opened up again so soon.

  10. Badger*

    LW 2, please do not cry while firing your employee! I understand that this must be a difficult part of management, but as someone who has been fired it would have felt like my boss was making the situation about her when it has serious financial, professional, and personal implications for the person being fired.

    Instead, if there is someone else you trust who knows about the situation perhaps you could role play it with them beforehand. You could even write out a short professional script for yourself to memorize or refer to so you aren’t struggling to find the right words.

    I don’t know if there is specific language your HR department requires, but I would keep it simple—the reason why you have called them to this meeting, why their employment is being terminated, if there is any severance, when they need to gather their belongings, and if they need to return a company car or laptop.

    I think in this kind of situation we all want to be treated with as much dignity and professionalism as possible.

    1. Ann*

      yes, 100%. Rehearse it until you can do it without crying or making yourself the center of attention.

      1. Ripley Jones*

        And clench your butt muscles if you feel like you’re going to cry. Not joking! I don’t know why it works but it shortcircuits those surprise tears.

    2. JuJuBee*

      If it makes you feel any better: My boss (big, burly, 6’3″, former state cop) didn’t shed a tear, he FAINTED after firing someone. He had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. He had never in his entire career had to fire anyone before and he too had to fire someone he really liked. In this case, it was because of cut backs and there were several lay-offs during that period. He was so stressed out that he hadn’t slept for several nights before that day.

      Don’t do that to yourself. Definitely practice/role play with someone. Focus on the words and not the emotions. I think if my boss had done so he might have been able to handle it better. I think his former profession made it hard to admit he was stressed and needed help handling his feelings surrounding putting someone he cared about out of a job. He tried to be a tough guy, white-knuckle the situation and power through, but he ended up on a stretcher being asked if he knew who the President of the United States was!

      Practice and make sure to breathe. (but trust me, if you DO shed a tear or two, I’ve seen worse!)

  11. Message in a Bottle*

    I’m kind of feeling bad for the woman to be fired. It really isn’t her fault. She was hired and was a good match at the time and then everything changed around her. Yeah, she could have left, but she tried.

    I hope there are better things out there for her with a good fit and she gets a generous severance package during these times.

  12. Joan Rivers*

    Crying when Firing:
    You don’t really know for sure how employee feels. Some of us act like a good sport and work hard at our job but it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a relief to be given severance, if it’s good.

    We work hard because we try to be professional. We might put the same effort into researching new lunch venues that we do in our job because that’s who we are. But leaving a bad fit of a job w/severance may be a relief. “Better than a poke in the eye w/a sharp stick.”

    1. Jack Straw*

      This is a great point. You really never know what people’s situations/feelings will be.

      I was laid off with severance years ago from a job I no longer enjoyed and tried desperately not to smile throughout the conversation. I called my partner as soon as I cleared the building in a state of absolute glee. We went out to dinner that night to celebrate.

      Alternatively, my most recent COVID layoff was the opposite. I was stressed about money, I loved my job, etc.

  13. NotAnotherManager!*

    I feel for LW2 – I’ve been in that situation. Technology advances fundamentally changed the requirements of a job a long-time employee had done well for years, and they couldn’t bring their skills up to meet the needs of the new position (despite training, individual coaching, and a year to do it). Letting them go was awful, but the work they could do had dwindled to nothing and complaints were increasing when we tried to assign current work. We were able to offer a reference, assistance with resume writing, a flexible schedule for interviews, a set end-date about two months in the future for pay/benefits. They found a new, full-time-with-benefits job about a month into that time.

    I really do think you’ve got to curb the tears, though. This is a hard enough situation for the employee without feeling like they need to manage or respond to your emotions or comfort you. The best thing to do is be as generous with them as you can be, based on their years of good service, and try to help with their job search, if they would like the help.

    1. Badger*

      Excellent suggestions of a reference, assistance with resume writing, a flexible schedule for interviews, and a set end-date about two months in the future for pay/benefits. I didn’t think to mention those things.

  14. Emily*

    For LW #1, I would think through what you’re going to say if she pushes back. If getting to finish her work and leave early is a very big perk of the job for her, it may be the case that the package of job qualities and compensation that you’re offering her is no longer worth it if you remove that. If that’s the case (and it’s unlikely she’s going to be totally explicit about that to you), then you’ll have to think about whether you’re likely to find someone who is as good to replace her. If the answer is that a normal person working 40 hours a week wouldn’t be able to do the work she’s currently doing plus the additional responsibilities you want her to take on, then there may not be a solution where you have one employee doing all of these tasks for the current amount of pay/benefits. If that’s the case, you could also explore other ideas with her. For instance, could you increase her responsibilities but give her more flexibility in terms of her hours, or give her more vacation time? Is there paid training or other perks that would help you keep her? I know it seems like you should be able to make your employee work 40 hours a week – and you probably can, temporarily – but if she wants to work 40 hours a week, there may be a different job she would prefer to be doing.

    1. Sal*

      This is a very good laying out of potential issues for the manager in #1. Obviously, any time you do something that’s not to an employee’s liking, you run the risk of them leaving, but it does seem heightened here.

  15. Mockingjay*

    Re #4: We had a somewhat similar problem 30 years ago. My department had a drafting team (AutoCAD) and one drafter in particular was terrible. Her work was beyond help; there were so many errors that it was easier to have someone redo her drawings than fix them. No amount of training, coaching, and proofing helped.

    Our supervisor finally found out that the employee had a non-correctable vision problem nearly severe enough to be classed as a legally blind condition (at that time – 1980s). She literally could not see the finer details required in each drawing or her mistakes.

    The bigger problem was what to do about it. Supervisor wanted to let her go. HR was on the fence. Employee fought back; as she pointed out, neither a vision standard (say 20/40) nor an accuracy measurement (fewer than X number mistakes per drawing) were required in the position description. She retained her job.

    I brought up this story to point out just how complicated employment conditions and firing decisions can be. It was a decent, very large company (15,000+ employees), with over-cautious lawyers and HR who bumped heads with project managers in high-paced engineering programs, and that used cookie-cutter job descriptions across all departments which were rarely accurate or updated. (When I took over as department supervisor 2 years later, guess who I inherited?)

    1. SomebodyElse*

      So she was just allowed to make mistakes?! That’s crazy. I mean, I can empathize with her, but even ADA says that accommodations need to be reasonable.

      1. Jill*

        Right? I’d love to see someone’s CFO or bookkeeper make that argument, or a doctor? That makes no sense.

      2. Mockingjay*

        This was 30+ years ago. A lot of the protections (on both sides) that we take for granted now didn’t exist then.

        Rather than performance, job descriptions and the employee handbook addressed attendance and punctuality. You could get (and I did – eyeroll) get written up for coming in 5 minutes late, even though I frequently stayed late until 10 or 11 o’clock at night when proposals were due. We fired someone, not for poor performance, but for absenteeism because that was easily documented.

        I bless this site everyday for Alison’s common sense approaches to address employee performance in clear terms and unambiguous consequences. We needed her 30 years ago!

    2. Wisteria*

      neither a vision standard (say 20/40) nor an accuracy measurement (fewer than X number mistakes per drawing) were required in the position description.

      I am fascinated that this was successful. I would not expect to see either of those things in an office job description*, but I would definitely expect to see someone eventually let go for producing error-riddled work. Even the ADA states, and I forget the exact wording, that an employee has to be able to perform core job functions. It really sounds as though she was not. I can’t see “allowed to produce work so bad it has to be re-done” as a reasonable accommodation, either, given the cost incurred by the re-dos.

      *Sure, pilots have vision requirements. Drafters? Engineers? The only thing close was I just read a job description that had something like “must be able to focus at different distances.” That was for an optical engineer position, so it almost made sense, although I felt like it was open to age discrimination claims.

      1. Metadata minion*

        I agree. My job description doesn’t say “must produce cataloging records with fewer than X% errors”, but I would assume that part of performing a required duty is doing it accurately or otherwise well and effectively.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          Weirdly, I think my teams job descriptions do mention must perform work accurately or something fuzzy like that. For any position that can be quantified there is a specific target in the goals and objectives each year, so there’s also that.

          Outside of that, I think it would come down to a PIP and the definition of acceptable standards would be detailed there.

      2. KRM*

        I feel it may have been successful because the company heard “or I’ll sue you” and they didn’t want to take that on.
        Still makes no sense to me to keep someone who makes so many errors, but I’m not in charge!

    3. twocents*

      That’s bonkers to me that it worked to say that there’s no quality standard in the job description. Job descriptions don’t have to say “and we expect you not to f–k up constantly” in order for constant, repeat errors to get you fired.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      The employee’s argument is absurd – was she really arguing that the job description needed to state that her work product had to be good quality and not require substantial revision by someone else? That is definitely over-cautious, and even the most conservative of HRs/lawyers could have clarified the standard expected and then given her 30/60/90 days to improve her performance or looked at moving her to another position where reasonable accommodation was possible.

      I’m not surprised – I did have someone who came in late, left early, and took long lunches but recorded standard hours on their time card insist that we could not fire them because they had not been told to fill out their time cards accurately. (We could and did.) I also worked for an HR department that wouldn’t let me fire a terrible employee who was absent-without-call all the time because a PM insisted the couldn’t do their project without this person – until suddenly they couldn’t fire another chronically absent employee or risk a discrimination accusation. It still took months to get her fired – I told my current HR head this story and she just could not believe all the twists and turns. She’s also told the PMs that they don’t get to make hiring/firing decisions unilaterally nor shield problem employees from consequences.

  16. Roxie*

    OP#1, maybe I’m a hardass but I get annoyed if I see people who come in late/leave early who don’t work as much.

    – Can you sit with her to go over her priorities to see if she does actually have time or is taking too long on something?
    – How does her workload compare to her peers at the same level? How many hours do they work?
    – How do you know she’s efficient? Are deadlines being met? Are there errors?

    1. allathian*

      She’s getting all of her assigned work done on time and early. The boss just wants to assign her more work because she’s more efficient than her peers who take more time to do the same kind of projects.

  17. Lu Lu*

    For the first one, is her workload similar to other people who work longer hours? I do the exact same job as 4 other people but we all have our own specific accounts to work on. I know keyboard shortcuts, am very organized, and stay on task. I can get my work done in 24 hours a week but they often have to stay late and charge OT. Would it be fair to give me more work to do because I am able to work quickly and efficiently opposed to the others who can spend 2 hours gossiping but then have to work OT because they are so behind in their work? She should not be punished for working efficiently.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Yeah, as the person who’s always working very efficiently and getting more work piled on them because of it, it’s frustrating to see other people complain about their workload.

    2. A Person*

      So, people who spend 2 hours of the work day gossiping are still allowed to work late and get paid more for that? Something seems out of whack, there.

      1. Sc@rlettNZ*

        When I worked in London, I had a job where exactly this happened (and we were HR *rolls eyes*). My boss and her favourite used to spend most of the day shut in her office gossiping, they would then start working about 4pm and stay late into the night (if you worked late you got dinner provided and a cab home so I’m sure that had absolutely nothing to do with it she said sarcastically). My boss wouldn’t have been paid overtime, but the rest of the team were. Because they were staying until 9 or 10pm every evening they expected the rest of the team to stay as well. We all pushed back as a group and basically refused to (unless there was an actual need, which occasionally there was). The compromise was that the rest of the team were permitted to take turns staying until 7pm every evening while boss and favourite continued their usual pattern. I escaped as quickly as I could (there were a heap of other toxic behaviours as well).

        It was almost the most bonkers place I’ve ever worked (only topped by a gig in a ski resort with a cocaine sniffing boss and co-workers).

  18. Cant remember my old name*

    I’m really not understanding the controversy in the comment section for letter 1. As a manager if you have work that needs to get done, are you going to give it to the person that is clearly managing their work load well or someone that is already struggling to manage everything on their plate?

    Fair does not mean equal! And if it’s mission critical work someone is going to have to do it. Why not the employee that has time on her hands during normal work hours?

    1. Sandman*

      I agree; the pushback to this is weird. A full-time job is a full-time job. If we were talking about mandatory overtime that would be different, but I’m not buying the idea that efficiency entitles an employee to work part-time hours for full-time pay in perpetuity.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, what people are writing is not how this works in practice. It’s terrible advice for anyone reading without the experience to know that.

      2. Emily*

        It doesn’t have anything to do with “entitled” or not to me — the employer is perfectly within their rights to demand 40 hours. And the employee is perfectly within their rights to leave. Maybe if she wanted to work 40 hours a week, she could find a job that paid more. Any time you change your expectations of an employee in ways that make the job less desirable, whether it’s ending WFH or reducing flexibility or cutting vacation time, no matter how reasonable it seems, they may be able to do better. If you’re interested in retaining them, that should be part of your thought process. LW #1 didn’t say whether a normal employee would be able to complete all of the tasks they want to ask this person to do. If they wouldn’t, then there may be no long-term answer where one employee does all of these things at the current compensation level.

        1. Cant remember my old name*

          I hear you. And if she doesn’t like the new arrangement she is well within her rights to leave. I’m more pushing back on the idea that (a) she doesn’t have time and (b) that’s it’s somehow unfair to even ask her to take on the work (which some commenters have expressed).

          1. Emily*

            I agree. And by saying she doesn’t have time, I don’t think the employee is handling this well.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I agree; that’s a really bad stand for her to take. I wonder how much it means “I only want to work 35 hours so I don’t have time to take this on” and how much it means “I’m already doing more than anyone else and I resent being asked to do more just because I’m more efficient.” Because as a manager, I’d address those very differently.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think a lot of the pushback is not “you have no right to do this,” but “you need to consider how it will look on her end, and decide if the potential fallout is worth it.”

    2. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, our system is mostly set up to pay by time rather than output. A less efficient person wouldn’t and shouldn’t have their pay docked for producing less. And the rise of the gig economy is generally viewed as undesirable.

      I think the important thing is that employers should still find ways to reward efficiency as an incentive. Maybe this employee is more likely to get a big raise or a promotion if she wants that. Maybe there are bonuses and awards to give out. Maybe she can choose an interesting project to work on when higher priority work isn’t needed. And yes, even let her work shorter days during slow periods.

      But expecting her to work full time when work needs to be doesn’t punish efficiency.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is where I am. Should you pay two people exactly the same when one is much more productive? No. Is it reasonable to expect a full-time employee to work full-time hours and take on additional projects to fill that time? Yes.

        At my organization, more work is not a punishment. It’s a way to build skills, be paid more, and be eligible for special bonuses and advancement. My assistant, who is a rockstar, got asked to work on a special project with the c-suite based on outstanding performance and always being willing to help – and they will receive a special project bonus for it and now the whole c-suite knows who they are and what an asset they are. If an organization is not rewarding strong performers, that’s a different issue, and they will eventually lose them.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. But it’s also worth considering that if the employee’s biggest goal in life is to work PT hours for FT pay, is there a way for the org to make that happen? The employee is, after all, completing the same work in fewer hours.

          Organizations need to understand that not every employee is interested in promotion or even bonuses. For some, the biggest perk would be to have FT benefits while working PT hours. This employee is providing the same output in less time than other employees, there should be some way to recognize and reward that without piling more work on them.

    3. Lifelong student*

      more than 40 years ago I worked in an office where a new task arose. The manager assigned it to one person. I asked why since that person was one of the busiest people in the office and was doing a great job while others seemed to coast through their days. The manager said something along the line of “give more work to the people who work hard- they will get it done” And he did, and it worked, and the employee progressed through the ranks. Others- gone in a year or two.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Hmm, my flag on that is if that’s a manager’s policy, they also need to be mindful of not piling so much onto the “busy” and “productive” one that they get burned out. I’ve been in some offices where the reward for efficiency is more work and you become the default person for new projects. But if you get to a point where you have too much and have to say no, you get guilted or treated as not a team player. So, yes, sometimes the result is you progress through the ranks, but sometimes the result is just overwork if managers aren’t mindful of this.

    4. Minerva*

      Yeah, I know people I work with don’t accomplish tasks at exactly the same rate, but we all work 40 hours (not more unless for short bursts) It’s hard to say who does more, and we have new grads to 30 year into their career folks all working on similar stuff. The people who do more get more choice tasks and direct juniors. The ones who don’t get more tedious stuff and maybe more direction.

    5. Sleeping after sunrise*

      To me fair is equal when it comes to workload and work expectations.

      It’s not uncommonly said that women have to do twice as well to be thought half as good. Generally, this is seen as a bad thing.

      If I’m reading LW correctly this employee completes the expected workload to a high standard. Boss would now like to increase the workload beyond the standard, beyond what is expected of others, because – well she should work slowly.

      If an employee is assigned 133% of the standard workload for her role she is being treated unfairly. If this employee happens to be a sole minority on the team you better hope this isn’t ever going to end up as a newspaper headline.

      I am aware that it is common to treat staff unequally. To expect higher productivity from staff without compensation. To expect some staff to cover for low performing colleagues. I do not however think it is ethical.

  19. TiredMama*

    Ugh, I cried today when we let someone who works in our home know that we are ending their employment in several months. I am embarrassed about it.

    1. ophelia*

      For what it’s worth, I think maybe recasting this as being transparent, and giving that person extra time to find their next position would help you feel less bad? I have a wonderful relationship with the woman who watched my daughters when they were little, but there was a point where we knew that daycare and school meant we wouldn’t be able to give her enough hours–but we knew that several months in advance, gave her a lot of notice, and happily served as a reference for other families. Ending a working relationship doesn’t need to be a bad thing, and it sounds like you are not springing this on the person you employ. (I do know how much emotion can be wrapped up in the relationship with someone who works in the home–especially when that person is a caregiver–so I don’t want to downplay how you feel!)

  20. Anonymous Hippo*

    I’m sitting here really trying to figure out how I feel about OP1.

    I’m one of those super efficient employees, and it is not uncommon for me to get done 2-3x what other people are accomplishing in the same time. My job/boss gives me tremendous latitude with this, because I’ve built up an excellent reputation both in my department and company wide, so I basically just come and go as I please with work. I’m also in management now, so a great deal of my responsibilities aren’t really sitting down and pounding out content, so there is a lot of downtime between things, and no sense being tied to the office when I’m really just waiting for 15 people to get back to me with info. Having that downtime is great because sometimes there are weeks when I put in 80 hours, or work through 2 weekends. I also do get the feeling that it is unfair for someone who is faster/more efficient at work should be asked to pick up the slack caused either by other coworkers, or by a company’s lack of headcount, I’ve been burned by that before, and it’s a morale killer.

    However, I’m not really understanding not taking on extra work. If you are salaried, there are times, even if your work took the exact 40 hours expected, when extra things will come, and you’ll have to work more in order to cover everything. I don’t think my boss has ever “asked” me to take on a project that I felt I could just be like “nope” to. Sure, I can say, hey I’ve got x,y,z going on, and that’s already taken up my time, how critical is this, should we drop y and slot this in, or push the z deadline. And sometime the answer is everything is A#1 critical, and you just gird you loins and get it done. I’m sensing that maybe there is a lack of communication between OP1 and the employee in question.

    So I guess my question/comment for OP1 is, are these short term projects or additional job duties that will be permanently assigned to this position? If permanent, then I’d think hard about assigning extra work to a position if the “average” person in this role wouldn’t be able to complete it in the regular hours. I am very much against filling every hour of a position with everyday stuff because things always pop up. Granted, I’m in finance, so other roles may be more consistent, but everyone has illness, leaves, vacation, etc that needs to be juggled in and the answer to those completely and totally expected events shouldn’t be “employees work life balance takes it in the shorts”. I try and keep my employees work loads set to a point where we can absorb those kind of situations fairly easily, which cuts down on extra hours spent, plus under normal circumstances gives them room in their schedules to take on passion projects or cross train or just learn something new at work for career advancement.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Yeah, I tend to be a fairly quick worker too, and the attitude of a lot of comments confuses me. I think people are interpreting OP as wanting to assign her employee “extra work” beyond her job description, but I interpreted it as “unassigned work” within the employee’s purview.

      I’ve had jobs with very finite tasks where if I finished quickly, I could take it easy for the day. I’ve had jobs that consisted of 1-2 large projects where there was almost always something that needed doing. And I’ve had “production environment” type jobs where I’m part of a team doing the same task and you basically get assigned tasks if you have time to take them on. For the latter two sorts of jobs, trying to draw some line around my present workload and refusing to take on more – especially if I was routinely finishing early – would really not look good.

    2. OyHiOh*

      Same, fast worker and good research skills, going back to school years when I was usually *that* student who turned in tests 20 minutes early (and got As while simultaneously convinced that I failed ever one because I was sure I’d missed something obvious). Anyway. I keep a 5 x 7 notebook to log daily tasks, usually fill the page daily, and others who’ve looked at my book say they would only be able to accomplish about half of what I write down. I just process quickly and type fast/accurately.

    3. Andy*

      > I don’t think my boss has ever “asked” me to take on a project that I felt I could just be like “nope” to.

      People who never say no end up working 80 hours a week, which leads to burn out, stress and generally irrational behavior. Then you get blamed for being too stressed and irrational. And you actually produce less, most of time is spend fixing mistakes from few days ago. Seen that many times.

      In the long term, managing own workload by saying no sometimes is necessary if your goal is actual long term productivity.

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, but so far the LW’s employee is not even working 40 hours. I don’t think she’s at risk of working 80 hours a week yet.

      2. Simply the best*

        But as anonymous hippo says, you don’t just say nope to your boss. You have a conversation and figure out the workload.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’ve always been a “right let’s get the job done” person. But I have said no to my boss.
        Once, he wanted me to take on a huge project, that would have been a full-time job for a year. He was expecting me to out-source and check it, which still would have been a huge undertaking, and I already had too much work, and I was already doing twice as much as my colleague despite her being full-time and me part-time.
        So he dealt with it, and sent it to the one sub-contractor I had said should not do it. I’d already had him flake out on big projects, so I only gave him small ones. Result: he flaked out, the boss had to renegotiate a deadline and hire an assistant for me who then worked full-time getting it done.
        I was very pleased to have said no to my boss.
        Although of course it wasn’t just a straight no, I explained my position, I walked him through managing the project and recommended people to contact.

    4. Joielle*

      Same here! I’m generally very efficient, so I often get everything done in less than 40 hours. And other times, I can volunteer for extra tasks and still get done within 40 hours (or close, anyways). I recently took on a bunch of extra stuff and ended up getting a departmental award because my boss was impressed that I could do everything without complaining or working super late.

      It’s good to give yourself a buffer under normal circumstances! Then when things come up, you can add them without drowning. But when things do come up, you can’t just refuse to add them to your plate. The buffer is what gives you the time to do the extra things.

      Yeah, lack of communication is definitely an issue. “I don’t have time” is not the literal reason the employee doesn’t want to do the work, because she does physically have time remaining in a standard work week. Something has changed and the LW needs to figure out what it is. Maybe she’s upset because she already does more work than everyone else, or she’s working flat out all day and rushing home to care for a kid or go to another job or something else. But you won’t know until you ask.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Right, an award if you can’t give the person a promotion or a pay rise, sounds good.

  21. Susie Q*

    My opinion on OP1 depends on several things. Is the employee handling the same workload as others in her position and just getting it done faster? Or is she doing less work and leaving early? If she’s doing less work, then she absolutely needs to be taking on more projects. However, if she is doing the same amount of work as everyone else, then I would potentially re-evaluate. If I started getting assigned a bunch of extra work because I am more efficient than other people in my same position, I would probably slow down. I have seen too many productive individuals crushed by carrying the workload of a team because they are the most productive.

    1. balanceofthemis*

      Agreed. This is really situation dependent, the reward for efficancy should not be more work. But, on the flip side, there is that little phrase at the end of every job description: “Other work as assigned.” And sometimes, something really needs to get done, and if everyone else is swamped, and you aren’t, it falls to you, even if it’s not normally your job.

  22. twocents*

    Genuinely baffled at the number of people that thinks it’s “unfair” to ask a full-time employee to take on more projects as part of their job functions when they already aren’t filling their day. This isn’t at all comparable to what people are saying about drowning in work, and still getting more projects because they’re such a rockstar.

    I think the advice that if the LW asks the employee to take on a project they clearly do in fact have time for, then the employee is just going to quit is… significantly exaggerating. The number of full-time jobs that pay for 40 hours a week but let you, in perpetuity, work noticeably less than that is not as great as people are suggesting. I know an employee who acted like this at my company would be viewed negatively.

    1. Sal*

      This is interesting, because with 1) an increase in output-focused management styles combined with 2) an increase in WFH (with the attendant lowered surveillance in most cases) likely suggests that a good, efficient employee is more likely than ever to be able to find a job where they *can* actually just put in 30-35 hours of actual work a week. Two years ago, I would have absolutely agreed with you, but now I think the employee might actually have some options. (And that is, in some ways, not quite fair to management–or at the very least, departs from their expectations–but that’s the market, baby. It giveth and it taketh away.)

    2. Autumnheart*

      I’m baffled at people who think it’s fair to give one worker a larger workload than everyone else in the same role, for the simple reason that the worker finishes their work more quickly.

      There had absolutely better be some kind of recognition that this worker does more work. A raise, a promotion, a better title, an award, a gift card, something. Otherwise, what the hell is the point? It’s a warning to the worker that doing a good job is met with a vicious cycle of increased workload, while getting paid the same as people who do less and just don’t make it apparent that they’re capable of more.

      Maybe I should call this DiCaprio Syndrome, since he’s just such an astonishingly good actor all the time that the Oscars committee is like “Whatever, another incredible role from Leo, who cares…now Matthew McConaughey *really* stretched himself in that last movie!” And there’s Leo never getting the recognition he deserves.

      1. Minerva*

        They have to actually do _more_ not just more quickly before they expect a raise or promotion though.

        1. Autumnheart*

          So give them 40 hours’ worth of more advanced work.

          Right now it looks like this employee gest 40 hours’ worth of work and finishes it in 35. The argument isn’t that this employee is only doing 35 hours worth of work. The argument is that this employee isn’t spending 40 hours doing it.

          So, take some more difficult projects that add up to 40 hours and see how Employee does with that. Still gets it done in 35? Sounds like a rock star to me. Takes 40 hours to do the more difficult things? Problem solved itself, didn’t it? Employee is extra good at her current duties but takes the necessary time on the bigger stuff.

          The answer is not: give Employee 5 extra hours’ worth of stuff just for the sake of keeping her there until 5pm. Have we really not learned anything from the past 15 months?

          1. allathian*

            That’s not the answer either. The answer is to talk to the employee about how they see the job, without judgment. The answer isn’t to get at least 40 hours out of every employee ever. This one may have other commitments the manager doesn’t know about. They may care more about getting their easy, comfort-zone job done quickly than being challenged at work and getting promotions and recognition. For this employee, getting to leave early may be the biggest perk ever. But the LW won’t know that until they have a genuine conversation about mutual expectations.

          2. Lalaroo*

            The argument isn’t that this employee is only doing 35 hours worth of work. The argument is that this employee isn’t spending 40 hours doing it.


          3. rubble*

            but what if the only other tasks available aren’t more challenging? I understand your idea if the manager just “wants to get 40 hours of work out of them” but if the manager has tasks that must be done, they can’t just leave them uncompleted because they’re low level tasks and everyone who does low level tasks is busy while the person who does high level tasks has time to spare.

      2. FD*

        I think another thing for me is that I suspect what’s happening here is that the employee is being asked to take on projects that no one else is.

        If the expectation is that everyone has to do their normal 40 hours and take on an extra 5 in projects, okay it’s fair to tell her that she has to do her 35 and then take on the extra 5 to get to 40 while other people may take 45.

  23. Andy*

    LW1 I think a lot depends on how much total time additional project requires and how less time she works. Because either those extra projects are very small or she is works very little.

    By total time I mean also time for mental switch, organization everything.

    I agree that more efficient employee should not be punished. And many of us (me) have kind of limit for daily output – I can speed up, but then I am too tired sooner and cant continue.

    But also, both of above have limits. At some point, we do ow employers best effort even if every single drop of it dont bring special reward. It is not injury to be faster then others. Plus, when one person leaves too soon too often, it affects whole office. Perceptions matters.

  24. There's No Crying in Managing*

    Re: Crying while firing

    Please for the love of god don’t do that. I have been laid off once (pandemic times, shocker) and the board president SOBBED while delivering the news. The entire meeting was my comforting her and it was a truly terrible experience for me. It was bad enough (in addition to other bad things about that job) that 18 months later I still have nightmares about it. Yes, she was losing me through no fault of my own, but it was their decision (a bad one — they have been on the verge of folding ever since by going directly against every plan I’d laid out for the board) and the time to cry is not when you’re telling someone that they’re out of a job.

    I know this is an old letter, but wanted to share this in case any other managers are inclined to cry at a firing. Please do everything in your power not to. It makes an already bad situation 10000x worse.

  25. Hedgehog O'Brien*

    LW1 It really depends on whether or not this employee is actually working full-time. You said you didn’t see them working full days int he office, but do you know for sure they’re not leaving early for some logistical reason – i.e. long commute, bad traffic, needing to pick up their kids from school – and then working another hour or two at home in the evening? I know a *lot* of parents from two-working-parent households (including myself) or single parents who are salaried and who do this, so it was my first thought after reading the letter.

    Granted, they absolutely should have communicated this to you, but I think the first step here is to determine how many hours this employee is actually working, rather than just how many hours they’re in the office. And if you find out they’re actually working less than 40 hours then I think Allison’s advice comes into play.

    1. JM60*

      But it sounds like the OP is happy with the work the employee is finishing, and are only unhappy that the employee isn’t spending 40 hours doing it. If that’s the case, then what the employee is doing with the extra time – whether dealing with a long commute or watching TV at home – shouldn’t really matter.

  26. Just @ me next time*

    I’m probably outing my political opinions a bit here, but I think what LW #1 is revealing is actually a pretty major dilemma within capitalism: how do you correctly value the worth of a person’s labour? Are you paying this employee for the hours their butt is in the seat or their net contribution to the organization’s value? Did you pick their salary to align with the market value of the goods they produce or because it’s the incentive you need to offer to access their unique skills and knowledge? And what, if any, relationship does their compensation have with their cost of living?

    The real question, I think, is not “Can my employee do more work?” but “Is it fair to ask my employee to do more given their current compensation and the value of their labour?”

  27. June*

    Please do not cry when firing someone. Getting fired and having to deal with a cryer sounds awful.

  28. Ellie*

    Mmm, I have major concerns with the advice about the first one, even just considering the outcome the manager wants (more work, done well).

    Consider: maybe the reason she is so productive is BECAUSE she doesn’t work the full 40 hours.

    Most highly productive people who manage to get their work done in less than the time allotted can’t keep up the pace when you add more work, and everything ends up suffering.

    As someone who is significantly more efficient than many of my coworkers, I can only do that if I’m not fully booked for the 40 hours a week. I get more done in fewer hours, but that breaks if you overload me with more work and I get less done while working more hours.

    It’s like a sprinter vs. a marathon runner: the sprinter can complete 200m faster than the marathon runner run 200m during marathon, but you don’t then go “great! please run an additional 200m at that same speed!” to the sprinter. That’s going to get you an injured sprinter, or simply a failure to accomplish it.

    If I take on too many projects, my productivity and efficiency tank. My job is a combination of technical work, design work, project management, strategic work, and huge heaping dose of “getting people to work together well”. I’m often pulled into projects or programs where teams are being dysfunctional and behind schedule to assess viability and get things running again, and it is absolutely EXHAUSTING. But I’m good at it and I find it satisfying in moderation.

    The thing is, I only have so many hours in a week I can do that work efficiently. If you add more work that drains that same battery, I’m out after about 20 hours of that type of work. Doesn’t matter if there are more hours in the week I can work; I can’t take on additional projects of that type.

    This was very hard to articulate to my supervisor, but I responded to “You’re the best Llama Wrangler we have! What’s stopping you from taking on this project?” with something like “I’m very glad to hear you think highly of my work. Llama Wrangling takes a lot of time and energy, and if you ask me to take on another herd of llamas, I’m not going to be able to do the kind of Llama Wrangling you value from me for ANY of our llama herds.”

  29. Jack Straw*

    LW4 — the typo/transposition can also be a sign of dyslexia.* If the problem was purely vision related, the employee would be entering entering wrong numbers (eg a 3 for an 8), not transposed numbers, and you’d see wrong words instead of typos.

    As someone with dyslexia, even when I hyper-focus on typing the words I consistently “misspell/mistype” correctly, I often times can’t. Same thing with transposed numbers–even if the employee “promises to try to improve” they may not be able to.

    If the employee is valuable enough to you for the reasons listed, consider focusing on coming up with strategies together to catch errors before they become costly mistakes? (eg I have someone review my math on any budgeting or data analysis I do. I use spell check in Word and paste into whatever I’m writing if it doesn’t have spellcheck built in.)

    *I know we don’t diagnose here, but it seems relevant to the problem.

  30. Phil*

    LW4: If your employee is transposing numbers her problem my be greater than less acute vision.

  31. balanceofthemis*

    LW #5, for years I saw the same job posted from the same organization every year. It would be filled and then the next year, at around the same time, the position would open again, and nowhere in the job description was it described as temporary or a one year contract. I could not understand why everyone left after a year, espcially given how hard jobs are to come by in the museum field.

    Well, I finally had enough experience to apply for it and got an interview, which is when I figured out why no one stays for more than a year. The pay was very low for the position, even by museum standards, and in a city that, while not on the level of New York or San Fransisco, is not cheap to live in. My thought is that people took the job, spent a year there to have the title on their resume and get some good projects in, and then moved on.

    In answer to your question, it doesn’t hurt to ask why a position is open again. You may not get an honest answer, but if they bristle at the asking, that’s an answer in and of itself.

  32. Jennifer*

    We have a similar issue. A few contractors claim they can’t complete a project that takes me about 4-5 hours to complete by the deadline, when they have two full days to complete it. They have been shown how to do it multiple times but insist on making it more complicated than it actually is. I don’t know if they are being lazy/deceitful or if they just don’t get it.

    1. A Person*

      Being shown how to do a thing is not the same as being taught how to do it. Have you sat with one of them and made them do thing while you watch? Most adults “learn by doing” more easily than by other means.

  33. pcake*

    LW4, if you talk further about glasses to your employee, it might help to let her know about an online glasses store. I used to pay $800 or more per pair of glasses, but my eye doctor told me his glasses came from Zenni. I am not kidding you – my current glasses, which were a sale pair, cost $15 with shipping. Yowza! Now I can have a reading pair, a distance pair and a set of bifocals for under $100. While we don’t have vision coverage, some eye doctors charge surprisingly little, and to use an online service, one needs to get their written prescription from the doctor.

    Another thought is this. I have dyslexia, which often translates into reversed numbers or letters. As I’m an editor, I spend extra time checking things – and spellcheck can often catch reversed letters. Chrome spellcheck is surprisingly good, I find, but I still must proofread as sometimes reversed letters spell an actual word – just not the word I meant LOL

    1. allathian*

      Kudos to you for developing coping strategies for your dyslexia to the point that you can work as an editor. That’s a huge accomplishment.

  34. Grammy*

    My former employer advised me that they thought I may have hearing loss and needed to get my hearing checked before I could continue training. I was a CSR, so hearing was really important. A visit with the doc confirmed a moderate hearing loss and I now wear hearing aids. I will always be thankful to that job for figuring that out. I think it had affected another job that I did. Yeah, glasses and hearing aids are a pain in the a**, but not hearing or seeing is worse.

    1. A Person*

      I know a woman who I think is just really rude and self-centered (she’ll do things like barge into conversations to repeat things someone already said) but one time I decided to give her ALL the benefit of the doubt. So when a group of us were together and I explained how to do Thing to a group of us, she apparently didn’t listen at all and had trouble. When we were away from the others (for her privacy) I tried to gently ask her if she might need to have her hearing checked. She was all kinds of outraged! And I just thought to myself, “I gave you a really nice out, but if you’d rather people just think you’re rude, fine.”

  35. Minerva*

    Letter 5 – Most jobs I’ve had have 10-50 people doing almost the same thing, so with normal attrition, and hiring lag, the same or similar job posting is up and down again and again. Right now I’m in a team where we had about 12 people, mostly in the job over 3 years, and then over a year 4 left. At the same time we really need about 15 people due to increased workload. So, job keeps getting posted. By the time we get fully staffed someone else will get itchy feet. Plus there’s a couple similar groups where the job ad might be mistaken for mine.

    So my thought is it might be a horrible job, but it could be an entry level people move beyond or just a job with enough people that normal turnover looks like nobody can stick it out.

  36. BetsyBooICU*

    Please oh please don’t ever cry while firing someone. This happened to me 15+ years ago due to a funding change, no fault of my own, and I’m still pissed about it! I ended up comforting her and reassuring her it was okay.

    A different employee decided to quit a few days later after hearing I was being let go and I stayed on a couple more years. When I did eventually quit, after I gave her my notice my boss didn’t speak to me the entire two weeks. She ignored me and didn’t even say goodbye on my last day.

  37. yep*

    LW#2, I really feel for both you and your employee. It would be of great help to your employee if you are very open with her about wanting to give her a good reference etc in helping her find another job. The only problem I can foresee in you crying out of genuine emotion is if she then feels like she has to comfort you when she is the one who is getting laid off.

    The other option, of course, is getting upper management to do something useful and redeploy her into another role, if possible, even temporarily to help keep a roof over her head while she finds another role. (This, obviously, depends upon her job and skills, and what it is that the company actually does.)

  38. FD*

    #1- I think the problem here is really two competing desires.

    The employee was hired to do a particular job at a particular rate of pay. Her coworkers take 40 but she takes 35. You want to give her additional work, but presumably you don’t want to pay her more.

    It’s understandable that the employer wants that–they can then get an extra 5 hours of work for free.

    However, the employee really doesn’t have any incentive to be efficient if she just gets punished by being given more work and isn’t compensated for it in any other way. It encourages her to ‘punch the clock’ so she doesn’t have the extra hassle. Long term, since most employees are average, even if she agrees to do it in the short term, it incentives her to find another job where she’s paid more, which will leave the company in the position of having to potentially hire someone to do the extra work you were getting out of her.

    It reminds me of a book–I think it was Predictably Irrational–where it talked about skilled labor. If a locksmith charges a flat fee–say $100–and comes and unlocks your door in 5 minutes, you feel like you got less value than if she took 45 minutes to resolve the situation, even though you are objectively better off if she does it faster.

    1. Former Employee*

      It’s not punishment if she’s still working the number of hours she’s being paid to work.

      If you have 2 kids and you tell them they have to clean their rooms over the week end and one is more organized and gets it done in an hour while the other one takes 2 hours, the one who takes longer isn’t being punished.

      1. Lalaroo*

        But if you tell them “You have to clean your room, and I expect it to take two hours,” and one takes their time and doesn’t sweat while just cleaning their room, and the other one is quick and does it in one, if you then make the other wash the dishes and do the laundry that is a punishment (and also much more closely analogous to the actual scenario).

        1. FD*

          Yeah, exactly. You’re essentially creating a situation where it is clearly more in the employee (or child in Lalaroo’s example) to work more slowly than they can so they don’t get given extra tasks. If there’s not only no incentive to be efficient (in the form of things the employee wants) but actually a negative consequence in the form of being given more work, why should the employee be efficient?

          You’re basically rewarding slower workers with a lighter workload, for all intents and purposes. And to be clear, you can legally do this! It’s just that over time, smart employees will realize that it isn’t actually in their best interest to be as efficient as possible, so it’s not the best policy as an employer.

  39. Hello Friends*

    A bit of advice to LW1, I am the efficient one in my office, my favorite thing is creating new processes to streamline my work and I have gotten pretty good at it over the years. I can get the work I was actually hired to do done in about 30 hours per week. This has meant that I keep getting assigned more and more work without receiving any sort of raise/promotion. Just to prove my point, these are the tasks my boss has assigned me since I started two years ago that are outside the scope of the position I was hired to do and were previously done by my coworkers:

    S: Annual magazine, annual directory, newsletters, PAC reporting
    P: Membership listing, grant submission
    J: Marketing, annual guide
    M: Database management, updating contacts, PTO tracking
    K: Funding report, another report
    Previously Outsourced: Website management, graphic design

    I have not received any sort of raise or promotion since I started. I can’t tell from your letter if these are assignments that would typically fall under her scope, but just an ever important reminder to not punish efficient workers with extra work. It does nothing but create burnout and resentment.

  40. Tired*

    LW1, are these extra projects you want your obviously efficient employee to take on outside her job description/boundaries and/or skill set, or are they perhaps projects which will push her time in the office well past those 40 hours a week? As in, are they big projects?

    I’m sorry, but if she is efficient enough to get her entire workload done is less than 40 hours a week (especially if other people carrying the same workload are not as speedy as she is in getting with own work done), then she has every right to push back against you shoving more work onto her.

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