my employee keeps working long hours even after we’ve told her to stop

A reader writes:

I’m a new manager and I have a team of three. I was prepared for all kinds of things, but not for one thing I’m experiencing with an employee. This employee, “Caroline,” simply will not go home. She stays at work until 8 or 8:30 pm daily, despite me telling her openly to make sure she is not in the office past 6 pm. Recently, she stayed so late she had to sleep here because of bad weather. That could obviously happen to anyone, but if she had left prior to 6 pm she would not have had to sleep on the floor.

When I’ve asked why she stays, normally she tells me she “had” to finish something that day, which I have never really found to be the case. We work at a university where nothing is urgent or can’t be dealt with the following day. I hear a lot that she felt she “had to get her thoughts out” immediately and didn’t want to wait.

She does her work slowly, which I don’t mind because she does it thoroughly and I want to let people work as they prefer. I do think the slowness of completing things contributes to her staying late, but I have not confirmed this with her. Mostly she just tells me she lost track of time or had to complete something. (She is not eligible for overtime pay.)

I have asked her all the things I can think of to make sure she safe and comfortable at home and offered to flex her hours, but she still continues to work well past our agreed hours. I don’t want to write someone up for working too much, but I do know previous managers have had to use a performance plan and she was almost recommended for termination in the past because of her inability to follow assigned work hours. There have been times in the past where I’ve sent her home for working too many hours and had to stand in her office until she left.

Writing someone up for working too much feels like a dick move and I don’t want to do it. I also don’t want her to get burnt out and feel that for safety reasons I need to somehow enforce the hours better.

I wrote back and asked, “Since she’s exempt from overtime pay, what are the reasons she needs to leave?”

That’s a great question and maybe it’s just because I’m a millennial but I don’t WANT her working that much. I don’t think anyone should be working 60+ hours a week and she seems to be doing it just because. I feel like there is no work/life balance for her and am concerned a great deal about burnout. Her inability to stick to a schedule (she does sometimes come in late but I don’t really pay attention because I know she’s staying late) also has been a problem with previous managers to the point where my own boss is aware and asks me about her regularly. These reasons sound selfish even as I type them out. Should I just let her stay until 9 and deal with my own feelings about it?

Well, there are some legitimate reasons for wanting someone to leave work at a reasonable hour, some of which you mentioned:

* Culture. When one person on a team regularly works long hours, it can make other people on the team feel they’re expected to do that too, especially junior staff.

* Expectations. You need to know how long it really takes to do her job. If she’s working long hour because she’s slow, this won’t apply, but in other cases where someone works long hours, it can throw off management’s assessment of what it costs to get that amount of work done — and when that person leaves, their replacement can find themselves expected to handle an unreasonable amount of work for one full-time job.

* Burnout. You’re right to worry about her routinely working 60+ hours a week, especially in a job that doesn’t require it. That’s not sustainable in the long run for most people, and you’d presumably like to keep her around without losing her to burnout.

* Safety. As you noted, having one person in the office alone at night isn’t necessarily safe. Your facilities team probably assume your building isn’t occupied during certain hours, and it can pose safety issues if they’re wrong.

In Caroline’s case, there’s another issue: she’s been explicitly instructed multiple times, by you and previous managers, to leave the office by 6 and she’s just … ignoring that. Even if your instruction were unreasonable, she can’t just unilaterally decide to ignore it. What else is she going to ignore if she prefers something different? Frankly, that piece bothers me more than the rest of it. Whether or not you and her past managers should be objecting to her hours, the fact is that you did object, and she has ignored that over and over. That’s not okay.

Thinking this through, I have two big questions about Caroline: First, have you checked to ensure the problem isn’t her workload — that her job isn’t so unmanageable that this is the only realistic way to get it done? If you haven’t confirmed that, that’s step one. Second, what do you know about Caroline’s work and work habits? If the issue isn’t an unrealistically high workload, is there a problem with the way she works or her fit for the job? It could just be slowness, as you suspect, but slowness can also be a sign that she’s untrained, unskilled, inefficient, or otherwise performing in a way that needs to be addressed. And if you’re not sure because you’re new to managing her, take a closer look at that before you do anything else.

But for the sake of the rest of my answer, I’m going to assume you’ve confirmed that it’s not her workload and it’s not that she’s bad at her job. In that case, it’s awfully strange that she has flagrantly ignored clear instructions about her hours for so long, even when it’s gotten her put on a performance plan and almost fired. Something is going on here. Maybe there’s a reason she doesn’t want to be at home, or maybe she finds more fulfillment from work than other things in her life, or maybe she believes it makes her useful/important, or maybe she doesn’t take seriously any of the conversations managers have had with her about her schedule (especially since nothing happened when she ignored them).

However, before you try to tackle it, you’ve got to figure out how invested you really are in changing her hours. Personally, I’m not convinced you absolutely need to, other than possibly for safety reasons. The reasons above (culture, expectations, burnout, etc.) are all valid, but there’s also value in giving people autonomy in their schedules and doing what works for them, even if it’s not exactly in line with what you’re most comfortable with.

But if you think it through and decide you have good reason for limiting her work hours … well, you’re going to need to take a pretty heavy-handed approach, given her past track record of ignoring managers’ instructions on this. If you’re up for that, the next step is to sit down with her and say something like: “We’ve talked in the past about you needing to leave the office by 6 pm, but you’re continuing to stay hours later than that. When I’ve asked why, you’ve said you either lost track of time or had something to finish, but none of those projects have been so urgent they couldn’t wait until the next day. I need to be really clear: you will need to leave work by 6. I take this seriously, both for safety reasons and because I don’t want a team culture where other people feel expected to do what you’re doing. Up until now, it seems like you’ve interpreted this instruction as optional. It is not, and I need you to take this as seriously as you’d take any other work instruction I give you. Can you agree that from now on, you will leave work by 6 no matter what is still outstanding?” (You could add “unless you explicitly clear it with me beforehand” if you want.) You should also ask, “Do you foresee any problems with that?” since she probably does and it’ll help to talk those situations through now.

After that, if you want it to stick, you should check on Caroline at the end of each day to make sure she leaves. Go by her desk and tell her it’s quitting time. Wait for her to finish up and walk out with her. Do that for a few weeks until you’re confident she’s sticking to your agreement. And then spot-check randomly to make sure she doesn’t revert right back as soon as you back off.

But for the record, this approach is way more intense — and way more rigid — than I would normally recommend with an exempt employee! I think it’s the only thing that will work with her, but I’d want to be really sure that it truly needs to be solved before embarking on this path.

Read an update to this letter

{ 530 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A reminder that the commenting rules prohibit armchair diagnosing. Also, if you’re speculating on why Caroline might be doing this, please include how it would change your advice (also per the commenting rules). Otherwise we just get into all kinds of wild fictions that aren’t actionable.

  2. R7*

    Beside all the things Alison has said – which should come first – since she comes in late sometimes, is it possible that her work flow is better at later hours? If it doesn’t matter to her job, could you give her the option of coming in later officially and ending her day later? Sometimes I like to work after all my colleagues are gone so I can actually focus.

    1. Bug*

      It sounds OP tried that, but maybe if they’re more forceful about it? As in, look, you can only stay until 9 if you’re not coming in until noon.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, and that doesn’t solve the problem of safety if the facilities people are thinking the building is (logically) empty after six o’clock.

        1. R7*

          I think OP indicated she doesn’t mind late arrival but not sure it’d been discussed in the frame of “Do you stay late because it’s more conducive to your working style? Should we just shift your hours back?” (of course this may not work for many offices/conditions. And yes, as Elizabeth points out doesn’t address the safety concern.

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            The safety concern is that facility management currently expects the office to be empty. If Caroline switches her hours to regularly be working that late, the necessary people will be informed and can plan on her presence.

      2. Amaranth*

        It doesn’t sound like it was an intentional schedule shift, more ‘Caroline sometimes is late but I don’t complain since she stays later too’.

      1. Ursula*

        I’m not sure that they have. They said “I offered to flex her hours” but that can mean a lot of different things. It could mean offering to let her stay late if she happens to need to come in late, or any number of other things. Some places do use that to mean “work a non-standard schedule on a regular basis” but not always. So if it isn’t a problem, they should definitely try offering a noon to 9 pm schedule.

    2. introverted af*

      It does sound like OP has tried that, but I think it’s worth bringing up again if they decide to follow some version of Allison’s script for a serious conversation about this to help Caroline understand all her options here.

      1. Smithy*

        I used to work at an office where the majority of staff arrived before 9am, and in a not insignificant number – well before 9. Where it was not uncommon to have staff regularly arriving starting at 6am, and for some of them that afforded an earlier afternoon departure – but for others, it meant that leaving at 5-5:30 already had them working over 8 hours.

        Then another director was hired where it was significantly easier for her to arrive at 10:30 – and initially she got a reputation for considerable slacking despite the reality that she was actually clocking far far more hours, but no one would see her leave at 9pm. For the culture in that office, it significantly helped her to have her Outlook blocked so that her day didn’t appear to officially start until 10:30am and also post her start time on her office door to prevent the cases of people doing “drive by’s” at 9:30 and grumbling about how long they’d already been at work.

        If security is truly not a concern (and Caroline is salaried and this is truly how she prefers to work), then staggering her start time can help address in the in-office culture aspect. Where it’s well known that she starts later and therefore her end time in no way impacts anyone else’s. That more official understanding may also help the OP as a manager with general safety updates that don’t require clock watching. If inclement weather is in the forecast, then you are in a better place to make sweeping calls like “based on tonight’s forecast everyone has to leave by X”.

        1. Anneliesehuss*

          I think something that’s maybe not been considered is Caroline’s home life. You’re concern is about how much time she spends at work, but maybe that’s preferable to spending time at home.

          1. Despachito*

            But she did say she asked Caroline about it, didn’t she?

            This is what I was thinking, too – that Caroline might be avoiding something at home.

            However, I am unsure how the advice would change if that was the case – would it be acceptable just to let her stay if OP knew she has, let us say, an abusive husband? And if it IS the case but Caroline does not want to reveal it, to what extent is OP obliged to think about it?

            (I am thinking of a possible scenario that Caroline is abused at home (or lives in her car, or has another serious personal issue which makes her stay late, but does not want to mention it to OP. Would – and should – this change the boss’s approach to her staying late? I mean, if she knew that Caroline has problems, has she room to cut her some slack, and to what extent? )

            I’d think first about how much of a problem is her staying late per se (ie security problems), and have a word with her again trying to find out whether there is a serious reason for her not to want to go home. If she says there is no problem, then be strict that you need her to leave (but I am still a bit hesitant if it is indeed OK to say “if you do have a problem and choose not to reveal it than I’d take you for your word and you cannot expect any slack” given that abuse victims can be very reluctant to reveal anything)

            1. I'm New in Town*

              There was a time in my life where I lived alone and was extremely lonely and depressed. Going back to my empty apartment was depressing so I would regularly stay at the office until 8pm because I felt like I had nothing to go home to.

              I know the OP said she asked Caroline about why she stays so late but I would suggest revisiting that conversation. “We’ve discussed you not staying late and you’ve mentioned needing to finish your work. Looking at the work you are assigned, I don’t feel like that may be the case. Can you tell me more about why you are staying late after repeated conversations?”

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                I knew someone who was like that at OldExJob–she worked 4 10’s but wandered in on Friday’s anyway. She lived in a one-room rental (kitchen and bathroom were shared with a roomie) and had an awesome amount of ailments (her satchel full of meds and supplements were staggering). I don’t she had any life outside the job.

          2. HR Prof*

            That is what came to mind first. She may not be safe at home but is unable or unwilling to say so. Or arriving home later is “safer” or far more comfortable. Do you have an EAP program you could refer her to?

          3. pewpew*

            Or even something more innocuous than an abusive home life. I used to have really annoying roommates and when I lived there I regularly stayed at work until 9 pm without acknowledging that it was because it didn’t want to go home. That ended as soon as I moved!

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              Good point! I remember one year in college, I would spend my after school hours at the library, or a cafe, or any other place that stayed open late and didn’t mind loitering. My roommates weren’t awful. It was just a very small apartment with 3 girls to a bedroom, and I got more privacy at the university library than at home.

    3. t-vex*

      That is me, 100%. My brain doesn’t really turn on until about 4pm. I’d stay til 9:00 every night too if that was an option for me, it’s just how I work best.

      1. A Penguin!*

        In our independent perfect worlds, you and I would never meet (at work) – my brain turns off around 3:00!

      2. scmill*

        I was a night owl like that. Once the office cleared out, I could really concentrate and churn out the work.

        1. Worldwalker*

          At a long-ago job, because of resource availability, I was briefly working from 7 pm to 3 am … I’m one of those stereotypical nocturnal computer programmers, so that worked great for me. Some people are just like that.

        2. NP*

          Other than being asked not to stay late previously, I’m still unclear on why it was an issue that needed to be addressed. If that’s they way she wants to work, that’s the way she wants to work. I have a job with a pretty set schedule but on the few days it’s not and I can actually start getting to be productive I find that I end up staying later than I need to. It’s just that I want to finish what I’m doing and not stop in the middle. It was actually worse when we were working from home because rather than getting up to leave every day, I’d just keep working on something, not realizing what time it was

          1. Karia*

            It can be unsafe. My old company was in a town centre, and they had a strict prohibition on lone working for our safety.

            1. JustaTech*

              I’ve worked places where I did not feel safe working alone until late at night, partly because I parked a few blocks away from my office, and partly because one of the security guards gave me (and everyone else including my 6-foot-tall dude boss) the creeps.

              At my current building the biggest issue about working super late (aside from getting in the way of the night cleaning staff) is that the heat turns off to save energy, so it gets quite cold in the winter.
              Also we’re a lab, and doing lab stuff has a higher risk of something happening and you getting hurt (compared to just computer work) which is another reason our company culture is to try to avoid people working in the lab alone at night.

          2. Anon Y Mouse*

            My office is officially open till quite late. My boss still gets anxious about my being the last person there (they don’t tell me to stop, but I’m supposed to let them know when I have left). I’m finding this a little weird as I’ve never had a workplace that tracked this; either the building was open and you were allowed to work late, or it closed and you left then.

        3. NinaBee*

          I wondered that too, or if she just preferred the quieter hours after everyone went home to be able to concentrate. Without going into diagnoses, some people find daytime or office quite distracting. Wonder what her office/desk setup is like and if she would do better in a quieter environment.

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            An excellent idea. A quieter set up might help a lot. I know that I found certain tasks nearly impossible to concentrate on with coworkers chatting near me, so I would tackle them at noon, and then take a late lunch after others got back.
            She could be struggling with something similar.

      3. Unicorn Parade*

        I just work better when I’m not surrounded by other people working and chatting and interrupting me for eight hours. For that reason alone, I used to work 10-7 most days so I could have some peace and quiet after everyone left at 5pm. I also do a lot of creative work and while I can spend hours looking for inspiration and trying to write or plan a photo shoot, my best ideas come much later at night, usually while I’m in the shower, so I can definitely relate to that.
        Other than that, for several years after I bought my own home I had a relative live with me to help with the costs. That relative had a girlfriend I wasn’t crazy about who would stay 3-4 nights a week along with her unruly dog that barked nonstop. They also weren’t the cleanest people. So I spent 90% of my at-home time in my master bedroom, and I actively avoided my house on nights that I knew they would both be there. Sometimes that meant staying in the office way later than I needed to. Thankfully I can now afford to live alone, but for a while there, hanging out at the office until 9 or 10pm was a boon.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Sometimes I like to work after all my colleagues are gone so I can actually focus.

      That’s me to a T, too. I could probably get all my work done working 6 am – 8 pm and taking a 10 hour lunch break in the middle.

      1. kiki*

        I do sometimes wish more places flexible hour options included the a 3-4 hour lunch option. I’m extremely productive from 8-11 and 3pm-7pm. I’m useless from 11-3 and would rather use the afternoon to get some sunlight, jog, etc.

        1. Web Crawler*

          I wish I could do that too. I end up slacking off during that time anyway, so it’s better for both me and the company to take a real break and spend that time outside.

        2. Zee*

          Same. If I was allowed to work 10am-1pm and 4-7pm, I’d get way more done than I do in my current mandated 8am-4pm schedule, even though it’s fewer hours.

        3. Dorothy Gale*

          You would fit in well in Italy.
          Personally, I work best in the morning and am completely useless after 4 pm.

        4. Former waitress*

          This is a missed opportunity for a new office work schedule – it is a classic split shift in the waitressing world!

          I used to work the lunch shift from 11:30a – 2:00p and then come back from 5:00p – 11:00p and it was delightful. You get a few hours of work to start your day, and then you have a big block of time to go home and cook a meal, run errands in empty stores, exercise, take a nap. Or just stay at the restaurant, order food, and hang out with the rest of the staff.

          1. TootsNYC*

            when people have longer commutes, it doesn’t work well. You’re traveling 4 times a day, not 2.

            And hanging out at work for hours but not working isn’t that restful or rejuvenating.

            1. Fae Kamen*

              Yeah, it reminds me of being a college student and trying to schedule all my courses around trips to campus. But it would be a nice schedule for a work from home job, and some people might even like it if their job were in a city center.

              I think ideally it would be one option among others.

          2. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I did that once (and then found a three-hour job in the afternoon cleaning apartments. Added up to an eight hour day, life was good and I got to sleep in…).

    5. Working 9 to 5*

      So for me personally, the chance to come in a little later and work a little later would be GOLD. Some of my best work is done between 5-8 pm, and I’d be loath to give it up based on a manager’s perception of what constitutes a healthy work/life balance.

      This isn’t to say that shifting the work hours is the one way to go; as other commenters point out, there could be safety concerns or use concerns (e.g. if facilities is in trying to clean the building). I merely bring this up to urge OP to recognize that what counts as a desirable work/life balance that won’t lead to burnout can vary person to person, it’s not always a hard end at 5 or 6 pm.

      1. Anonymous4*

        I have a coworker who loves to be in the office after everyone leaves — the lack of coworkers means he has no distractions. He has a lot of drive-bys, phone calls, and e-mails, and so his attention is constantly getting jerked away from what he’s doing and what he needs to get done. He says that 5-8 p.m. is when he gets his real work done.

      2. Night owl*

        Yes, came here to say this–I’ve had multiple jobs where I did all of my best work from 5 to 8 (and sometimes later) because that was the glorious period of time when my phone wasn’t ringing, my coworkers weren’t stopping by to chat, and my inbox wasn’t filling up as quickly. It was relaxing, and if anything, it felt like it improved my work/life balance. I typically end up making friends with the evening facilities people and cleaning crew in the office pretty quickly, and try my best to make sure they feel comfortable letting me know if/when I’m in their way or causing a problem by staying too late. But that’s been pretty rare, just the occasional “oh hey man we’re cleaning the carpets tonight” or finding out that 8pm is no problem but 9pm is a pain in the ass for the security guard, etc.

      3. londonedit*

        Where I work we have core hours – you have to be working between 10am and 3pm, and you have to work 7.5 hours a day, but you can agree a working pattern of anything from 7am-3.30pm to 10am-6.30pm. Personally I do 8.30-5 because it works well for me and I prefer having more of an evening to myself, but there are people who want/need to do a school drop-off in the morning who work 9.30-6, people who have medical conditions that make it difficult to get going in the morning who work 10-6.30, and people who like to finish early who work 7-3.30. When we’re back in the office I’ll probably switch to 8-4.30 because I want to avoid the busiest times on the tube.

    6. kmd*

      I really want OP to do an update to this one when it resolves, however it resolves! In my last job, I had a coworker then direct report who was exactly like this, and it drove me crazy. She was always one of the first people in, last people out, would work ridiculously late for no good reason! Eventually I just said, hey, it’s her choice, her work/life balance and left it alone.

    7. Dr. Tea Blender, PhD*

      This was my thought, too. When I was doing my PhD, my best working time was in the evening, both because of how I responded to the time of day, and because I liked to work in an empty, dark suite of offices (so I could light it to my liking, as overhead lights hurt my eyes. Perhaps Caroline works best during this time, too.

    8. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      Some office buildings have alarms set for after hours, and one person wanting to work late hours could pose s huge problem. The building where I worked had motion sensors that were automatically activated at a certain time in the evening, and if they detected movement, would set off the internal alarm system and send a message to the police.

    9. Anon Y Mouse*

      I wondered if her workflow is better later, too. Because I’m a Caroline. I’m not a morning person, I’m quite distractible, and I often get more done in the last hour of the day than the earlier periods… and when you finally get in a flow state, it’s hard to stop.

      I don’t love this about myself either and it has caused problems in the past when I’ve come to rely on being able to compensate for a distracted or slow period by using the opportunity to finish stuff in peace, later… but my work-life balance has suffered. While I can come in late, there are limits to that when colleagues want to be able to talk to you or ask stuff of you during their working hours.

      But I’d find out if she finds the later hours “better” in some way.

  3. WellRed*

    I can safely say in 25 years of working in northern New England I’ve never had to sleep on the floor at work.

    1. Coast East*

      Yeah, even during the ice storm of ’98 in VT, my dad, who was a long haul trucker, wasn’t stuck on the road overnight. Just several hours. Though I suppose rural or not-used-to-snow areas are probably less prepared than “America’s winter playground”

      Its really easy for my brain to shoot off in 8 million directions as to what could be going on (anything from bad home life to feeling like an underachiever/imposter if not constantly working, stubbornness, etc), but no matter what it is: Alison is definitely right in providing a solid deadline for the employee to leave. Working long hours in a practically abandoned building will probably be detrimental in the long run, no matter what the underlying issue is

      1. a tester, not a developer*

        My (snow belt Canadian) university campus didn’t plow outside of ‘classroom’ hours (so about 7am to 7pm). I could see being trapped in the parking lot if the exit had been plowed in by the city after hours.

        1. quill*

          I got trapped on my campus for a whole weekend once. The city did not plow campus because it was not on a city street. Campus facilities did not plow campus because their equipment was on-site in a now-buried garage and the snow started before they came back to work for the semester.

          (Classes were scheduled to start on monday, people were returning on sunday, snowstorm started up sunday night…)

          1. Jillianjiggs*

            I was stuck at work for four days thanks to a winter storm state of emergency. 3ft of snow, 10ft-20ft drifts, 3 day blizzard

            It happens.

            1. Anonymous4*

              But — what about things like food and clothes? Did you have things at your desk? And where did you sleep? I’m trying to imagine being snowed in for FOUR DAYS in the building, and I’m not coming up with anything good.

              1. Librolover*

                My office had a gym with showers, a cafeteria with at least chips and stuff, yeah the clothes would be gross but it doesn’t sound like anyone to be there to see you.

              2. Ace in the Hole*

                Not quite the same situation since it’s not snow, but I work in an area where we could get stuck at work if the road washes out or a number of other (rare!) circumstances. I keep an emergency kit at my desk with a spare change of clothes, tampons, toothbrush, a few day’s worth of medication, and a small stash of non-perishable foods.

                Haven’t gotten stranded yet, but all the stuff has come in handy at some point for various other reasons.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        The counselor education program in my campus building has a counseling lab with several comfortably appointed rooms, so my plan of I’m ever trapped on campus is to grab my space heater and claim the group counseling room with the full- sized couch. I’d use the table cloths that we take to recruitment events as my blankets

    2. Lynca*

      OP just says “bad weather.” Hard to know the specifics.

      In areas where I live, snow and ice are not regular so more of a danger while driving and local roads are not treated/people don’t have equipment to clear their driveways. So it’s safer to just stay home. I have been trapped at work due to bad weather (flooding) before.

      1. WellRed*

        All the more reason for employee or OP to be proactive about leaving the office if weather of any kind is a concern.

      2. LavaLamp(she/her)*

        Meanwhile here in Colorado I just had a coworker apologize for being late due to. . . an Elk pile up. Apparently a large herd of elk decided that they needed to lick the salt off the road right at that moment and made her 30 minutes late.

        1. Cool Barb*

          I had to call in late because of moose! I was working in Alaska and there were moose in the hotel parking lot. Moose can be super aggressive and the hotel had a policy to not allow guests to leave while moose were nearby as a liability. First and only time I ever called in late due to wildlife!

          1. allathian*

            Oh yeah, moose can be aggressive, especially in the fall when they’re in rut. They can also invade gardens and orchards and eat windfall apples. After frost those ferment, and an intoxicated moose can be even more dangerous than usual.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I have seen that one with the Elk. When almost 950 pounds of animal with what looked like a six and a half foot spread on his antlers decides he wants the road salt – you let him have the road salt. And if that’s the only way to get to work – yup, you’re going to be late.

          I once saw a sedan (dark color) get rammed off the road by a fifteen point buck deer in the middle of rut season in the Rockies. Buck was slightly dazed, but fine. Car was no longer functional – the antlers busted out the driver’s window and the windshield.

          Those big herbivores (especially the males in rut season) are no joke, and most cars will loose if you challenge them.

          1. allathian*

            I’m wondering if we’re talking about the same animal, Alces alces (moose in the US, elk in the UK, but there’s another deer (wapiti) that’s called elk in the US). The moose is much bigger than the wapiti.

            1. londonedit*

              Just chiming in here to show off my Finnish – one of the best phrases on the Duolingo course has to be ‘Apua! Vessassa on hirvi!’ which I’m sure comes in very useful in Finland.

            2. iantrovert*

              The US has both moose (Alces alces) and elk (Cervus canadensis; four subspecies, in fact!). The Roosevelt elk is the largest subspecies and can weigh as much as a small to average moose. When you’re looking at something over a ton eyeing your car as competition, though, I’m not sure it matters all that much ;)

              Mythbusters did an Alaska Myths episode years ago about what happens when one hits a moose while driving. As a native New Englander who’s seen the “Brake for Moose: It Could Save Your Life!” road signs my entire life, the results were not surprising!

        3. Freya*

          In my area, it’s been a random herd of cows on one of the major routes in from this part of town to the nearest business district (one that’s about halfway between my place and the city centre) during rush hour

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I have come close to having to sleep at work due to flooding (US Gulf Coast) but we address that by leaving very early when weather is dicey. Or we stay home–our workplace allows/encourages this–if it looks like we might not be able to get in or get home the next day. The OP says that nothing they do is that urgent so it doesn’t sound like this person is critical staff.

      4. Michelle*

        This. I don’t know what driving in a blizzard is like, but I do know that there’s no such thing as safely driving through flood waters. A surprisingly small amount of moving water can literally pick up a car and sweep it away, and even still water will stall you out and leave you stranded. Every time it floods here some folks learn this the hard way. Turn around, don’t drown!

        1. Anon Supervisor*

          Driving during a blizzard isn’t usually advisable due to visibility conditions (it can get to whiteout conditions if you’re on the prairie and snow blowing over the freeway can freeze – a wonderful thing called a “ground blizzard). In reality, roads are closed to travel in order to conserve emergency resources and not unnecessarily risk the live of first responders who have to rescue people in ditches.

        2. Kal*

          I don’t have any firsthand experience with real flooding, but one of the things with snowstorms is that with modern weather prediction, its rare for you to not know its coming beforehand. Snowstorms also often tend to start as just mild snow and then build up, where it seems that floods often get real severe really quickly with less warning of how severe it will be. Which means that with a snowstorm, you usually can just leave work when you see its gonna start hitting soonish so you can get home before the roads get bad. We had a nasty winter storm hit here not that long ago, and the weather alert went out over 18 hours before the first precipitation even started to hit, which was plenty of time to make plans and adjust anything non-essential in our schedule.

          Of course, some people don’t pay much attention to weather predictions or are in jobs and such that don’t allow them to leave early to be safe, and sometimes the storm hits really fast and hard, or what was predicted to be a normal snowfall turns into a major storm. So strandings at work or such still happen, its just relatively rarer in places where people are used to snow.

      5. Minimal Pear*

        I got stuck unable to get to work one time because of poorly shoveled sidewalks! I was in a wheelchair after foot surgery last year, and a) I don’t drive, but b) even if I normally did, the surgery was on my right foot and I would’ve been banned from driving. So I was taking the bus, and looking out from my apartment to the bus stop, I could see that the sidewalks were shoveled. Great! I would be fine! Except when I actually got out there I discovered the shoveled path was very narrow. I got stuck in a snowbank and couldn’t get to the bus stop in time for the bus. Okay, I would call in late–work had been super understanding and supportive about the surgery–take a different route to the bus stop and catch the next bus! Nope, the sidewalk for the OTHER route was ALSO not cleared enough and I got stuck in a second snowbank and missed the bus again. Gave up after that.
        Anyway, I could totally see something like that happening in reverse if it had snowed while I was at work! In fact, there were a couple days where the plows piled snow up at the bus stop and my boss had to drive me home, before I moved on to crutches.

    3. Essentially Cheesy*

      Same thing from a lifetime Wisconsinite. No matter how bad the blizzard or cold is – I get home.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’ve checked into a hotel for a night near work in such conditions. It’s not about getting home–come Hell or high water, I’d get home–but a question of how long to get home and what the roads would look like in the morning to try to return to work. It was easier to do when I was single and had no pets.

        My current employer will pay for the night in the hotel if the alternative is someone who works onsite going home to call out the next day with impassible roads.

        1. glitter writer*

          Yes, members of my family (in New England) have historically worked for places that would cover hotels extremely close to their jobs for must-have, operationally essential employees in severe snow conditions. These days I don’t think they’d do it — they’d just pivot to telework — but in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s it happened several times.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        Chicago here – my workplace (a hospital) sent out an email last night with accommodation options if there were travel issues due to the serious cold. We’ve also had blizzards that required people to either leave during the shift or stay onsite and bunk in cots that were provided by the hospital in conference rooms. So it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. It’s just another ‘quirk’ in this particular employee’s behavior.

        1. Sec IV*

          My hospital just puts folks up in the resident rooms and gives them a set of scrubs. I haven’t had to do it <>, but in my department, I have the longest commute and lake effect is no joke. Also since my transportation is provided to me by other people, I could get stuck, so the resident room is the emergency back up plan.

      3. Penny Parker*

        I live in Wisconsin, the Dells area, and my adult son has often had to stay at work due to blizzard conditions. Fortunately, he works in a hotel and the business pre-plans for this. They have rooms for employees who are stuck due to the weather. He is not the only one who ends up in that situation.

      4. PuzzleObsessed*

        The first day I had my driver’s license at age 16, it snowed about 9 inches in a few hours during a raging blizzard, I had to drive home from school (downtown Minneapolis back to the suburbs). There were kids who stayed at school into the night, though. Sometimes even our amazing snow removal comes up short when there’s a storm involved.

    4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’ve been stuck before*, but not for snow: for wind so bad it shut down all the public transport and closed the relevant roads.

      * I thought I was going to be sleeping on the office floor, but finally managed to get through to a downtown friend and slept on her floor instead. An apartment is 100% better equipped for that than an office, but it was still pretty miserable.

      1. Venus*

        There are some northern cities that shut down public transit due to blizzards. I have lived in one of those, and when that happens the taxis and other options are suddenly overwhelmed. I was always thankful that I lived within walking distance of work.

    5. Admin of Sys*

      I mean, I’ve contemplated it a time or two, but that’s because the busses stopped running in the middle of the snow and I wasn’t sure I could make it to my car. But that’s because in the south, they don’t have useful things like snowplows.

      1. Over It*

        Hi! Not to derail things, but please reconsider your judgement. In the ten years I have lived in my Southeastern city, there has been weather that necessitated plows twice. And as shitty as it was taking an hour to go a mile, that happened once, and we (and most other cities in warmer climes) do not have the resources to maintain and house plows that won’t get even annual use.

        1. Not your typical admin*

          This! I live in a southeastern city, and everything shuts down for snow and ice because it comes so rarely, and when it does it’s gone within a day. It’s not practical to spend tons of money on snowplows/other equipment that would hardly ever get used. Now debris trucks to clean up after a hurricane? We have plenty of those!

          1. Clisby*

            Yep. I live in Charleston, SC, and snow plows would be a total waste of money. We do get snow from time to time, and people generally just figure the fates have handed them a nice day at home.

            1. MarsJenkar*

              I lived in the Carolinas for a few years. Where I lived (Piedmont region) we actually did have a few snowplows to deal with winter weather, though most years it was just a light dusting we had to deal with. There still weren’t enough to deal with a Midwest-level winter storm.

        2. EmmaPoet*

          Cosigned. When I moved to DC, we had a snowstorm that closed everything down. When I asked a friend, she kindly explained that there were years when the temperature never got below freezing, so nobody was used to driving on snow or ice, and the roads took a while to clear out because they also had to deal with stranded drivers all over the place. It snowed January 3rd for the first time in two years. Three people died in a car crash caused by bad weather conditions, and the VA and MD state police had responded to nearly 800 accidents by midnight. Some people spent 24 hours stranded. There are legitimate reasons why this area and those south of us end up with massive problems when it snows.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          I’ve lived in the South for 32 years and we’ve never actually needed snowplows–black ice is a much bigger problem and there’s not much even the North can do about that, apart from salt. But it would be ridiculous to keep and maintain snowplows for the, what, once or twice a decade we get more than a couple of inches of snow. It’s entirely reasonable for us not to have them.

          I mean, a lot of Northerners don’t have air-conditioning *because they don’t need it most of the time*, right? We didn’t when we lived in Colorado, where it’s so dry that even if it’s really hot you’re OK in the shade with some moving air. We don’t expect them to install it because they might get a heat wave that bad every few years.

          1. quill*

            With the way the weather has been, I’m expecting everywhere to need weather equipment that they didn’t previously, because Global Warming.

            (And I know the great lakes may not be as far north as you’re saying, but you definitely need AC there! Every year you get a day or two over 100 F and a day or two under 0 F.)

        4. Shad*

          This! Additionally, on those rare occasions we do get snow, it’s still sitting close enough to freezing that it’s going to start melting immediately, even if it’s still cold enough to quickly refreeze as some lovely slick ice. By the time you get the one plow we might be able to budget for around, about half the ground cover isn’t going to be snow anymore, and that plow doesn’t clear ice anywhere near so well.
          And that same rarity means long time residents have no experience driving in that weather, and have no reason to gain experience since it’s easy enough to just skip a couple of days a decade, where those in the land of frequent snow can’t skip that much time.

        5. Shan*

          Yes, that’s what happens everytime it snows in Vancouver and on the Island… everyone makes fun of how the cities shut down and how no one has snow tires. But why would the cities (and individual drivers) sink money into thing they’ve historically only needed maybe once a year? I mean, a shocking number of people in *Calgary* don’t have proper tires, and we can get snow in the summer. Snow removal is an enormous part of the budget for “wintery” municipalities. Was it annoying when I couldn’t get to class or work when I was living in Victoria? Yes, but I also got why.

        6. londonedit*

          People in southern England *love* moaning about this. Every few years we’ll get a few inches of snow, or things will freeze, and then trains will be cancelled and roads and schools will be shut. And people will be Up. In. Arms. about ‘In other countries they can cope with snow! Only in England would a couple of inches of snow shut down the entire country! Ridiculous!!!’. I presume these people would be perfectly happy for their local council to spend millions of pounds on snow ploughs that would just sit there for two or three years until they were needed. It’s the same with the ‘Bloody backwards country doesn’t even have air conditioning!!!’ moaning during the one week of vaguely hot weather we might get in any given year.

        7. Burger Bob*

          Exactly this. I’m in Oklahoma. We get a true, good snow once every ten years or so. More often we get ice on the roads, but that often doesn’t last more than a day or two because it will soon get warm enough to melt everything. It’s just not worth the money for most municipalities here to have the equipment necessary to quickly clear up roads impacted by winter weather. Last year when we had that very cold blizzard, I luckily was never trapped at work, but I did get trapped at home one day. They had cleared the city roads, but not the road in my neighborhood, and the snow was just deep enough that I couldn’t get past the end of my driveway. It’s rare, but it happens. When winter weather is rare, it makes sense to primarily deal with it by just waiting it out rather than sinking money into equipment you might use once a year, and often not even that.

    6. CTT*

      Every year we see that extreme weather can impact places that do not typically experience it and how that can be disastrous for travelers (signed, someone who lived near the corridor of 95 in VA where people were stuck for 24+ hours a few weeks ago)

      1. SeluciaMD*

        Cosigned by another Marylander who had a friend stuck in that mess on 95. It was truly bananas!

        I lived in NYC for several years and was blown away by how much snow the city could get without anything closing or even pausing. It’s just not like that in Maryland. We have plows and stuff, sure, but we don’t get significant snow often enough for people around here to be well-prepared and well-equipped to travel safely so even a small amount of snow or ice will shut things down.

    7. Former Gifted Kid*

      Well, northern states are better equipped to deal with winter storms. When I moved south of the Mason-Dixon line, I was shocked at how little snow could completely shut down roads.

      1. Zephy*

        Hell, I’m in south Florida and plenty of people are utterly bamboozled by just regular rain, which isn’t even unusual for us. Lots of them are also utterly bamboozled by things like traffic circles and four-way stops, too, though, even on bright, bone-dry days.

      2. KTB1*

        Well, not all northern states. I live in Seattle and the entire city shuts down when we get an inch of snow. Seattle is a hilly city, and snow tends to turn to ice quickly. We have plows in the passes, but not so much in the city.

    8. My heart is a fish*

      The only time I’ve ever even heard of anyone sleeping on the floor is when a skeleton crew of employees at my old job, in a role which required 24/7 staffing, volunteered to stay in the office through a blizzard and wound up snowed in for 3 days. That was very much pre-planned and prepared for, and officially sanctioned. Not like this!

    9. PT*

      Oh we had this happen a few times. I worked somewhere where they just wouldn’t call it and close for weather. They’d bring in staff, the staff would stand around with nothing to do because customers won’t come in during a blizzard, and then staff would get stranded there.

      Eventually the governor got stricter about calling a state of emergency and forcing places to close, and that ended that.

    10. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      I live just outside Boston, but moved up from various places in the South. I can safely say that I’d be far more likely to be trapped at work down south. It’s a combination of preparedness and the types of weather disasters.

      On the preparedness front, New England is clearly better prepared for winter weather. My company in Huntsville, Alabama was closed for multiple days after we were hit by eight inches of snow. So far as I can tell, Huntsville doesn’t have a single snow plow. Their winter weather preparedness plan was basically “it’ll be warm tomorrow and the snow will melt”. Needless to say, eight inches of snow doesn’t melt in a day or two. Had I been at work during that storm instead of it happening overnight, my best case would probably have been walking home, but I only lived a couple of miles away.

      Then there the types of severe weather. Except in weird cases like the Blizzard of ‘78, heavy snow fall tends to be pretty predictable. If a lot of snow is predicted, businesses tend to predictively close or order work from home. In New Orleans we’d regularly just get random rainstorms that would flood streets and trap people where they were until the pumps caught up. Probably only a couple or few hours, but if you find out at 9 PM that your stuck for a couple of hours, I could see just deciding to sleep on the floor.

      Similarly the *other* time my company in Huntsville closed for several days, it was because the city had five tornadoes touch down nearby. The city itself was fine, but all power was cut off for days. Luck was terrible and all of the high tension lines into the city were badly damaged. If something like that happened I could see wanting to wait until daylight to drive home.

      1. Stackson*

        Current Huntsvillian here! Hello! I think we actually share a single snowplow with Nashville lol

      2. Jarissa*

        You’ll be entertained to know that Huntsville has now got at least 3 snow plows! One for Memorial Parkway, one for University Drive, and one to work somewhere else while that’s going on. (At one point, they had four. But right now I’m only sure about the three.)

        What they don’t have, though, is a set of emergency water barriers. Or even rescue rafts. There’s been lots more conversion of farmland into subdivisions, which means the soil is turning back into clay. So when we get more than a few hours of rain: the Paint Rock River floods. And then the Tennessee River floods. And then roads flood; and no one can safely evacuate from the business districts or school campuses because all rescue efforts are focused on … well, on Decatur, mostly. Which is a different city in a different county, but it was built almost completely on the Tennessee River’s wetlands.

        If Caroline is alone long after hours in an empty non-residential building during a weather emergency around here, no one is going to come rescue her any time soon. And given her past examples of future-planning, as her manager I would sure be beyond exasperated. I can’t support her successfully if she is not willing to support herself, or even to accept that the problem exists to be solved at all.

        1. Stackson*

          This is great information; thank you! I had no idea we had so many snowplows!

          Let’s be honest though, Decatur needs the help. I mean, they have raw sewage in the streets every time it rains.

      3. Hannah Lee*

        When I worked for a large tech company outside of Boston with notoriously obnoxious management, people would often go to work in horrible conditions because management would take it out on employees who called out. One particular instance was legendary: in near blizzard conditions people called out or failed to show because their cars had gone off the road into snow banks… the CEO sent a scathing company wide email which started of “yes, it snows in New England” and listed the myriad ways in which blizzard conditions were no excuse for not being in your cubicle at 8 am.

        When I worked there, a stretch of my commute was on the Mass Pike … and in the winter I routinely had toll booth workers asking me what the heck was I doing on the roads… was I an ER doctor? Did I work for MEMA or FEMA? Nope, just an office worker at a company with a sadistic family at the head. (One time I overheard a manager arrive 3 minutes late for a meeting with a Vp, son of the CEO. Why? The company shuttle between buildings got stuck. VP said, “I’m no longer available… but I’ll be here tomorrow at 8 am, let’s spend 2 hours reviewing your project and performance” worker said “but tomorrow is Saturday and I coach my kid’s soccer team at 9.” VP said he could meet then or never … and when the guy squirmed he hinted that the guy could clean out his office instead.)

        I worked way too hard at that job, but I’m older and wiser now. I’ve got a lot of “dysfunctional workplace” stories though, including tales from my early days as a manager where I made it my mission to buffer my staff from the insanity. Looking back, it would have been better if I’d left and hired them away to a new company instead of toughing it out.

    11. ThatGirl*

      16 years in Chicagoland and I’ve never had to sleep on the floor, but I also am the kind of person who watches the weather forecast religiously and will leave early if the roads are getting gnarly.

    12. RussianInTexas*

      I have not had to sleep in the office, but I’ve close to.
      I am in the south, and it’s not snow or ice, we don’t even go to work when it’s dusting slightly.
      It would be a torrential downpour with a flood. You can’t go home even in sketchy weather when the street by your office is covered in 5″ of water.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That happened in OldCity. It’s generally prone to urban flooding, but most of us knew the spots to avoid when we got a lot of rain. One day, a severe storm dumped a ton of water, and a big intersection in the middle of town, the junction of two throughways, flooded in a matter of minutes. I’d never everseen that particular intersection flood like that in 20 years of living there.

        Granted, this was later in the evening so most people including me were home from work, but it was dark, and that made it even more dangerous.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        This. And for the record: The freeways in Houston are *supposed* to flood. There is no natural topography and the ground is more or less perpetually saturated, anyway, so we use the freeways and underpasses as drains.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          TS Imelda in 2019 came in fast and furious – I remember it started to rain around 10am, and stopped by 3pm. My area wasn’t too bad, we got about 8″ of rain and it drained by 5pm. Drive home was good.
          Friend was sent home around 3pm, “to beat the rush”, from the Med Center, and spent 3 hours on the road instead.
          Some areas got 43″ of rain in few hours! 4th wettest storm in Texas. You can’t outrun such weather. And the storm was barely a blip in the morning forecast! I follow NHS religiously during the season, and it was nothing.

    13. Green Beans*

      If it was a hurricane instead of snow, then you could absolutely be trapped somewhere overnight.

    14. OP/LW*

      Hi! OP here. We’re in the South, but the weather in question was a torrential rainfall that happened in late fall. The entire campus was flooded- some buildings by around 1 foot or more of water. The roads were not traversable by 7:30, but the rain didn’t start until around 5:45. I understand getting stuck for any reason can happen for a variety of reasons but she would’ve been home safe if she had just not stayed so late. :(

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        And I think that’s an instance you can point to as a reason she must leave by 6pm. What if the electrical room flooded, the building caught fire and she was hurt? Or worse? If the fire department doesn’t know someone is inside, it could be a disaster.

      2. Smithy*

        Out of curiosity on this one – does your employer send email notices on weather like that? The equivalent of “expecting rain with potential flash flooding, all non-essential staff are requested to leave by X time”?

        Being entirely mindful about being asked to not diagnose someone, I do wonder if there’s any part of this follow up that might include how crucial it is to follow employer safety updates? I’ve worked in a few buildings where technically we had access 24 hours, however be it issues of weather or other safety issues there would be those emails that would go out to notify the safety concern. And someone choosing to go into the office during such a period of potential safety hazards (most commonly weather, but also things like gas leaks, etc.) then that would put you at risk for what level of access you had to the office.

        If being in the office after 6pm isn’t technically a safety concern (there’s campus security, the building isn’t entirely empty, etc.), I do think it’s entirely reasonable to make it a condition of being responsive to security/safety alerts. That storm may have truly been a freak event, but it may be condition on staying late going forward that I feel would be eminently reasonable.

      3. lolly pop*

        Some folks enjoy the ‘heroic’ feeling of dealing with extreme weather in extreme manners, like staying too late instead of leaving when roads are passable, or driving when roads are ridiculous. Danger-bragging.

        1. TransmascJourno*

          This seems a bit uncharitable — and we don’t know enough about the specifics here to qualify this as such. Plus, there are plenty of people who are put in situations where they’re pressured to stay at work by higher-ups/toxic work environments in extreme weather for fear of it negatively impacting their employment. (This is DEFINITELY not the case with the OP here, of course.)

          As an example: I once worked at a place where I left work early under the threat of being fired in order to get home before a hurricane made landfall — this was in NYC, right before Sandy hit, and right before the subways shut down. Other employees decided to stay for fear of the same and ended up having to remain in the store for a few days, if I recall correctly. (We worked on different floors, so I was unaware that this was the case for them.) Luckily, the store wasn’t in any major flooding zones, so everyone was okay — but all of us were severely underpaid, in dire straights, and were put in a really unconscionable position. I already knew that I was most likely leaving the job in a few weeks because I was in the final stages of finalizing the offer for another job, so I weighed the risks of going without pay if I was fired before I tendered my resignation. My colleagues, to my knowledge, did not have that option. If that hadn’t been the case, I would’ve been choosing between the chance of losing income, housing, and basic necessities and the certainty of it.

          So yeah — it’s very true that a few people do the “danger bragging” thing for kicks. But there are a lot of people who stay in the office in extreme scenarios like this because they have no other options.

          1. TransmascJourno*

            Sorry, I really, REALLY want to emphasize that my anecdote is NOT the situation the LW is dealing with regarding their employee! I wanted to share it because sometimes it’s easy to forget how a lot of people might be put in positions like mine/my colleagues at ExJob, and how at a surface level the optics can be severely detached from the reality of it all.

      4. Kari T*

        Her slow work and inability to get started sound very much like how Adhd can show up at work. I would go deeper into the questions about workload. Also, is she going too deep into the work / doing too much and that is why she stays so late?

    15. Delta Delta*

      I also am in Northern New England, and there was one time I almost had to sleep on the floor at work due to weather. My work was at the bottom of a hill. My car… did not make it up the hill. (I’m really good at sliding backward in my car. Like, maybe I should put it on my resume under “skills I have that I didn’t know I needed”) Luckily I knew a way to go around and could go a different way to get home. But whoo boy, it was a close one there.

    16. Just Another Cog in the Machine*

      I went to a friend’s in northern Indiana for New Years Eve once. There was no snow when I left (4:00 ish). I tried to leave at about 1:00 am and had to come back and sleep at their apartment because there was no way in hell I was getting home. A few year’s ago (one week after buying an all-wheel drive Subaru), we got about 8-10 inches of snow in the 2-3 hours we were with family for Christmas Eve. We got home, but it was not my idea of a good time. And the second half of the (usually 30-minute) trip was actually not bad.

      So, if that happened while I was at work one day, I could see that happening. They probably wouldn’t let us leave early, and the plows wouldn’t be able to keep up with it until it stopped. (At best, I would be stuck outside my subdivision, which wouldn’t get plowed probably for a couple days.) Well, maybe now that they’ve learned we can work from home because of COVID, at least some of us could go home early.

      I’ve also not even tried to go TO work because the road hadn’t been plowed and my little car would have gotten stuck at the end of the road.

    17. A*

      Never had to sleep on the floor, but I did once have to abandon my car on the side of I-95 and be retrieved by our building manager on snow mobile so I could stay at the hotel that was (thankfully) right next door to my employer. That was also the straw that broke the camels back and was the impetus for me starting a job hunt the next day, as the ONLY reason I was in that situation was because my employer refused to let us out early due to the incoming storm since ‘it’s not inclement weather yet’ (storm hit pretty much right at 5pm, fast and furious… exactly as forecasted). My other colleagues got out because they all had trucks etc. but my sedan was no match :(

    18. Trout 'Waver*

      I’ve lived in both very snowy and more moderate climates and it’s the places that very rarely get winter weather that are the most problematic. In Northern New England, roads and infrastructure are engineered in ways that are resistant to winter weather, whereas places that are less cold don’t spend the money on those engineering upgrades. Resulting in collapse and shutdown when winter weather events do happen.

      1. PuzzleObsessed*

        It’s all relative, too. The first several times I traveled to the northeast, I couldn’t believe how crappy the snow removal procedures were. But I’m from Minnesota;)

    19. Anon Supervisor*

      I’m from Minnesota and there was a gigantic blizzard on Halloween in 1991. Not an insignificant number of people couldn’t get home because we got over a foot of snow in the afternoon. Cars couldn’t physically get through the snow and it happened so quickly that plows couldn’t keep up.

    20. Curious*

      Well, in the mid-Atlantic, there is a concept of “shelter-in-place” for certain operational events.

    21. LittleMarshmallow*

      Ha! In Iowa at a 24/7 plant I worked at, they would arrange for a small day crew to sleep there so that there would at least be a skeleton crew the next day to run the plant semi-rested instead of driving in a blizzard/freezing rain or having an exhausted night crew work ridiculous hours (then night crew would sleep til the roads were safe). I slept at the plant a handful of times to cover “blizzard or ice storm shift”. It was like a slumber party. Haha! I always dreamt about spiders when I slept there…

    22. Tired social worker*

      LW said “bad weather,” not “snow.” I live across a river from where I work, and most of the crossings are low-lying, and there were times this last summer that I worried I would have to stay overnight at work or with a coworker on the same side of the river in case the crossings flooded. Snow has never presented a similar issue.

      Also, as other commenters have pointed out, it’s not saying much that you haven’t had this problem in a place that regularly expects – and was therefore designed for – harsh weather conditions. I could definitely see this happening in places where a few inches of snow presents an actual danger to drivers because the infrastructure is optimized for a milder climate.

  4. kiwidg1*

    All of the OPs and Alison’s comments are valid. Here’s another viewpoint:

    – Sometimes I can’t get my head around a project until everyone else is gone for the day, the phones (in the olden days) aren’t ringing, it’s quiet and there aren’t other distractions. Now I can focus on the thing that I’ve been poking at all day and find a solution for.

    – I don’t see mention of whether Caroline could work from home (if she so desired). Or whether the resources (computer, references, etc.) are only available in the office. In which case – see above as a reason why she prefers to just stay late to get things done.

    1. anonymous73*

      I get that, but the solution is to find something that will allow you to focus in a busy office. Not stay until 9pm to get your work done.

      1. kiwidg1*

        If that’s possible. Sometimes you can’t. If I’m in meetings for six – eight hours a day but still have a deliverable, I still need to work on it. Balanced workload is a lovely concept, but reality doesn’t always agree. And I work if a very balanced environment.

        It does sound like Caroline prefers to stay late for her own reasons, however, and not due to a workload issue.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, I think this is the crucial point. The LW also doesn’t mention that Caroline’s in meetings all day and needs to stay late to get her work done.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Before I changed careers, I worked a largely adminstrative role that was confined to a desk. I often took more than a workday to complete my tasks. It wasn’t the individual tasks themselves but I tended to get sidetracked a lot and I wasn’t good at sitting still (I have an ADHD diagnosis, FWIW).

      It just wasn’t a good fit for me. I work much more efficiently in a role that involves moving around during the day and only sprinkles of admin.

      1. dawbs*

        yeah, there have been times when I worked late because, realistically, I was at my desk between 10AM and 2 PM and….wasn’t working. I was ADHDing my way through message boards or AAM comments or something.

        Which meant that working from 6-8PM was actually still probably under-working for my employer a bit.
        (I should not be allowed just ‘do whatever’ at my desk jobs. Because man, it tends to be me with 47 mostly done projects staring at cat memes. I have good coping mechanisms (really!) for my ADHD most of the time, but my biggest one is not having *that job*)

        1. highbury house*

          I have had coworkers who did that: were in the office during normal hours, but not doing work (whether they were neurodivergent, I cannot say). They stayed late every night to do their stuff. And then trumpeted ‘how late they were here’ to get points with the higher ups.

        2. Admin of Sys*

          This! I used to often work past 7p because the lunch slump meant my 8-5 was more 8-12, 3-7p work hours. That said, I never had a boss specifically tell me to not stay late. Assuming the OP has been really explicit about ‘Please leave the building by 7p at the latest, regardless of whether your work is done’ then this is definitely a problem.

      2. anon e mouse*

        I just want to reiterate that I agree with what you’re saying here. It’s not OP’s job necessarily to help their employee find a more suitable career but this really sounds to me like classic case of a person doing work they’re not well-suited to.

    3. It's All Elementary*

      I have a daughter who needs a calm and quiet spot to really dig into her college courses. I would seriously consider this angle. Maybe once everyone is out of the office she can FINALLY concentrate. And maybe she’s too afraid to tell you that or may not even realize that’s what she needs.

      1. Despachito*


        I can imagine it may be difficult for Caroline to reveal certain reasons (e.g. if she has a bad situation at home), but if she chooses not to, I’d think OP has the right to push harder. I am afraid I do not see another solution than for Caroline to come clean and then to find some solution together with OP (work from home? directing to help if there is some issue in her life?)

        But if she chooses not to tell anything, I think OP’s hands are tied in terms of any help, and she has no other choice than to require her requests for Caroline to leave are adhered to.

    4. thisgirlhere*

      Also, if the issues are truly losing track of time and getting distracted, there are ways to mitigate that during day. Once you make it clear you expect her to leave on time, the next step is setting her up for success by managing that part, like allowing her to wear noise-cancelling headphones or close the door etc.

    5. Hollywood Handshake*

      If it is about needing quiet, then it sounds like the OP’s offer to flex her hours should be the solution, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue.

    6. OP/LW*

      Unfortunately our unit is not permitted remote or regular hybrid work models. We are a student serving unit at a university and our provost has made it clear that if the students are required to be here face-to-face then so are all in our division. I would love to offer WFH models for all of my team but am simply not allowed to do so at this time.

      1. Evelyn Carnahan*

        Does your university offer any employee assistance programs? The university where I work has an EAP that can help with work/life balance stuff, as well as mental health issues if that might be a thing here. I haven’t used it myself but I know people who have, especially when it comes to getting their work done during pandemmy times.

        You mentioned that you’re a millennial. I just get the vibe that Caroline is older than you. I was wondering if she’s been at the University a long time, maybe she doesn’t respond well to managers who are younger than her? I’ve worked in higher ed for a while and have seen this every place I’ve worked.

      2. Night owl*

        The student serving aspect seems like it could be a huge part of this–I know when I’ve been in public-interfacing roles, I’ve sometimes especially treasured the “after hours” time when requests and urgent tasks stopped coming in and I was able to work through things uninterrupted. It wasn’t an absolute necessity, but it was much, much nicer and less stressful to have some unhurried time with fewer distractions.

        Also, maybe her commute/work location is playing a role? I’ve also often stayed late at the office when I had lots of after work plans that were closer to work than home. If I’m going to a play at 8pm that’s 10 minutes from my office but 45 minutes from home, and I finish my work up at 6pm, I’d often rather stay at work until 7:45pm instead of commuting home for 45 minutes, spending 15 minutes in my apartment, and then heading back out.

  5. anonymous73*

    If it’s taking her 12 hours to complete work that should be taking her 8, you need to figure out why. Is she distracted by others in the office and unable to focus? Is she bad at her job? Is she spending too much time socializing with her colleagues or daydreaming? Is she afraid to ask for help when she can’t figure something out and takes way longer to complete a task? Is she working harder not smarter, and doing things in a way that take twice as long because she won’t use technology or resources in the way they were intended? If she’s been ignoring yours (and other managers) requests to leave at a reasonable time, she may also be ignoring methods of completing her work that are making her inefficient. I think you need to have a sit down with her and dig into the underlying issues, and go from there.

    1. Haikucle*

      Her work is fine– slow but thorough.

      I would think chronic illness (OCD, thyroid issues, brain fog), and ask her some questions about her work efficiency and maybe suggest she track what she is doing every hour, so you can see how best to help her get work done (it will also force her to focus on what she is doing through the workday.) I would hate to do this if she’s not on probation for any reason, but it might help her focus. I’m thinking she does a lot of internet maybe.

      1. anonymous73*

        Her work isn’t fine if it’s taking her twice as long to finish the same amount of work as others. Which is why I said they need to dig into the WHY of it.

    2. Goldenrod*

      “Is she working harder not smarter, and doing things in a way that take twice as long because she won’t use technology or resources in the way they were intended?”

      This is what I wondered! A friend of mine used to work on weekends and at night, and I KNEW it wasn’t necessary because our jobs were essentially the same (and we were both high performers, in my opinion).

      In her case, it was because she’s a perfectionist and also a very linear thinker – so something I would do quickly because it was low priority, would take her 10 times as long. She put exactly the same amount of (extreme) effort into every task, no matter that task’s priority.

      I think it’s a problem with time-management and ability to prioritize. But it’s just how she liked to work – she truly didn’t want to change.

      1. Cascadia*

        Oh my goodness, my old college roommate who I’m still good friends with is the same way. In college she would stay up soooo late studying or writing papers, etc. We took some of the same classes and she would spend so much longer on things than I did, only for us to get the same grade. She is an extreme perfectionist. Fast forward to her first adult job and I find out she works well into the night every night and on weekends. I don’t think it’s her workload that’s too high – I know that she just will not stop working until everything is perfect. She never learned the lesson that often times in the working world good enough is all that you need. And she definitely burns herself out due to her long working hours.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I always hear the advice that if an interviewer asks you to name your biggest weakness, say “I’m a perfectionist” because that will make them think you’re careful and dedicated.

          Whereas, in reality, being a perfectionist makes finishing tasks *so much harder*, it’s a serious drawback. Proofreading that casual email three times before sending. Never finishing projects on time. Getting frustrated by others’ mistakes. It’s no picnic.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I see you’ve met my mother. She’s the records clerk for her church. I offered to help her when she got stuck and promptly plowed through about three weeks’ worth of work in two hours because I wasn’t agonizing over every possible outcome. Generalize and file it, Mom; anyone who needs it again will figure it out from the folder labels. You don’t need to go into this much detail.

      3. AcademiaNut*

        The perfectionist and very linear thinker describes someone I know perfectly.

        Her work is meticulously done (and her life very organized and on a strict routine), but she lacks the flexibility to alter how she does things, even when there’s a good reason. She’s gone grocery shopping every day or two all through COVID, in spite of being high risk, because that’s the way she does things – buying a week’s worth of groceries at once, or having a stock of food for emergencies is unthinkable (mentally – she has the storage space and transportation). And yeah, she’d be the one to spend hours doing a low priority task perfectly, and no-one could convince her otherwise. It caused problems in her work life, as this isn’t compatible with jobs that are eligible for overtime, but she wasn’t able or willing to change.

      4. Would like a Wolverine as an ESA*

        One coworker does seem to have a similar mindset in being either unable or unwilling to work smarter and think about how he does his work. He may have done good work at one time, but has gotten too complacent and comfortable in taking his sweet time to get tasks done, both routine and project work. He’s also one of those people who really overestimates their own intelligence. He’s not as smart or talented as he thinks he is. He also really has issues with communication, and reading social cues. He doesn’t really get that people are being polite when they listen to him drone on about his latest fixation out of common civility and courtesy. He thinks they are really interested in a subject that he has at best a cursory level understanding of.

        You would think that he seems to appear to be taking his time that his work would have not than many mistakes or errors, but the reality is that when he hands his projects off to me to complete, I have to spend extra time doing quality control work catching his errors. One project, that took him several months to complete last year when we were working hybrid, when it could have been done in a quarter of that time, was filled with mistakes and needed an extra step that could have been done when he was working onsite. I’m picking up the third project in a year that he started and having to spend extra time doing quality control work that he should have done. He’s also not great at continuing work on projects I hand off to him to complete. I’m wrapping one up this week and who knows how long he’ll take to do his part of the work. Given the last most similar one I did this past spring, if he gets around to working on it by this summer, I’d be happy.

        I’ve tried raising this issue with multiple supervisors and have had mixed results. The previous one got irritated enough at him for dragging his feet because we had a deadline pre-pandemic to get it done, which he ended up missing. His response was to drag it out further and complain about how mean she was for expecting him to do his actual work when he wanted to spend his time doing personal research that is so totally not relevant to his job on work time. Our current supervisor is less willing to push him to get his work done because they want to avoid conflict. He’s taken that inaction and very hands off approach to mean that his behavior is okay and anyone, including myself, who tries to hold him accountable is being a bully. I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that I have to do my job plus clean up his messes because if I push back, I’m seen as the aggressor, not him.

  6. Non-Profiteer*

    I’m wondering about her home life—is being home anxiety-provoking or dangerous? This may be less about work and more about a survival/mental health preservation strategy.

    1. Magrids*

      Yeah, this is what I think, too. She hates being at home–maybe she lives alone and feels depressed so being at work feels like she’s doing something, Maybe she lives with a horrible roommate or an abusive spouse. She is ignoring instructions to leave, to the detriment of her professional reputation, so it feels like whatever is at home must be worse.

      1. dresscode*

        I had a coworker like this. She was divorced with no kids and felt like the people at work were her only friends and family. She just felt safe at work, more than at home. She also just really loved her work and wanted to stay to help out others as much as she could. She was very much a people-pleaser. For a while, she also didn’t have internet at home and stayed at work to watch stuff online.

        This only changed when the work she was doing slowed down so much she really didn’t need to stay and then she started going home more regularly and made her home feel more ‘hers’. She was just kind of lonely.

      2. CallMeCordelia*

        Came here to say I had an employee also at a university who was doing the same thing despite me telling him frequently to stop working so many hours. After doing this several times, he finally shared that he had many challenges going on at home and being at work felt better than being at home. Since his behavior wasn’t influencing others to work more hours than they should, I left it alone after that and let him work as many hours as he wanted. As things improved at home and he found other hobbies, he went back to working a normal 40 hours.

      3. Lily Rowan*

        It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as “hates being at home,” honestly. Maybe she just doesn’t mind being at work, doesn’t have anything pressing outside, and would rather putter through her day than try to force herself to focus.

      4. RB*

        That was the first place my mind went. All sorts of reasons she could be wanting or needing to avoid her at-home situation…

      5. Anon for this*

        I did this once because my roommate in a small apartment (one with too few actual closing doors) was being unpleasant to me a lot and I couldn’t move out for another four months. It was a self contained neighborhood in a small town and the office was one of my only refuges.

    2. Ellen Ripley*

      I was wondering about this as well. Even if it is occuring, she may not be comfortable sharing this with her boss.

    3. gsa*

      That was my first thought…

      What does she want to go home? Not sure if this is something her manager should even approach…

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        As someone who has lived that life, it was also my first thought. Work felt safer than home, for various reasons. But I agree that I don’t know if that’s something for a manager to approach.

    4. Butterfly Counter*

      This was also my first thought. I’ve seen someone mention that when they were going through a divorce, they were regularly putting in 12-16 hour days at work just to avoid the fights at home.

    5. Hermione's Twin*

      My thoughts exactly. She is using the office as a refuge from someone or something that is going on in her personal life.

    6. Gerry Keay*

      Yup, this is immediately where my mind went, and it’s definitely the worst case scenario. I hope this isn’t the case :(

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think there’s anything actionable for the OP there though. She says she’s tried to raise those issues with Caroline, and there’s only so much pushing on that that it’s appropriate for a manager to do.

      1. Cait*

        That’s the tough part. She can only ask so many times and if Caroline doesn’t want to talk to her about it, she doesn’t have to. But how many people are willing to say to their boss, “Yeah, my husband hits me a lot and that’s why I want to stay at work”? I think the OP taking your script and trying it is the only option. As terrible as it sounds, knowing that she’s going to have to go home at 6pm might give Caroline the push she needs to ask for help if she needs it.

    8. TypityTypeType*

      Well, LW does seem to have tried to address that: “I have asked her all the things I can think of to make sure she safe and comfortable at home.”

    9. Rabuchux*

      My mind went here too. But I question why she is staying in the office despite being told to get out, when she apparently works at a university and, I would assume, has an entire campus to hide in. Unless they work at a tiny satellite campus that’s just a building or two, I would think she would leave the office and go to the campus library, student union, quiet corner, or something after being reprimanded so many times for staying too late in her assigned work space. This makes me think it is a work issue and not a home issue.

      1. Anonymous, colleagues who read here will recognize it*

        Big campus, parked near office, feels unsafe walking around campus after dark.

        I myself cover a shift at the library for our services to offer later hours to the students = when they are actually interested in using the service; I would have to walk back alone to my car; it’s dark this time of year, so… I walk to work on late days, then have my husband pick me up at the end of the day at the library.

        1. Rabuchux*

          Big campus, parked near office, walks to car, gets in her car, drives to lot close to library/student union/random building with a random couch in a corner, walks into building? I’ve worked on a mid-sized university campus for a little under 15 years and never had a problem going between buildings at night. Even when I was an undergrad and grad student, I was on campus well past 9PM and going between buildings and into parking garages. All my campuses had robust security, though, and I’ve never felt unsafe. If it was a choice between getting talked to several times and thisclose to getting fired for working late vs going home vs burning time somewhere else, I’d get in my car and hang out at Starbucks for a while. Or drive my car to a different parking area on the campus. I mean. If it’s a home issue, she’s handling the office part of it in the worst way possible.

          1. PT*

            I worked somewhere adjacent to a college campus and lived in a neighborhood adjacent to another college campus, and in general I found having students around made it safer to be out late, because students keep late schedules. So when I had to work until 11 pm and then had to walk home just shy of midnight, I always had company because they were just leaving the library, the grocery store, their part time job, etc.

            The days I had to go in crazy early, there were rarely students in sight except the occasional walk of shame-er, but by then the hospital workers were out and about anyway.

          2. Just Another Cog in the Machine*

            We always made sure we walked back to our dorm in a group after our late classes in the winter because – unless you were in a late class – it was cold and dark so no one was out. If I had had to walk home at a “weird” time (not when a class was letting out), it would have made me uncomfortable. It was part of why I didn’t like using the gym alone at night.

    10. Martha*

      This is what I thought, too. Although when I was in that situation I was very aware of anyone catching on. If I’d been told to go home, I would have found a different place to hang out.

      1. Lisa*

        Same. Library, for one. Unless someone is calling her on the office phone to track her movements and if she doesn’t answer, there’s crapola to pay.

        PS I hate that so many of us know what this feels like.

    11. Mango Is Not For You*

      That’s my gut feeling. I’ve had employees that didn’t want to go home due to troubles at home. In at least one case, there was a domestic violence situation and the employee was doing everything in their power to stay late. More often, the employee was struggling with depression or anxiety, or had environmental issues like heating issues or mold.

      That said – they still can’t just unilaterally decide to stay at the office. We were able to address most of this through EAPs, and only one person ended up on a PIP over this issue eventually.

    12. Jessie Spano*

      That was my immediate thought as well. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions but it sounds more like a situation of her avoiding life outside work than wanting to actively be in the office.

    13. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I had a spell of staying late at work when my marriage was in an un-fun place.

    14. OP/LW*

      She does live alone, and has done for quite some time. I have thought about this being the reason but still do not feel someone making 45K per year should be working 60+ hours a week because she is lonely. Open to thoughts and suggestions on this front!

      1. calonkat*

        I have literally been this person. I stayed late in a job I hated because I lived with family and the stress was worse than staying. I was hourly, but did available puzzles until I really had to leave. Then I lived alone and was just going home to video games, so I just did work because I really did love my current job then.

        Alison’s advice about being clear what time she needs to leave is the best option I think. The important thing is to be firm and clear. She’s got her life arranged a certain way, and your workplace doesn’t have to be as large a part as she’s made it. She can go elsewhere but she can’t stay there past whatever time you set!

      2. NervousNellie*

        I can’t speak for your area, but when I was making 45k, it was very difficult to make ends meet, and one thing I did was keep the house very cold. I wore lots of sweaters and drank a lot of hot water to stay comfortable, but I most certainly lingered in warm places when I could! Nothing was wrong with home, I was perfectly safe, but heat is neat, you know? Given that she’s not making a lot, I guess I should also ask, are there free/cheap sources of food at your work? Is it possible she’s making ends meet by taking advantage of food too? I survived on entirely too many bagels at my first job for just this reason. I look back in wonder that I did it.

        1. Emily*

          I think this is quite possible. If you have a comfortable office, it might genuinely nicer than her home (shiver remembering the ridiculously underpaid post-doc days…). I honestly can’t see the problem here. She seems happy, she gets stuff done. If she’s the only one doing this, probably others don’t think you have to work crazy hours to be successful. I’d leave it alone.

    15. ArtK*

      I just completed our corporations workplace violence training and one of the things to watch out for is potential DV issues at home. One of the signs is someone working odd hours. This isn’t definitive but the OP should be on the lookout for other signs.

      1. ArtK*

        Just because someone lives alone it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a violent SO or stalker in the picture.

    16. MissDisplaced*

      My mind does tend to go here because over the years I’ve worked with a few people who “just never want to go home.”
      With some, it was obvious it was about getting overtime.
      But with others it was often about the home environment: whether physical space or people.

      I think an actionable thing would’ve come after they stayed late and had to sleep there!! Why wasn’t it addressed then? As in”You need to leave the office by 6:30 pm because the building is closed.”

    17. Beth*

      This is my concern as well. If she’s gone so far as to ignore direct instructions to leave at 6, then this seems like more than a preference to me. She likely has some reason for working so much. Avoiding home seems like a reasonably likely possibility (and even if it turns out not to be the case, I would still assume at this point that she has a strong motivation to be acting like this).

      OP, you’ll need to decide if there is a scenario where they would be willing to allow Caroline to continue like this. If this is unacceptable regardless of circumstances, then Alison’s advice is probably the way to go. But if there is a scenario where this might be allowed–for example, if you’d permit this to continue if it turns out that she’s doing it to avoid going to an unsafe home–maybe it would be better to approach it by asking what’s up instead of pushing her out the door.

    18. TootsNYC*

      I worked with someone who really needed to get a dog. First, so he’d have a reason to leave the office promptly. And second, for the emotional support.

  7. Assorted Ability*

    I bet she has a “prime time work flow” that hits her later in the day. Maybe she would prefer to come in later and work later too.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The OP says she’s tried having her flex her hours but it hasn’t worked, although it’s worth finding out exactly what that means because maybe there’s more than can be done there.

      1. Ursula*

        Posted this below, but wanted to reply here in case you’re more likely to see it:

        Do you think “being a night owl” is something that would be enough to require accommodation if it’s severe enough that you’re barely functional before noon? Obviously most people wouldn’t have medical documentation for that, but it certainly would interfere with major aspects of life so might still count as a disability. What do you think?

        1. BubbleTea*

          It’s not precisely the same as just being a night owl, but I have chronic fatigue syndrome and I’ve needed some accommodations in the past. They have to be reasonable though – if the building closes at 7pm and working from home truly isn’t possible, it wouldn’t be a reasonable accommodation to allow someone to work 1pm to 9pm or whatever.

    2. OP/LW*

      I’ve tried to flex her hours, but even when we moved her start time and end time back by an hour she came in later and left later. I’m all for work flows but I still have to operate within the parameters HR allows me. Our work day is set up to be 8-5 via their guidelines but I am flexing as much as I can with her beyond that.

      1. Ursula*

        It might be worth asking HR directly to allow her a later schedule. As in, ask what her ideal schedule would be, and then see if you can get HR to allow it. You could also broach it as an ADA accommodation, which would make HR far more likely to allow it. That request would have to come from the employee, but maybe you can suggest it in a general way?

        “According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you only have to let your employer know that you need an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition.” – Job Accommodation Network

        So you could let her know that if she has some soft of medical condition that means she needs a later schedule, she can request that and does not need to disclose what the condition is. As an employer your HR might need to know more or want information from a physician to grant the request, but they don’t have to ask for that information and are not allowed to ask very much detail at all, pretty much only what needs to be communicated to put the most effective accommodation into place.

        Relatedly – Alison, do you think “being a night owl” is something that would be enough to require accommodation if it’s severe enough that you’re barely functional before noon? Obviously most people wouldn’t have medical documentation for that, but it certainly would interfere with major aspects of life so might still count as a disability. What do you think?

      2. What the Jorts?*

        OP, I don’t have advice, but I would love to see an update on this. I hope she’s okay.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      Maybe I’m just not that dedicated to my job but I just truly cannot imagine looking at a situation where I’d almost been fired over my hours and my boss was standing over me in my office to personally make me leave work and being like “but I have a really good flow!” Like, at that point I would just accept that my work was going to be a bit subpar and clock out at 5. This just seems like such basic self-preservation that the insistence on staying late seems like some kind of bizarre self-sabotage.

      1. Lasslisa*

        As someone who had related relationship issues from being unable to leave work on time, because of the pull of finishing just One More [edit, email, bug fix] on this project that is Almost Doooone!! and the way that pull distorted my sense of time, I can say it’s often not that rational, sadly. Or about the work, really, any more than watching “one more TikTok” when you should go to bed is about the quality of the channel.

  8. Alex M*

    I’m always confused about how “exempt” employees work in the U.S. I am a salaried employee in Canada who is not eligible for overtime pay. Which means … I don’t work overtime. I am expected not to work overtime. If I worked overtime, my boss would be unhappy with me. My work account sometimes glitches out and shows me as online when I’m not, and I’ve had to assure my boss that I am very much not actually working on evening and weekends even if my Teams account is convinced I’m online.

    1. Bumblebee*

      I once had an HR director explain it to my teams as “you work a minimum of 40 hours a week” – without overtime pay of course. Not that I agree with that or expect it of my teams, but in my field of student affairs at least, “exempt” doesn’t imply a lack of DOING the overtime, just that it won’t be paid because it’s an expected part of the job to include nights, weekends, etc.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        In theory, salaried exempt means “You do 40 hours’ worth of work” no matter how long that takes. If it’s 20 hours, you still get paid for 40, and if it’s 60, you still get paid for 40.

        I feel like requiring 40 hours of presenteeism of salaried exempt is borderline abusing the system, but it’s so rife that the only word to describe it is normal. If you’re going to ask out how 40 hours’ worth of work is measured, that’s another way to abuse the system.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          I was working an exempt job that was ‘borderline’ ie knowing what I know now it was absolutely non-exempt and should have be subject to overtime pay >40 hours worked/week but everyone in that position was salaried.

          Management at one point asked us to track and submit our hours for a month or so, as a time study. We all realized we’d been routinely working 45-50 hours/week and more during crunch times. It was implied there would be a change … either more staff or change to non-exempt because of the nature of our work or payouts of OT work.

          Instead management when looking at the reported hours instructed us to stop tracking and recording our hours. Nothing changed. Though there were more than a few resignations in the next month or so. Management apparently missed the first class in Bad Management 101, which is: if you think you’re taking advantage of your employees, don’t draw their attention to that fact and the details of how exactly you’re screwing them over.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          I worked a salaried job that required me to log my time in 15-minute increments (even though I wasn’t able to bill clients) and sent an email alert to my manager any week I logged under 40 hours. It also sometimes required travel and 12-hour shifts, but the next week you were still expected to log 40+ hours. If you had a truly crazy travel schedule (traveling every week for 3 weeks), you were awarded 1 comp day… to work your regular hours but from home.

          I know the company lost a class-action suit for classifying one of the other (lower paid) job roles as exempt, but I assume they haven’t changed the rules for my role. It was my first full-time job, and I learned so, so many bad habits from that company. Thank you so much, Alison for helping me recalibrate to workplace norms.

    2. Gracely*

      In the US, exempt-salaried means that you work until the job is done. Could be 40 hours, could be 60. Like, sometimes if coverage needs to happen, and a manager is exempt but the people they oversee can’t provide coverage (say everyone is out sick) then the manager might have to work extra hours to provide that coverage, sans extra pay. Or if something goes wrong with a project and some people need to stay late to fix it, the ones who aren’t exempt might get to go home to avoid paying them overtime, and the people who are exempt will be expected to be the ones to stay, and they won’t get extra pay. There’s a salary threshold you have to be at to be exempt (plus other work expectations), so the idea is that you’re getting the stability of the larger salary in exchange for the flexibility not tracking hours provides.

      Rarely is it less than 40 hours, but depending on the job/boss, it could mean you can take off early when you’re done early, or take a longer lunch if you’ve got time for it that day, or come in late if you had an appointment in the morning, etc.

      1. Alex M*

        Okay, yeah, we have that for managers … but not for non-managerial salary employees (except in very specific industries/professions). It sounds like in the U.S. some “exempt” employees aren’t managers? You can just be a regular old “individual contributor” and still be legally able to work unpaid overtime?

          1. Alex M*

            Ahh, okay, yes, this looks like it’s somewhat analogous to Canada’s “employees who are not eligible for overtime.” We don’t have a nice, one-word name for it, though, and it while it varies between provinces, it looks like Canada generally has far, far fewer positions that would be ineligible for overtime pay. It varies from province to province, but where I live, our “professionals” exclusion only applies to certain licensed professionals, not creatives and not “anyone else whose work is ‘predominantly intellectual, requires specialized education, and involves the exercise of discretion and judgment.'”

        1. Kevin Sours*

          It’s supposed to be for managerial or professional positions (things like programmers/accountants/lawyers). In practice the definition of “supervisor” gets stretched to the breaking point or just flat out ignored.

          1. Alex M*

            Allison’s link helped me figure it out. I get it now. We *do* have something similar, it turns out, but it applies to far fewer people.

              1. Hannah Lee*

                Which is usually accounted for in the pay schedule and contracts, whereas working till all hours grading for and *bonus time!* wrestling with electronic grade entry systems is not.

                Unless you’re that one mythical teacher who is able to accomplish that during your 3 x week ‘prep’ periods.

                1. Chidi has a stomach ache*

                  Also, if you’re on quarter system, at least in secondary ed, quarter and semester ends rarely line up with winter/spring break. We had exactly 1 working day and 1 weekend between the end of Q2/Semester 1 and the start of Semester 2/Q3.

                  To say nothing of the fact that many teachers whose breaks do line up with grading then spend that break doing all the lesson planning they couldn’t do while grading exams.

        2. generic_username*

          Yes, absolutely. There is a minimum salary level at which overtime isn’t required (around $35k/year), no matter your job function, as long as it is a professional-type job (so not blue collar jobs/manual labor)

            1. generic_username*

              Agreed. I won’t work a job where I’m constantly expected to work overtime anymore. My first job out of college I was scheduled to work 45 hours a week, with the understanding that actually I should be working late. It wasn’t something I minded at first because I loved what I did, but I came to resent the lack of work-life balance (which also showed itself in our dismal PTO package). Now I work somewhere where I sometimes work 45 hours in a week, but also sometimes work 35 hours, and it balances out over the year (probably more in my favor than not because I’m not very busy)

              1. Alex M*

                My first job out of uni was at a business magazine where they regularly flouted labour laws and tried to get me to work unpaid overtime when I was only making $30k annually. Thankfully I was able to push back by going, “Oh, I’m sorry, I must be confused, because I read the employee manual and it says I’m entitled to overtime. Could you please explain your expectations, because I want to make sure I’m following the rules?”

                In practice, salaried employees here sometimes work more than their contracted hours in a given week and sometimes less, and nobody really worries about tracking hours exactly as long as it basically evens out. If someone is routinely working more than their contracted hours (typically somewhere between 35 to 40), there’s a problem and the company could be in legal trouble.

                1. JustSomeone*

                  A couple of jobs back, when there were rumblings about a new legal minimum salary for exempt folks, my employer at the time converted all the exempt employees under the proposed threshold to hourly classification. But they decided we should all have been putting in 50 hours a week, so they calculated our new hourly rate to include 10 hours of mandatory overtime each week. Prior to that, we occasionally worked long hours but typically achieved excellent results in 40 (or less). That was a decidedly un-fun bit of news to receive.

            2. Kevin Sours*

              Honestly I’ve been exempt most of my career and I like it. But I also think the minimum wages for exempt employees are too low and lend themselves to a great deal of abuse (retail is notorious for classifying people as exempt “supervisors” even though 99% of what they do isn’t managerial). California recently required exempt employees to be paid twice minimum wage and that’s been a big improvement.

              1. Alex M*

                What’s the benefit of being exempt? Like, I don’t understand what there is to “like” about it? Is it just being salaried/not having to worry about tracking your hours?

                1. Sel*

                  The flexibility can be really great. I can basically go do whatever I want during the day as long as it doesn’t conflict with scheduled stuff (meetings, desk hours) and I get my work done in a timely manner. Absolutely no one polices my time at all in my job, but that’s also a function of my work environment. Plenty of exempt employees don’t have that, unfortunately.

                2. Alex M*

                  I guess what confuses me is that, as a salaried employee, I get that too … but still don’t have to work overtime.

                3. Emily*

                  At my organization, exempt staff have more paid time off (which is extra unfair because they’re also more likely to earn more). Other than that, there’s not really a benefit, but I don’t have a choice. The work I do isn’t paid hourly. So I make sure to only work at an organization that doesn’t routinely expect employees to work more than 40 hours a week.

                4. Sel*

                  Emily is also correct. The thing is, in the US, salaried non-exempt positions are virtually non-existent, and hourly (non-exempt) office-type positions usually pay very little. Pretty much every single white collar/office job is exempt.

                  My husband actually is one of the lucky few with a salaried, non-exempt position. He’s an engineer at a very old engineering company that unionized decades ago. He makes double my salary, and when he does have to work overtime, we love cashing those checks.

                5. Alex M*

                  Yeah, all of this makes me think exempt work kind of sucks. Like, yes, it sounds like being a salaried exempt worker is in many ways better than being an hourly employee, but this is just one of those places where U.S. labour laws are comparatively much worse than labour laws in other developed countries.

                  When I asked “What’s the benefit of being exempt?” I meant “What’s the benefit over being a salaried, non-exempt employee?” not “What’s the benefit over hourly?”

                  I get that there’s no easy fix for it, and it’s really easy to say, “Wow, that really sucks, it’s so much better elsewhere!” when you’re stuck with what you’re stuck with and can’t just decide to change it. But I also think it’s worth pointing out that the system you’ve got has these problems, in the hopes that maybe eventually we will get to some real labour reform. When people accept the current system as normal and okay, it becomes so much less likely to change.

                  (For additional context, it’s worth noting I grew up in the U.S. and I am a U.S. citizen, but I moved to Canada when I was 18. American labour laws are a large part of the reason I don’t plan on moving back to the U.S.)

                6. mosq*

                  I’ve worked both hourly and exempt and it’s a bit of six one half a dozen the other in terms of better/worse.

                  Pros for Exempt: If I come in and work an hour and have something come up and I have to go home, I worked that day and don’t have to use any sick or PTO to cover it. Same for Doc appointments, long lunches, leaving early for any number of things. Cons for Exempt: If someone needs to stay an hour after closing b/c we have a contractor coming by and we need no one in the office, it’s going to fall to me in all likelihood.

                  I had a manager at my last job (where I was hourly) severely abuse being exempt (would come in two hours later than everyone, be there for half an hour, leave for a two hour lunch, back at work for an hour and go home because most staff was gone. This was especially frustrating as we needed him to sign off on things!) But I also have some exempt staff here who get the short end — working nine hour days for weeks on end and don’t get anything extra for it. We try to balance with “exempt vacation days” which are like vacation days except only given to exempt staff to “make up” for the expected overtime, but it benefits some exempt employees a lot more than others.

                7. Kevin Sours*

                  Shrug. If I want to keep working a problem after the end of my nominal day because I’m in the zone and I’m going to lose track of it if I stop — I can do that. If I oversleep and can’t work late that day to make up for it, it’s not a big deal. If I want to knock off a couple of hours early to get to an event, no big deal. If I have a deployment that’s going to be twelve hour day, I can schedule it without having to spend a ton of energy trying to get the overtime approved.

                  Basically I like setting my own schedule and that flexibility is hard to come by when it adds to the cost to your employer.

                8. Sel*

                  “When I asked “What’s the benefit of being exempt?” I meant “What’s the benefit over being a salaried, non-exempt employee?” not “What’s the benefit over hourly?””

                  Yeah, this is the crux of it–imo, it’s NOT better to be salaried exempt than salaried non-exempt… but salaried non-exempt jobs basically don’t exist in the US. And I say that as someone who is married to someone who is salaried non-exempt. When we tell people he’s salaried but gets overtime pay, they are *shocked*. For anyone who is not also an engineer at his company, he’s pretty much guaranteed to be the first person they’ve ever met who has been salaried non-exempt.

                  He does, for the record, get the same flexibility as exempt. (He’s full time WFH since Covid, so he does a lot of our grocery shopping randomly through the week to avoid weekend crowds; it’s awesome.) He just has to fill out time cards and submit them every 2 weeks. As long as he’s hitting his 80 hours/fortnight, making meetings and deadlines, and not going over (as a non-exempt he has to get permission to work overtime), his managers don’t seem to care.

                  I sincerely wish it were more standard here.

                9. Kevin Sours*

                  Salaried non exempt isn’t a meaningful thing legally. If they have to pay you overtime your company is going to need to track your hours to ensure compliance with the law. They are not going to want to pay overtime rates and will expect you to arrange your schedule to avoid it. Including limiting how you want to make up any time. Technically, nothing is stopping a company from letting you knock off early, but most places are not going to particularly keen on letting you knock off early if you aren’t making it up in anyway.

                  Note that working 80 hrs/fortnight would not comply with US law as anything over 40s/week is required to be paid at overtime rates (there may be some exceptions that come with union negotiations). Moreover in my jurisdiction overtime kicks in after 8/day.

                10. Kevin Sours*

                  Note it’s not particularly unusual for exempt employees to get overtime pay — though I’ve never seen it paid at a premium rate.

                11. Sel*

                  Yeah I mistyped that because I was distracted. He has to submit his time cards every day, but he can flex hours from one day to another as long as it’s within the same pay period, which is a fortnight. So if he works 7 hours one day, he can flex it to work 9 another, or 8.5 one and 8.5 another. The total has to be 80 hrs for the two-week pay period but within that time period he can flex it basically how he wants.

                12. Kevin Sours*

                  What you describe does not comply with US laws for non exempt workers unless there is some kind of specific exception in play.

                13. mrs__peel*

                  *In theory*, the idea is that exempt employees have more control over their work schedule and more flexibility with their hours during the week.

                  I work for a company where this is actually the case, and it’s very nice because I can (e.g.) work a shorter day and make it up during the week, or take time off to go to appointments without it being a big deal. Most of my colleagues have young kids, and they can pop in and out to take them to activities and whatnot.

                  In practice, though, a lot of exempt employees are just told “Your hours are [x] to [y] and you need to be there then”. Being exempt really doesn’t provide any advantages to the employee in that situation.

              2. Alex M*

                Kevin, to clarify, the way it works in my case is that I have a contract that says I am expected to work 36.5 hours per week, or an equivalent flex arrangement. I don’t have to track my hours to make sure I’m working *exactly 36.5 hours* per week – as long as I’m available during our core work hours, my work is getting completed on time, and I’m not online at weird hours, it generally works on the honour system. If I have a doctor’s appointment or other engagement, I can either just make the time up elsewhere, or I can use PTO.

                Essentially, rather than me clocking in and them tracking my hours very exactly and then paying me an hourly rate, my employment contract says that I am going to work a specific number of hours and then they pay me a set annual salary based on that number of hours. In my case, the way they avoid having to pay overtime is by saying, “Don’t work overtime, we’re not paying you for that.” The benefit to the company doing it this way is that they don’t need to put the work into administering hourly tracking, and it makes payroll a lot easier to manage.

                My mom is also a salaried employee, but she does get overtime pay. In her case, everything is pretty much the same as with me, except that she lets her boss know when she’s going to need to work overtime, gets permission, and then files some paperwork that essentially says, “I actually worked 45 hours this week, not 40,” and gets paid extra for those additional hours. The company obviously prefers that she not work overtime, but they also know that sometimes the workload will mean overtime is necessary to get the work done, and they’re willing pay for it when it’s needed.

                1. Kevin Sours*

                  I don’t think “Don’t work overtime, we’re not paying you for that.” works here. If an non exempt employee works it, the employer is legally obligated to pay it. And without a record of actual hours worked validated by the employee it’s a bit hard to demonstrate you’ve paid the actual hours worked.

                  And, like I said, in my locale if weren’t exempt my employer would be on the hook for an extra hour of pay if I worked an extra half hour a day and took two hours off on Friday.

                2. doreen*

                  There doesn’t necessarily have to be exact tracking of time in the US for non-exempt employees – it’s fine for someone to work 35 or 40 hours a week every week and just fill out a timesheet that says they worked 7 or 8 hours every day from Monday through Friday without detailed arrival and departure times. The records do, however have to include the number of hours worked each day. But in the US, for nonexempt employees, averaging hours over the course of 2 ( or more ) weeks isn’t permitted – you can’t work 45 hours this week and 35 next week and call it even. Your employer would have to pay you time and a half for the 5 extra hours this week – and if they have to do that, they are certainly going to dock you for the five hours you are short next week.

                3. Kevin Sours*

                  Sorry I’m having a bad post day. That was an incomplete thought I thought better of. I was going to say, the important part is going to having an accurate log of time actually worked *signed by the employee*.

                  California is a bit different because there are some other requirements for nonexempt workers (such as taking a lunch break) that may require more detailed time accounting. But I’m mostly aware of that second hand.

              3. Kevin Sours*

                What you describe does not comply with US laws for non exempt workers unless there is some kind of specific exception in play.

      2. Beth II*

        I’ve never worked a job where standard hours were more than 37.5, which is probably the norm for office jobs, although one of them was 35 hours a week. It does mean to me as a manager that if people need to take a few hours in the middle of the day they don’t need to “make up” or take PTO. New people will always say they will work through lunch and I’m like, thats fine if you want but you are exempt and don’t have to. I’m not storing u all the time you come in at 8:22 instead of 8:30 so its the same with time off. Just get your job done and be around most of standard hours so you can answer to our customers – that’s all.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      That doesn’t sound like a Canada/US thing. That’s a company/boss-specific things.
      Some want you to work unpaid overtime, some don’t.

      1. Alex M*

        Canada doesn’t have a classification for employees that is called “exempt.” It just doesn’t exist, and there’s nothing I can find that quite lines up to it. If you try to google “exempt” employees in Canada, the results you get are ones for Canadians who are considering jobs in the U.S.

        We do have “excluded” employees, but that is typically referring to employees who are excluded from participation in a union or bargaining unit. I am classified as an excluded employee in my current job, so I don’t get to join our union, but my contract says I work 36.5 hours per week, or an equivalent flex arrangement.

        If I understand our laws correctly, in Canada, only managers/supervisory roles (and a handful of specific industries, i.e. farmers, lawyers, doctors, certain salespeople, etc.) are exempt from receiving overtime pay. But in the overwhelming majority of jobs, if you aren’t not a manager, you either get overtime pay, time in lieu, or you can’t (legally) work overtime. Now, I’ve definitely worked for companies that wanted you to work unpaid overtime, but my understand is that it’s not legal. As I understand it, in the U.S. you can be an “exempt” employee without being a manager.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Yeah, we don’t handle it the same way as the US does, but you could argue that the handful of industries that you described are equivalent to US “exempt positions”

          But even outside of legal requirements, it’s my experience that not all employers are a strict about people working overtime (without extra pay) as your seems to be. Note: These tend to be positions where hours aren’t tracked.

          1. Alex M*

            Yeah, I’ve definitely had employers that were much less “strict,” and some who very specifically would pressure people into working unpaid overtime … but it’s worth noting that’s illegal. Of course people do it, but that doesn’t make it okay.

        2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

          I’m curious about this. I’ve never worked with Canadians specifically, but I used to work for a French tech startup. France’s labor laws are notoriously strict, but most of our customer facing French employees worked the same kind of hours as the rest of us.

          That’s not to say the hours were awful by US startup standards, we weren’t one of those “we expect you to work 60 hours a week or why are you even here?” kind of places, but it was normal and expected on both sides of the company that there might be the occasional 45 or 50 hour weeks, and even more on very rare occasions.

          I asked one of the French guys once and he said that tech workers were a separate class of employee. The description he gave sounded more less like what the US calls an “exempt” employee. Given that France has a concept like that, I kind of assumed everywhere did, or at least most places.

          1. Alex M*

            I figured it out and have described it elsewhere within the thread. The short version is that we *do* have something similar, but our “exempt”-equivalent employees are a much, much smaller and more strictly-defined group than in the U.S. In the U.S., it seems like the majority of knowledge workers are classified as being exempt, while in Canada the overwhelming majority of salaried Canadian employees are still legally entitled to overtime pay. Which specific positions are classified as being exempt from overtime varies from province to province.

            For your specific example, as far as I can find, B.C. is the only Canadian province that exempts high-tech workers from overtime pay, likely to try to attract U.S. tech companies to set up shop.

        3. Worked in IT forever*

          Actually, there are additional jobs in Canada that also aren’t eligible for overtime. I’ve always worked in IT, and I’ve never been a manager or supervisor. I’ve worked mostly for a huge non-unionized company, and I got overtime as a more junior employee when I started working. But later on, as I was classified at more senior levels, different rules applied. I was expected to work as long as it took to get the job done (subject to some degree of reasonableness, of course). If that was more than 40 hours, there was no compensation for the excess time spent (no extra pay or lieu time). It’s definitely legal.

            1. Alex M*

              I did discover through my reading yesterday that Ontario has a specific exemption saying that IT professionals aren’t legally entitled to overtime pay, but that’s not the norm in most provinces, and Ontario has actually discussed getting rid of it.

    4. Llellayena*

      “Exempt” in the US just means IF you work overtime, you don’t get paid extra for it, it’s still just your base salary. However, I’m not sure if that’s what the LW means when she says “not eligible for overtime” and I hope Alison clarified. Because not eligible for overtime could ALSO mean “we don’t expect this position to need overtime so we’re not budgeting to pay someone in this position for any extra hours.” If this is the case, the employee staying late is a BIG DEAL because they’re still required to be paid for the time but there’s no budget to pay for them.

    5. NeutralJanet*

      Exempt workers get paid the same amount each week if they do at least some work during that week—so for example, you can work 86 hours one week and 2 hours the next week and get the same pay. This usually works out well for people who have inconsistent workflows, and also means that you often get to be a bit more flexible with your time than non-exempt workers, who have to document their hours so as to ensure that they get overtime pay if they work overtime.

    6. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I’m not 100% sure on the legal aspects of it, but my personal experience of it has always been: you need to work what you need to work to get the job done, and you’re not going to be paid overtime if it takes more than a standard day/week.

      I’m lucky enough to work for an employer that does not abuse this. You pulled a near all-nighter to finish a proposal? Take tomorrow as a comp. You’re traveling and won’t be home til midnight? Don’t worry about the typical morning meeting at 8 a.m., take your time getting online, no big deal. Meet your deadlines, and we’ll figure out how to make everything work out for both you and the company seems to be the unwritten ruling.

      Can’t say the same about my OldJob, which is one of approximately 9 million reasons why I’m not there any longer.

    7. met_anon*

      Also Canadian and your experience sounds atypical to me. I’m an hourly employee, but those that are higher up management are salaried. They definitely work overtime. It fluctuates, and its not everyone all the time, but its normal.
      Our company actually has a weird thing that getting promoted to the salary level generally ends up being a pay cut because you had previously been making more overtime than the salary increase nets you.

      1. Alex M*

        I’m salaried, but I’m not a manager. There’s a very, very large group of employees in Canada who receive an annual salary but are not management and do not work unpaid overtime. My managers at work do work overtime. I do not.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          I have also been in salaried non-managerial positions in a couple provinces, and I’ve not been eligible for overtime pay in any of them. However, most of these jobs have not prohibited working overtime, and overtime was par for the course.

          What you’re describing is something that would happen in a federally regulated industry, at a company that takes a very narrow reading of what I suspect is Ontario’s ESA, or what goes on in union shops with collective bargaining agreements that prohibit overtime work. Many, if not most non-managerial white-collar jobs fall into an exemption.

          1. Alex M*

            I’m in Alberta.

            It’s pretty common, in my experience, for some companies to try to get employees to work unpaid overtime (I definitely had that early in my career), and a lot of companies that look the other way when employee work overtime that they’re technically not supposed to, but that doesn’t make it legal.

            I’m in Alberta, and none of my non-managerial salaried friends or family members are expected to work much, if any, overtime. Regardless of union membership, we all have contracts that say we work X hours per week, and while we’ll sometimes work a little more more and sometimes a little less, there’s an expectation that our hours should average out to that number on the piece of paper.

            The only person I know I can think of off the top of my head who works overtime is a paralegal, and she gets paid for it.

      2. Alex M*

        New reply, because I think I’ve deciphered the difference between the two countries.

        Both the U.S. and Canada do have a group of employees that is ineligible for overtime pay, while still being expected to work as-needed overtime. However, in the U.S., there’s a special name for this group (“exempt”) while in Canada there’s not really a special name for it. They’re just called employees who aren’t eligible for overtime pay.

        Many, many more American employees are exempt from overtime than Canadian ones. Canada’s “exempt”-equivalent employees vary from province to province, but generally need to be either managers, licensed professionals [doctors, lawyers, agrologists, accountants, dentists, etc. etc.], or work in very specific sectors/professions [farm employees, lookout observers, certain types of salespeople, camp counsellors, some other stuff].

        If I lived in the U.S., my position would almost certainly be classified as being exempt from overtime, but in Canada, I am one of the majority of employees who is legally entitled to overtime pay. But since my company doesn’t want to pay overtime, I am not allowed to work it. The overwhelming majority of employees, even salaried employees, are entitled to overtime pay if they work overtime in Canada.

        It sounds like in your case, only management-level employees get paid on a salary basis, but at a lot of Canadian companies, many employees are paid with a salary without being managers or being exempt from overtime. Most of my friends are salary workers, but very few of us are management.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Salaried non-managerial employees are common in the US, as they are in Canada. Salaried non-managerial employees also do not need to be “licensed” professionals in the vast majority of provinces to be exempt from overtime pay, because most provinces include some sort of “works with computers” category in the exemptions. Many of us have jobs that are similar in nature to American “exempt” employees.

          1. Alex M*

            Can you point me to the provincial labour laws with this “works with computers” category? B.C. has a high-tech employees exclusion, and Ontario has an I.T. professionals exemption, but that hardly seems to be the norm and from skimming those, they do seem to be much more specific than just … using a computer at work.

            Salaried non-managerial employees are obviously common in both countries, but you seem to be suggesting that a majority of white-collar salaried employees are exempt from receiving overtime pay. If I’m understanding you correctly, I think you’re mistaken.

        2. Kevin Sours*

          “ineligible for overtime pay” is a bit off. While employers are not legally required to pay overtime to workers classified as exempt there is nothing stopping them. And it does sometimes happen.

          1. Alex M*

            I’m just using the phrasing from our government website here. The phrasing our local government uses is “eligible employees” and then variants of “non-eligible employees.” I suppose it would be more accurate to say “not eligible for legally-protected overtime pay.”

    8. A.P.*

      There are definitely jobs where the expectation is that you will work >40 hours a week. Senior executives, investment bankers, programmers at Silicon Valley companies, etc. The thing is that one’s compensation should reflect the overtime that’s put in, even if it’s not a direct correlation between hours worked and pay. Unfortunately, there are too many companies that expect you to work long hours but don’t pay accordingly, in effect taking advantage of your ‘exempt’ status.

      1. alienor*

        Pretty much as soon as I switched from hourly to salaried, the expectation became “you’ll work as long as it takes to meet your deadlines, whether that means you’re in the office or taking work home with you.” That was true when I was just past entry level and it’s still true now that I’m a senior employee with 25 years experience.

        1. Alex M*

          That sucks. :(

          My first “real job” out of university, I had a manager who definitely had that expectation, but I was able to go, “Wait, are you sure? I’m confused, because I read the employee handbook, and our policies (and the law!) say that I’m entitled to overtime pay or time in lieu …” and he backed down.

    9. Cat Tree*

      With a good employer, the hours tend to average out to slightly over 40 hours per week. I support 24/7 manufacturing so sometimes something comes up outside of my typical work hours. I get paid fairly and feel like it’s fair for me to occasionally work extra to get the job done. Sometimes I know one specific week will be long due to a special project, and occasionally it’s unplanned due to an emergency. There are other times when I work less than 40 hours. I can just go to a doctor’s appointment without using PTO. If workload allows I will occasionally take a long lunch or leave an hour earlier than usual when I have evening plans.

      I’ve definitely known people who work long weeks every week, but for anyone who isn’t a manager it has usually been self-inflicted.

  9. JustAGirl*

    Is there any chance she is subbing out her work? I once had an employee who really struggled to answer questions pertaining to his job (software developer), but the next morning would have finished the project or assignment. It still wasn’t great work, but it was completed. Turns out he was getting a friend to do his work for him after hours! I’m not saying that is what is going on, but it is something to also keep in mind as another reason to work obscurely late into the evening.

    1. JS*

      I was originally thinking something more sinister like if the person is manages the financial books or cash. There are reasons to working extra hours alone if you are covering up for something you’re not supposed to do or having somebody else cover up for your work.

  10. Ellen Ripley*

    If her slowness in completing tasks isn’t an issue, maybe say that to her directly? As in, “I am happy with the quality and pace of your work. You don’t need to work more than 8 hours per day because I am content with what you accomplish in 8 hours. Any work past that can wait until the next day.”

    You also mention her “inability to stick to a schedule”, but also “offer her flex hours”. If you’d prefer she stick to a schedule to help ensure 40 hour weeks, address it with her and outline the schedule together.

    1. Bumblebee*

      Right, “flex” to her might mean that she can do whatever she likes! In my experience, “flex” needs to have defined parameters.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Right, like “any eight hours between 7am and 9pm, with at least half an hour break after no more than five hours”.

        7-12, 12.30-3.30
        7-11, 5-9
        11-3, 4-8

        1. Cj*

          The only actually legitimate concern the OP seems to have is safety, and if it is a valid concern, flexible hours that let her work until 8:00 pm aren’t going to solve it.

    2. TheUnknown1*

      This sounds like a good approach. As long as the flex hours were defined (“flex” would mean they’re a defined alternative to the hours others work, but aren’t to be exceeded), Caroline might find it more workable. Only speculating, but if there’s something like ADD or GAD in the picture, Caroline might realistically not hit her focus headspace until later, and this would be a helpful accommodation.

    3. Cj*

      She is keeping up with her work now because she works such long hours. If she only worked 8 hours a day, she might get behind enough that some of it *couldn’t* wait until the next day, and the OP wouldn’t be content with what she can do in 8 hours.

      1. LilyP*

        Yeah I’d really think about that — 60 hours vs 40 is a big difference. If a *third* of the things you assigned to her suddenly weren’t getting done would you still be happy with her work and want to keep her in this role? Maybe even more than a third if she really does focus better in the evenings. Would that have an impact on colleagues or students or your teams deliverables? Maybe she’s savvy enough to realize that not getting her work done (or admitting to you that she can’t get it done in a normal schedule) would land her in more hot water than staying late has.

  11. Bluebelle*

    I had an employee once who stayed really late. I finally got to the bottom of it after knowing her better. She is severe untreated ADD and simply could not concentrate when people were around and the constant interruptions. So during her “regular hours”, she was reactive to emails, people coming in, people stopping by to chat or ask questions. She could not focus when others were around.
    We worked in a very flexible environment, I suggested she change her hours to 11-8, when most people in the office worked 7-4 and a handful working 8-5. These hours gave her plenty of time to be reactive to requests but also giving her time to work when the office was empty. This solution worked for everyone. She was happier and her work quality and productivity shot up.
    We had full time security and card entry buildings and offices, she was perfectly safe.

    1. Mid*

      That was my first thought as well, as someone who had severe untreated ADD (now it’s still severe, just treated.) I could only get work done late at night, when it was quiet and there were no distractions. If I checked my email, I would derail my other tasks for hours, because I’d read one email, look for an answer, end up on Google, then somehow I’m looking up the lyrics to an 80s song because something reminded me of it and I can’t move on until I know the lyrics.

      Having to actually track my hours and what I did each day really helped me figure out what was going on with my workflow. It’s annoying, but it also helped me notice when I needed to adjust my meds because tasks that used to take me 20 minutes were taking me an hour or more because I wasn’t well focused.

      She could also have a sleep cycle delay, so she’s not really awake until noon, so her ending work at 8pm is actually “only” 8 hours of working.

      But, OP and the commentariat aren’t doctors. So OP really needs to check on the workload and how she’s working, and see what the sticking point is. Too much work? Too many distractions? Too slow at work and in need of training or support? Medical issue that needs accommodation? Personality quirk? No one knows, yet. But OP needs to work on figuring it out.

  12. ArtsyGirl*

    I sense Caroline is one of those people who brags about how busy/how little sleep/how many plans she has had to cancel because its a way to make her look very important and integral to her work. I found people who are very anxious and/or have very low self esteem do this.

    1. Generic Name*

      I’ve known 2 people who liked to “humblebrag” about how much they worked and how late they stayed. One was on the phone with her best friend literally for hours during the work day (my cube was next to hers) while she worked at a very leisurely pace. She then had to stay late to get stuff done as a result. Another person, while exempt, was paid out for time worked over 40 hours a week, so he had a financial incentive to work overtime. He would generally dick around during the day and then get his work done after hours. I think his marriage wasn’t doing well at the time either (he is now divorced) so that may have been a factor too.

      1. Cat Tree*

        The two men I’ve known who worked the longest hours both actively hated their wives and felt neutral at best about their kids.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          One of Mr. Gumption’s old bosses seemed to never leave the office. His position is super flexible by nature, but bosses were 9-5, so it was really weird that he saw his boss in the office no matter when he stopped by. 7 am Sunday, 2 am on Tuesday, 8pm Saturday, didn’t matter, boss was always there. This was especially annoying because a) boss never seemed to actually do anything and had to be hounded for his most basic tasks (e.g. signing leave slips) and b) boss liked to monologue to anyone who crossed his sightline, so avoiding him was an art practiced by the team, and getting ambushed in off hours was extra annoying.

          Boss eventually got promoted.

      2. Double A*

        I’m really hoping that one of the outcomes of the pandemic/great resignation/worker awakening is that people who brag about how many hours they work are looked at as either incompetent, inefficient, or kind of pathetic. Or that they unionize because their workplace is terrible.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Something to consider here is that there’s a lot of places where no one is able to get their work done in 40 hours, but most people are going to great efforts to conceal or downplay that fact. The social pressure that keeps people quiet about their 55 hour work week for fear of seeming incompetent, inefficient, or kind of pathetic isn’t something we want more of, because it throws away any transparency that could help managers set better expectations.

          I have a lot less respect for the people who are afraid of “bragging” about being overworked because they’re largely complicit in the reason why we’re under-resourced to begin with. Stop pretending that you aren’t taking work home every night.

    2. NoOneSpecial*

      This is immediately what I thought. I’ve worked with a few of these types who “can’t” get their work done in 40 hours (even though everyone else could) but seem to absolutely love bragging about how late they work. Some people just love bring martyrs.

      1. ArtsyGirl*

        It’s simply conjecture base on the fact that she has been told by multiple managers she cannot stay late, that she has been repremanded after ignoring that directive, that she has been told work does not need to be finished, that it is every day occurrence, etc. It isn’t just this manager nor the office culture. The manager has confirmed there doesn’t seem to be anything happen at her home so if you removed external factors that leaves internal. She clearly feels the need to stay obscenely late everyday and that speaks of anxiety to me and a need to appear to be overworked despite that not actually being the situation. I have had a few co-workers do this over the years and seem to intentionally add to their stress levels despite no one asking it of them.

  13. Carrie*

    Great question and something I’ve experienced before.

    With my person, I believe it was a mixture of being slow, a perfectionist, poor self discipline, and a fear that if they didn’t put in the hours they’d get into trouble for doing a half done job.

    I ended up going down the heavy handed approach but only because they were causing me other problems: building up an excessive amount of time off in lieu and also claiming they were stressed.

    However they continued to do the very things that were creating the stress – never taking the time off in lieu they’d built up, leading to an excessive backlog of hours and continuing to stay late.

    In the end, I told them they couldn’t claim back any extra hours, I wouldn’t review their time logs and I wouldn’t entertain any stress complaints until she complied. It was their responsibility to do 35 hours and nothing more with no remedies/support if they went over. It had an immediate impact: they started doing their hours, stopped asking for time off in lieu and complained far less about stress. When they did, the issues were a lot easier to unpick and deal with.

    In short, I stopped getting sucked into the drama and details of the situation they were creating and was extremely blunt. Worked a treat and was less taxing for me in the long run.

    1. BookishMiss*

      The perfectionism is a really good point. I train people, and repeatedly tell my trainees not to let perfect get in the way of performing. Sometimes it takes longer to stick than other times, and for some it never sticks, but it’s a handy phrase to have in my pocket.

      1. SnowyRose*

        Yup! My normal schedule is Mon-Fri but pre-pandemic I probably worked at least on weekend a month—either it was a travel day or we had an event. Because I’m exempt I don’t get overtime; instead, I get day(s) in lieu to use during the normal work week (within a certain time period). So, I can use a day in lieu to take the following Friday off instead of annual leave.

      2. GlowCloud*

        Precisely – Any time you work above your contracted hours is time you’re not paid for, but you get to take the same amount of time off work at some future date, instead.

        At my old job, you could only take Annual Leave in Full- or Half-Day chunks, so TOIL was really handy for if you just need to leave an hour early on a Friday, or take an hour-and-a-half out for the dentist or something. You could build it up or spend it in 15-minute chunks, so it was way more flexible than AL, but you couldn’t spend TOIL you hadn’t already earned.

        You could also accrue several hours’ or even days’ worth of TOIL by working overtime, but that was discouraged by managers, who obviously prefer that everyone works as closely to their weekly hours as possible, and take their AL frequently to avoid burnout.

  14. learnedthehardway*

    Does your employee have struggles with focusing? Is she easily distracted and pulled in all directions during the day, and in need of time to focus during after hours when it is quiet?

    ADD (no H) here – I find I get my most productive work done when I am working late at night with nobody to distract me, no phone calls, no meetings, and I can just put on my headphones, listen to music and work. Not ideal for work/life balance, but I have to do it.

  15. Batgirl*

    I would certainly expect Caroline to be able to explain WHY the work is so urgent, or why staying late is so appealing to her. There could be any number of reasons like it’s quieter and she has a focus issue when it’s noisy, or it’ll bother her at night if something is left undone, or she works in unpredictable periods of “flow”. I won’t diagnose over the internet but if it’s something she needs an accommodation for, she’s not going to be forthcoming about it until it’s spelled out that it’s a big deal. In her mind she’s found the workaround already. The other reason to get an explanation is you’ll understand her better and the solution often follows that understanding, like if she thinks you secretly admire it, or she could start wrapping up sooner in the day to avoid a case of the “oh I’ll just do one more thing” at the last minute.

  16. Girasol*

    Did Caroline’s last job aggressively measure employee productivity by butt-in-seat hours, so that she is unwilling to believe that she would be seen as a good worker if she left earlier, no matter what OP says? Is she having transportation problems that she doesn’t want to mention, and she’s using the office to stay safe and warm until she can get a ride? Is it possible that Caroline is unwilling or afraid to spend time at home and is using the office as a sort of sanctuary? Seems like there are a number of possibilities for this behavior that don’t have to do with Caroline’s actual work.

  17. Mystic*

    New manager to the team. Is it possible she doesn’t think that leaving work undone is an actual option? I know LW states that previous managers were concerned about her inability to stick to a schedule so that LWs boss knows about it, but if she’s been trained in other jobs that work has to be done before leaving for the day, maybe it’s partly different expectations? Especially since although she was apparently on a PIP for it, she might not think people care if she finishes the stuff at whatever time, since the work is getting done.

    1. Mr. Cajun2core*

      I came here to say this. I was never really expected to do this but it is my nature. I hate leaving work with anything “left on my plate”. Doesn’t mean it was done but just that my part was done or I was waiting on someone or something. I am afraid that if I leave one small thing to tomorrow, it will turn to 2 things, then 3 things and I will be way behind!

      When I was exempt I did often work very late hours just to make sure that everything was done so that things not done would not snowball into an unmanageable amount.

      Maybe the LW could suggest that she work late only 1 or 2 days a week and go from there.

      However, as others have mentioned, the LW needs to get to the bottom of why she things things need to get done that day and can’t wait.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      New manager to the team. Is it possible she doesn’t think that leaving work undone is an actual option? I know LW states that previous managers were concerned about her inability to stick to a schedule so that LWs boss knows about it, but if she’s been trained in other jobs that work has to be done before leaving for the day, maybe it’s partly different expectations? Especially since although she was apparently on a PIP for it, she might not think people care if she finishes the stuff at whatever time, since the work is getting done.

      How predictably does her work come in? I’ve had stretches where I act like Caroline, and I’d flirt with disobeying my supervisor in the process, because I knew I could get 16+ hours of SLA’d work the next day. If I left 2-3 hours worth of work to finish the next day, it’d just be more deadlines to sweat and juggle.

      Is it safe for Caroline to leave that work for the next day? Would she concur?

    3. Evelyn Carnahan*

      That’s an excellent point. It took me almost a year in my current position to not feel like I had to work 10 hour days every day just to meet the expectations for my job, because my previous job was like that. I worked for a line of micromanagers in a seriously understaffed department. I had a colleague there who was continually threatened with PIPs because of her “terrible time management” (not true), and it was really a way for her abusive boss to micromanage her even more.

  18. I edit everything*

    She sounds a little like me: I often hit my stride later in the day, and once I’m in a good groove, I just work until I finally look up and it’s just late. And if I stop, I lose the thread of what I was doing. Setting something aside until morning will mean forgetting where I was, what I was going to write next, etc., and I don’t recapture that flow. I like to *finish* whatever it is I’m focusing on, if it’s possible. It sounds like, from her explanations, that she’s similarly inclined.

    1. pancakes*

      She hasn’t really given any explanations, though. You’ve explained your issue clearly, whereas the most she’s ever said is that she loses track of time. Maybe she loses track of time because she’s super-focused, maybe not. If staying late is essential to her process she needs to say that instead of simply ignoring instructions.

    2. jbn*

      This is me too, but it doesn’t happen every single day. I don’t mind staying late if I’m in the flow but that’s pretty uncommon; seems different if this is something that’s happening daily.

  19. ahhh*

    I wonder how old Caroline is. *Disclaimer I know what I’m saying is a generalization. I mean could this be more of a way of thinking – I need to work and show I’m dedicated by working all hours of the day. I kind of looked at this like it’s a mentality of how she was taught office life is like.

    I’ve also observed something similar such an inferior complex. We had a bright young lady join our staff. According to her she did ok in school. Struggled, no known disabilities, but was not a test taker. She always felt like she had to prove herself.

  20. Magpie*

    I have to add my voice to Dumplings. The comment about her being late in the morning. I was thinking I bet she has ADD or similar and is a slow starter in the morning. I wonder if it possible that she could come in two hours later and finish at 8.

  21. Chriama*

    One other reason this could be a concern (though maybe not in your case): a pattern of overworking can sometimes be used to hide fraud or embezzlement. There are stories of fraud only being discovered after an employee who never took a day off suddenly got sick or some such.

    What is this employee’s attitude about taking sick or vacation time? Even if she doesn’t have any finance-adjacent duties, the employee could be somehow misusing the information she does have access to as part of her job.

    Another thought is that maybe she has some sort of health issue or learning difference that makes work take a long time for her, and is worried about being punished for failing to meet expected productivity if she limits her hours. In that case the heavy-handed approach, coupled with checking how she works and the duties she excels at and struggles with most, could make work better for her in a way she never imagined it could be. It’s a little paternalistic, but I don’t buy the idea that we should leave people to flounder just because they don’t know how to ask for help.

    Finally, does the employee work from home, or can she? As brutal as it sounds, “out of sight, out of mind” could be a potential solution. I would consider that a true last resort, more than the strict oversight Alison described, because it risks leaving issues to fester to the point of no return (burnout, fraud, poor health, or more). But if everything else has been tried and you really don’t want to fire her, it’s a thought.

    1. President Porpoise*

      Also a concern if you have proprietary or classified information on hand – odd working hours can be a way to get access to info that someone shouldn’t be privy to, or to transfer it without being observed. That’s almost certainly not what’s happening – but then again, I don’t know OP’s industry.

      1. RosyGlasses*

        It would be firing someone for continued insubordination and inability to adapt to what the workplace is asking.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        If an employee that is staying late to work gets fired, it’s not the staying late to work is the firing offense – it’s the lack of following clearly communicated policies, ill-fit for the job/lack of production expected for that position, or as stated above in a much more serious situation, fraud. Staying late to work is a symptom of the problem.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Actually it would be insubordination. She was told not to work past 6 pm and she failed to follow that instruction.

    2. KathyG*

      “One other reason this could be a concern (though maybe not in your case): a pattern of overworking can sometimes be used to hide fraud or embezzlement. There are stories of fraud only being discovered after an employee who never took a day off suddenly got sick or some such.

      What is this employee’s attitude about taking sick or vacation time? Even if she doesn’t have any finance-adjacent duties, the employee could be somehow misusing the information she does have access to as part of her job.”


  22. Gracely*

    If she has to get her thoughts out, maybe she could at least do some of this working from home? Is WFH at all an option?
    If WFH isn’t a viable solution for most of her work, maybe you could propose a short version of it to at least mitigate the safety issues of getting trapped in the office when there’s snow? Like, “look, you need to go home now. If you get home and think of something else you need to do, send yourself an email/save it to a portable drive/etc., that way you can spend time on it when you get in tomorrow.”

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I love WFH because it’s really great for people who like or need to work odd hours. It’s so much more flexible that way.
      But there is no mention of WFH here so I’m assuming it’s not an option even though this sounds like an office job.

  23. Random Internet Stranger*

    Personally, I love working late some days so I can leave early on Fridays (or not work at all on Fridays). If I had it my way, this is how I’d manage my own schedule. If you’re concerned about burnout, but she clearly likes working late, maybe ask her about an arrangement like that. Can’t stay late if she doesn’t come in at all!

    Or maybe she works better later in the day, so change her schedule from 9-5 to 12-8.

    OP, have you talked with her about what her ideal schedule will look like?

    1. Not OP*

      I’m not the OP, but through the letter and their comments I get the impression that they have spoken to Caroline about it – sounds like Caroline isn’t able to offer a clear explanation (not even ‘I focus better when the office is empty’) and even when they shift the schedule (which OP has detailed has limitations based on university requirements) Caroline doesn’t stick with it.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Also – sounds like the are some type of Student Support office – and from when I worked at a university (while a student, so my responsibilities were more limited) the school capped the hours that the office was open. The point was to try and teach students some of how the working world worked, and to plan around availability of things you may need. Hence, the office being open 8-5 weekdays.

      (But that may also mean that they can’t just have Caroline not come in on Fridays, because that would probably leave them short staffed and scrambling.)

  24. Three Flowers*

    Here’s another question, because you work at a university: is Caroline a grad student, recent grad school graduate, or someone who left a grad program without finishing in the last few years? Grad school (esp but not only PhD school) leads a lot of people to an awful guilt complex: you’re worthless if you’re not working all the time, but you’re tired so you’re not efficient, but you’re not getting anything done so you don’t deserve rest.

    Caroline sounds like some ex-PhD students I know—those who finished and *especially* those who left without finishing.

      1. After 33 years ...*

        I’m in a university, and I frequently work overtime, by choice, whether I am in the office or at home. I am not paid by the hour. Several commentators have suggested reasons why the employee is working overtime, phrased primarily as problems.
        However, Alison’s advice includes the key statement, “There’s also value in giving people autonomy in their schedules and doing what works for them, even if it’s not exactly in line with what you’re most comfortable with.” In my case, I shall work the amount of time that I deem necessary.

  25. Liz Lemon*

    My first thought was, “Side job.” Anytime someone wants to constantly spend time in the office after hours, you’ve got to wonder if they’re using company resources for their own projects. (“My laptop is old;” “I can use the printer at work;” “Just call my direct line”….)

    1. Collarbone High*

      I was wondering this too – if it’s possible she’s freelancing/writing a book/etc. and is staying to use software she doesn’t own.

      1. The Sugar Mama*

        Sometimes when I’m waiting at a place like the DMV, as an employee types at great length into a computer, I imagine they are secretly writing snippets of their romance novel during each customer interaction.

    2. Guin*

      That’s exactly what I thought might be going on. She stays until 9, her night time shift starts at 9:30/10 and finishes up at 5 in the morning. She goes to sleep at 5:30 am and fumbles her way into the day job by 10 am. Maybe she has some sort of serious debt she needs to pay off.

  26. Martha*

    I’m surprised Allison didn’t suggest feeling out if there is something she is avoiding by staying at work. Could she be homeless? Abusive/unsafe living situation?

    When I was a college student, there were times where work was more comfortable than home and I tried to stay there as much as I could without attracting attention. If anyone had called me out I’d have felt ‘busted’ and found somewhere else to go, but maybe her situation is more pressing than mine was.

    1. introverted af*

      OP said they have tried to address that though. I agree that it should be part of the checklist of “things to address this problem” but it sounds like they’ve addressed that piece as much as is appropriate. It’s not helpful to push too much on that even if there is abuse, because at the end of the day if the person isn’t ready or able to make a change, nothing you say is going to change that.

    2. Colette*

      The OP has already done that. “I have asked her all the things I can think of to make sure she safe and comfortable at home “

  27. Phony Genius*

    I wonder if there is a way for IT to restrict her hours on the computer, automatically logging her out of the network at 6:00.

  28. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    Could it be that she does not have secure housing or that she is not safe at home? Staying at work is a way to ensure she has personal safety?

  29. Rabuchux*

    Any chance she relies on public transportation with inconsistent morning hours and then an evening route? The busses in my city run like this and I’ve had coworkers dilly dally on projects after hours while waiting for their bus.

    1. Eclectic*

      This! Or maybe she has a one car household or dependant on someone for a ride and has to work around their hours. I could see being embarrassed to say you don’t have a car and are dependent on a parent to get to and from work. Or even not having a license could be something she does not want to share. Even with all that just ignoring the requests to not stay late is NOT ok.

      1. Rabuchux*

        How many letters have been about being ashamed about not having a car, not being able to drive, using public transport, things of that nature. There is real stigma. There’s a lot this employee needs to say but, so far, no luck. “Should,” “must,” and “need to” are rarely helpful.

        1. tessa*

          The workplace can’t be a second home or a therapy couch. If the OP can find a way around the woman working odd hours, then so be it. But if the woman needs help, either with her workplace tasks or with something outside of work, or with time management, she needs to take responsibility and get that help. As for the stigma of riding the bus, being unable to drive, etc., presumably, the employee let it be known that she had reliable transportation to and from work.

          Besides, “should,” “must,” and “need to” are an employer’s prerogative.

          1. Rabuchux*

            Yeah, it certainly is, and making it the perogative hasn’t worked for this employee through multiple bosses. Whatever she should be, must be, needs to be doing isn’t happening. I offered transportation as a possible challenge among dozens of other theories here. So either force her into an EAP to give her support for all the theoretical fiction problems, PIP her, or fire her.

            1. pancakes*

              Or the letter writer could follow Alison’s advice, which is less harsh and seems more likely to work out than these three alternatives you’ve listed.

        2. pancakes*

          The letter writer says they “offered to flex her hours.” It doesn’t seem that the employee would’ve had to specify a reason for taking her up on that offer.

  30. EPLawyer*

    I’ve got a pretty basic question, OP. You said that you told her you didn’t want her working past 6 p.m. But did you make it clear no work past 6 p .m. or did you say “I prefer you not work past 6 p.m.” Sometimes we soften our words when we need to explicitly spell it out. Caroline might think its okay since you didn’t explicitly spell it out that she MUST leave by 6 p.m. Even if you say its for reasons of safety or to avoid burnout, she might think “well I don’t feel unsafe staying and I’m not burnt out so its okay.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. “No working past 6. I will be checking to see if you are in compliance. If I find you here then [consequences].”

  31. Keyboard Cowboy*

    I wonder. My partner (exempt) has been working from home during the pandemic, and likes to work from when they wake up around 11 or 12 until 9pm or even later – sometimes even until they go to bed around 1 or 2. But they blend “work” and “nonwork” all day long – half an hour of coding, half an hour of videogames, half an hour of coding, half an hour of videogames. This is a pretty common approach in their role as a programmer and it’s what works really well for them, especially since their work is entirely individual and they don’t usually have deadlines like “get this to me by 3:00” but instead like “get this done by the next release, which happens on Monday”. Could it be that Caroline is doing the same thing, since she’s salaried? Like pomodoro, but 30 minutes on/30 minutes off instead of 30 minutes on/5 minutes off?

  32. Cheap Ass Rolex*

    This sounds potentially sketchy, especially since she’s blatantly ignored instructions more to an once.

    Whether she has a bad home life or not much of one at all, or works slowly or scatteredly or just more than is sustainable, I do think it’s reasonable to take a hard “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” policy. And to ask that she keep her hours within a stone’s throw of 40ish most weeks.

  33. SelinaKyle*

    I’m wondering if it’s not work related why she won’t leave the office within the required timeframe.
    Could this be a mental health issue? I have a friend who I’ve never worked with but know he goes through phases we’re you can’t get him to leave the office as he doesn’t want to go home. Then he flips and won’t leave his house, specially one room in his house.
    Is there another reason she avoids going home, is she unsafe at home or homeless?

    1. plumerai*

      This was one of my thoughts too, specifically OCD. I manage someone who was similar in this way and was a slow worker. I’m fine with someone’s pace being slow, but this person’s pace was causing issues, and I knew he wasn’t slacking. When we talked about it, it turned out he had OCD that resulted in him spending time on details that were absolutely not a part of what he was expected to deliver. Without telling him how to manage his OCD, I laid out exactly what was expected and asked him to track the time he spent working toward that benchmark. I can’t comment on his condition but I do know he started coming closer to an appropriate amount of time spent on projects. (I’m hoping this explains how this might change my advice, per Alison’s comment.)

  34. LizM*

    I had a more extreme situation, where an employee was regularly staying until 1 or 2 am. It was impacting other people, in part because she tended to set our alarm off by accident, which meant I got a phone call at 11 pm or later and had to meet the sheriff’s deputies at the office if I couldn’t get ahold of her and confirm she was still at the office.

    It was also creating a culture clash in my office, she was getting burnt out, and there were interpersonal conflicts happening when her coworkers maintained boundaries (that I encouraged) and she felt they were “slacking” by doing things like daring to insist on leaving at 4:30 to pick their kid up from daycare on time or going on camping trips that meant they were out of cell reception for the weekend and not answer her “urgent” texts.

    I still have no idea whether the approach I took was the right one, but it was a ton of work, and felt way too micromanagy for my comfort level. I ended up telling her she needed my explicit permission to work past 6 pm, and if she asked for permission, I asked exactly what she was working on and why it needed to be done that night. I would take things off her plate to make sure the core work was getting done (part of the issue was that she was spending way too much time on side projects and saving the core work until the last minute).

    I think it was an issue I had to address, because it was impacting other people, but honestly, I would think long and hard over whether this is a hill you want to die on.

    1. Anonym*

      Listen, if it got her to stop creating conflict with coworkers over their perfectly normal behavior, it was a success. That sounds really tough to deal with for all affected. Well done.

  35. Nay*

    Dang. I can completely understand why this irks you and why it seems silly, but I agree with Alison that since it’s not wildly unreasonable and it’s been broached with her in the past you should address it. Also, please please provide an update when you do!

  36. Still Thinking of a Name*

    Just throwing this out as a bit of a curveball alternative influence on her behavior. I’ve had a few people I’ve dealt with at work in my career that did similar things in terms of staying at work really late and coming in weekends despite repeatedly being told to stop to the point of discipline for not obeying instructions. Two cases it turned out the person was (we believed) in a hoarding situation and was staying at the office because their home was not “conducive” to living comfortably. Another was essentially homeless after a breakup and was staying as late as possible (sometimes overnight) because they only had their car to go to. The work was just an excuse to stay.

    1. Mannequin*

      But how is this actionable for OP? Even if those things are true, Caroline still can’t do unauthorized overtime.

      1. Cj*

        Unauthorized overtime is generally when you aren’t authorized to be *paid* for overtime, and Caroline is an exempt employee.

        She is still disobeying an order from her manager, although OP wasn’t clear on how much of an “order” it was. Did she say “I’d like to see you leave by 6”, or “you must leave by 6”?

        1. fhqwhgads*

          This bit of the letter There have been times in the past where I’ve sent her home for working too many hours and had to stand in her office until she left. makes me think it was pretty clearly not a suggestion.

        2. Mannequin*

          Um, you know what I meant. She is staying to work hours of overtime every night without her manager’s authorization. Has nothing to do with exemption status.

          Also deflects from my actual point- Caroline may be homeless, may be a hoarder, mat not have heat, may not like going home to an empty house etc but there’s not much OP can DO about it. She can’t keep staying late at work without jeopardizing her job, staying hours extra every day isn’t a healthy or appropriate solution; her workplace is not responsible for fixing her personal problems, and they sure can’t just GUESS if Caroline won’t say anything!

  37. TheUnknown1*

    This post could be about my sister: university advising staff, comes in a little late, stays way past normal hours. She is incredibly thorough in her work and interprets every task to be of critical importance. She’s gotten great reviews but everyone is worried about her work-life balance. She’s also likely, but undiagnosed, ADD, and has GAD, which means it takes her a while to find her zone during the day.

    For my sister, the big external factor in her stay-late habit is the millennial worry that if she doesn’t prove what an asset she is, and how much she’s willing to work, she’ll be disposable. We both work in education and both came of working age in the recession, and this is a toxic trait I’ve had to work through for over a decade. My sister still hasn’t shaken this anxiety.

    From my experience as an academic department chair, if I were OP I’d have the conversation as Alison suggested, BUT add an element whereby the quality of Caroline’s work/her value to the team is acknowledged, if possible. Yes, she’s an adult, but for some of us work worries and even work trauma (especially in academics) are very real, and reassurance goes a long way toward avoiding burnout and improving work quality.

    OP, you’re awesome for asking this question. Thanks for being a mindful manager!

    1. LondonLights*

      Fellow academic here .. second this response, and note also that there is a general problem with academic settings where the academic/research staff have great flexibility to work as and when suits them best (although we do have high workloads) and the support staff often feel that they have to keep up and answer the out-of-hours e-mails that a night-owl academic sends at midnight.

      Thanks OP for looking out for your staff!

      1. Three Flowers*

        As another academic, currently in a staff role in higher ed, I endorse this too. I commented above along slightly different lines (Caroline sounds like many grad students and ex-grad students I know/have been, suffering from the trauma cycle of guilt and stress when not working, and then being too exhausted and stressed to be really efficient, and then feeling more guilty and stressed), but the staff/faculty divide could be another factor.

        Caroline as described here reminds me very much of two former colleagues who did not finish PhD programs and took overburdened, under-recognized FT staff roles at the university. (They did not have bosses like OP who wanted to encourage work-life balance, and were often treated as underachievers.) One got good at boundaries and got another job. The other, as far as I know, is still working ridiculous hours.

        1. JelloStapler*

          OP replied in one of the comments that they are student facing. It can be very easy to though you need to be available 24/7 to students’ emails and needs in order to be seen as “good”. It sounds as though there is not this expectation, she may still feel it.

          Re-emphazing the expectation of “X business days” to reply (instead of immediate) may help if this is the reason.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Not to mention there may be some “business norm training” for the students they support going on as well. What I mean is, certain things adults interact with – like Dr office, post office, bank branch, etc – have fixed hours that they are open and you have to contact them during those open hours in order to get service. Some students are learning for the first time how to handle these things on their own, and constantly working outside of hours (especially if she’s answering phone calls or emails instantly from students) just doesn’t help.

            Caveat to all of this is that I do not know what sort of support function she works in – if it’s anything emergency related then yes, there would be an overnight component, but I don’t get that impression from OP’s comments.

            1. pancakes*

              The way to teach students to handle that isn’t to keep every office on campus open and staffed 24/hrs day, and the letter is pretty clear that the nature of the work is that “nothing is urgent or can’t be dealt with the following day.” It’s strange that so many commenters are bending over backwards to justify this employee working late every night despite being told not to.

  38. Person from the Resume*

    This reminds me of someone I once worked with (not in the USA). We worked in a building that required 2 people to lock up. Lock up was expected to happen at 4:30/5.

    This one person was a night owl. She was consistently late sleep and late to wake up and late to work. She was a hard worker, but she also consistently was the last one to leave along with the second person. The requirement for the second person kept her from staying past 5:30 or so because she wasn’t presumptuous to ask the other person to stay later than that. In retrospect, this job wasn’t a good fit for her because of the extremely fixed hours. Although flex schedules were less common 30-40 years ago when the problem got its start.

    That said, people have mentioned WFH as a solution if the source of the problem is ADD and distractions in the office during normal hours. I’d be worried that someone who can’t leave work would be even less like to logout of work in a WFH environment. She’d be sending emails at 3am.

    I would think the LW should try to get up the bottom of the source of the problem in order to find the right fix, except she’s tried. Sleeping on the floor by her desk because the roads got too bad to travel at 7pm is a problem in an office that’s supposed to close up at 5.

  39. MuseumChick*

    Late to the party, but wanted to chime in. Many years ago I had a coworker like this. She was always the last one to leave by a long shot. It was pretty widely known in the office that her job was really 20-25 hours worth of work per week but she would work so slowly and get caught up in odd minor things that for her it took more than 40 hours. She was a nice, kind person which is why the big bosses never did anything about it. They were basically waiting for her to retire so they could overhaul the position. My recommendation, if you do want to put more energy into this is to focus on the safety aspect of why you don’t want anyone in the office after 6pm. I find people tend to respond to safety concerns much more than anything else.

    1. Vermont Green*

      I am very proud of my sister, who, with a pretty severe mental health diagnosis, managed to hold a filing job with the Canadian government for over thirty years and draw her pension. She worked very slowly, and her bosses accepted this and didn’t complain about her taking all the time she needed to complete her work. After she retired, she also got an ADHD diagnosis, which made it very clear to me why she just couldn’t do all the work in the allotted time. (If she had known about the diagnosis, I guess she could have asked for the Canadian equivalent of ADA support.) Her superiors liked and respected her and gave her the autonomy she needed without making a big deal about it.

  40. TheUnknown1*

    This sounds like a good approach. As long as the flex hours were defined (“flex” would mean they’re a defined alternative to the hours others work, but aren’t to be exceeded), Caroline might find it more workable. Only speculating, but if there’s something like ADD or GAD in the picture, Caroline might realistically not hit her focus headspace until later, and this would be a helpful accommodation.

  41. Pumpkin215*

    I did this when I was younger because…..the office was warmer than my apartment.

    I was stretched so thin financially, and 99% of that was my own fault. But I couldn’t pay my bills so my heat was on the lowest setting.

    So when it was cold, I would work late and hang around. My boss would question why but I was too embarrassed to tell her. I said I liked the quiet or there was too much traffic, etc. Whatever excuse I could come up with.

  42. Esmeralda*

    Safety can be a real concern. And a possible liability to the university should something happen to her while in the office at night.

    1. Kapers*

      Came here to mention that angle. My company had to pay out for an after-hours injury for someone who got hurt while working unnecessarily late, and I got the sense they didn’t quite believe her, but needed the whiff of legal liability to go away. After that we were told the building was closed to work after 7 pm.

      Also, this person was in the office cleaners’ way and would sometimes eat and leave yeah out and it looked like the cleaners hadn’t done their job. They had, but this person left a mess after the cleaners were gone.

  43. Miss Fisher*

    I don’t know if it is the case here, but some people don’t have much to look for outside of work. She might want to be in the office for some reason. I worked with someone like this who would regularly drop in on his vacation days as well.

    It might be too late now or not work with your location, but perhaps something like you staying and tell her as management you cannot leave until she does and see if that helps.

  44. -E-*

    An old coworker working absurdly late hours was cured by finding a snake in the office. Not saying it’s a plan, but sometimes there’s just a sign that you shouldn’t do that anymore.

  45. Grand Admiral Thrawn Is Blue Forevermore*

    I can relate to part of this. I work for a home insurance carrier, and after Ida demolished New Orleans and beyond, my company threw open the gates of OT and told us to have at it. From Sept to mid December, I worked about 20 hrs OT every week. The money was awesome, but what’s relevant here is that I got… very used to the schedule. I just worked. I don’t have much else going on. It wasn’t mandatory that I work any OT but I just did. I’m also highly compulsive, so that’s probably part of it. It felt very strange to NOT work that extra time. However, I also do all my OT at home. It may be by that now it’s just seeped into her personality and habits (as it did with me), and changing this will likely be very painful for her. (eventually my mgr reduced my OT to 8 hrs a week. I’m glad she did but I’d still be at it if she had not).

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Same — I am very carrot driven. If you pay me extra money, I will work extra hours. I am exempt in my main job, but have a secondary role that pays me hourly for up to 10 hours per week, and as a result, the last time I had a day with zero worked hours was … May, I think. (No, I’m not in danger of burnout, I’m just weird and mostly un-stressable. I also work from home.)

  46. CarCarJabar*

    Yea, I would be inspecting her work product very, very closely. My first thought is that she’s accomplishing her work in the least efficient manner possible- and could she use some training on updated technology/workflow management? Has the job changed so much that she’s just not suited for it? Is it possible for her to cross train you or another coworker, for someone else to get some insight into her work habits?

  47. HugeTractsofLand*

    Honestly, OP could hang most of her argument for change on that one night Caroline “needed” to sleep over. Something like:

    “The night you slept over was a wakeup call, because…” (or if it’s been a while “I’m still troubled by that incident, because…”) “…it is so beyond normal for this office. That kind of scenario should never happen for a host of safety reasons and because that’s just not what our culture should be. But I’ve realized that, with your current work patterns, it’s very possible that it could happen again. Because I currently can’t trust that you will prioritize your safety, the building’s safety, and your manager’s explicit instructions over your desire to stay late. And that needs to change.”

    Maybe that’s too harsh? But it puts her *desire* to stay late in context with all the valid reasons against it- including *explicit directions*, jeez

    1. Qwerty*

      The last two sentences are harsh, but the first half is a good way to broach the conversation and use it as a wake-up call. But I like pointing out that its a pattern rather than allowing to be brushed off as one-offs. I’d probably try to make it more collaborative and explain that it’s been an ongoing directive that she has not been following and ask what’s going on – thus opening the door for her to explain that she works better after everyone leaves, doesn’t want to leave anything unfinished, has a different idea of what her deadlines actually are, etc.

    2. Cj*

      If you live in a blizzard prone area like I do, you can get stuck at the office no matter what time of day it is. Yes, generally, you know it’s coming and get out early, but sometimes it hits earlier and/or harder than expected.

      While we are used to it and will drive in pretty bad conditions, sometimes they close the roads and you can’t. Or trying to drive in it would be way more dangerous to yourself and others than staying overnight in an office building would be.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        But at least if you are stuck at work during a blizzard during work hours there are other people stuck there with you who can help break up the furniture to burn for warmth or call the ambulance when you slip on the ice or just play a million rounds of spades with you. If you are all alone and nobody knows you are there, there’s nobody to help if something goes wrong.

    3. Lasslisa*

      This isn’t for everyone but it would have been perfect for me, as a person who is often just having such a great dopamine trip “in the zone” and feeling so glad to finally be productively accomplishing all the stuff that fell by the wayside when I was being distracted earlier, that it’s hard to imagine even noticing what time it is. Much less imagine stopping what I’m doing if I don’t “have to”. I eventually had to set alarms to get myself to even consciously acknowledge “this is later than I promised to leave and I have to text my partner”.

  48. Cold Fish*

    Late to the comments but I had a thought. And its a long shot but… Would it be helpful to come at it as YOU are getting in trouble by allowing her to stay late? Arguments about work/life balance and safety don’t worry her as she doesn’t see anything wrong with her behavior or she would have stopped doing it long ago as it has been brought to her attention multiple times. This depends on her personality, but framing it as she is causing harm to you, could reframe the problem enough in her mind to get her to stop.

  49. kittymommy*

    I mean, some people just like being at work. It doesn’t seem, at least with what has been shared, that Caroline has any issues at home, this is just how she prefers to have her day. If it’s not affecting others by being late on work or creating resentment or a pressure to stay late (none of which is mentioned) then I don’t really get what the problem is. She’s an adult, if she’s good with the work/life balance, who are we to argue.

    1. Rabuchux*

      I was thinking that, too, but the compliance person in me who has seen some things says it’s not good to have one employee in the office alone for extended periods of time on a regular basis. Medical emergencies happen; misplaced things “go missing” and she’s unfairly blamed; resources are used inappropriately; she sleeps there again (we had a faculty member literally living in his office and using the university as his residence); employee is ultimately terminated by OP and tells HR she was made to work 60+ hours a week to keep up with an impossible workload; etcetera. I ultimately think it’s in OP’s best interest to lay down and enforce the work time boundary, even if I also agree that a salaried/exempt person should be able to manage their own schedule.

      1. Stargazer*

        Or *fairly* blamed – we had a Caroline whose secret business being entirely run from our office after hours was why we were always mysteriously running out of copy paper and toner….

    2. pancakes*

      Eventually it is going to affect people who work with her – there’s only so many times you can tell people, “look, even though Caroline has a similar role to yours, you shouldn’t be concerned that she works until 8 on the nights she isn’t sleeping here, you’re free to keep leaving at 6” before they start questioning whether it’s the full truth.

      1. River Otter*

        Maybe yes and maybe no. However, if that started to be the case, just take all that idiotic hardline nonsense that everybody is spouting and apply it to the person who doesn’t believe they’re allowed to go home at six.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t know what you’re referring to. If there’s particular advice you disagree with, why not challenge it directly rather than vaguely grumble about it elsewhere.

        2. MHA*

          Except you can take a hardline stance against someone’s behavior in a way that you can’t about their feelings. There’s no way to be “hardline” about telling an employee not to let their morale or anxiety be affected by another employee.

          Also: you are so consistently a negative presence in these comments, and so clearly have zero respect for Alison’s perspective and the general commentariat here that I genuinely wonder why you read this blog. Hate-reading is one of the worst possible uses of a person’s time.

  50. A Feast of Fools*

    This was me back in 2008-2010. I was hourly, so I would absolutely stop *working* and clock out when my 8 hours were up but then I’d do things like take trainings or read from our company’s massive online library (which included academic subscriptions).

    Basically, I did anything and everything I could to not have to go home until my partner had gone to bed.

    My manager became convinced that I couldn’t sit at my cube and not work, so she banished me from my cube in order to not run afoul of labor/pay laws. Thankfully for me, there were tons of empty spaces in our building — like entire halves of floors — and I’d go sit in one of those cubes for 4-5 hours at the end of every work day. If I ran into anyone on the way out, I’d just say I’d been down the street at a restaurant and had forgotten my coat / gym clothes / book at my desk.

    If I’d been salaried and exempt, I probably would have just said I was still “working” and maybe tinkered around with actual work stuff.

    You can’t / shouldn’t pry into your employee’s personal life to the level of discerning if her home situation is unbearable but I personally wish my old manager would have just let me have that safe space.

    1. Chriama*

      Your manager would also have been liable, though, since you were exempt. But maybe if they’d known you just needed to not be at home they could have figured something else out. A break room that’s far enough away you’re not plausibly considered working? A nearby late night coffee shop or university library?

      1. Chriama*

        Edit- I didn’t finish my complete thought.

        Other potential solution could be a discounted membership to a gym or community center. Basically a safe space for you that didn’t make the company liable for potential overtime pay or labour violation penalties.

        The point is, you had a solution that worked for you but not for your manager. Is there a way you would have felt comfortable asking for what you needed, even without disclosing what was going on? Is there a way you would recommend OP approach things with her employee now?

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          I asked. I even pointed out that they could check the IT logs to see if I was logged into our work system.

          It was inside sales, basically one step above a call center, and they pulled reports daily to track people’s time and activities. They’d know in a matter of hours if I was working off the clock. Hell, they could check in real time, if they wanted.

          My physical presence in my cube had nothing to do with whether I was working on the clock or not.

          1. Chriama*

            A daily report would catch the issue after the fact, though. I can see someone not wanting to open the door to the potential for misuse. I do think it’s ok for a manager to say “staying at your work station is not an option” and still be willing to work with you on other options. Also, I’m sorry for your loss.

          2. anonymouse*

            I think that the optics of you staying past 8 hours probably contributed to your boss’ issue it. She might know that you are only clocked in for 8 hours, but maybe she was concerned about how you staying late would come across to supervisors and people further up on the hierarchy. They might have asked her why you were there and if you were doing work that could get them on the hook for overtime. If HR was present in the office, I could say them raising the issue with her too. Online trainings can also be a grey area for non-exempt workers if the expectation in your office was for people to complete them during the work day (unless you’re referring to optional trainings that you were doing for your own edification).

            Something I have learned from this blog is that sometimes policies that don’t make sense on the surface do serve a purpose, whether it’s related to legal matters or to workplace culture. It sounds like your manager was pretty rigid, but from her perspective, she most likely didn’t realize why you insisted on staying if you didn’t tell her (I don’t mean going into all of the details). Ideally, managers would be aware of the circumstances that could lead someone to stay in the office while they aren’t working, but they can’t read minds.

    2. Mannequin*

      But your job isn’t supposed to be a safe space from abuse at home, and it’s not your manager’s responsibility to provide that.

      1. A Feast of Fools*


        It’s also not my manager’s job to care if I’m struggling because my only child just died. She should just be concerned with my work output and if I’m meeting my metrics or not.

        1. Lasslisa*

          That’s really not a fair equivalence. There is a lot of space for being a compassionate workplace that understands employees are people, but also has boundaries, and it’s not just two extremes of doing everything for someone or nothing.

  51. mcfizzle*

    Honestly, my first thought is her home might be bad / unsafe (volatile partner, roommate throwing parties, etc). My mother was a terrible drug addict, and essentially the public library became my home away from home – with nice librarians kindly trying to tell me to “go play outside”.
    Sorry if this is arm-chairing anything; I just think it might not be about “work” at all, and she doesn’t want the shame / humiliation of having to explain why she doesn’t want to go home.

    1. mcfizzle*

      Oh shoot – I forgot to add how this would change my advice to the LW. Please go in gently – she’s been told numerous times this isn’t okay, yet keeps doing it. While I understand that is greatly frustrating, if she’s already feeling great shame, this will only shut her down more. Perhaps have a mindset that this needs to be an open conversation, and not a stern lecture. I’m not trying to suggest letting her stay there; still not a good idea, but the conversation might take some unexpected turns if you aren’t confrontational from the get-go.

    2. Belle of the Midwest*

      This was my first thought as well. Maybe her home situation is unstable and the office is the safest place for her to be.

      1. Not OP*

        That sounds pretty likely to me, and I really feel for the OP in this ‘help me help you’ kind of situation. Not everyone is comfortable sharing this with their coworkers or manager and no one should HAVE to, but it just makes it a lot more difficult to deal with as a manager when someone isn’t able to or doesn’t want to share anything at all about that.
        I had a situation a few years ago where a direct report’s work and attitude really dropped dramatically – I knew him well enough to be pretty confident that something was going on outside of work, but he refused to talk about it or acknowledge that anything was up. That’s his prerogative clearly, but it’s tough to manage that for more than a few weeks. In that case, even a ‘I’m dealing with some personal stuff, I’m trying the best I can’ would have gone a really long way in developing a plan (‘ok, let’s move some workload and free up some space, and let’s check in again in 2 months’ or something like that). Same here – it’s unfortunate that Caroline isn’t comfortable even sharing something like, ‘I’ve got some stuff going on at home and sometimes it’s easier for me to stay and work later.’ I’m not saying that’s easy, it’s just difficult to know if someone needs some more support or is in a difficult situation when they’re not able to acknowledge it. It sounds like OP is certainly open and sensitive and that and willing to work within the parameters that they have.

  52. Snaffanie*

    I’ll speak from my own experience here. While my clock hours are 40 a week, I always need to put in extra time for daily planning and closeout because of my neurodiversity needs. I’m not suggesting that is the case here. But after my work day is technically done, I still need time to gather my thoughts, type notes to myself, send and set reminders, etc. Such is life for a neurodiverse gal in a neurotypical world! I’d estimate I spend about another 15-20 hours a week on this kind of work, which is not related to my actual tasks, but my ability to perform. The suggestions here to ask just what she’s spending the additional time on seems sound!

    1. Sandman*

      I need to do the same. It’s also really nice to be able to focus when everything is finally quiet!

      1. Snaffanie*

        Yes! I’m so easily distracted in a work environment that I need the quiet and calm for my deep thinking work. :) Remote work has been something of a blessing in this way, but I still need that gather my thoughts time!

  53. lydian*

    Hey this was me, a long time ago. I had an unhappy/unpleasant home environment and work was the only decent thing in my life. I let the job completely define me and was incredibly anxious about it as well.

    For me, it was a mix of ADD, anxiety, loneliness, and poverty.

    Honestly I really feel for Caroline and I hope things can improve.

  54. I Ship It*

    My predecessor was one of those people who would work extra long- the reason was he had so much to do. He had so much to do because he took on other tasks that were not key to his role and should have been done by a different person in the office, who was often left at loose ends because my predecessor was doin their work plus his, and slowly. So definitely check to work load- it’s entirely possible that your employee has taken on other “small” tasks that are either not key tasks or are low priority, and she is placing a higher than necessary priority on them to get them done, and as a result decides she needs to stay later to complete everything she thinks needs done by end of day.

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

    After all of the back and forth, it might be time to move past the WHY and just go into complete behavior modification strategy. In a university setting IME this should be super easy to accomplish. “Do not come into work before 7:00 am. Security will be instructed to not let you in the building. Do not stay after 6:00 pm. Security will be instructed to escort you out of the building.” If she has an electronic keycard access, see if it can be restricted to certain days/hours or take her keys away. It would be an odd university that didn’t have 24-7 on-campus security these days.

    I realize I just indicated to get past the WHY so this may be ironic, and this isn’t an age thing, but if she is only a few years out of college (at any age) she might have gotten into the mindset of being on campus, where things are always happening and norms aren’t applicable — students fall sleep in the library, they’re allowed to be in the lounges until 1:00 am or open 24hrs…etc. Business Hours do not apply to students and faculty, except that they do for most staff and she needs to calibrate to that.

    1. Rabuchux*

      If you need Security on call to babysit an employee twice a day, it’s time to let the employee go. Not to mention the safety concerns of locking someone out of the building with no way to get in and the productivity concerns of, sometimes, it makes business sense to work earlier or later. EAP, PIP, or terminate.

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

        Academia is it’s own weird universe. It’s practically No Big Deal, to be locked out of a building or have Security patrol tell people to leave an area because they are locking up now.

        1. After 33 years ...*

          Not at my school! It would be a huge deal if Security did anything other than note someone’s presence.

  56. This is me in an alternate universe*

    I have ADHD, and I work in a university office, and it took me a solid 5 years in the workforce before I was able to stop staying late. It takes so long for me to “get into” a task, and it’s so easy to be knocked out of it. I’d end up doing nothing for much of the day, and then getting it all done in a whoosh towards the end. Why? Because at the end of the day, no one wanted anything from me. No one sending me emails, asking me “quick questions,” talking loudly next door, etc. Here’s a laundry list of suggestions in the event that’s what going on that you could pick/choose from. I think most of them are generally helpful to everyone, fwiw.

    Here’s things that have helped me (some are things I figured out, some were cultural/management things that it turned out were really helpful). Don’t expect emails to be replied to super fast (unless they really have to be); if the expectation is a 24 hour reply, tell her that. Encourage her to turn off whatever notifications she needs to turn off if they knock her off task. If your office has people using notifications that make a sound, encourage everyone to turn those off if you can. Those little dings are the worst.

    Give deadlines for projects, even if they are flexible. You can also ask “when do you think you could do that?” Asking others to give me a deadline is the single most powerful tool I’ve learned; there’s something magical about it. Follow up on the deadlines at least sometimes so they feel real.

    Empower her to close her door, put on headphones or whatever. Every university I’ve worked at has had loads of office crosstalk and interruptions. Empower her to say “no, I don’t have time for a quick question” or “no, I haven’t seen the email sent 2 hours ago.” It is exhausting and so so hard for me to switch between tasks quickly, so what might be a quick question for someone else will suck up an hour of my time.

    Normalize taking quick walks around campus if this is an antsy person. It took me ages to get diagnosed right, ADHD is frequently underdiagnosed in women/girls, and hyperactive type is even less often diagnosed. I don’t bite my nails because I’m anxious, check my phone 20 times because I’m inattentive, or rebraid my hair because I’m vain, I do this because my brain gets stuck and I have to move around. Going for a quick 10-15 minute walk almost always unsticks my brain and I have a much more productive hour than if I had just sat there.

    This is an odd one: enforce a lunch time. I had a manager who was a stickler for this, and while it was an odd thing to be weird about, I loved it. Having 8 hours to do stuff feels endless, and lunch creates structure. My manager had us all do it so that we always had front desk coverage, but most folks resented it so YMMV on this one.

    Perhaps some of these are helpful. Who knows what is happening with this person, but if her experience is anything like mine, she will really appreciate the patience and thought you are putting into this.

      1. This is me in an alternate universe*

        I’ve always had an office with a door, with the exception when I was an intern. My work often goes into educational records and conversations that toe the line between coaching/advising and counseling, so it’s common for everyone to have offices. I’ve only worked at 3 colleges, but at all of them there were way more private offices than you might see elsewhere, particularly in departments where a primary function was “talk to students individually about problems.”

  57. MansplainerHater*

    I worked a few jobs where I was salaried, exempt, and I stayed late at work because… I didn’t have anything else to do. I made work my life because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do, and I was afraid to get out on my own and make friends. Since I was used to this, when I moved to a consultant job… my unhealthy habits got worse. I’m now a mid-career professional trying to fix things. I didn’t have a single manager before now that told me to go home at an appropriate time. Please be firm with your report! You might save her a lot of headache.

  58. xlfoxlch*

    Oh boy, I have so much in common with Caroline. In my case, I’m not slow, I just enjoy my work. My boss took the approach Allison recommended. He expressed his concerns about it not being necessary or expected & that he was worried about burnout, but he trusted me to handle it.

    Frankly I did finally experience burnout the second half of last year, but I don’t believe it’s due to working so much (that honestly makes me happy). Instead, I think it was due to the changes the pandemic has brought. I did take a couple of weeks off in Dec & am now raring to go.

    If you can afford her the flexibility, please seriously consider doing that.

  59. Me*

    Someone might have already mentioned this but what about a 4 day work week instead of 5? She gets her longer days and you get an employee not working 60+ hours?

  60. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    In re: OP’s comment on work/life balance – have you explicitly had a conversation with Caroline about that? Either informally or formally? Even something as simple as “I can barely find time in the day to do my laundry; I don;t know how you manage to fit those kinds of things in when you stay so late here all the time…”

    1. NP*

      I HATE when employers bring up work/like balance and self care. It’s none. of. your. business.

      Do I get my work done? Cool. Don’t worry about my personal life

      1. Rocket*

        Work life balance absolutely is your employer’s business when poor work life balance leads to subpar work and burnout.

        1. allathian*

          That’s true, but it’s still up to the employer to provide the means for a decent work/life balance, and for the employee to decide how to implement whatever options that are available. I would severely push back if my manager tried to set some personal life goals for me (get more exercise, find a new hobby) and tried to evaluate my performance based on that.

          1. pancakes*

            Trying to set personal goals like those for an employee has nothing in common with telling them they can’t continue working 60 hours per week in their 40 hours per week job. “You can’t spend an additional 20 hours per week here” isn’t nearly that intrusive.

  61. AcadLibrarian*

    I’d check with facilities too about if the building is “closed” at some point. I’ve worked in a university setting for 17 years and usually there are rules about the times when staff can be in the building (just due to whether security should be monitoring the area, etc). Or at the least after a certain time in the evening the staffer has to sign in with security so they know someone is in the staff area.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I was wondering about this, but from the other direction – university buildings may have more people working weird hours than some other types of offices. When I was in grad school I’d often be the only one in my office space of grad students at 7 p.m. on a Saturday (or if I came in before 9 a.m. on a weekday, honestly), and it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t be allowed.

      That campus had all sorts of connected hallways between academic buildings, including buildings with the kinds of labs where someone might need to come in at weird times to tend an experiment, so things were generally open at all hours. I think some of the architecture students did their best work in their studio spaces at 2 a.m., the libraries and study spaces were all open until late, sometimes there were talks or club meetings going on in the evenings, and one of the labs full of high-powered computers was a social hot spot in the evenings for my grad program. An employee working until 8 p.m. would not have registered.

      So I’d say it depends on the configuration of the buildings and what kind of department OP works in – if it’s exclusively a staff area or not – and whether the university has specific rules around this issue.

    2. Chickaletta*

      This. At my previous job, a few employees liked to come in super early so they could leave early (they were non-exempt). It got so bad that management made a rule that the earliest they could start was 5:30am. The issue was that employees were in the building for several hours without anyone at a managerial level around. I don’t know what the exact concerns were, but management was uncomfortable with this and laid down the rule. People would still show up at 5am to put on make-up and socialize (loudly, I’m told) before clocking in at 5:30. Let’s just say they did not leave a good impression.

  62. Chriama*

    I wonder what would happen if you said

    “Staying late is not an option. I’m enforcing this rule up to and including termination if you don’t commit to this. If something is making it unsafe or uncomfortable for you to go home, here are some options [with places in your office or other venues on or off campus like gyms, community centres, libraries, late nights coffee shops, etc that are easily accessible and safe]. Here are your workload priorities. If anything doesn’t get done, leave it until the next day. If you want to work 12-8pm (whatever schedule), I’ll instruct IT to monitor your computer activity / security to escort you out at the end of your shift. Here is the number/website for our EAP if you’d like to talk to a therapist or other professional. It’s private and I won’t know if you call them or what you talk about. Here’s HR information on requesting accommodations for your job. Is there anything else I can do?”

    Maybe even have a meeting with her and then tell her you’ll touch base with her the next day so she can think about it and doesn’t have to respond right then.

    It’s very heavy-handed, but start by saying removing any possibility of working overtime, then offer some preemptive solutions that don’t require her to volunteer info she may not be comfortable sharing, then open the door for her to mention other accommodations she might need. You could also reassure her about her slow work pace or say something like “your job is not in danger if you get less work done because you’re working less hours, but it is in danger if you continue to work after I’ve explicitly told you not to”.

    It might be an uncomfortable conversation to have, but maybe once she understands that working overtime is a bigger deal than whatever worries she may have, she’ll be able to address the underlying issue.

  63. Trawna*

    Huh. “Work/life balance” manager hounding an older employee who does good work but is different than the manager. I think there are federal laws against that.

    1. I forgot my old name*

      How can you tell that Caroline is older? A little over 10% of today’s workforce is Gen Z

      1. Chickaletta*

        Agreed. At my company, over 60% is millennial or younger. We are not a start-up or tech or anything like that. The idea that millennials are the exception to the norm is outdated.

        1. allathian*

          The oldest millennials are mid-career employees in their early 40s.

          Caroline to me reads either as an older employee who has trouble taking instructions from a younger, fairly inexperienced manager, or as a very recent post grad who has fully bought into the academic lifestyle of working all hours of the day, and then some.

  64. Massive Dynamic*

    If she is in finance, then late, solo hours onsite are a fraud concern. I’d look very closely at her work product and cash movement in general.

  65. Purple Cat*

    I think you have to dig deeper into Alison’s question as to WHY is this a problem? And is it really a problem?
    On your side, please take a long hard look at the workload and ensure that Caroline really doesn’t have more on her plate than the rest of the team. But after that, especially in light of the Diversity post Alison just did, if her work is good, why is it a problem that it takes her much longer to get it done?

    2 personal anecdotes:
    – I am wildly unproductive during the day as I – checks notes – post on AAM instead of focusing on my work. It’s also partly due to a fairly heavy meeting culture and I often say I don’t actually start working until 4pm. So I’m very often in the office until 8. On the flip side, I also often leave at 4 but people tend to not notice/remember that part.
    – I had an employee who was also working a LOT of hours. Far more than I was comfortable with. The key difference though is that after all that, her work product still wasn’t up to snuff. So we had an actual work-product issue to address.

    1. Not OP*

      Judging from some of OP’s comments, I think she’s trying to be as flexible as she can, but sounds like there are some strong limitations on that from management’s perspective (they can flex an hour here or there, but need to be on-site when students are). Maybe it’s not the right spot for Caroline!

  66. Lazy Worker*

    Just because she’s at work doesn’t mean she’s working. Back when I worked for a firm, it would take me 10 (or more) hours to get 8 billable hours done because I was distracted and messing around on the internet. If she’s meeting deadlines I don’t think its really a problem, other than the safety angle.

  67. University Schlep*

    I think if you do determine that there is a reason she prefers to work late, whether it be that she is a night owl, or focuses better, or she doesn’t like being in her home more than she needs to, then it would be good to formalize a late schedule if that would work for your office- e.g. “if you would prefer to work 12-9 rather than 8-5, ok, but it needs to be consistent so we can let campus security know you will be there. ”

    I would really push the safety issue – campus security does like to have a pretty clear picture of who is supposed to be in a building after hours.

  68. Free Meerkats*

    A question for the LW: Would you have the same concerns if she were starting at 6 AM instead of staying until 8 PM? If not, why not?

    1. Cold Fish*

      That’s a good question. Early birds often aren’t given the same flack as Night Owls; if anything they are often given praise. But 3 hours early can be just as bad as 3 hours late.

      1. pancakes*

        I have worked in several places where it’s been an issue either way for HVAC reasons. High-rise buildings don’t run the heating or the a/c at the same levels around the clock.

  69. Stargazer*

    OP, are you sure she’s working the whole of that unsupervised time? Or working for your org? I ask this because I witnessed a similar scenario- except the offender was held up to us all as a model employee whose diligence we should all emulate or be ashamed of failing that standard – until it turned out they were using the office hardware and paper to run a second secret business, that we were subsidizing!

  70. WFH is all I Want*

    OP, have you asked her in a more insistent meter why she does this? Does your employer have an EAP? I worked with a woman who did this because of her home life. Being at work was the only place she felt safe but she used similar reasoning bc when asked. I worked with a man who did this because he was lonely and had his wife had recently passed away.

    There may be other issues at play that would impact the way I would handle it.

    1. Erika K*

      Yes, this is what I was thinking. Maybe she has a turbulent home life and doesn’t feel safe at home. Maybe she has a nasty neighbor who works nights and she’d prefer to avoid them. Maybe she lives with a lot of noisy people and finds work more peaceful.

  71. Public Sector Manager*

    I have two perspectives on this.

    First, what does the OP know about the prior managers and their style? I ask because when I was working for another public agency than my current one, my boss was really insecure, to the point that my boss perceived every success I had as a direct attack on their ability to keep their job. They also did not like face-to-face conversations about job performance. So my boss would never discuss issues with me while I was in the office and would wait until I went home, then write a memo bad mouthing my work and leave it in my in-box. My solution was to do what this employee is doing–work late so my boss wouldn’t leave their passive-aggressive memoranda on my desk. So it might benefit the OP to find out more about their predecessors management style.

    Second, I have a current employee who is very much like this. They work very late into the evening and work slower than most, and they are also exceptionally thorough. The difference is that my employee will take very long vacations during our slow periods at work. They will also take off random days here and there to recharge. Granted, their idea of work-life integration is different than what I think it should be, but they are talking time off and they honestly really do like working late. If this employee is never taking time off to recharge, never taking vacations, and never getting away from the office, then the OP needs to step in. But if this employee is actually taking time off on a regular basis, then the OP needs to leave it alone.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I’m just curious, how would you prefer that your current employee takes their vacations?

      1. Not OP*

        I interpreted this comment less as ‘I wish they took vacations differently’ and more like ‘yeah, they works a lot of hours, but they do take time off to recharge so I’m less worried about it.’

  72. Gumby*

    Another possibility to consider: what is her commute like? Because when I work from the office I regularly stay until 8 and occasionally 9 or later. But traffic is awful here and I would rather be at work than sitting in stop and go traffic on the freeway. (Also at 8 the carpool lane opens to non-carpoolers which makes it slightly better.) Also I arrive late – 10 a.m. is pretty common and 11 a.m. has happened on occasion. But my office has flexible hours and I am seldom the only person still there at 8 p.m. Which doesn’t sound like the case for OP.

  73. SFM*

    Does she feel safer at work than at home?

    Is there a non-work-related reason that she prefers the office to elsewhere?

    1. Not OP*

      Maybe! OP says that they’ve tried to ask in all of the non-obtrusive ways they know how, but Caroline doesn’t seem keen to share if that’s the case.

  74. RC Rascal*

    How confident are you that her resume is accurate?

    I knew of a situation where someone was staying late in the office every night and took much longer than a predecessor to do the job. It turned out she had lied on her resume to get the job. The lies were extremely significant and she had absolutely none of the experience to do the job. Since she didn’t know how to do the job she compensated by working many, many hours.

    This went on for over a year before management figured it out. Incidentally, it was only discovered after she was robbed outside the building late at night and upper management started asking questions about why she she needed to be there past 10PM when that was very much outside of the company culture.

  75. Thorn*

    I had a worker similar to Carolyn. In her case, she was a perfectionist who would fiddle with work long after it was done to my satisfaction and so she would do it after hours.

    In terms of advice, in my case, I laid out some of what Alison said above, mainly that it set it bad example for others and that it made it impossible for me to tell how long her job should take and whether her workload was reasonable. I also made sure to promptly review her work and let her know that it was finished and I didn’t want her making any additional changes.

  76. coldfeets*

    I started consistently working late at my new job because I would get “in the zone”, and keep working until something was finished. Stopping in the middle just resulted in me thinking about it all evening instead of enjoying my time off, and then having to remember the next day where I was up to. A few things got me out of that habit.

    1. I had to get let out of the building security if I stayed after 7pm. This was embarrassing, and my direct supervisor + his supervisor got notified each time. My direct supervisor only brought it up the once, but that workplace culture of “you should have gone home by now” did a lot.

    2. Getting some mentoring on workflow. I was a slow but meticulous worker BECAUSE I don’t have a great memory, so I take a lot of notes as I go so I can remember what articles I’ve read and how I plan to use them. That makes sense if I’m going to be working on something over several days. But, by cutting back on the depth and detail, I was able to speed up my workflow. Now I don’t have to take as many notes because I get the work done while it’s all still fresh (and not taking the notes was a big part of speeding up).

    3. Environmental cues. I would literally not notice that night had called due to where my desk was – away from windows, and around people who all left at different times. I was able to use a desk next to the window, and it just happened to be across from someone who worked similar hours to me. So I got a lot of messages about when I should be wrapping up just from changing where I sat.

  77. raida7*

    I’d have a chat with her regarding maybe moving her work day to star a bit later in the morning, see if she’d prefer to start-late finish-late.
    Some people really get into their stride after lunch and their mornings aren’t especially productive anyway.

    if your Uni has an EAP I’d suggest she take advantage of it, to talk through the stress of *nearly getting fired* – that may help cement the fact that there really is an issue and not being fired in the end doesn’t mean it wasn’t a reality. Plus once she’s talking to them, maybe she starts to address any other issues she’s got that are, for you, simply presenting as refusing to stop working late.

    Also – and this is because I’m a blunt bastard – I would tell her “I’m not worried you’ll start staying really late again, your computer is locked at 6:05.” but obviously also quite prepared for a freak out that would *finally* yield some underlying anxiety that’s created the situation. But that would only be once I am completely convinced that the working late isn’t of value, if she’s actually only good at her job when she can work until 8pm and agrees to be paid for the job not the time I’d let it go.

  78. Evvie*

    How does she get home? Does she drive herself? Take public transit that doesn’t run often?

    I worked with someone who had to stay at work for three extra hours each day because they had to wait for a ride home (with someone who had to wake up three hours early to drive them to work). In this case, hours were non-negotiable. But, if there is wiggle room and it simply turns out to be an issue of transportation, it might be worth offering a shift in hours altogether.

  79. Not So NewReader*

    I think this is going to continue to be a tough situation until you find your own voice here, OP.

    You are saying you have a difficult time telling her that you are concerned about her work/life balance. If this is difficult for you- then stay away from it. Do not use it as your rationale.

    I think you have a useful tool in telling her that your boss asks if she is still staying unreasonably late. Tell her now upper management is watching this situation. Tell her if she does not correct course, you cannot protect her. If upper management decides that she is insubordinate then that is what this becomes.

    I feel bad for her and you, OP. I have a family member who was stubborn like this. And she would never say what was going on. Well, she did not even tell her family so she’s not going to tell the bosses, right? Her problem was a different one but it stemmed from working when she wanted and working as long as she wanted. She never felt the need to pick up her pacing. Her excuses were on a par with, “I lost my glasses, so I couldn’t finish.” In the end, even the UNION sided with management on her issue. She got a lawyer!!!
    The lawyer extracted her from the whole problem, but on the steps outside the hearing room, the lawyer said, “Don’t do this again. And if you do, do NOT call me.” She was appalled that he spoke to her that way and still refused to believe she had done anything wrong. At this point in the story she had over a dozen people telling her she was wrong and she still did not get it.

    I am relating this story because this may be the type of person you have. They don’t get it and they never will. It becomes a question of how much of this can you put up with before you can’t stand it any more? I’m not you, maybe you can teach yourself to ignore it entirely. I’d be concerned if my boss is asking me about it, though.

    Maybe start with the boss. Ask your boss why it concerns him so much. You might be able to borrow his reasoning for talking with her. Point out to him that the previous boss(es) have not been able to rationalize with her so it’s not looking like you will make out much better unless you have strong talking points.

    Another thing you can do is ask her why she worked late for her most current incident. And when she gives you a lame excuse, you can say. “That is not a valid reason. Please do not use that reason ever again.” And one by one, eliminate all these lame reasons. You can make it very clear that some reasons may work into valid reasons but you have not heard one yet.

    In yet another action you could try is telling her that you are going to take a way work to lighten her workload until she is able to leave at the proper time.

    One problem I have seen is that some workplaces have to empty out because of the computers. The workplace does not want anyone alone with the computers. Can IT look to see what she is doing in those extra hours? Is there a policy regarding computer usage after hours?

    1. River Otter*

      I could go through all of Alison’s lame reasons for not letting her work late, destroy each of them, and say, “That is not a valid reason. Please do not use that reason ever again.”

      Valid is in the eye, or rather, the belief system, of the beholder.

      1. anonnie*

        You read where Alison repeats in the post several times that she isn’t convinced any of those are reason to intervene, yes?

  80. Safely Retired*

    The question – red flag – that came up in my mind was to turn it around… why doesn’t she want to go home? It seems all too possible that the issue is there, not at work.

  81. Eve Polastri*

    i think there is some bad stuff going on at home and she doesn’t want to be there. While i get that some people like later working hours, on an occasion where having staying late meant spending the night in the office is just screams “anything but going home”.

    Would it be appropriate for the OP to ask Caroline “Is there something going on at home that makes you not want to be there?”

    1. Amethystmoon*

      It’s possible also there is some bad stuff going on at work and she’s worried a coworker might follow her home. I actually had that for a while, but would go wait in the cafeteria for a half hour or so, knowing coworker and I had the same starting and ending times. I did not stay at my desk since that would have raised questions.

  82. Stochastic*

    I just got talked to yesterday about working too many hours. I didn’t take it seriously… now I do. In my case, it’s because I was staffed on a project in another practice (think project management vs mathematical modeling).

    I have a brain injury that makes writing difficult, so it takes me twice as long to accomplish things a “normal” employee wouldn’t have issues with. So I stay late (14-16 hours a day) because otherwise it just wouldn’t get done.

    I’ll go back to hiding my online status and being careful about modifying shared files (because time stamps). Hopefully I’ll roll off this project in two weeks and go back to my math and programming! I work late there, too, but everybody knows it’s because I love the work.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      If you are WFH I would say who cares when or how late you choose to work.

      But with many commercial office buildings, no, they very much do not want a lone worker in there after about 7 pm because of security and safety. Same with weekends. Often the air/heat/lights go on energy saving mode outside of those hours, or the cleaning crews come in to clean.

      The fact this employee willfully got stuck and slept there overnight is very problematic.

    2. t4ci3*

      Hiding your overtime will cause your employer to develop an inaccurate and unrealistic idea of your capacity and you’ll end up with an impossible workload, which sounds like it’s already the case. Why is this something you want? (I also have a brain injury, I had to relearn how to talk because the imagery part of my brain had to take over for the verbal. Having an invisible disability means that I have to be the one who sets realistic limits for what i can be asked to do)

  83. River Otter*

    Should I just let her stay until 9 and deal with my own feelings about it?

    Yes. Yes, you should. On both counts.

    All those things that Allison lists as legitimate reasons? Those are all beliefs that Alison has. Those are only legitimate reasons to people who hold the set of beliefs that Alison holds. You have the ability to believe different things.

    Your employee has been working this way for many years. Just, let her. You will both benefit from letting go of the headspace that you are giving to getting upset about some thing that does not impact you at all and that she is giving to having to monitor something that does not impact you at all.

    Elsa that ish, and just let it goooooo….

      1. Kitry*

        No, but it shouldn’t be a factor in this case, because OP simply doesn’t have enough information to make a determination about what’s safest here. If OP is going to go home to an abusive spouse, or a mold-infested home that aggravates her asthma, or if she’s living in her car without a safe place to park and sleep, staying late at the office may well be the safest option for her. OP just doesn’t have enough information to make a decision about safety in this case.

        1. yala*

          I mean, no, it still should be a factor in this case, because legally, OP/the workplace could get in trouble if their employee gets hurt/attacked/etc on their property. It’s true that OP doesn’t have enough information about their employee’s non-worklife to make a determination about whether or not their home is *safer* than the office, but. Well. They’re not potentially liable for what happens to their employee outside of the office (barring work-related travel). “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” as they say.

          If they can work something out with Caroline to let her stay longer, that’s great! And if Caroline is dealing with home difficulties that she does not want to disclose, that’s absolutely understandable. But without that information, the only information OP has is “This person is staying in the office after hours, when we have less security/et al.”

    1. JLD*

      I too don’t get why this boss is angsty about this. No one should force their notions of work-life balance on someone else. If she burns out from overwork, document work not getting done and address it. Preemptively bringing that up as a possibility when it’s not happening is BS. Caroline is exempt – if she wants to work 60 hours a week it doesn’t hurt anyone but her. You’re not her parent or responsible for her well-being. You’re the manager of a group and if the assignments are being done within budget the rest shouldn’t matter. Don’t infantilize your employees. They’re not your kids; they are adults with their own preferences. You should be managing their work, not their lives.

      This one time weather thing cited sounds like a fluke you’re milking and I don’t buy the “safety” argument. College campuses are busy places even at 8 or 9 pm and in my experience campus cops are always around if she needs an escort to her car.

      Measure work product and leave the other value judgements at the door.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        One of the OP’s comments mentioned the office having specific hours and how OP had to get special permission from management to even get the 6pm upper limit for this employee. So it sounds to me like perhaps this is less of a “why should OP care so much” sitch as it may be an “OP’s bosses said to put the kibosh” and perhaps the angst is really about how those bosses will react.

      2. pancakes*

        Simply calling this a preference doesn’t make it endlessly reasonable. Some people prefer to listen to loud music while they work; it’s not infantilizing for their coworkers or their supervisor to ask them to wear headphones instead of subjecting everyone to it. It’s also not unreasonable for an employer to tell people they can’t spend the night at work, or routinely stay long after everyone else has gone home. Yes, campuses tend to have security; that doesn’t mean every building on campus is open 24 hrs/day.

  84. Chris K.*

    Sometimes people work long hours because their home situation is such that they don’t want to go home.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      OP acknowledged having tried to address that in the letter. Doesn’t mean it might not still be the reason, but also doesn’t change the advice really, since the idea is not news to OP.

  85. Alice Jackson*

    I’m assuming you’ve checked to see if there is anything shady going on that can happen more easily when it is late and there aren’t other people around?

  86. Waving not Drowning*

    I work with a Caroline – and yes, various managers have tried to rein them in, but, my Caroline ignores them. As a peer, I’ve also had multiple conversations with her that she is working unrealistic hours.

    As a fellow team member – Its frustrating – they close off significantly more tickets than the rest of the Team, because, they are working from 8am until 11pm. We are not formally measured on those metrics, but, it looks bad that as the next highest performer, I closed off half the number of tickets – which is still higher than the average that we work towards. The majority of the tickets can wait. There have been times I’ve left something (not time sensitive), written notes that I need to follow up on xyz, and she has taken over and completed the task. It makes us seem unproductive, whereas we are – but we only work our scheduled hours – longer if its needed, but not every day.

    I’ve left the team, and management won’t replace me, as “Caroline” is now doing my job as well as hers – working awful hours, but all they see is that the work is being done, so additional staff is not needed.

    I know why my “Caroline” does it – her home life is chaotic, but, she feels in control at work.

    She’s about to burn out in a big way. OP is right to be concerned about unrealistic hours worked.

  87. LMB*

    I really disagree with Alison on this one. I think she and the LW are neurotypical people having a hard time understanding that some people work differently. You don’t have to understand it, you just have to accept it. The LW provides no real reason why Caroline can’t work the way she feels most comfortable. Safety might be one (though I do have to wonder if the LW would have the same safety concerns if Caroline were a man). If safety is truly the concern then make a blanket rule that everyone MUST be out by X time. I had a job once where I HAD to leave at 7, so as anxious as it made sometimes, I left every night at 7. Otherwise, leave her be and focus on her outcomes. She and the rest of the team have been made aware that no one is expected to work late, so I don’t see a problem with others getting a mixed message from this. If they are the least bit emotionally intelligent they will understand this is just how Caroline works best and feels comfortable, and they can go home feeling secure that they have an open-minded, inclusive, flexible manager who is focused on their work outcome and not micromanaging. I will add that I am very much like Caroline– I have an ADHD diagnosis, I work best later in the day, I tend to hyperfocus and lose track of time, I very much dislike dropping things in the middle of work flow, and I prefer to spend time checking my work, confirming things are accurate, and making sure I fully understand the context. Why not let Caroline flow? Obviously this cannot be done in all types of jobs, but it sounds like it is truly not a problem in Caroline’s. Her work style may change over time but it’s best to let it evolve on its own.

  88. Jennifer Juniper*

    If Caroline has domestic violence issues at home, OP, you may wish to refer her to a shelter for battered women. If she lives someplace that has no heat or hot water for some reason, she may be staying at the office because she doesn’t want to freeze.

    There have also been cases of leases that specify that people aren’t allowed to be at home during the day. (I read an article about some New York City apartments have roommate situations like that.)

    In other words, there could be something going on in her personal life that has nothing to do with work.

    1. pancakes*

      I’ve lived in NYC for nearly 25 years and have no idea what you mean. People may have roommates who tell them they want privacy if they have a date coming over or whatnot, but it’s not as if that means they signed a lease saying they can only enter during certain hours. What you’re describing sounds like an illegal sublet.

  89. Snot Sauce*

    I’m always impressed with AG’s ability to find the words that split the difference between “omfg you’re annoying!” and “can’t we just get along?” and button them up in a nice business-casual blazer.

  90. Chelsea*

    I guess I don’t see what the big deal is. If she wants to work late, let her. I say this as a very efficient exempt worker who rarely has to go into overtime. If the employee does good work, I think it’s fine to let her work in whatever way makes her happy.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      There are many good reasons why a lone employee should not be in the building by themselves after business hours.
      My office has definitive hours of 6 am to 7 pm and the lights go off unless you inform the facilities manager there will be a team working late. Literally, your swipe card won’t work to let you in.

      1. Chelsea*

        There’s nothing in the letter to make us think that this is the case, though. It seems that the OP is mostly concerned about her own comfort.

        1. pancakes*

          The OP said in a comment that they have core hours: “I’m all for work flows but I still have to operate within the parameters HR allows me. Our work day is set up to be 8-5 via their guidelines but I am flexing as much as I can with her beyond that.” They also said in the letter that their own boss is asking why this keeps happening: “Her inability to stick to a schedule . . . also has been a problem with previous managers to the point where my own boss is aware and asks me about her regularly.”

  91. Longtime listener, first time groomer*

    Another possibility is shared but limited resources – are there computers/licenses that she needs to do her work that are easier to get access to after five? Sometimes people get used to a scarcity mentality and don’t think to ask for a second seat for in-demand software. Or maybe she just doesn’t like the collation function on the copier and wants to use the big conference table to do it by hand.

    I am concerned about her flat out refusal to follow your instructions though. Universities are big on policies and procedures. If she won’t follow your instructions about work hours, what other policies has she decided are optional?

    Any possibility she might be using university resources for a side hustle/ volunteer work?

  92. WordShoveller*

    I have been that person who comes in a little late and stays late. I found that working without other people around was great for my concentration. I got so much done once the space was clear, and I wasn’t expected to answer phones or reply to email. Even if the phone didn’t ring, knowing that I have to be ready to be interrupted limits my “bandwidth”, makes it harder for me to focus, and stay focused. Honestly, I still like working a little late sometimes when I have something complicated to do, to get that still, quiet office time.
    Maybe it’s worth talking with the employee about distraction, and seeing if a more isolated workspace helps speed up work during the day, and reduces the temptations of a quiet evening alone in the office.

  93. MissDisplaced*

    Yes but seriously, willfully staying so late (knowing bad weather was coming) you had to sleep there on the floor? Even after being told nothing was so urgent?
    I know many are saying so what? Let Caroline do work as she pleases, but I find that bit very problematic because it could legitimately be a safety issue.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Re the sleeping on the floor I think that also shows an inability to assess situations. I wonder if that “it’ll be fine” until it’s not mentality leaks into work and that’s part of it. Does she struggle with the full scope of a project? Ask for help timely?

  94. Marna*

    I know this isn’t likely to be the issue here, but reading some comments about neurotypical-ness and otherwise, had me wondering. In the case of a staffer who is exempt (hence not costing any more money to pay for longer hours) what do the work world do about people who can do an absolutely wonderful job of something in a 60 hour week, that someone else does in 40. As in, their brain works just fine, their skills are great, they are conscientious and detail oriented (and whatever other factors desired.) But they just need—and don’t mind working many extra hours at their capable pace. What if they would be excellent, loyal, productive staffers for a decade at that pace—in a job that pace isn’t an issue for (in other words, the overall weekly workload for everyone isn’t ever impacted by her time needs, if she does the 60 hrs a week)? I feel this way about, say SAT tests. What if someone took an extra hour on the tests, then got a perfect score. Why should that not be as valued as one who can take a test, or do a job, FASTER – if its in a realm where speed doesn’t matter and they do a great job?

  95. Elizabeth*

    I have not read the 400+ comments, and mine not be read either! But, I had to comment as a fellow university employee. I routinely work 60+ hour weeks, and I suspect that my boss, if she knew how much I worked, would tell me to work less and would try to help me fit everything into 40 hours. Now, I don’t work those hours because of the reasons described in the letter– I am extremely efficient (often to the point of not being so and just rushing), a I just have too much on my plate.

    As university staff, these two years have been absolute hell. I lose a colleague almost every week to the “great resignation.” The work keeps piling on as we all take on the jobs of people who have quit. We spend too much time attending job talks by prospective staff to fill the many many vacant roles.

    I’m pretty disillusioned, but the people who are true, diehard, higher ed people are just like the employee you describe in your letter: they are sticking it out, determined to succeed, and feel like by giving their all during this impossible time they will somehow look back and feel like they saved higher ed and solved the needs of our students during this time.

    I might suggest having a conversation with this employee about their long-term goals. Do they want to do this job forever? What motivates them? What makes them feel successful at their job? I bet they are giving it their all right now, while universities are going through terrible identity crises, and are (consciously or not) unsure where they’ll fit in when everything shakes out. Be blunt about their last performance issues and figure out what changes you both can make to align their path with their goals.

  96. Onetime Poster*

    I too struggle with this type of thing with team members I’ve managed over the years. Allison has done a great job of outlining all the considerations. I wish to highlight a couple:

    First, I know for myself that I work *much* better when the office is empty. If this situation is in an open workspace, it is worth considering if the employee may be distracted (as I am) throughout the day due to the office setup. If that’s the case, then perhaps looking at ways to adjust the hours may help.

    Second, the employee may have ADHD. (This is in part related to the above.) There’s nothing you can really do about this, except perhaps research techniques for managing schedules of people who may be more diverse in their ability to manage time. Not diagnose her, that’s not your job. Rather, beef up your own understanding of the differences between people’s ability to recognize time and how it passes. (I have a close friend who severely struggles with perception of time and when she was working, often would find herself in the office quite late.)

    And last, it could be that she needs your hands-on help to learn habits that will only help her longer-term. That is, there needs to be a defined response that is clearly articulated with her, including an action to be taken if she doesn’t comply. This would mean being more involved with her in developing this habit, perhaps more than with other employees. And that’s okay! Each employee is going to be different and need different support.

  97. SpeechTeach*

    A concern I have, and I work at a college. She (Caroline) should not be in the building without security present. If she is staying after hours, she is creating a huge LIABILITY for the college if something happens to her, and as her boss, the manager might get sued. Regardless of work productivity she needs to be out of the building at six, if only to protect yourself from possible legal action.

  98. Anna*

    Learn from my mistake. Do not allow this to continue. No matter how much Caroline might say she prefers to stay late, and that she knows you aren’t “making her” — you never know what the future will hold. The first time I supervised someone, I supervised a Caroline. I didn’t want to be heavy-handed, so after being clear I didn’t expect or want her working late I let it go… and she continued. When there was eventually a performance issue I had to address with her (unrelated to staying late), she became disgruntled. Then all of a sudden her narrative around staying late became, “Anna made me. She knew I was doing it and wouldn’t let me stop.” Thankfully I had the situation documented so my chain of command knew that was BS, but external stakeholders she interacted with believed her. Do not let this continue.

  99. TootsNYC*

    I had an exempt employee who consistently stayed really late.
    I eventually said to her that by staying late, she was making ME look bad, because it looked like I couldn’t manage the workload I assigned to my team. It made me look disorganized and perhaps even abusive.

    I particularly objected because she’d make comments about “having to stay late.” And other people didn’t know she was doing extra projects.

    She was working on projects for other departments, which is allowed and is often sought so that people can expand their resumes. And I didn’t care if she used her downtime or or free time to do that.
    And I understood that it was often easier to do that with the company’s computer.

    But at a minimum, I told her she needed to change her language around her after-hours work, and perhaps she needed to figure out how to do that work at home. Because she was making me look bad.

  100. Lucretia*

    It sounds like she’s probably been a very long term employee, so perhaps this doesn’t apply . . . But what was the culture like at her previous employers’?

    I’ve come out of a workplace that was almost criminally toxic. Her earlier work life may have conditioned her to understand “ these are your working hours” to mean “ we said your working hours are such-and-such, but the unspoken reality is that if you don’t work a ton more than that, the target’s on your back for layoff”.

    She just may not be able to take what being said about work hours at face value.

  101. SteffK*

    If you know anything about her personal life, do NOT bring it into the conversation. When I was working a lot of overtime, before asking me about my work load, a previous manager decided I was having problems in my marriage and that’s why I worked late.

    I shut her down the second she brought it up, but she’d already passed that suggestion to the team so everyone looked at me as someone not wanting to go home, rather than someone struggling over losing two other team members and drawing the short straw of being their cover

  102. HungryLawyer*

    I wonder if Caroline has a hard time working in an office environment during the standard business hours. OP, I’d suggest talking with Caroline and asking whether there are any significant distractions (overly chatty co-workers, a noisy copier near her desk, busy office hours with lots of students nearby, etc.) that make it tough for her to focus during the day. If that’s why she’s staying so late, perhaps limiting those distractions or allowing her to work in a different space (separate office, unused conference room, WFH) could help compact the hours a bit more.

  103. Ellen*

    I have an employee who does the same, comes in at all odd hours. Since we are open 24/7, she can do that. But, since she is paid by the hour and she must be paid for that time if she is doing work duties. She is doing work duties and doesn’t put in for the time.
    I’ve told her this. I’ve kicked to to upper management. When the labor board comes calling, at least I’ll have myself covered.

    1. T Faith*

      Of course I have no idea what Caroline’s reasoning is, but I could have been reading this about myself just a few years back.
      I had worked full time for 35 years and never had a problem getting my work done in the allotted time – until my last 7 years or so of working.
      I moved into a different house in 2008 – The following year I started seeing my doctor and complaining that I was having a difficult time getting my work done, my short term memory was affected and keeping me from completing tasks in a timely matter, I was no longer able to comprehend what I was reading and needed to call our home office for direction many times on a daily basis.
      I had just started this job in 2006, so my employers were not completely aware of my spotless work record and how I had excelled at my other jobs. I didn’t realize this of course, but the house I moved into had toxic mold that was causing brain damage as well as damage to many other systems in my body.
      I stayed after work every night – some nights I was there until well after midnight…Some weeks I literally worked between 90-100 hours, just to get my job done.
      My doctor of 30+ years tried on several occasions to have me go on short term disability to see if giving my brain a break might help – and as I said at this time we had no idea of what was causing my problems.
      So possibly this could be Caroline’s issue – maybe a health problem that is keeping her from getting her work done. I continued to work these insane hours for over a year, because I always wanted my employer to be happy with my work, and I felt that – even though I didn’t feel it was my fault that I couldn’t get my work done in 40 hours – I felt like it wasn’t their fault either. I was afraid of losing my job – and I kept thinking it would get better.

  104. Momma Bear*

    This odd hours thing may also be a concern due to the nature of the work. There are some jobs/agencies where working long hours/alone when there’s no reason to do so is suspicious.

  105. Cassandra*

    This was me for many years. I am an extreme night-owl (even my DNA test confirms this). Some of us are not biologically suited to a ‘normal office hours’, and I suspect someone at the other end of the spectrum (comes in at 6am) would not be subject to similar scrutiny/disapproval.

    Cross match that with having periods of unhappy or no home life and there is simply no incentive to go home. Especially if you have only just gotten into your groove at 3pm.

    The more employers understand and accomodate people’s differences the better. At least I am lucky that my relative work-a-holism propelled me up to the top of the corporate ladder. By the time I was Managing Director no one cared what my working hours were. Luckily I also finally met someone who helped me make a home life. Saying that it still took me 15 years to navigate to a more normal finish time – but in all honesty I would still much rather have an after 10 or 11am start time to the day and a later run out,.

  106. MsMeg*

    I’m an exempt professional who works in an eat-what-you-kill environment where we’re paid by work product and also have a fair amount of work that’s not directly reimbursible. I got behind in some of my tasks and put in a huge amount of effort and time to get caught up. Later the bosses were happy that I got caught up but upset that I was working late hours to stay that way. It’s super frustrating. It’s OK to take work home, but not okay to be working on it at midnight.

  107. Ellie May*

    When Alison asked WHY Caroline needs to leave, OP responded with a lot of “I” statements, to the point which I question, “But what about Caroline?”

    OP says she works slowly and is thorough – this is her workstyle. There didn’t seem to be any other complaints besides OP objecting to her workstyle. I prefer to be more results focused … she is delivering. Unless the university has an explicit rule against late-night work hours (safety, liability, etc.), perhaps OP is over-thinking this.

    Yes, I get that she’s ignored instructions to NOT do something but are those instructions reasonable?

    I think there is need to acknowledge to the team that this is how Caroline works and others will work as they need to but really, if BOSS (OP) isn’t staying late and sending the ‘stay late’ message I’d wouldn’t be too concerned others will feel they need to stay late also.

    Is this a boat to rock??

  108. Curmudgeon in California*

    So, I have personal experiences that may or may not apply here.

    Several years ago I ended up with seizures. They put me on a medication that made me feel like I was floating in space. I would literally catch myself zoning out watching my screensaver! I would work 12 hours just to try to accomplish 8 hours of work. I would often just… forget to go home. I fixed it by insisting my doctor change my medication.

    The other is that I have ADD, diagnosed as a kid. I can’t concentrate in an open plan office with people walking around, talking, chewing, etc. So I stayed late to actually do work when no one else was distracting me. I offset it a bit with coming in late (like 10 or 11), but when meetings happened at 9 am, I had to be there at 9.

    I’m not saying any of these are at play here, but they might be a thing to consider.

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