my employee wants to go part-time in summers but we really need her full-time

A reader writes:

I own a small business with six full-time employees. One of my employees, my bookkeeper Leah, has grandchildren and has recently asked to work part-time (two days off, three days on) in summers so she can spend more time with them.

She is a good, long-standing employee. However, this really presents many challenges for our small company — mainly, coverage for her during a short period of time and how we will fill that role and/or cover the job duties of any employees who are covering for her. Her role is unique (and she has access to all of our financials) so finding temp help during this time will be challenging and potentially risky. This is going to be somewhat difficult to manage on a week-to-week basis and really only benefits the employee, not the employer. What would you do?

If it doesn’t work for you and you’re willing to risk losing her over it, you can explain to Leah that it’s not possible for her position. From there, it’s up to her to decide if she still wants the job, knowing these are the constraints.

However, before you do that, make sure you’ve thought through the following questions:

•  Are you willing to lose Leah over this? There will always be times when the answer to that is yes, and that’s okay. Or you might realize that while it would be inconvenient to accommodate her in this way, it would be more inconvenient to have to hire and train someone new. Or it might not! I can’t tell what the answer is, but make sure you’ve really thought this through first, since this is what it all comes down to.

•  How difficult would Leah be to replace? That shouldn’t govern the entire decision since you’ll lose every employee eventually, whether it’s to another job, retirement, alien abduction, or so on, and you should never feel so hamstrung by the idea of having to replace someone that you agree to things that don’t make sense for the business … but you also shouldn’t reject employee requests without giving serious thought to this question first.

•  Are there creative ways to make it work? For example, maybe two days a week off every single week of summer would be hard to say yes to, but all of August is really slow and Leah could take off a huge amount of it without much impact. Or maybe there’s a talented junior person who’s been asking for stretch opportunities and would be delighted to fill in for Leah and their work would be easier to find temp coverage for. Or who knows what — but if Leah is a long-standing employee who’s done good work, it makes sense to see if there’s a way to get you both what you want. Maybe there isn’t — but give it some thought first.

Also, sometimes with questions like this, people will say, “Don’t say yes unless you would be willing to offer the same thing to others who ask for it.” That’s worth thinking about too, but it shouldn’t be your primary driver. Sometimes it makes sense to go out of your way to accommodate someone who does great work and would be difficult to replace, even when you wouldn’t do it otherwise. You just need to be prepared to be transparent about those reasons if other employees ask, and to stand by those reasons (and you also need to be sure it’s truly performance-based and role-based, and that you don’t develop patterns where, curiously, everyone who gets special perks are the same race/sex/etc.).

{ 213 comments… read them below }

  1. Kay*

    Could you also be flexible in other ways? Half days, work from home, one day off per week with others allowable when it works better, etc?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is how my employer has been accommodating my long covid and it’s been really successful. Not the same thing I acknowledge, but the alternative was a long leave of absence that I didn’t really want to take/the company couldn’t really absorb. Sometimes just taking things as they come works out better than you’d think.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yes, I have an ill spouse who had to retire. I’m on FMLA but the schedule and time off had to be agreed on– I’m WFH a lot more than my coworkers, but it means I take less time off. If we couldn’t have worked it out, I would have retired and then looked for parttime and or remote work. I’m not irreplaceable, but it would have been a big hole at an exceptionally difficult time to be down yet another staff member.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’d imagine you can get a lot of mileage out of MTR, MWR or TWF on a 3×10 schedule. Especially if that includes an hour lunch to break up the marathons.

          1. Pajamas on Bananas*

            If it’s an issue of needing travel time to see grandkids, 4 day weeks with odd weeks Mon-Thur and even weeks Tues-Fri could provide 4 day weekends every other weekend. It meets half way.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Or if local (like my coworker that asked this same question) maybe 5 – 4’s would work.

              We had just enough time critical things that came in daily that we really did need them in every day – but they were okay with it knowing they got to leave at 1230 every day for 9 weeks.

              (And it also helped us in the long run because it pointed out some training and knowledge gaps that we then got documented, and it helped set up our halftime person’s assistant to be fully successful when they took over after four summers like this.)

    2. Ms. Murchison*

      Normally I’m in favor of WFH adaptations, but in this case it would be counterproductive. Someone who wants to work less in order to spend more time with their grandkids is not going to be an effective WFH employee.

      1. sagc*

        Or… maybe she will? Maybe she’s a person who can, y’know, work when expected and will be grateful that she’s got her commuting time back to spend with grandkids.

      2. Beth*

        Mmm, I’m not so sure. WFH gives her commuting time back, allows her to be around for lunchtime, etc, which is better than nothing.

        And let’s be real–a lot of us are not actually busy for 8 hours a day. I’m betting there’s a day or two a week where the business could say “we really need you to handle task X and task Y, and we’d appreciate you keeping your phone on you so you can respond to emails if anything urgent comes up, but other than that we don’t care if you’re working from the playground.” That sounds easier than replacing a deeply trusted bookkeeper who’s apparently the sole person with access to all the financials.

        1. Busy Middle Manager*

          Depends on the job but if people want WFH to continue they need to stop confusing it with flex-time/time off, and need to stop using “well I don’t work all day anyway” as a rationale.

          It may not be your case or the case of any of the people here. But I’ve definitely heard people using this logic in real life, and that was only the case because they weren’t doing their job to the full potential and not helping their coworkers. Obviously it depends on the job

          Meanwhile I am writing from bed sick which is why I am slacking mid-day

          1. Beth*

            Working from home is inherently more flexible though.

            I work remotely, and there’s a reasonable chunk of my day where I do absolutely need to be at my desk and in private. I have meetings; I have tasks that require handling secure info; I have hard deadlines for clients, often for a specific time as well as a specific day. While I’m working on those things, my work life isn’t that different than it would be in an office–it just has a much shorter commute. (Which is a massive time saver in and of itself! After experiencing a 30-second commute from bed to desk, it’s hard to imagine going back to a 30+ minute daily drive.)

            But there are also generally a few hours a day where as long as I’m responsive via email and slack, no one cares exactly how I’m using my time. As long as it works with my calendar, I can take a long lunch and work later to compensate. As long as my work is getting done, I can take 15 minutes to do dishes after lunch. No one cares if I go for an afternoon walk, especially if I bring my phone so I can participate in team conversations if I’m needed. I can call my mom midday as long as she doesn’t mind me hopping off the line to handle a last-minute crisis.

            There are trade-offs–it’s easy for work to bloat out of strictly 40 hours a week when there’s so much flexibility, I’m giving up a solid percentage of my small living space for my work setup, I’ve had to be really intentional about building relationships with my colleagues. Like you said, it’s not time off; work still has to get done, and if I structured my time poorly, it would be really easy to either perform poorly or find myself working well into the evening because I didn’t focus earlier. But ultimately that’s down to my time management skills to manage, and I don’t mind when it’s so much easier to integrate into my life than past jobs have been.

            1. Pat*

              commute time saved and also “getting ready” time saved. I can work all day in shorts and a tee shirt, even if I’ll be seen in public walking the dog. I can’t wear that to the office, and there’s no way I’m showing up at the office unshowered. that all takes time in the a.m.

              1. londonedit*

                And also, if Leah is factoring travel time to go and visit her grandchildren, it might help if she’s WFH and can hit the road as soon as she finishes work. That’s what I do if I’m going to visit my family – if I was in the office, it’d take me 45 minutes to get home, then I’d have to get myself and my stuff ready, get it all in the car, etc, before I could set off. If I’m working from home then I can make sure everything is ready to go before 5pm, and as soon as I finish work I can get straight in the car and go. Saves at least 60-90 minutes, which makes a big difference when you’re doing a longish drive.

                I’m surprised, after 3+ years, that the ‘WFH means slacking off doing nothing’ attitudes are still around. Certainly where I work, we’ve proved that we can be just as productive WFH as we were in the office, and in fact it can be better for people’s mental health as not having to commute means they have more time for exercise, family etc. I find hybrid working far more beneficial than full-time in-office, and my work/life balance has improved hugely since 2020. And all my work still gets done, just as it always has.

          2. Llama Groomer*

            I work Saturdays and the understanding is that I’ll WFH unless I need to go in, and firefight/ catch up rather than looking for work. Sometimes it works out as a 12 hour day, sometimes it works out that I reply to three emails. It works reasonably well for me and the business. (but I often do more than my hours during the week so have no conscience about taking Saturdays as they come!)

      3. Observer*

        but in this case it would be counterproductive. Someone who wants to work less in order to spend more time with their grandkids is not going to be an effective WFH employee.

        Not necessarily true. It depends on what the work it. There are some things that can be done in the evenings, for instance, which means that she can spend time with the grandkids during the day, and then put some time in in the evening. We’ve made this work quite successfully for a number of staff.

      4. TootsNYC*

        She has access to the financials–if a part of her work is bookkeeping, that may not need to be done during the same timeframe that the business is officially open.
        Maybe she can be off during the day, and do her WFH in the evening–a tradeoff she might be willing to do.

      5. Loves AAM*

        My take is that perhaps the employee is beginning to think of retirement if she is grandparent age. May be a good time to start planning for eventual replacement t anyways, at least mentally.

        1. Kara*

          Always a good idea to have a won the lottery plan, but keep in mind that a grandmother could still be in her 40s and well away from retirement. Or even if she is, she might not be planning to retire right away. Be careful this line of thinking doesn’t wind up drifting into age discrimination or forcing her out before she’s ready to leave.

          1. NotMutuallyExclusive*

            To be fair, even if the employee was a 25 year old marathon runner, it’s a bad idea to have really important functions completely managed by one person with no one to be a backup. There should be at least one other person trained to do what needs to be done in case there’s any type of emergency (or if this person wants to go on a vacation)

      6. WellRed*

        I agree. I suspect she wants to be taking the kids for those days and doing summer stuff, not working while they watch tv.

      7. Lauren*

        I think you misunderstood the request. She doesn’t want to work from home part-time, she just wants to work fewer hours.

    3. Antilles*

      Good questions. Along these lines:
      -Is there any way to shift her hours? So rather than working 8-hour days M-Fri, you offer her the 4/10 schedule. It’s not the two days off she asked for, but it’s still a nice potential compromise solution.
      -Another option would involve looking at her actual workload and evaluating how many of the 40 hours per week are truly tasks that must be kept up with at all times versus stuff that could be put off for a couple months. Maybe you can find a way to put those tasks off to free up some more hours over the summer, with the agreement that she’ll put in extra hours in the fall to “catch up” on those tasks.

      1. LCH*

        This was my question too. I’ve worked at many small businesses that have bookkeepers that only come in 1 day/week. Or less! Obviously this place needs more than that since they have a FT person for it, but does she actually need all 40 hrs? Is the summer the business slow season? She might have asked since she already knows that she doesn’t really need all 40 hrs to complete her work during this time.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          “She has access to all of our financials” doesn’t mean she’s solely the bookkeeper, though. If they only have six employees there are probably a lot of people wearing multiple hats.

    4. AMarie*

      And also, this is only for the summer not year round. It will be important to evaluate the workload in that 8 week period of time.

  2. Edward*

    “[It] really only benefits the employee, not the employer.”

    Yeah, no shit! Someone working for you asking you for a benefit shouldn’t jump through the hoops to make it sound like something that will akshly be a benefit to you. I hate this sort of thinking.

    1. B*

      I think this sentence gives the game away — including the first part, “This is going to be somewhat difficult to manage on a week-to-week basis.”

      The logic here appears to be: “somewhat difficult” plus “not a benefit to me” means “I should say no.”

      It sounds like this person’s continued employment is a pretty big benefit to the employer, so maybe consider yourself lucky that an apparently critical employee isn’t quitting altogether?

      1. wounded, erratic stink bugs*

        It sort of gives the game away, but OP’s full reaction wasn’t “somewhat difficult” plus “not a benefit to me,” it was those things plus “I should write to Ask A Manager,” which suggests to me that they’re open to other ways of thinking about it.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Echoing this. When you’re running a business, it can be really difficult to weigh your obligations to the business as a whole vs your obligations to your employees as individual people. Obviously there’s some overlap there, but with six people total that calculus can get really complicated.

        2. Toxic Workplace Survivor*

          I agree; Alison has outlined some great framing questions for making the decision which is exactly what I would have been hoping for as OP. “What should I be asking myself before I make the call? Am I missing anything?” is so in the AAM wheelhouse. Let’s assume good intent here.

      2. Smithy*

        Honestly…..very often the best way to keep people, especially when promotions/raises beyond COL aren’t available is offering them improvements to their personal life or genuine professional stretch opportunities.

        It sounds like Leah has very clearly identified what would be a genuine improvement to her personal life. I’m not saying that it’s no cost to the business, but it’s likely that whatever choice the OP makes – none of them are no cost. Just say no, Leah might leave, seek another role that allows her this flexibility, or stay but become a less positive contributor. Then there’s the cost of replacing Leah, and then the question is – is it a better choice to pay that cost or the cost of giving Leah this new schedule.

      3. Llama Groomer*

        I mean, while you’re right a benefit to an employee doesn’t have to benefit the business (and happy rested employees are a business benefit anyway), it’s not that reasonable to expect a small business to respond positively to every request for benefits that actively harm the business.

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Benefit to the employer: you get to keep your experienced employee instead of the experience employee quitting and finding a more flexible job somewhere else.

      1. DEJ*

        And you get a happier employee who will be more loyal to you in the long run because you were willing to work with her.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Exactly. I’ve been flexible with my employer on hours a few times recently because we had a major un-moveable deadline. This wasn’t a huge deal because they have been flexible with me when I’ve needed it.

          If OP doesn’t even try to find a workable solution and Leah sticks around, don’t bet on her being flexible.

      2. Louise*

        THIS. My company recently gave us all off Friday afternoons in the summers. It absolutely positively impacted moral and increased retention. On a personal level, I went from going “ugh work is frustrating today, should I see what else is out there?” to “ugh work is frustrating today, but man I have it so good here overall!”

        1. BlueSwimmer*

          I worked for an organization once that gave us a 4 day/10 hour per day summer option. Within teams we either opted for Mondays or Fridays off so that all days were covered. It was wonderful and made me loyal to a not-great job.

          1. Heffalump*

            I once interviewed for a job where they gave you 4 days/9 hours per day = 36 hours, but they paid you for 40 hours. It sounded great, but unfortunately I didn’t grab that particular brass ring.

        2. Anne Kaffeekanne*

          I used to work for a company which had a 37.5hour week, meaning the work week ended at 2.30pm on Fridays, always. I’m not there anymore and I do not regret leaving but I still miss getting to start the weekend just that tiny bit earlier! A small perk, but it made a huge difference.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            I should note that we pay non-exempts for the full day of work on summer Fridays without deducting from their vacation bank.

    3. CommanderBanana*

      Agree. I feel like a lot of these conversations go like this:

      Employee: Can I have X (whatever that is, whether it’s more flexibility or a raise or title change)?
      Employer: *knee-jerk reaction* No.
      Employee: Ok, I’m resigning.
      Employer: *shocked Pikachu face*

      1. NeverEverAgain*

        Exactly! I was the bookkeeper/HR/exec assistant/all the things at a small business for YEARS! Asked my boss to work 4/10s for a few months so I could study for a certification I wanted to accomplish. He said he would think about it and I never heard a word back on it…

        So I doubled-down on my job-hunting efforts, landed a new role at 40% more money with fewer hours. New company not only accommodated my schedule so I could study, but they also paid for the study materials and the certification! Byyyyeeee!

        1. Anne Shirley*

          LW’s situation mirrors the one my workplace was in 6 months ago (also at a very small business) where neither party handled it well and our Leah ended up involuntarily quitting. I was the employee who had previously been eager to take on some of her responsibilities but with her gone and barely any guidance from my boss, I was left to figure it all out on my own. Now I get to take on the workload of a whole other employee along with my existing duties when Leah’s job should never have been done by her alone anyway. And I’m now job hunting against my will.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          God, that letter’s going to live in AAM infamy forever, isn’t it? Right next to Duck Club, which is my favorite example to share when I’m recommending this site to friends.

          1. ariel*

            I know I’m straying here but omg I missed the duck club letter, just read it, and now want a 2023 update!

    4. Eric*

      But is it even true? Presumably Leah will get paid less during those times. That’s a benefit for the business.

      1. Smithy*

        I think it’s fair to consider that it might not be less cost to the business.

        While paying Leah less for not working that time, the business might need to hire another part-time bookkeeper and the only way to find, train and retain talent would be if they hired someone for one day a week all year. So while they wouldn’t be paying Leah for 24 days that they used to be, they’d ultimately have to hire a new staff member to work 52 days a year.

        I’m sure there are plenty of other solutions as well, but this was one hypothetical I thought of regarding of how it might ultimately cost the business more to ensure the full coverage they need.

        1. Allonge*

          Exactly – it’s next to impossible that they could hire someone part-time for the amount they ‘save’ here. It’s also not a cost saving when you have more work to do.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yeah. I’m in the position of being the person taken on (ten years ago now) because they needed coverage and it gets so corrosive to my needs if I’m underemployed. I wouldn’t do a job for very long either if it were only a day a week — I’d need something else in between, but having one day blacked out is a handicap for me. I used to work a job over lunchtime — 10 until 2 five days a week — and it was only 20 hours. I wanted extra, the non-profit could only pay me 20h, but not having either morning or afternoon completely free precluded anyone else from taking me on.

            At the moment I work 11-4 with a two hour commute each way, so I get the worst of all worlds — underemployed so don’t have fresh experience to take elsewhere, a draining commute that makes it impossible to work or study or find other work that would give me some stimulation and experience, not allowed to do anything else while at work (our computers are basically virtual machine terminals with access to the internet and that’s it) or given extra work because it would be favouritism (!) to give a receptionist stretch projects, and only paid for 25 hours. Also, I have to give a month’s notice if I quit, so I can’t just bail out to start a new position on Monday — and most of the calls back from recruiters that I’ve got have wanted that kind of person. I like temp to perm because it gives me the opportunity to show people what I can do immediately and carve out a niche that then gets me embedded in their systems before they realize it, but I ran to seed here years ago and am a bit trapped unless someone can give me something to do to show them what I’m made of.

            The people who say offhand ‘just hire a temp’ are the people who’ve never been the temp hired or the underemployed person with nowhere to go, or the business owner needing to fill a niche gap or train them up quicker than is logistically possible. I did once ask for flexitime over one summer for reasons like Leah’s, but reception work is terribly inflexible and my absence would mean my co-receptionist could not take any full week off until September. I agreed to cover on any Friday that my colleague wanted off, and it worked fine, but I did have to compromise from my initial ask — and then I went on bereavement and sick leave anyway when the whole thing came to the inevitable climax.

            Sometimes business needs do trump those of the workers, and I don’t get why people think it’s fair to a temp to ask them to work one day a week to accommodate business needs that evidently do need Leah in the office. Not all businesses are massive corporate entities that act like Brezhnev era Russian state enterprises, where an employee can take a few days off and not be missed (and most if not all large businesses started as small ones!). I want a different schedule so I’m looking for a new job — maybe that’s Leah’s best option here — if she wants the flexibility, then she’s got skills and she can take them elsewhere. But the business needs continuity in her role and someone there full time, and the alternative is not always practical for either business or employee.

            If it were Leah writing in that’s what I’d advise.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              Can you download the audio portion of class lectures and listen to them in the car with your commute? I’ve done some online courses where the audio content and the pdf text were all I needed.

    5. Beth*

      Yeah, the benefit to the employer here is retaining a good employee who you rely on.

      OP, it’s in your best interest to work with Leah on this. It genuinely might not be possible to offer everything she’s asking for! But take the request seriously, assess your business needs, and see if you can come to the table with a compromise. Think about which of her duties really have to be her (or another permanent and trusted bookkeeper–you do have to consider that she might leave if you don’t accommodate her), and which can be handed off to someone else if needed, and which if any can be put on pause and picked up in September. Ask her what she needs–her needs might differ if she’s looking to spend time with the kids at home vs planning to travel with the kids vs needing to be part of their childcare plan until school starts again. Ultimately, have a collaborative conversation. Even if you can’t offer 2 full days off each week, maybe you can offer work-from-home days, half days, or other flex time that will fit her needs.

    6. Green great dragon*

      I see where you’re coming from, but in the context of writing for advice it seems like a reasonable thing for LW to clarify. They’ve considered the impact on the employer, and found it’s bad, and included that point in the letter.

      1. Samwise*

        Agreed. Folx need to stop jumping down OP’s throat. OP is the employer, of course it is reasonable to consider “is this a benefit to me/my business”. OP is asking for advice, not stomping around shouting NO.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I should have clarified, the OP isn’t doing this since they are at least considering how to / if they can make it work. Which is great! I’m just continually astonished at how many employers don’t and then are baffled when employees scoot.

    7. Dust Bunny*

      The employer isn’t only the boss/business owner, though–it’s the other employees. If Leah being out that much means pressure or significant lost opportunities for other employees then, yeah, Leah might also have to compromise. That’s a risk you often take when you work for a tiny company.

    8. CrackerJaxonApple*

      Right! Why not frame it as a great way to retain top talent, vs what seems to be a hassle for the manager/employer? It may be a bigger hassle to find someone else to do that job.

      1. Allonge*

        Because employers get to prefer things that are easier for them, and oftentimes an ongoing hassle is less desirable than a one-off hassle?

  3. Lily Rowan*

    Another way to think about it: It seems to me like it would be easier for the business to handle 5 3-day weeks over the course of the summer, vs. Leah taking a two-week vacation — both are 10 days out of the office.

    1. Smithy*

      Yeah, if you want to do the very rough math of the summer being all of June-August, then it’s around 24 days which admittedly is a bit longer. However, I do think it puts into a place a way to consider what a negotiation might look like. Perhaps it’s giving Leah that schedule except for one week a month where she’s needed all week – perhaps when payroll is due? Or instead of giving her that schedule for 12 weeks, give her the schedule for 10 weeks?

      Regardless, if you can’t give her everything – it’s a place to more thoughtfully consider what close to everything could be without unduly hurting the business.

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, I was going to ask what her PTO situation looks like and she can certainly use that if she wants 2 days a week off during the summer.

      I’m assuming Leah doesn’t want to use her PTO for this and is hoping the be able to move to part-time so she doesn’t have to give up her vacation time, but if the business has planned for PTO but not the extra time OOO for part-time, that may be the route Leah needs to take.

  4. MJ*

    You don’t necessarily need to give her “replacement” full access to your financials. Most accounting software allows for users with limited access. So perhaps you could hire someone part-time to keep the basics (processing invoices, bank deposits?) ticking over and Leah could continue to do the main elements on her reduced days.

    You could look at someone working towards an accounting degree or bookkeeping certificate who wants to gain hands on experience. Or maybe someone returning to the workforce.

    Or for example someone like me who works a 10 month contract from fall to spring and needs something to fill my time during the summer – but can’t find a full-time job for just two months.

    IF you are interested in making this work, there are options if you think out of the box…

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, I was going to point out that summer is an *excellent* time to hire a student or new graduate! You may even be able to work with a programme at a local college or university who will do some or all af the advertising / selection for you for free. If there are parts of Leah’s role that could be transferred to someone with less experience or access to the system, you could make this work for her *and* provide an opportunity to support the next generation and build your future workforce.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        This, and if you hire a HS student or recent grad, they might be able to come back for several summers in a row, giving you some continuity/don’t have to fully retrain every year.

      2. Busy Middle Manager*

        uh, have you ever hired entry level people? It’s a heck of a lot of training, very counter-productive to hire someone at that level to fill a very temporary window. The OP will spend an hour every day explaining stuff they didn’t know they needed to explain. and that will be a good day

      3. KateM*

        I think the suggestion of a coworker being able to take part of Leah’s job and finding a temp for that coworker’s part could work out easier. Plus, then you have a backup in case Leah gets hit by bus.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I was thinking, hmm, it’s tough on us to have the finance person part time (we do) because so many things come up throughout the week and then they just sit or get lost in her inbox when she’s only in once or twice a week. I would rather have her for one hour every morning than have her out for multiple whole days at a time. Then again, in my role, which is also part time, I’m an individual contributor and I am gone one day out of the week – always the same day – which I think is easier for everyone else to schedule around, and has actually been good for our process since it means my boss always gets a full day to review everything, rather than getting it all last-minute (it’s last minute for me because my workweek is ending, but it’s not last minute for her). So, I think almost every role has the ability to go part time, but the best arrangement may look a little different.

    3. Hannah Lee*

      Those are great points!

      Plus, it sounds like right now Leah is a single point of failure in this company.
      If she won the lottery and quit tomorrow, how would this employer manage?

      Her reduced schedule this summer is a great time to build in some redundancy, cross-train someone to do at least part of her job. And she’d likely be willing to train the because it helps her get the summer schedule she wants.

      Also, in any accounting/finance/bookkeeping department I’ve been involved in, there are always some mundane, but also time sensitive things. Stuff like that could be covered by almost anyone with moderate accounting, bookkeeping, even more general office skills, freeing Leah up to work on the higher level stuff you need her to do on the days she’s there. Someone who does well at that could be a person you keep on in another role when Leah returns to FT, or keep in mind if you have an opening down the line.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > If she won the lottery and quit tomorrow, how would this employer manage?

        That would actually be an easier problem to solve, because instantly the situation would be “Leah isn’t coming back” so they would pivot straight to finding a replacement and reducing all Leah’s previous activities to the bare minimum (making sure payroll is done but postponing some more strategic projects) in the meantime.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          This. They would be free to just replace her and move on, not try to make do with part of her while holding her job.

  5. mango chiffon*

    How does you handle it when Leah takes a long vacation? Or is she not able to take a long vacation because of this (that’s a problem!).

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Similarly: what would you do if she ended up in the hospital or had sudden family obligations that she needed to take an extended leave for? Or simply won the lottery and quit? I know failsafes and redundancies are harder with a small business, but these risks are still very real.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Part of the way you build in redundancies and failsafes is by ensuring that there is some slack to “give,” and moving Leah to a part-time schedule may mean there’s less slack if an emergency comes up that the company considers more important to account for, like if someone unexpectedly quit or ended up in the hospital.

        1. Eric*

          Although part time employees often become that slack. There is a decent chance that Leah would be fine to have a caveat of “I’ll work 5 days a week if someone is in the hospital” type situations.

          1. Not my real name*

            This is exactly what my coworker is doing. She’s already given a rough idea when she plans to retire, and she’s working a reduced schedule. But she comes in if she’s needed on those off days.

          2. SpaceySteph*

            I wonder if Leah is really just hanging out with her grandkids or if she’s actually providing childcare for them. There’s a domino effects if she gets called in and leaves her kids without childcare for those grandkids that affects their jobs as well. This kind of thing would make me nervous and I’d probably go ahead and just find regular childcare for the summer to avoid such interruptions which would reduce my kids availability to hang out with grandma.

            1. KateM*

              If she is providing childcare then WFH may be a solution as then going out to playgrounds and picnics is not as important as her presence with grandkids. If she is just wanting to hang out with them for fun and childcare is not important, she’d maybe prefer 3 days plus emergencies.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I think what we’re doing here is breaking down the status quo bias. An employer hears a proposed change and thinks, “nah, I prefer things how they are.” But that’s not really a realistic option for a lot of reasons – particularly because an employee who wants to spend more time with her grandkids probably isn’t just going to say, “oh, okay, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing forever.”

      3. Spencer Hastings*

        I interpreted the letter a little differently — it seemed to me like if Leah were simply leaving or retiring, the LW would just replace her, but they were unsure of what to do in this situation (LW thinking that the role requires X hours per week and Leah wanting to go down to X minus Y hours).

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah. The OP, as I read it, basically wants/needs someone in that role full time (who wouldn’t have to be Leah, so not irreplaceable). But Leah wants to keep her job, but only part time, hence the dilemma – hiring a full time replacement would be much easier that hiring somebody for two days a week for three months.

    2. MsSolo (UK)*

      Especially your finance person – it should be standard practice to make sure the person with control of the money takes two consecutive weeks off each year to discourage/catch fraud. Just because you trust Leah 100% doesn’t mean her eventual replacement couldn’t be an issue. You really need someone who understands the system enough to cover, and to catch errors.

  6. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I’m going to toss in my 2 cents as a CPA here: having just one person have sole, uninterrupted access to your financials is a really bad idea for two major reasons. 1) You’re going to lose her eventually, and not having a backup plan for your bookkeeper tends to result in chaos and often in extra tax fines when you can’t get the IRS or equivalent agencies the information and checks they need. 2) If she’s really your only person doing/reviewing the financials, you’ve got a massive vulnerability in that any errors (or worse) aren’t being seen (to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing in the letter that suggests anything like this to me, but that doesn’t mean the risk doesn’t exist). There’s a reason why it’s a recommended security policy to have your accounting/financial group take mandatory vacations, at least once a year, for at least a weeks.

    While 3 days on/2 days off might not be convenient in general, it or something similar might be a good preview of what will happen when she does quit/retire, and it could give you some breathing room in which you can cross-train/talk with a bookkeeping firm/hire another employee over the course of several months.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ This. A lot of financial/accounting positions are required to take a certain amount of continuous leave for exactly that reason. Obviously this is not the case here, but I can’t tell you how many cases of long-running fraud were finally brought to light when the person committing the fraud ended up out of the office long enough for other people to notice something weird, or someone else finally got access to a system or an account that only one person previously had.

      For a truly mind-blowing case, Google “All The Queen’s Horses.” One comptroller stole $53 million – that’s MILLION – from Dixon, Illinois without anyone noticing for TWENTY TWO YEARS.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Was JUST going to comment on this. She even took vacations but she would leave what was needed with the assistant so no one ever noticed. Until one time the assistant needed something and got all the statements instead of the carefully curated ones. Then it all blew up.

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        Even taking math out of it, people make mistakes! Math errors happen. Did she double-tap a digit, or mistype a decimal point. If she is the only one with access to this information, who is checking that she didn’t have an oops?

      3. Massive Dynamic*

        CPA in CAS – this is literally how we get so many of our clients! They lose The Person, then they outsource to us.

        1. Massive Dynamic*

          The person leaving, that is, not the person leaving after committing massive fraud. Although we have seen some things.

        2. Warrior Princess Xena*

          We got a client this year who was getting a financial audit for the first time and had also lost The Person in the same year. Calling them a hot mess was putting it mildly, and apart from all their other issues I think they ended up getting billed almost double the original quote because we ended up needing to do way more work than we were expecting. Would not recommend.

          1. pope suburban*

            I was once The Person and it perturbed me greatly. The place was a hot mess on the best of days, and a hellmouth on the worst, so this was not surprising. But I knew that there is typically the need for the money person to take a long, uninterrupted leave to prevent/detect fraud, and I didn’t think well of the boss for refusing to do that (or the stingy PTO policy of five days for all things for the first four years with the company). I knew I wasn’t going to steal or mess with things, sure, but like…that is not enough? That is in fact very sloppy and dangerous? Also I feel like my sanity would have come out more intact if I’d had a couple weeks off every year. Or at least I’d have been able to schedule appointments and interviews, since we had zero slack in addition to minimal PTO. But yeah, we were just lucky that I wasn’t criminally-inclined, and that I didn’t make any mistakes that could have cost us a lot. I don’t think the CPA we hired for taxes every year really approved either, but he knew that I was clean and that I would alert him when the boss tried something shady, so we worked together well and he never gave me any grief about it.

    2. ReallyBadPerson*

      Most decidedly not a CPA here (although I did once do a very poor job as a bookkeeper one summer in college), but I wanted to chime in with something similar. LW needs a succession plan yesterday, especially because Leah is of grandparent age and will likely wish to retire in the next few years. I’d consider her request a good reason to get moving on this.

      1. Common Sense Not Common*

        Grandparent age doesn’t indicate nearness to retiring. People become grandparents in their 30s and 40s also. Most grandparents that age aren’t thinking retirement any more than a non-grandparent that age.

        1. linger*

          Leah’s exact age need not change the advice for OP. Leah’s life plans, however, may have a significant impact — including the possibility of (early) retirement. So OP should perhaps start by checking in with Leah about how Leah plans this to go over the next few years.
          For us, until told otherwise, it does seem a reasonable assumption that Leah is over 50, given (i) status as a “long-standing employee” in a specialist role; and (ii) grandparents as young as 40 are statistically a small minority in educated professional urban America (the typical demographic for writers to this site). Average age of first mothers in that group has been over 30y for a few decades now, so expected average age of first grandmothers = roughly 60y [though insert caveat about impact of anti-abortion laws]).
          But the clearest indication that some longer-term solution may be needed is that Leah does, right now, want to scale back her hours — and, presumably, is financially able to do that.

    3. Llama Llama*

      yes! It is such a huge risk for so many reasons to have one person responsible for the financials.

    4. Contracts Killer*

      Not a CPA, an attorney, and I came to comment the same thing! It’s good to have someone else for redundancy, fraud check, and error check. Also, if she’s a long time employee and you’ve never had someone audit her work, this would be a way to do so without the risk of hurt feelings.

  7. Wanda Moosejaw*

    Definitely think about how necessary it is to have her there 5 days per week — are you just used to having here there and getting immediate feedback/assistance from her? Even letting her go to a 4-day a week schedule could make a huge difference to her and potentially not be an issue in the office. If everyone just knows she won’t be available on a particular day, everyone will quickly adjust. (and I say that as someone who works in a small office and we’ve made those types of accommodations for people over the years — it always ends up working out. But YMMV — I realize not all offices function the same!)

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is my question.
      To borrow from Elle Woods, a bookkeeper role is clear and finite.
      Could it not be done in three days?
      Is she doing things outside her role because she is there?
      Can you really look at what she does on each day, make a list and see if things can be condensed?

      1. WillowSunstar*

        Or at least, some of those extra tasks given to other co-workers like an admin or junior staff member wanting to learn how to do more tasks?

          1. Sleve*

            WillowSunstar did say a staff member wanting to learn the tasks. It’s not an issue if staff have their workloads adjusted accordingly and in good faith. Maybe Leah’s role has more time-sensitive tasks than can be done in 3 days, but Alex’s role has 2 days’ worth of tasks that can be dropped for a season without creating a backlog, or Sam is saving up for a house and has already been making enquiries about overtime. Maybe the owner has already thought this through and decided there is no-one, but without knowing that for sure it’s worth mentioning.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes – we need a cashier in every day because we have a lot of time sensitive transactions and we are in a highly regulated industry with very strict rules about accounting, so we have 2 people in that department and we also have contingency plans which mean that if they were both sick at once we can still function. for instance, senior management have access to the bank systems and accounts, and other support staff have some training on other less high level stuff. If it’s a few days, we use those backups, if it’s longer then our accountants will provide a locum, but we have specific documented plans and refresh the training regularly for the people needed. If we had a staff member in that department who wanted a temporary adjustment to hours ewe could make it work, but it would likely be on the basis that they were willing to assist if the other person was sick or had leave , possibly with that being on a WFH basis.

      If it was a longer term thing then we might be having a conversation about hiring and training a part time person to supplement her and being clear that that might mean we needed to look at her hours being reduced permanently, or it might be that we looked for someone who could work a split role being part accounts/bookkkeeping an part other work, if there was a role that would would like that.

  8. Unkempt Flatware*

    Honestly, just give it a try for a month. It is almost impossible to be productive for 40 hours a week. I am salaried and exempt and I never work more than 30 hours a week and I still have to stare at the wall for a good amount of my work week. I don’t think I’m unique. I think you’d be surprised how much someone could do in half the amount of time.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ This. The 40 hour workweek is something that was made up. If someone is on salary and can do their work in 30 hours, I don’t see why that’s a problem. The whole “full time = 40 hours and you have to work 40 hours for health insurance and blah blah blah” is a completely fabricated system.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      Not the only one. Even when I can focus for 8 hours one day, I’ll be distractible and reading AAM archives the next day. As long as I’m getting my work done, there doesn’t seem to be a problem that needs to be fixed.

    3. Busy Middle Manager*

      I need to ocassionally push back on this idea which is all over the internet. “No one is busy all day, why do we need to go back to the office” type stuff. Many jobs (including my own) can go to 50 hours a week. I’m tired of people underestimating other peoples’ productivity and hours and effort. “Not all jobs” works in both directions. Meaning, for some people, 40 is an arbitrary amount that they can use as an excuse to leave when things aren’t close to be doing done

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yep. Mine is another company that is staffed “lean”. Lean enough to be losing people — including vety senior long-term employees.

        OP please realize that ANYONE could leave—this is an opportunity for you to build a succession plan.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        I’ve worked jobs where 50-60 hour workweeks were required because we were so understaffed/overloaded. I’ve worked jobs where we barely had enough work to cover 30 hours a week but still had to look busy. Personally, I prefer being overworked to having to to pretend to be busy.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      Even if the role can be fine for 40 hours, but does need 5 days/week, maybe some of the smaller tasks can be delegated. Fergus checks the mail and records anything for A/R – 20 minutes tops per day.

    5. Allonge*

      This is a really stange argument to use. One, it brings the risk of a manager saying, ok, then we reduce your hours to 24/week, go ahead and stop staring at walls.

      But even in a reasonable environment, I have seen about a dozen people go from full-time to varieties of part-time (50-80%). Precisely none of them carried their previous workload, that was the whole point! You also don’t work every minute of a 4-hour job.

  9. RJ*

    I’ve worked in accounting/finance/bookkeeping for 20+ years now, OP, and I highly recommend that you work this out with Leah to see if there’s any way to work around the schedule she has suggested for the summer. Perhaps if she takes Mondays/Friday off and works Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday she’ll be able to handle the main bookkeeping as long as you have a backup person (perhaps an admin?) handing invoice entries/client issuances on the days Leah is out? Regardless of how you resolve this with Leah, you should implement accounting controls so that at least one other person can handle simple entries and one high level person has access to financial reports and/or the ability to run these (Quickbooks online/desktop makes this very easy).

  10. Anne of Green Gables*

    I think it’s also worth putting thought/emphasis on the fact that this is just for one season. My local school system’s summer break is 2 months; I realize they vary. This is also relevant when considering Alison’s last point about what you can offer everyone: while you maybe couldn’t accommodate this for everyone year round, if someone needed to lessen their hours for 6 weeks or so for varying reasons, could that work? This is more like that.

    1. irritable vowel*

      Well, given that Leah is of an age to have grandchildren, she may in fact be seeing this as a step towards retirement or at least towards going part-time permanently. That was my thought on this – and if she isn’t thinking that way, she should probably be keeping in mind that LW might realize that if they can get along just fine with Leah working 3 days a week, maybe that would be fine all the time and save the business some money. As a worker I would be very hesitant to volunteer to work fewer hours in the short term, given the chance that my employer might decide to make it permanent.

  11. Just Another Zebra*

    For a long-standing, hard-working employee, this seems like an easy ask to agree to. If you need her to be in the office, say, every Monday and Wednesday, tell her that and work with it. But for such a short-term request (the summer)… idk, it seems really workable.

    I’m going to echo some other commenters, though – why oh why do you only have 1 employee who knows how to handle your finances?! This seems irresponsible. People get sick. People take long vacations. People quit jobs. People retire. Where is the cross-training? Where are the checks and balances? People are fallible. Who is double checking Jane’s work (ie, the company finances) to make sure she didn’t make a simple math error? If an employee cannot take off 10 days over a three-month period without disrupting the entire operation, that is a problem.

    1. Legal Beagle*

      They only have six employees. While if course it’s bice to have failsafes and redundancies and backups, I think it’s unrealistic to expect employers to basically double their employee populations just to make sure they can stretch to accommodate every potential exigency. And perhaps not letting people work part-time is part of that strategy; if Jane goes part-time and Anna then has to take vacation or medical leave, that’s 0.5FTE the company has to make sure Anna’s work gets covered.

      1. Antilles*

        Also, accounting is often a specific role that usually won’t overlap much with anybody else’s normal role. So it’s not a trivial matter to cross-train your llama groomer into the accounting since it’s a completely separate set of terminology, rules, software, etc.

        1. The Person from the Resume*

          I was thinking the same. Basically the LW runs a small shop with 6 employees. 5 are customer service focused and Jane the accountant is the other one. Unless it’s an accounting firm, there isn’t a great option for backup except the owner. And she may not be able to devote a lot of time on it except during the Jane’s planned vacations and not half the week for 3 months out of the year.

      2. Unkempt Flatware*

        For something as critical as the finances, the boss/owner needs to know how to run the books at the very least. Like raising children, the business’s finances need constant attention. There is no time off.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          This was what I was getting at. I don’t mean every single person needs a backup. But for something as mission critical as finances, there SHOULD be a second person (the owner of the company, say) who should know how to run payroll and cut checks, etc. Someone else should know enough of the tasks to keep the ship running in case something happens. OP may not be able to grant their employee’s request 100%, but they should think about what this means if said employee is out for a month, or longer, or leaves.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          If I were a business owner, the finances / bookkeeping would absolutely be something I’d make time to have knowledge of. And poke into from time to time (vacation coverage, questions about a particular project, account)

          Even if I weren’t digging into the mundane stuff regularly, I should be able to dig into it on a case by case basis if I needed to. And have basic awareness of which areas, accounts can give tip offs that something is amiss.
          Even if I had 100% trust in my employee, being completely hands off about it would make me very nervous about cash flow, whether some processes are lagging and would come back to haunt me later.

        3. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

          I thought that too. While I definitely think some people are too flippant in siding with the employee because it is ONLY 6 people, I think the OP should consider other options. Saying that it’s “too risky” to bring in a temp or other person because it’s “sensitive financial information” is a misunderstanding of how financial professionals (including temp ones) operate.

        4. Dust Bunny*

          The boss may know how to do that but also have so many other responsibilities that she can’t do both for a whole summer.

          1. Allonge*

            This. A business owner may indeed wish to have some time off, beause they are just as human as the rest of us. Which is why they hired people in the first place.

            Should they have an understanding of finances? Sure. Should they be able and willing to replace half an accountant at any given moment, for months on end? No, because that would mean they don’t work half the day.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        Not all roles need full backups, but any critical time-sensitive role does need at least a backup plan. Maybe that means the boss learning enough to pinch-hit in an emergency; maybe it’s just written instructions that could be passed to a temp.

        In engineering terms this is called a “single point of failure” that could bring down the whole system. You don’t want your entire business failing because Leah had appendicitis.

      4. Observer*

        They only have six employees.

        And even in organizations that size, people take off! Sometimes you can plan for it, sometimes not.

        Has Jane never taken a vacation? Has she never been sick for more than a day?

        No matter what size your organization is, if the only way you can operate is if every single person is on every single day no exceptions or if there is even one person like that, you are asking for trouble. It’s not viable long term.

        1. Allonge*

          But this absence is on top of Jane’s already existing PTO, whatever that is. It’s reasonable for a business to hire full-time employees with the expectation that they will work full-time.

        2. We Put the Fun in Dysfunctional*

          At my former place of employ, the accountant simply never took off on payday Friday.

      5. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Even with a 6 person business you need to have a plan for what happens if you lose any one employee. Wearing multiple hats is part of the deal. This is especially true with bookkeeping/financials, since getting someone up and running on your company’s money business takes a LOT of time even with the smallest of organizations. Just for comparison, I’m taking over the bookkeeping for a tiny local not for profit. It is not a large organization – they get maybe $65k of donations yearly, have one full time employee and 3 volunteers, and do entirely local community work – and it’s still going to be a 3-6 month transition because I need to be fully up to date on all the Small Business Administration-related financial duties and not for profit duties that are going on. If anything, it’s more complicated than taking on an established role in a major firm. Having only one point of failure in your financial system is a bad idea, and some remediation is a good idea. That might be the owner learning how to do it, that might be cross training an employee, that might be having a contract with a local bookkeeping agency to act as a safety net.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          I understand that you need to plan for what happens if you lose an employee, but what employers are willing to do to accommodate vacation and/or sick days may be justifiably different from what they are willing to do to accommodate Jane’s preferred schedule, especially given the potential impact on the other five employees. I’m a lawyer and constantly covering for other colleagues on vacations, leaves, emergencies, etc, but there’s a sense of reciprocity because my colleagues are willing to do the same for me. If I have to work more hours and/or take on additional tasks to accommodate somone’s preferred schedule, I’d be very unhappy that my employer was asking this of me.

          1. Warrior Princess Xena*

            That’s a fair point to take it into consideration! And it might be the case that OP can’t offer the opportunity for this exact reason. It’s possible that OP does have a solid backup in place, and feels like it would be easier to replace Leah than try and arrange a part time schedule. But that should be a conscious decision you plan for rather than something you end up scrambling to put into place, and it’s not clear from the letter if that’s something that OP has done the math on.

          2. Double A*

            I have to wonder…does a 6 person company really have full-time work for a bookkeeper? I’m not a bookkeeper so I have no idea but it seems like a lot of companies this size contract this work or have a part-time bookkeeper.

            1. Warrior Princess Xena*

              A lot of companies do! As to the workload – it really depends on what’s getting wrapped up in the bookkeeper role. Just bookkeeping – not a whole lot of work. Bookkeeping + tax compliance + other small business administration compliance (insurance, non-income taxes and fees) + handling any accounts receivable and payable, including any invoices and checks that need to be printed + payroll and basic HR + helping work out cost accounting/supply chain pricing…

              I don’t know what the role involves but the smaller the business the more roles in the general ‘money’ department tend to get consolidated into 1-2 admin people.

    2. if you know you know*

      Once had the bookkeeper go out to lunch, and never saw them again. (I have been reliably informed they were okay, just decided they were Done.)

      It was not a good time.

  12. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Had to laugh at the possibility of losing an employee to alien abduction. Alison just kinda slid that in there.

    OP, how do you handle things when Leah is on vacation? Can you adapt that to the summer? And she does take vacations right? Because you want things to happen without her there as a financial control as noted by others.

  13. Peanut Hamper*

    If aliens are abducting your employees, you have bigger problems than you realize. Time to buy some heavy-duty foil!

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I think that depends heavily on which employees are the ones being abducted.

    2. bamcheeks*

      A long time ago, I had to write and run a “thesis simulation game” for PhD students. The aim was to get them to plan for all eventualities and realise how much they should be doing alongside their thesis writing, such as networking, publishing, teaching etc, and they got points for different activities. They also had to take Chance cards once every hour. I knew the session was working when a group of students took a Chance card that said, “your thesis supervisor has been abducted by aliens, lose one point” and started ARGUING that it wasn’t fair because it wasn’t their fault, instead of arguing the ridiculousness of the concept. It was delightful and one of my top professional moments.

  14. Richard Hershberger*

    I may be complete off base here, but my understanding is that bookkeeping for a small business is a pretty standard skill set. I would think that a summer temp could be had via a call to a temp agency. This might be more expensive than those two days a week would be paying Leah (though if she has been getting raises over all those years, perhaps not), but keeping a long term key employee happy has substantial value in itself.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > keeping a long term key employee happy has substantial value in itself

      > my understanding is that bookkeeping for a small business is a pretty standard skill set

      I think you just undermined your own argument; it sounds like Leah would be pretty easily replaced if she is unhappy with the arrangement and leaves, and as such there’s no particular benefit in keeping her happy!

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        > People who can bookkeep/cover an experienced bookkeeper for a short time – relatively common, though the good ones aren’t cheap.

        > People who have an intimate knowledge of your financials and how your business runs – very hard to train from scratch.

        Not a good area of your business to have no backup/crosstraining for.

    2. Punk*

      Ooo bookkeeping for a small business that has invented its own processes and isn’t big enough to have to follow strict regulatory practices…that’s not common at all. In fact, it’s probably part of the LW’s mental calculus that it’s hard to hire a part-time employee who can command a good full-time wage. There aren’t many people who can quickly fill in this way, on the LW’s budget. It’s an expensive skill set.

  15. daffodil*

    When I was in college I did clerical work in a medical office, basically covering for extra days off and vacations for the regular folks. I know bookkeeping is more specialized, but I wonder if a part time summer job for an accounting student could be a good opportunity for them and allow you to accommodate Leah as well. With this warning: especially if you’re using valuable skills, you won’t find anyone unless you compensate competitively. College students are not as desperate for job experience as the people who sometimes contact me looking for help believe.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      When I was in college I was on a babysitting mailing list as a way to make a bit of extra money. A man emailed the list asking for someone to feed, bathe, put to bed and watch his 3 children for 6 hours on the Saturday night before finals. He offered the princely sum of $20.

      I sent him an FYI that campus jobs paid $9/hour, so he probably needed to offer more than. I got back a caps lock diatribe about how I was a clearly terrible person who hated children and he would never allow me near his.

      That was the end of my venture into any caring professions.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Those listings are the worst.

        Sir, the person willing to do all that for that little money is the LAST person you should trust with the safety and wellbeing of your children.

      2. KateM*

        How big part of that 6 hours was watching sleeping children? That can be used for studying…
        And I’m maybe a scrooge but I while I did pay my older kids to watch younger ones when these really needed watching, I haven’t done it nowadays when it’s just “no input necessary but an adult presence is required for possible emergencies” and they actually play their computer games all the time anyway.

        1. daffodil*

          I mean, your family is a different story than somebody you hired specifically to do this work. Look at it from the other side, why study at your house for so little when I could be doing whatever I want instead?

          1. KateM*

            Yes, of course it is different, I’m just saying that maybe he thought that watching sleeping children should have lower price.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          If you’re asking a legal adult who is not a family member to do X hours of work for you, I think you should pay them at least minimum wage (which was at least $7/hr at that time).

          For babysitting, you’re also asking them to take on a significant amount of risk. Maybe the kids are angels who go to bed at 9pm on the dot and don’t get out of bed, so you’re able to get a lot of studying done. Maybe one of them poops the bed or has an awful nightmare or has a meltdown that their parents aren’t there and you end up having to deal with that. Maybe one of the kids falls and injures themselves and you’re the one calling 911. Is it likely? No. But when you take responsibility for kids, there are a lot of possibilities.

    2. Thatoneoverthere*

      I was thinking this too. I did some book keeping earlier in my career. There are def things that most people with little to no accounting background could do. Data entry is one, that is usually pretty easy and doesn’t require much experience tbh. It would be a great part time job for a college or high school student during the summer!

  16. sagc*

    Honestly, for a business with 6 employees, I’d question whether there’s a way to simply batch the work so that it can be done when the employee is on-site. If there are urgent bookkeeping issues that can’t wait (at most) 2 days to address every single day, I’d say that’s something that should be looked at regardless.

  17. Hiring Mgr*

    Assuming you’re in the US, at least you’ve got a good chunk of time to figure out a solution – whether that’s a compromise on the hours, a temp, training someone for the two days, etc.

    Doesn’t seem like you need to rush into a decision now though

  18. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Could there be flexibility with how many days off it is for different weeks? I’m assuming that some bookkeeping tasks have to get done monthly, quarterly, or annually. So could you suggest full time for those weeks when it’s essential that she’s there and only 2 days a week for the other times?

    And I want to echo what Alison suggested – take a look at Leah’s tasks to see how much of her work has to be done over the summer and how much could wait until fall. There may be a way to get all the vital work done and also let Leah have some flexibility.

  19. HonorBox*

    Adding to the chorus saying you probably need someone with at least some additional oversight over finances to ensure continuity and to allow for someone to double check her work. Not sure the exact setup of this company, but in my non-profit experience, we’d get notes in our audits if the financials were under only one person’s control.

    Considering the request, it might make sense to sit down with Leah to walk through how she might plan for things getting done while she’s out 2 days each week. What’s left over, and how much of that is something only she can handle? You might find that some of those leftovers can easily be done by a temp or by someone in a different role. Heck, you might not. But I’d be really curious how she’d plan for her job duties and plan around those days she would be out.

    1. HonorBox*

      Edit to add: If people want the same thing at some point, you can absolutely take that on a case by case basis. Especially if you’re sitting down with Leah to figure out how she’s going to address specific job-related duties. And if Leah is going to reduced hours and her compensation reflects that, it may be enough to let others know that an adjustment in schedule will result in an adjustment in pay.

  20. Dawn*

    LW, I definitely got the impression from your question that you had never even considered the possibility you might lose Leah.

    Start considering the possibility you might lose Leah.

    And stop considering that this is a situation which “only benefits the employee, not the employer,” because the benefit to you is she’s offering an opportunity to keep her on.

    1. Alan*

      Absolutely. I’m on the edge of retirement, in a stressful job with a ton of responsibility. I recently told my wife that if my employer pushes *anything* more with me re WFH or not taking vacation, I’m done. My remaining time is too limited and precious at this point to spend more time than I need to in the office. Sounds like Leah might be at exactly that same point. Don’t give her what she’s asking for, especially if you don’t even *try*, and she very well might decide life is too short and say buh-bye.

    2. SpaceySteph*

      I’d go a step further to say start considering the EVENTUALITY that you WILL lose Leah. If not to this, then to something else (retirement, illness of self or spouse, death, winning the lottery, etc). No employee is forever.

  21. Furious Green Dreams*

    So happy to have finally unionized. No way one person’s accommodation request would be met for part-time work and not everyone’s (assuming other people wanted the same perk of course).

    1. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

      Glad to hear that for you. Unfortunately, unions have been the bane of my existence. Finally glad to escape the “everyone gets paid the same” trap…leading to the coworker who literally sleeps on the job, the one who lies, and the one who steals to not only KEEP their jobs, but make the same as me, the high achiever and best performer. That’s not to forget the coworker who had to negotiate with multiple people to get his own wedding off because he wasn’t the absolute top senior person, me, who had to get a lawyer involved to get workman’s comp because everyone refused to do the paperwork, and that’s all not counting the job where I dodged the union bullet because my job was vital…and watched all the unions suckers lose free parking, free lunch, and the best health benefits option because the company could not afford to meet their baseless demands for automatic 15% annual raises…

    2. Observer*

      No way one person’s accommodation request would be met for part-time work and not everyone’s (assuming other people wanted the same perk of course)

      And maybe that’s not such a great thing. Because that keeps employers from accommodating people’s legitimate requests. Now, if everyone with a similar job to Leah wanted the same accommodation, then sure a fair and reasonable boss would have to make an all or nothing decision *at that point*. But the idea that the boss is not allowed to give one person a reasonable accommodation because maybe in the future other people might want it and then it’s not going to work does absolutely nothing to make employees’ lives better.

      TLDR; Unions should be in the business of lifting everyone up, not being crabs in a bucket.

  22. BusinessCats*

    I also work in a 6-person org and feel your pain. Since you mention she has grandchildren, what is the plan for when she retires? This is a prime opportunity to explore possibilities — temp, PT employee, cross-training — that will ease a future transition (including alien abduction) tremendously. I also assume she is not asking to go PT at her FT salary, so do the math to see how much it would cost to bring in help, and temporarily reduce her pay accordingly. I would bet that paying someone hourly to do low-level invoicing, AP, etc. is cheaper than her hourly rate as an experienced and long-time employee.

  23. amari*

    A few years ago my aunt, already past retirement age, asked for some additional time off/a part time schedule/something like that to spend more time with her family. Her job said no, we need you full time. She said okay, in that case I quit. Bye. After just a few months, her job came begging back, saying please, just come back for a few hours a week, we need you desperately, any my aunt was able to name her price/schedule however she wanted.

    Just something to think about, LW.

  24. Orange You Glad*

    My initial reaction was that if she is just doing bookkeeping, does she really have to be there 5 days a week? I’m a CPA and most of the people I know just doing bookkeeping for a small business only do it part-time, like 1 day a week at each business. I’m guessing she’s doing more than just bookkeeping if everything will grind to a halt without her for one day.
    How are you managing now when she gets sick or takes a vacation?

    I might start by going back to Leah and asking her how she would manage the workload at 3 days per week. Maybe she can get a lot done in a few hours and doesn’t really need to work full-time. Maybe she is hoping someone else will step up and help her on her days off. I would clarify this before making any decisions.

    1. Observer*

      You’ve pretty much summarized my thoughts.

      I would just add, that getting someone to take on the less specialized work, if she normally is busy 40 hours a week, would mean that she could do all of the specialized work in her 3 days

  25. umami*

    Maybe hiring through a temp agency would be helpful, if Leah is willing to commit to training them before her half days start.

  26. Llellayena*

    It actually sounds like the LW is asking for 2 days off ONLY for the summer because she is helping babysit the kids during the school break while the parents still have to go to work. It sounds like she’s part of a patchwork of babysitting coverage. With this in mind, is it possible for her to work a small amount from home? Nothing that’s finance sensitive/privacy issue, but 3 days in office and 2 days where she jumps on long enough to check and respond to email and triage anything critical? Possibly balanced by slightly longer days on the in office days to catch the outstanding items. You have to have a system in place for when she leaves for a vacation, can you tap that for the time-critical items that can’t wait for her in-office days? She checks her email, passes on items that are time critical to whoever her vacation fill-in is and handles everything else when she’s in. It’s for two months, it might be worth the experiment.

  27. Coin_Operated*

    I’m curious what the OP means by “coverage” as I’ve not known bookkeeping to be that kind of role.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      If this is as small of an office as it sounds like, “bookkeeping” might be “everything that touches the financials” – entering invoices, writing checks, reconciling bank statements, managing accounts receivable and payable, etc, etc, etc.

      1. pope suburban*

        I agree, it sounds like Leah is handling everything to do with money. I did all the tasks you listed when I was the bookkeeper for a small construction business, plus purchase orders and putting the payroll information from our payroll service into Quickbooks. Even so, those tasks did not take up 100% of my time working there, making me think that it’s entirely possible for Leah to work a reduced schedule for part of the year without disruption. Hell, the nonprofit I used to work with in my current role had a bookkeeper come in one day a week, and sometimes not even that much! This seems eminently workable to me.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          You’re absolutely correct in that a lot of this could be consolidated (and it all shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of one person, anyways; see upthread). It’s just possible that the way the role is currently structured they’re not set up for that level of consolidation.

  28. umami*

    I would also suggest to anticipate the possibility that she might not want to come back fulltime at all once she adjusts to a PT schedule, so I would develop a plan for that contingency.

  29. Yogini NY*

    Consider the long-term effects. What happens if other employees also want to take 2 days per week off during the summer? Will it be OK if they have grandchildren to care for, but not OK if they are doing yoga / going to the beach / doing home improvements? The actual reason should not be a factor, unless you want to pit parents against non-parents.

    1. SpaceySteph*

      Alison addressed exactly this point in the last paragraph of her response. This slippery slope argument is not great: don’t let one long term valued employee do something because some day someone else might ask for a similar accommodation for their own life? If my employer denied this kind of request on that ground alone, I’d start job hunting same day.

      Since Leah has a unique role, it would be totally reasonable to later say to a different employee in a different role “bookkeeper can handle being gone 2 days a week, but llama grooming has to be done every day and is a full time position”

  30. Bookworm*

    I wonder if going the temp route (like a college student who is interested in finance) who would be willing to learn the quirks of your system would work? As others have said, there will be a point where you will lose this employee and it may be time to assess what your needs are, if/how the role should be adapted/changed, etc.

  31. I'm just here for the cats!!*

    I don’t know if its been said yet, but would she be able to do longer hours to have an extra day or two off in the summer? Like do four 10 hour days?

    1. amoeba*

      Yeah, or even some kind of compromise with hours/days? Like 30 h/3 days or 35 h/3.5 days, so she’d have a full day and an afternoon off?

      Or even, could you compromise on a four-day week (with 32 h) and if that works well, see if you can reduce further or not?

  32. Gnomes*

    I would look at this as a wonderful opportunity to see if you can grow another employee, and start to train an understudy. Someone who you trust with your books is hard to find, hard to train, and hard to replace. Leah is a human, and not a robot, and so will eventually no longer work for you. She will someday have to be replaced. Also, as a human, she has a *life* to live. And she’s decided that life needs more grandkids in it. I say, that makes A LOT of sense. So instead of seeing this as a bad deal, see this as a normal evolution in the life of your long time employee, and think about how you can be the type of employer who supports real humans living real and meaningful lives. Figure out who her understudy might be, do all of this in concert with Leah, make a plan and see if it works. Maybe you have an employee who would be happy for extra work for extra pay, or who really wants to advance in their career, etc. I would work *really hard* to say yes, even to the point of hitting profitability, before denying this request.

    This is how I work with my employees. And let me tell you, nothing engenders employee loyalty, trust, team work, etc quite like letting a grandma have quality time with her grandkids while they’re still small enough for her to pick up. Do be ham-strung by the artificial imposition of a 40 hour work week. Think creatively!

  33. Distracted Librarian*

    My first thought is, can some of her less-critical duties be reassigned or just not be done in summer? How much time does she spend in meetings that aren’t essential? How about general clerical tasks that someone else could pick up? As someone above said, most of us don’t spend a full 8 hours/day on the essential parts of our jobs, so she might actually be able to keep up with the critical tasks in 20 hrs/week.

  34. HooDoll*

    A good bookkeeper is worth their weight in gold and the unemployment rate for accounting and finance staff is under 1%. I’d accommodate this. Could you ask her to check email twice a day on her days off to check for fires that can’t wait to be put out? Also, engage with her: how does she plan to get her work done in 3 days? She knows her job best.

  35. Coco*

    Another thing to keep in mind: will dropping to PT (even temporarily) impact her eligibility for benefits? Would that make her no longer qualify for, say, health insurance or retirement matching?

  36. CLC*

    I wonder if Leah has suggestions on how to do this? If she’s been a good employee for many years and is very intimate with the business she probably has some ideas on how her job could be done part time for two months out of the year or who might be able to fill in on whichever tasks need to be covered on specific days. What happens when she goes on vacation or is out sick? Either someone must cover her essential duties or she must find a way to otherwise get the work done. In any case this might be a good prompt to start training others to cover some of these essential tasks.

  37. Rachel*

    If she is taking a reduction in pay, I would be fine with this.

    If she gets paid the same amount for less work and I am sitting next to her in my 6 person office, guess what? I want to work 3 days a week, too.

    1. Carmichael Lemon*

      LW says she wants to work “part-time,” so it’s a given that she would be paid for part-time work, not full-time. The issue isn’t the pay — it’s that LW is worried about being understaffed if Leah works part-time only.

  38. pcake*

    Keeping a good employee is definitely to the employer’s advantage.

    What would you do if Leah was in a serious car accident and couldn’t work for 2 months? At least by letting her have this irreplaceable time with her grandchild, you have her 3 days a week. And perhaps this is an easy way to realize that what you’re doing as far as Leah’s job isn’t a good idea since things happen to people. Leah may suddenly have to care for an elderly relative and not be able to work. By dealing with this now, you can have a second option in line just in case.

    Btw, years ago my employer said he couldn’t cut my hours when I needed it. After severe burnout that lasted for years and required therapy and medication, I quit. He could have kept me by letting me have that time off that I really needed. Instead it took 2 full time managers and an assistant manager to replace me, so no one won.

  39. Raida*

    You need a bookkeeper full time?
    Do you need *coverage* for this? Or could enquiries on her day off just wait until tomorrow?

    Personally I would look at her entire job, every task and responsibility, figure out what isn’t a bookkeeper’s job, turn that into another part-time job, and hire someone/virtual assistant to do it.

    If you can’t get information quickly without asking her for it – then the issue isn’t that you need her there, the issue is that you’ve silo’d the data instead of creating accessible reports/tools to get to it quickly without her involvement. In which case I’d suggest you look for someone with report building skills and bookkeeping skills to help build that stuff (not bespoke, just using Power BI or something equally simple) and thus solving the coverage issue move on once again to the tasks that can either wait a day OR be made into a new role/added to existing roles as makes sense.

    That’s all my first instincts – maybe she really does have five full days of regular, specialised, work to do each week! And you will have serious issues without her there any day!
    But, yeah – figure out what’s urgent and important and specialised and what isn’t, then re-scope the job. Downside could be that you don’t need her full time and see no need to offer her more than part-time hours after the Summer.

    1. Raida*

      Also – this is a GREAT TIME to figure out all the really important stuff your staff do and ensure all of that is documented and cross-trained, OP.

      What if staff member #4 gets hit by a car?
      What is staff member #3 is moving across the country?
      What if staff member #1’s Mum is really really sick and needs care half of every day and then two weeks off during hopspice and then a week for the funeral and then one day a week after that for a month from feeling overwhelmed…?

  40. Rosacolleti*

    As an employer, we have bent over backwards to accommodate these sorts of requests, particularly from mums returning from mat leave. We have realised it’s had a devastating effect on the business for many reasons. It’s also tricky to change as it’s our historical culture to be accommodating.

    It might be worth looking at making it a perm part time role so you can divide the responsibilities permanently.

  41. SB*

    Asking for trouble having one person solely responsible for the accounting side of things. All our accounts team members MUST take two weeks of PTO per year in either one block of two weeks or two blocks of one week. We do this so that someone else does their job for them in this period of time & can catch any potential problems. This is how embezzlers come unstuck.

  42. Dorothy Gale*

    I’m a bookkeeper, and a company with 6 employees really doesn’t need a full time person just for that. I usually work one day a week (or less) for a company that size. An organized bookkeeper will very rarely have tasks that need to be done urgently that same day. It just isn’t a very time sensitive job, aside from payroll and a few government deadlines. But even those are not urgent if you don’t wait until the last day to get them done.

  43. münchner kindl*

    I’m surprised that OP doesn’t mention the workload during summer. Isn’t in most standard (non-tourist) business the summer the low time, with lighter workload?

    OP only mentions that it would be difficult for them to accomodate, but not why.

    If Leah is now working 5 days a week doing all financial stuff (because it’s a small company) and so bills have gone out, checks deposited, every day, what is the factual reason that it’s done only Tuesdays through Wednesdays during summer can not work?

    If you tell customers beforehand that there will be a one-day delay, will it be catastrophe, or will customers not notice at all?

    Because if Leah has been a very good employee so far, I assume she has suggested this after thinking it over and thinking it can work, so why discount this from the start?

  44. Czhorat*

    For #1 it doesn’t have to be deep, dark secrets. Just a couple of things. Where you’re from. One hobby. A pet. Something to humanize you.

    I’ll sometimes say that at lunchtime I go to the park to juggle. It’s quirky but not strange, and makes me seem like a real and memorable person. Then will segue into “and professionally, I’ve focused on ….” whatever follows.

    You don’t want to completely derail, but you don’t want to come across as an automaton either. It’s a fine line

  45. Up and Away*

    I would also discuss this directly with Leah, as in, what ideas does she have to make sure her job duties still get completed?

  46. Ute*

    hey OP, involve Leah in trying to find a solution to accommodate her! I am sure she has thought about this and has great ideas on how to make this work (for example which work could be done by a summer hire or how her time would be best spread out and so forth!).

    If you decide you don’t want to lose her over this and will try to make it happen for her, I’d be so curious to hear her suggestions, too.

  47. Bruce*

    As a long term employee I asked for and got permanent remote WFH, I stepped back from management and am handling special projects and a lot of customer talks. A few other people have similar deals, but it would not work for the guy who replaced me and the rest of my former team, so I do feel like I got special treatment. I was not ready to quit over it immediately but my wife had retired and did not want to wait to move to our planned long term home, so if they’d not agreed I probably would have retired by now…

  48. Momma Bear*

    Sort of a secondary question – if Leah has grandkids is she old enough to consider retirement in the next 5-10 years? Is there anyone trained to be her backup? If she gets abducted by aliens, is she the sole keeper of the corporate knowledge? IF SO, all the more reason to not necessarily hire a temp, but see if anyone within the org wants to learn the role or part of the role. If there’s a reasonable argument to be made for another part-time person, maybe a college student in that field who is looking for a summer job and/or internship? If it works well, you might even want to hire that person after graduation, OP. Either of which might be a win-win – the company gets the security of having someone else with the know-how and Leah gets her PT summers.

  49. OftenNoCoverage*

    I work in a 5 person company (6 until fairly recently) and there is no coverage. Stuff just sits there waiting for you to come back if you’re out. So the idea of coverage may not be possible. The same was true at the other very small company I worked at, and pretty close to true at companies or groups in the 10-20 range.

  50. Dog momma*

    I cut my hours one summer in the cardio thoracic ICU ..I’d been there several years and worked 3 12s rotating days/ nights. We were always super busy, which was great ( average 1200 adult open heart surgeries per year. ) But for some reason I needed the break for my mental health. So I worked 2 12s instead of 3.
    I was broke at the end of the summer but it really helped to cut back! and that was the only time I did it. One other person was able to do this before me, but we just couldn’t after.
    I miss the work and the people, but am too old for that kind of busy now..and so much has changed. Glad I’m retired.

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