my new employee keeps leaving early

A reader writes:

I’m new to management and am building a new team. I’ve hired a few people, they are all settling in well, and the team is gelling. I’ve tried to set the expectation that team members can have a flexible schedule as long as work gets done. However, while people are ramping up, they have less on their plate. One employee is taking advantage of the philosophy and leaving very early, to the point that others have asked me, “Where is your team?” I’d expect them to spend some downtime trying to familiarize themselves with systems and I’ve also set that expectation — just not explicitly at the end of the day. I’ve said “when you have downtime,” not “make sure you don’t leave before 5:00.” How do I address this when I’ve told them “flex your schedule as long as your work gets done”?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My coworker is difficult to schedule meetings with
  • Should I tell people I won’t hire friends?
  • Being asked to fill out a lengthy written reference form

{ 139 comments… read them below }

  1. el l*

    Sounds like you’re going to have to define what “work getting done” means, both generally and for this employee in particular. Are they expected to be proficient on a particular system by a particular date? Do they have professional development etc goals that – if they don’t do – there will be consequences? Admin?

    Suspect the employee is not taking time to do some part of their job.

    1. A person*

      Work getting done can also mean, “available when needed during normal work hours”. You could try framing it that way.

      1. Baunilha*

        I think this is the best approach, since it leaves room for ocasionally being flexible while also acknowledging that some demands can come up later in the day.

      2. I Have RBF*


        I may only have three hours worth of work in a day, but I am available, at my desk, to answer questions or solve problems ad hoc all eight hours. Part of what they pay me for is to be available to troubleshoot on short notice. More than once I’ve gotten a request for help near the end of my day, and have handled it right then and there. If I took off early, I would not be able to do that. (Any time I do take off early I let my manager know, as part of my PTO or sick time.)

    2. New Mom (of 1 3/9)*

      So funny, I interpreted this in the opposite way–that this employe_r_ thinks they’re “flexible” but really cares more about a “butt-in-seat” impression.

      1. Darlingpants*

        In a traditional 9-5 workplace coming in at 10, leave at 3:30 or 4 or taking two hours in the middle of the day is normal flexibility. If this person is coming in at 9 (or the otherwise normal start time) and then leaving at 1 or 2 pm (3 would be ok in my eyes unless it’s like 3+ days a week, then it would be too much), that would be a red flag to me. I’m extrapolating from “very early,” and of course that’s a subjective phrase, but in a non-hybrid job there’s definitely a “wait, that’s too early” point even if it’s nebulous.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I see it a little differently. If my hours are flexible and you haven’t otherwise specified criteria, and I don’t have anything else on my plate at the moment, I think leaving should be acceptable. If my hours are flexible, that means I work whenever I want to, within the parameters you set. So set the parameters! I’ve had employers that do not care if you leave at 3 pm because they know that some weeks you’re there until 9 or later + coming in on the weekends. I’ve had employers that did not care when I worked, literally at all, as long as my deadlines were met. I could log on at 10 and off at 1, back on from 6-10, literally whatever schedule I wanted as long as I was doing my job and close to my phone in case of a rare emergency. I’ve had employers that were not flexible at all and really, really cared about us being at work by 9 am on the dot, which meant that at the end of the workday people queued up to clock out right at 5 pm.

          Your understanding of normal flexibility is not a given. LW needs to be more explicit about their expectations.

          1. el l*

            That’s my sense of what this boils down to – expectations are not being explicitly communicated. People think they don’t have work on their plate when in fact they do. That’s a managerial problem.

            And if those expectations do boil down to, “A certain amount of butts in seats will be required” – unfair or not, say that and own that.

          2. Grith*

            We’re told to trust LW and in this case, the LW gives no indication that the employee is “making up the time” elsewhere. You talk about sometimes being in until 9, or taking a 5 hour break in the middle of the day and ending at 10 – we get no indication any of that is happening. Simply that the employee just disappears shortly after lunch and is therefore presumably 3 hours short on work hours every day.

            The solution is the same of course (talk to them and set parameters), but I’m leaning far more on the side of the employee is really pushing their luck in a new job here rather than blaming the manager. This doesn’t sound like reasonable miscommunication about what “flexible” means, this sounds like an employee who just isn’t bothering with a significant chunk of their work day.

        2. Sarah*

          I think expectations really need to be called out. I wouldn’t describe that job as flexible. I’d say it’s average baseline flexibility for a salary office job.

          1. JM60*

            I think “be around during our core hours of 9-5 (or whatever) in case someone needs you” can be reasonable. However, we shouldn’t usually call that “flexible”, since the only “flexibility” it offers is being able to leave outside of normal working hours (and sometimes for a few doctor/dentist appointments per year).

            IMO, an employer shouldn’t advertise their job as flexible unless it’s actually okay for the employee to frequently do what the employee in the letter is doing.

            1. Biff*

              I get what you are saying, but core hours shouldn’t be 8 hours a day. Core hours should be the hours in which most of the team overlaps, and can be roped into meetings and such. I don’t know how core hours expanded to be the whole day; it should be less than 8 hours, and IME, keeping those hours limited means that the team doesn’t spend all the time on pointless calls.

              1. Willow Pillow*

                Yes, “core hours” are supposed to accommodate, say, times when both the LA and NYC staff are available. Any other meaning of core (fruit, the earth, etc.) is something in the middle, not the entire thing.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        It’s super important to me to have a flexible employer, but to me that means I don’t bother taking PTO for doctor appointments or that they don’t care if I take an hour in the middle of the afternoon to go for a run and then make that up later since it’s now too dark to run before the work day is over.

        I have never had the expectation that “flexible” means “you can leave a few hours early every single day if you don’t have anything urgent to do” and I think that would be a pretty unreasonable expectation unless your employer said that to you explicitly.

        1. Hannah Lee*


          The way I see it is that flexible means there’s some wiggle room if it’s needed, but assuming the job in question is a full time job and not part time, or project or piece work based, I’d expect the employee’s work hours to average out to or typically be full-time hours (40 hours or 37.5 hours or whatever is the norm for that company) and fall within a predictable work start and end time each day.

          So, if someone had to take their dog to the vet or meet a repair person or wanted to take a longer than normal lunch or leave early to head out on a weekend road trip *occasionally*, all those things would be fine with a “flexible” job. But the expectation would be that generally, on most days, the employee was there during ‘normal’ business hours or whatever hours we’ve agreed are their standard working hours. I wouldn’t expect that they’d be floating in and out at random times.

          Another variation of ‘flexibility’ is having a range of ‘standard’ work schedules that people can choose from, with their starting time being 7 or 8 or 9 (or whatever) based on their needs if it fits the needs of the business, but that they’d work roughly the same schedule every day. (like say they had to get kids to school by 7:30, they could choose a start time of 8 or 8:30) But barring unusual circumstances, they’d be at work for those standard hours every day.

          But in this case, it’s not clear that LW has a problem employee, or if it’s simply a disconnect of expectations, with employee thinking “once I’ve cleared my to-do list, I’m done for the day and can head out”* while OP is expecting employee is typically at work and available from x hour to y hour, barring unusual circumstances.

          One conversation to reset expectations, another to follow up, should sort it out if the employee is operating in good faith, just needs a fine tuning of their judgement calls for this particular work environment. Maybe OP could add a ‘for the near future, check in with me before heading out early or adjusting your work hours’ to help employee calibrate when it’s okay to leave during the workday vs when it’s not.

          *OP should also keep an eye out for ripple effects of this employee’s behavior, because their may be some co-workers resenting the employee’s schedule because it’s creating more work or issues for them, or just on principal for what they could see as preferential treatment with no explanation.

        2. Ice Queen*

          I am admit my mind is blown by some of the definitions in this thread of flexible work hours. You’re getting paid for 40 hours of work….some of these examples are people working a 1/2 day almost every day!

    3. Mo*

      I think there is also room to have new employees in their training period have some limitations on flex time.

      I have an older co-worker who told me that it used to be the norm to tell your boss all your work was done, was it OK to leave. That was a sign that it was time for them to be thinking about more responsibilities and a raise. Times sure have changed.

      1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        I think this would be a reasonable solution!

        “Hey, I’ve completed everything. Do you have anything you’d like me to pick up?” is where I’d go first, especially if in a new job.

    4. Kevin Sours*

      It may not even be “by a specific date”. Something like “when you don’t have other assigned work please read this documentation on systems X, Y, and Z” provides a specific direction and goal that “familiarize themselves with systems” lacks. Making this explicitly part of “work that needs to get done” does a lot to address the problem described.

    5. Juan Castro*

      Why are you son concerned that employee is leaving early? Is this employee getting connected from home? When you require an extraordinary effort from this particular employee, does he/her responds? In my case, I give full flexibility to my team, they arrive after rush hour around 9:30am or 10am, and leave before rush hour around 3pm, some of them earlier to pick up kids from school. For me is important to have a face to face interaction at the office with the rest of the team and other departments, but as far as we get things done, I’m not concerned about their butt time in the office.
      They only come twice a week to the office, but when I have something important that requires special attention they don’t hesitate to work late or during the weekend.

  2. Fluffy Fish*

    You very much need to define what flex time means. At my employer it means
    -occasionally leaving 10-15 minutes early
    – you will work at least 40 wk/80 pay period but can flex your time within that 80 to cover some time off as in working 10 hours one day so you can leave after 6 another
    -if you work over 40 m-th for a project, you can leave early or take off friday if it doesnt affect work
    – no one cares if you show up exactly at a set time (within reason) like 8-4. i generally have a 15 minute window of start time

    1. higheredadmin*

      This reminds me of the work from home employees who somehow didn’t realize that they were supposed to be contactable all day when working from home. You need to be crystal clear as to what flex means as noted above.

    2. Green Goose*

      I really like Fluffy Fish’s examples, super clear about what flex time looks like. I’m applying for jobs now and I’m planning on asking the employer to provide specific examples of what their flex time policy looks like for their employees.

      I always bristle at the questions that are complaining about people working less than 40 hours a week but all deliverables are being met (a little unclear in this specific question but it didn’t sound like the employee was leaving with unfinished work). I am a salaried employee and no one at my job cares when I have to work 60-65 hours a week for two months straight during our busy period, but then if I were to leave at 3pm every day for two months during our non-busy period after all my work was done I’d get major side-eye.
      There are so many jobs where employees have to give so much more than 40 hours of their time (I’ve worked in education and nonprofits so it’s been rampant in my work experience) and I feel like it’s just accepted, but if a salaried employee found a more efficient way to do their work and just took the extra time off I feel like there is a consensus that the employee is a “bad person” or committing time theft. I truly would not care if someone else at my office was getting all their work done and going home at 3pm/4pm, but maybe just me?
      Caveat, if them leaving early was putting work on others or me I would mind though.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        No, it’s not just you. I’ve worked at places that followed that exact philosophy. We all had our own caseloads and would have busy periods at different times, because my cases are probably not going to court the same time as everyone else’s. So sometimes I would be working late into the night and coming in on the weekends, putting in upwards of 80 hours. Sometimes literally nothing would be going on, so after doing administrative work and making sure I was organized, I could bounce and no one would bat an eye. I just do not understand the mentality of working less than 35-40 hours in a week being time theft. If the person isn’t busy that week, that is a good thing and they shouldn’t have to do what I did at some jobs and scroll Twitter for hours because there is literally nothing else to be done, but I’d have to take leave time if I went home.

        1. the dude*

          Your situation sounds different than this example. If a person does NOT have those instances where they have to work 80 hours per week, and it still leaving hours early every day, especially at the beginning of a job, then that sounds wrong to me.

      2. This_is_Todays_Name*

        Yes! I am a govt. contractor, so we have to bill the govt for our hours, so flex time means “you can work 8 hours this day and 9 and then 6 and then 10, but you MUST account for 40 hours a week (or more) because the contract is for you to be an FTE blah blah” and it’s sooo annoying. There are weeks when I’m working like a maniac, and some where I’m reading AAM all day because the rhythm and flow of my work is so inconsistent. And talking to my colleagues, they are in the same boat of “ugh why do I have to be “available” on Teams until 5 when there’s NOTHING FOR ME TO DO right now?” We all agree that having 8 hours of productivity is more the exception than the rule, for sure.

      3. doreen*

        As a coworker , I wouldn’t care if someone else was regularly going home at 4pm. I wouldn’t really care if they were going home at noon every day, unless it affected me in some way. ( Including if the reason they could leave at noon while I worked till 5 had to do with the way work was assigned when it could be assigned more equitably).

        But at some point, if an employee leaves early enough , often enough, someone is going to wonder if this really needs to be a full time job at that salary or if it can be 75% of full time hours at 75% of the pay ( or whatever the percentage is) . And that’s might be something that the OP and the employee should be thinking about.

        1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          Doreen, you’d hit on exactly the point. I’d be so nervous about constantly leaving early as it would make it quite likely that at some point a competent organisation would consider whether the position is needed.

          I’d be much more inclined to shout up for more work.

          And if you’re in a new job, you want to demonstrate how useful and eager you are, surely?

          1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

            (I agree with you, basically. Just realised my comment reads like I’m disagreeing!)

        2. Bast*

          I think it’s difficult to gauge for everyone though, for different reasons.

          For one, in some fields it is normal that there are slow periods offset by very busy stretches. It wouldn’t make sense to reduce the hours, because depending on the position, this is to be expected. I am in a “when it rains, it pours” position. There are some weeks I am utterly inundated with work, and others where I am essentially twiddling my thumbs for half my day. It would be impossible to cut my position down, because sometimes you really need someone in here 50+ hours, and other times 25 or 30 hours cuts it. It’s the nature of the game. I have another friend who contracts for the government, and he describes weeks of essentially being left to search the web and look busy, but when the contracts come in, it tends to be ALL AT ONCE and they want it IMMEDIATELY which requires a bunch of OT. If they could just space it apart instead of handing out multiple projects at once with impossible deadlines, it might work better, but there’s no changing the government. I have a feeling more than a few fields work this way.

          Another reason is that you have different people, with different abilities, doing the same job. If John has been doing this for 20 years, he may be able to complete a project in 2 hours that would take Bob, who has been doing this for less than a year, double the time. Maybe report writing isn’t Sally’s strong suit, so it takes her significantly longer than Sarah to write a report, but Sally can crunch numbers like no one else, which takes Sarah longer. There are varying levels of experience and proficiency in a job, and not everyone is able or willing to perform at rock star level. This isn’t to say that they are bad employees, but there is a large range in between your top 10% of performers and your bottom 10%, and just because you have some people that do not take as long to do a job does not mean that cutting the hours makes sense, particularly if 90% of your team is going to struggle with that and get behind.

          If it’s just cutting for the one or two individuals, you are essentially punishing someone for being efficient. If you do this and cut back to say, 75% of the pay for 75% of the time, you’re going to drive out your best employees and encourage everyone to lollygag around. If I knew that I could lose some of my pay for being efficient and finishing my work, I’d move a lot slower.

        3. Hannah Lee*

          That’s a great point!

          Sometimes employers want to have that extra wiggle room in staffing to be able to respond quickly to urgent requests or to have experienced staff on board during peak load times.

          But other times, an employee with that much time on their hands may indicate a staffing level issue (or even a work quality issue, if the employee is getting stuff ‘done’ but not to the depth, quality standards expected, budgeted for time-wise, which might to be apparent if someone isn’t reviewing the details of the work product)

    3. Smithy*

      I agree that because it’s becoming a problem – both in terms of with this employee and with upper management that it may be worth taking time to write something like this out.

      Like Green Goose, I’m in nonprofits – and technically there is always more filing and more general education reading I could be doing about our mission/organization. And while that does not mean my boss would want me to stay until 5pm on the Friday before a 3-day weekend reading an extra report or filing – it does mean those might be activities to do the days in between Christmas and New Years, instead of working only 3 hours a day.

      And I get the desire for this to appear to be “common sense” – but I think so often if there are no guiderails written down, managers aren’t realizing their own biases. Like, which holidays we’d expect an early release before and which ones you’d expect to have to ask for in advance (aka early release pre-Thanksgiving but then the whole office forgetting about Presidents Day as a day off entirely). Which if you’re not from the US, or not accustomed to US office culture – why would you know that???

      1. Avery*

        That holiday one is a big one. I had a previous boss who told me off for working on July 4th and said that I should take off for “obvious holidays”. I’m all-American, from a white-collar family, no culture issues… but I’m also neurodivergent in a few ways that make me not want to assume such things, and there are certainly holidays which toe the line (Memorial Day? Labor Day? Columbus Day?). And going to federal holidays as shorthand doesn’t work because, as you note, it’s not normal for every federal holiday to really be a day off in a regular office.
        I ended up having to ask for nearly every holiday whether this was an “obvious” holiday by my boss’ standards or not, which was probably more work for everyone concerned than just making a list of what does and doesn’t count to begin with.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, flex time needs to be defined in the LW’s org/dept. Every place I’ve worked has had a different definition.

      On one extreme, the org said “Flex Time” and really meant flexible scheduling. Employees were able to pick a weekly schedule, but were then expected to adhere to it.

      On the other extreme, the org said “Flex Time” and really meant just get your work done, show up when we invite you to something important, and don’t worry about hours.

    5. Antilles*

      Your example very much highlights how much this can vary, because I would absolutely NOT call that “flex time”. If anything, I’d look at the fact that you can ‘occasionally leave 10-15 minutes early’ would be pretty strict.
      Meanwhile, in my industry job, you’re expected to bill 40 hours a week because that’s how the budgets are set but it’s completely commonplace for people to just announce “Oh, by the way, I’m leaving early today for a doctor appointment, need anything before I go” with literally two minutes notice while reaching for their coat. And nobody bats an eye at that if you’re meeting your billable goals and keeping your projects on track.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        It’s government so this is very very standard for government. 10-15 minutes early without having to account for it is about all you will find. However we have extremely generous leave. It doesn’t mean you can’t take off early, it just means you have to account for the time.

        I find that overall my work-life balance and hours worked/time off is vastly better compared to my friends who work for for-profit entities.

        I’ll take generous amounts of sick and vacation time, pension, healthcare, being able to take off pretty much whenever and more over being able to leave early and not have to put leave.

        Anyway my entire point is not whether certain types of flex time is good or bad, my point was it’s up to the employer to be clear about what flex time is. It’s a rare employer where it means do whatever you want with impunity.

    6. Mockingjay*

      This is what I came to say (a day late). There are many definitions of flex, even within a company (one manager might stick to the “official” definition; another manager has a much looser hold on employees and allows them to come and go as they please, as long as the work gets done, etc.).

      But with a new employee, OP should provide more oversight. Make sure they have adequate tasks and understand how to do those tasks. And training is definitely a task.

    7. Orange_Erin*

      I would similarly define flex time, but also reiterate to my employees that I expect them to ask/communicate when they are flexing their schedule. I shouldn’t ever be wondering where someone is at 3pm on Thursday – I would assume they are at their desk working unless they tell me otherwise (notwithstanding normal breaks for lunch, bathroom, office tasks). If it were close to normal hours anyway (like ducking out at 4:45 instead of 5), I probably wouldn’t say anything unless it becomes a pattern.

      I frequently let people leave early on a particularly slow day, but they either ask first or I offer it.

  3. Sometimes maybe*

    The friends one is tricky, especially in smaller communities. I have difficultly seeing how this could be defined in a company handbook.

    1. ClaireW*

      Yeah I think this works differently for different companies too – if the LW owns a small company, that makes sense. But as someone who does interviews in a mid-size multi-location company, I don’t think it would be reasonable for me to prevent people getting to interview stage at the company I work at because we were friends, especially if we work in the same industry and my employer is a significant employer in the field or the local area.

      1. Smithy*

        Yeah….I do think that this one is likely quite dependent on what the OP does and what industry they’re in.

        I work in a sector where it’s not uncommon for coworkers to become close personal friends but then also remain in a “friendly network”. So they’re not people you’d call friends, but after you work together – you’d try to see each other once or twice a year for a coffee/drink and definitely would hang out at a conference or other professional context, but more so in a friendly way vs a professional one.

        The end result of this is for me is that there are people that I’ve worked with who are my personal friends, I’d be thrilled to work with again and I pray I’m never in a situation where I’d have to manage them or they’d have to manage me. And then others who I also like and would be thrilled to work with again but wouldn’t mind the management situation in either direction. However, while there is that management line that I am aware of… say I’d never work with those friends again in our sector but would happily help out others that I’m less close with professionally would be strange within my sector.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’m glad you brought this up because it could be a real problem in a certain size community with a certain size employer, especially since LW seems to have a broad definition of “friend” to include pretty much their entire congregation and neighborhood.

  4. AthenaC*

    #4 – I once received a lengthy reference form by email and I did push back with an offer to have a call. The company thankfully took me up on the offer and said no more about the form. If you do get pushback, you can probably say something like, “I’m sorry I’m not able to make time for this but I’m happy to share my thoughts with you on a call if you have 20 minutes.” Feel free to add language about deadlines, etc. if you want to more firmly put everything to bed.

  5. Hiring Mgr*

    The lengthy form is a terrible idea, but one option is to have the candidate fill it out and you can edit it to make sure it fits what you would say.

    I’ve done similar when writing recommendations for one thing or another.

  6. Scheduling*

    For the LW scheduler, I’ve seen admins put in the body of the revised invite something along the lines of “Update: Dat & time changed due to Sara’s revised schedule”. Typically this was done for executives and everyone went along which still makes it annoying.

    1. Stipes*

      Hmm. This feels like one of those things that would feel very passive-aggressive to some people (while others might find it to be neutral and straightforward).

      1. ClaireW*

        Yeah I feel like if I got this and the person mentioned was not a super high level employee then it would feel passive aggressive, whereas if the person mentioned was someone at the “we all work around them no matter what” level of the company then it would feel more like an explanation/avoiding people coming back with complaints.

      2. Phryne*

        I think that little passive-aggression is warranted if a co-worker at the same level keeps unnecessarily generating work for you just because they can’t be bothered to keep their schedule up to date. Once or twice can happen, but if she finds out she is double booked every single time it becomes their problem to manage, not everybody else’s.
        Reminds me a bit of the co-worker we had who would breezily reply ‘oh, I don’t use my outlook diary, I have a paper one’ until the manager pointed out to her that it was not optional and if she did not keep her outlook diary up to date, any resulting scheduling conflicts became her problem to deal with.

    2. another fed*

      If you’re indeed peers, and she assures you her calendar is indeed updated, I’d reply with how many meetings you’ve rescheduled in the last 60 days due to her and ask her to take turns scheduling these meetings instead. I know this may not work if you’re leading meetings and she schedules meetings that she leads, but if you’ve become default scheduler, it may be time to discuss with your boss that it is someone else’s turn or you need to rotate that responsibility amongst the team. All of this to say, I don’t know full details, including how your boss cares or not, but those might be some other pieces to consider.

  7. AthenaC*

    #1 – I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect standard hours while your employees are essentially “in training,” with the balance of any time left before the end of the day to be spent in training. I’m assuming once there’s no more training to be done, they would be okay to leave early if their work is done? With the understanding that when it’s crunch time they’ll be putting in more time?

    It might help to explain all of that to them. And on the flip side, if your team put in a hard couple weeks, and so for the next week they all get their work done and leave early, I think you’re good to stand up for your team to other departments – “My team is taking a shorter day because of the additional effort they put in last week on X project.”

    1. My Dear Peabody*

      Yeah, I can understand the additional concern if this is a new employee who theoretically should be looking to fill their time reading up on other materials, etc. But if the “problem” is only one person and you’ve hired multiple, the comments from people outside the department saying “Where is your team?” make less sense. As someone who’s position should allow much more flexibility on location than I get and not-infrequently requires finishing work at home to meet a deadline, I get annoyed when I hear feedback that my flexibility is being limited because people in other departments whose work cannot be done offsite feel that’s unfair.

      Not denying that this employee needs some correcting, but also, it sounds like some outside people may be looking to cause drama. Maybe they’re mad that there currently isn’t an approved budget that would allow them to expand their teams, and they are taking it out on OP?

      1. Green Goose*

        The “outside people causing drama” was the vibe I got too. I have a direct report that works from home much more than what is standard at my company. There are a few people who have NO OVERLAP with her but make comments about it almost on a weekly basis, in a joking-but-not-really-joking way. It’s very annoying, and in my head I’m thinking “how does this concern you at all?”

        1. BubbleTea*

          Have you considered asking them how it concerns them, in a polite tone? So for instance, “was there something you needed from Lana that isn’t possible for her to do from home? I can certainly figure out how to get that done if so”. Make them say it out loud.

          1. Green Goose*

            My only hesitation is that since this person is a bit of a drama lama I’d be worried they’d escalate it to someone and then force my hand at requiring my direct report to come in more. We’re technically supposed to come in a set amount of days but I don’t enforce it on my team but I could definitely be forced to enforce it if the wrong person demanded it.

    2. Beth*

      I think LW1 also needs to be more specific about what ‘spent in training’ means. If they’re just telling their brand new employee to “familiarize themselves with systems,” that’s pretty vague. A reasonable person could turn around and say, “We use mainly these three systems. I watched some tutorials on how those work to learn the basics, then clicked around to familiarize myself with our documents and folders. I don’t know all the details but I feel like I have a baseline overview. It’s only 2pm, but I’ve done everything you asked for the day and you said I can leave when my work is done, so I guess I leave now?”

      A different reasonable person could turn around and say “We use mainly these three systems. I watched some tutorials to learn the basics, clicked around to familiarize myself with our documents and folders, dived deep into the contents of each folder and opened a bunch of documents to familiarize myself with each specific form we handle and where we store everything, created some test documents for myself so I could play around with the different functions of this software and ensure that I can do everything before you assign me an actual project that relies on that functionality, asked 2 team members if I could shadow them as they use the software, wrote down a dozen questions I have on edge cases, etc. It’s now 6pm and I only looked at one of the three systems, but I feel prepared to handle anything with that one.”

      What you actually wanted was probably somewhere in the middle. But new employees don’t have the context to know where to focus their attention or what level of depth of familiarity they’ll need with each system you work with. It’s the manager’s job to guide them to the right level until they have the context needed to guide themselves. If your new employees are way off base, then you probably need to be giving more guidance.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        And FWIW, in your first scenario, that person could be the kind of person who says “I feel familiar with the system now. I’d need to actually be using it with a real dataset to know what my questions on it will be, so I’m all set until I get an assignment pertaining to it, then I’ll see what comes up”. Some of us don’t learn that well with test data (yes, person giving software demo, this data is all perfect and nice because you made it that way. Mine won’t be that way so I know for sure I’ll have questions when I use it *for real* and see what the system gives me) and so we wait for real data and figure it out.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I’ve been the new employee trying to fill up my time with “familiarising” myself with systems and processes and it’s deadly! It usually takes five or ten minutes to read through the documentation but it’s incredibly hard to take anything in when you don’t yet know enough to contextualise it. Or you’re looking at the database, but it’s meaningless until you actually have tasks you need to complete. Generally when I’ve been training people I’ve been quite happy for them to leave early in the first couple of weeks, especially if you know that’s unlikely to be possible once they get to the point they have really workload.

      3. Phryne*

        Completely agree with AngryOctopus and bamcheeks. I’ve had to familiarise myself with a lot of systems, and unless they are really straightforward, you will not learn to actually use them by studying documentation or doing a tutorial, those just give you the basic foothold to start learning. (especially if the system’s suppliers documentation shows all the way the system ‘can’ be used, but your organisation only uses them in a certain way, or certain parts of it, or has some options disabled.
        Unless you can fill a new hire’s day with useful learning (and no-one can learn for 8 hours straight and retain all that), there is no point forcing them to stick around until 5 the first few days/weeks.

    3. Random Bystander*

      Yeah, I’ve been applying for some internal job opportunities and in interviews, it is pretty much stated that the person selected will be working the standard hours for the first 90 days and may be able to flex after that. I think that’s been pretty standard with any job that offers flex time (however it is defined by the company in question, which can be very different depending on exempt/non-exempt status).

  8. Momma Bear*

    Try core hours. At my office, you can flex your time but you are expected to be in the office for at least 4 of the core hours so people can find you/schedule meetings. We have some people who come in very early and leave early, which isn’t a problem as long as there’s overlap. Some companies have you set your schedule in the system – so if you expect to generally work 9-5 or 7-3, people can see that. If you find that you are frequently looking for someone at x time of day, then meet with the team to specify when they need to be in for collaboration and coverage. I’d also look at that person’s tasks and schedule and see if there’s a better distribution of work. Make sure work IS getting done and talk to them about their knowledge of x or y systems.

    1. Former Retail Lifer*

      Core hours are the best idea. They don’t work at my job, but I know someone is able to work four nine-hour days and take work a four-hour day every Friday and still be there for core hours. I would die for that schedule!

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yes! 10-12 and 2-4 core, and meetings should only be scheduled outside those hours in exceptional circumstances and with the prior agreement of all participants.

    3. Cheshire Cat*

      This. At my company, the headquarters is in the Midwest, but there are employees in all the continental US timezones (we are all remote). The expectation is that we can start work anytime between 7 and 11 AM local time, but we’re required to put in 8 hours in a day. And those 8 hours generally have to include 11-3 in the HQ time zone.

      I’m on the East Coast but work closely with colleagues on the West Coast. They start work at 8 or 9 their time, and I start at 11 ET, to maximize the time we are all working in case something time-sensitive comes up (and those tend to come up in the afternoon, for whatever reason).

    4. londonedit*

      Yes, we have core hours too. You’re expected to be available between 10 and 3, but you can flex your start and finish times so that you can start at 10am or finish at 3pm, as long as you’re working 7.5 hours a day. You have to work a regular pattern that’s agreed with your line manager (so you can’t just say ‘Hey I’m going to start at 10 tomorrow’) but you can set a working pattern that works for you. You can also (with your manager’s agreement) do things like starting/finishing an hour earlier/later so you can take two half-hours out of the day for the school run. Seems to work quite well for everyone.

  9. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    If it is just one employee who misinterpreted flexible hours to mean, leave when you’ve cleared off your desk for the day, so goal is clear off your desk for the day, OP 1 needs to have a conversation with this one employee. OP may find out this person has made commitments based on adjusted work hours and will need to reset expectations now.
    “Oh, at my job, we can leave early, so I will pick up/drop off/meet for…”
    Speculation, but something to keep in mind, so OP is not blurting, “what the hell are you thinking?”

  10. Chad H.*

    Sounds like Shrodingers Flexible schedule. It’s a flexible schedule, but it’s also not.

    The problem as I see it is not that they’re leaving early, it’s that you haven’t spelled out that this familiarisation is work. Set a required minimum hours or course to do to demonstrate the required competency, how and when they do that within the flexible schedule is up to them.

    If it’s just busy work, then you don’t really have a flexible schedule. You have a marketing line from a job ad and a soon to be disenfranchised employee.

    1. ekoemma*

      This is the most infuriating thing, and it seems to be so normal. Employers just want to be able to say it and not actually live by it. You are spot on with the busy work = not actually flexible.

      1. Gumby*

        Eh, I feel like it’s pretty flexible that I can work today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (I’m single and hate driving in commute traffic) and the person in the office next door can work from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. (he has young kids) and yesterday I could work from home from 9 – 11, take a break until 1:30 (massage), and then work until 7:30. Or that I could work 6 hours on a Friday but an extra half-hour M-Th to make up for that. There is a lot of value to me in having that sort of flexibility even if I still need to average around 40 hours of work per week.

        1. amoeba*

          Yup. In Switzerland, we usually track our hours for the vast majority of jobs, so yes, I do need to work 40 h/per week on average – over the whole year. It’s literally called “yearly work hours”. Otherwise, I just have to make sure to be available for meetings/put “unusual absences” into my Outlook. We can flex however we like, otherwise – one of my team members regularly works 9 h or so Mon-Thu and then 5 or 6 on Fridays, and takes whole days off every now and then with the surplus. I have colleagues who work 6.30-15.30 h and colleagues who work 9.30-18.30 (we do have a mandatory unpaid lunch – by law).

          If it was OK to regularly work significantly less than 40 h, that would probably be classified as part-time, not as flexible here (also part time jobs are much more common here than in the US, so it would come to mind quickly!)

    2. Annie*

      Yes, I feel there’s a big disconnect here. A flexible schedule can mean a lot of things. To me, a flexible schedule would mean that if I have an appointment once in awhile or something comes up, I can leave work a little early (letting my manager know) versus taking PTO. I wouldn’t think that I could leave work early every day, especially not just starting at the job.
      For the most part, I would assume I would still need to work 40 hrs/week as a baseline, unless I was told otherwise. I also wouldn’t just automatically shift my schedule unless there was an understanding of core hours.
      I think especially for a new hire, it is important to just “be there” initially and use your time to get involved with the job, not just training documents, but talking with other people and understanding what needs to be done.

  11. Former Retail Lifer*

    Just clarify that a “flexible schedule” generally still means 40 hours per week. You just have more flexibility as to how you take those 40 hours.

    1. A Girl Named Fred*

      This is the wording I was trying (and failing) to come up with. There’s a difference between “You need to work basically 40hours a week, but I don’t mind if you swap when some of it happens,” and “As long as your work is getting done, I don’t care how many hours are on your timecard.” I think any reasonable person could interpret “flexible schedule” either way, so it’s good to explicitly spell out which camp you as a manager fall into.

      1. amoeba*

        Or: over the whole year, you should work on average 40 h/week, and I don’t care if it’s 30 h one week and 50 the next.

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Yes! There definitely should be a clear expectation about how many hours per week your employees need to work.

    3. Annie*

      Yes, that’s exactly what I was just saying above. Being flexible doesn’t mean that you just don’t work 40 hrs/week on a regular basis. It just means that if you need to take off early or come in late due to some appointment, that’s okay.

      But if it means otherwise, the LW needs to make that clear. Are all of the other workers leaving early because they don’t have things to do, or is it just the new worker? What is the culture of this flexibility? The LW has to make that clear.

  12. SofiaDeo*

    I have generally worked in places that needed coverage during olen hours (sometimes 24/7) and “flex” was always interpreted along the lines of “if you arrive late, you can stay later to make up the time (for hourly)” or “if you need to arrive late/leave early, you can make it up another time.” No one just took off early, it was always a collaboration with the supervisor because we needed coverage just in case work came in. And during downtime, work related activities were preferred, something along the education lines. Occasional reading the paper/a personal book (this was before the internet) was OK because management assigned poor performers or new staff specific learning material. The rockstars could read what they wanted at any time, if someone is “exceeding expectations” it was interpreted that “non work” activities were allowing one to recharge a bit. But even the “need to improve” group were given some “not exactly work” downtime. Oh, “building relationships” was also considered a “work task”. A tech delivering something to a floor was encouraged to do a modicum of “hi, how are you? Did you X (something from a previous conversation)”. Excessive non work related conversations were frowned on, especially if the other departments appeared busy (a few people needed the “please be aware if others seem busy, they may not be able to chat, so here’s how to read the room to where they have a few minutes” training talks when I got complaints from other departments about staff not being very skilled at this). Being on-site early into the job leads to people picking up new skills simply by observing IME.

    Not sure how much of this will apply to your situation, but hopefully it helps a bit.

    1. Bast*

      We had nearly the same definition of “flexible hours” at one of my jobs — while you were given a range of hours with which to start (anytime between 7:30 and 9:30 was acceptable and you had to lock in for that schedule unless otherwise noted) you were still expected to put in an 8 hour day. The flexibility came in where if you needed to take a long lunch or leave early/come in late for a doctor’s appointment or something along those lines, as long as there was enough coverage and you told your manager ahead of time, it was usually okay as long as you made the time up. Key words being: time MUST be made up. If you did not clock at least 40 hours a week, it would be *a problem* regardless of whether your actual work load was light or heavy that particular week. If you did not make up the time, it was an issue, and you could be banned from the “flex time” and would be expected to work your hours and use PTO if you wanted to come in late or leave early. It was also expected that the time off was for a real reason ie: doctor’s appointment, repairman coming to fix the fridge, funeral, etc. If you wanted to take off early to say, get your hair done or catch up with family from out of town that were visiting, or just get some sleep after a long flight, you’d have to use PTO.

  13. Caramel & Cheddar*

    Re: LW1, I’m struggling with the ” to the point that others have asked me, “Where is your team?”” part of it because if LW’s team is indeed getting things done and she doesn’t actually have many worries about them beyond optics for other teams, I wonder how much if this is actually something she needs to push back on the other teams about, not the employee. And even if the LW would like the employee to stick around longer more often, it may still be worth pushing back on other teams in a gentle way.

    It’s one thing if they’re asking “Where is your team?” because they actually need something from the employee who leaves early, but I feel like so often people on less flexible teams ask that question because they’re annoyed another team has more flexibility. The solution always seems to be that the flexible team loses flexibility, which I’m not sure makes anyone happy in the long run.

    1. Fishsticks*

      Yeah, I’m wondering if it’s “where is your team” as “I need so-and-so for something and they aren’t here”, or if it’s “where is your team” in that somebody’s nosying around seeing empty desks and deciding to Make It a Problem when it isn’t one.

      1. Annie*

        That’s a good point. I’ve worked in a place where there was very much a “where is your team” approach in one of the departments. At some point, it became an issue because the thought was that the team wasn’t working and definitely wasn’t available as needed at certain times of the week, when other employees of the company in other locations still needed help.

        That’s where the ability to flex your schedule occasionally, rather than every day leaving early, would make sense. Yes, take off early one day if you have to pick up your kid early for soccer practice or something, but not every day unless you okay that with your manager and come in early to compensate.

        As a new employee I’d be much less willing to just leave early everyday because it might easily become an issue of “do we need this person if he has that little to do?”

        1. A person*

          That last part is especially true on a “new team”. There could be a dynamic at play where others are seeing the team being absent and wondering if that “new team” is actually needed or if they need as many people as they have. It’s unfortunate but when developing a new role or team within a larger org, sometimes the butts in seats optics matter especially if anyone hat to stick their neck out to get new roles/teams approved.

          At my workplace if someone hired into a new role was leaving early frequently because “the work was done” there would be some serious questions around whether that role was needed or is defined properly. Maybe the new team does have too many people or haven’t quite figured out what full time looks like, but I’d recommend a more structured approach for at least the first year or two of a new team while some of those dynamics work out. Not to say you can’t have flex in the way others have described here (leaving early occasionally for an appt or coming in late once in a while for kid drop off of flexing a full day by an hour one direction or the other), but in a developing team a little more definition and structure will probably benefit the team both in development and in optics for others observing a new team in action.

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      It could be about whether that team has resources it doesn’t need or has spare capacity when other colleagues are busier. Or it could just be a genuine question with no underlying meaning.

  14. I edit everything*

    For meeting scheduling, it makes sense to me that the person with the most difficult schedule should be the one do to set the meeting times. LW, could you simply pass the torch to your colleague?
    “Hey, since I’m having trouble finding meeting times that work for you, I’m going to pass this scheduling task to you, so we can get a time that works for everyone the first time. Thanks.”

    1. ClaireW*

      This is usually the opposite of how it works in most places I’ve worked so I think it’s very much up to company culture. In most places I’ve worked the higher someone is on the ladder, the busier they are. So if I’m in charge of a particular meeting, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to expect my boss to make the invite even if they do need to be there – it’s up to me to find a time that fits into his calendar. Of course, that only works when you can trust people’s calendars and it is wild to me how many folks don’t keep their calendar up to date and then get annoyed when I schedule something for a time their calendar is empty.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        It might work in this case, though–the LW says that she and the person who keeps wanting things rescheduled are at the same level of the company hierarchy.

  15. cindylouwho*

    The first letter sounds very confusing to me. You’re allowed to be flexible with your time but also need to stay until 5pm are very different statements/expectations, in my opinion. I understand why the employee is confused.

    1. amoeba*

      Well, in my workplace for instance, times are very flexible – but in general, people are expected to be there somewhat close to 40 h/week. So if you regularly come in at 9, then yes, you probably have to stay on average until 17.30 (we have a half hour mandatory lunch). If you regularly come in at 6, then sure, you can leave at 14.30! We don’t need to fix anything, so you can absolutely do 6-14.30 one day and 9-17.30 the next. Or 6-17.30 one day and 9-14.30 the next. Or 6-17.30 for 3 days and then take a day off if meetings allow.

      This sounds like the employee is just working 9-14.30 (as an example) every day, which absolutely wouldn’t work for us.

    2. blood orange*

      I don’t find it very confusing as a concept, maybe just the way it was explained. For instance, I used to work in an office where we could flex our start/end times, but it was discouraged to leave before 4pm regularly. So, you couldn’t come in at 6am and leave at 2 or 3.

  16. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    In addition to other comments recommending being more explicit with the new employee, I’ll add that it’s really tiring being new. You can feel like you’ve put a very long shift in after only a few hours, when every single thing is new and you’ve absorbed a thousand details. So I might be tempted to be a bit gentler in the first month or so, because a person’s ability to seek out new information *on top of a whole day of new things* may not be enormous.

    So yes LW needs to be more explicit, but they may also need to recognise that what looks like not much work in a new starter can be their full capacity at that time.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      I disagree. Yes, new jobs can feel overwhelming and be mentally tiring – that doesn’t make it unreasonable to expect a new employee to work full shifts. I’ve never seen a job where it would be acceptable for someone to leave hours early just for being new, and using it as an excuse to do so would reflect very poorly on the employee.

      It would be unreasonable to expect the same amount of work from someone new as from someone fully trained. New people need more time to get used to systems, process new information, etc. But LW seems to account for that since she says the team has lighter workloads now and are expected to ramp up as they settle in. Her employees may need more structure though… for example, clearer explanation of what she expects them to learn in what timeframe.

    2. Allonge*

      I don’t quite get this argument. If being new means it takes longer to take care of the tasks, why is the employee leaving earlier, not later? If I am overwhelmed with work this week, do I get to leave at 2pm, just because?

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Simply that the employee may feel they have done a full day’s work when they slip out early.

        1. Allonge*

          I see – but that is really not how work works. The employee is paid to do a full time job, and pacing themselves through the day is better for handling this than just deciding to go home earlier.

  17. ypsi*

    I would like to ask – wrt the responses that are published “over at Inc.” – does it mean that everybody here is paying for Inc. subscription? I don’t mean to complain but it would be nice if we could get at least a brief answer here. I looked at Inc. and while I realize it may be a great resource for other in different roles it definitely is not anything I would be interested in paying for.

    1. Beth*

      Nope! Most of the articles on Inc. are reprintings of old letters–you can go back and find them in the archives if you’d rather read them here. You also do get a few free views a month. (I’m sure others will point out that are all sorts of ways of getting around paywalls online, but given that Alison publishing letters there is a source of income for her and she gives us a lot of content here for free, I don’t feel like that’s fair to her.)

    2. CatsOnAKeyboard*

      Some people pay for it, some just read while they have limited free article access, some respond to the letter, not Alison’s reply (you’ll notice there’s a lot more responses to the letter snippeted here than the other ones on the site)

      1. the cat's pajamas*

        I haven’t checked for Inc. but libraries often have subscriptions too, like for NYT articles, might be worth a look at what digital subscriptions your local one has. Some libraries will take suggestions, too

    3. Magdalena*

      We are already getting the daily blog for free and I do not mind having to occasionally skip a post that’s published elsewhere behind a paywall.
      If anything, I’d gladly chip in for this blog as well – it’s a lot of great content and Alison deserves to be compensated for the work she’s doing. She does not owe us anything.

    4. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      You don’t need to pay for it if you don’t want to pay for it. But that means you don’t get access to it. People’s work costs money. It’s like any other product or service.

    5. her name was Joanne*

      I have Apple News, and Inc is one of the publications it covers. Sometimes the article is there when Alison posts it, sometimes it isn’t til the next day.

    6. Orange_Erin*

      I signed up for the free account with Inc. You get a # of articles for free each month which I only use for AAM. Sometimes their system is wonky – it’ll be 1 week into a new month and it’ll say I hit my max even though I’m accessing an article for the first time that month – but I can usually read everything I want to.

  18. Thomas*

    #4, you’re the referee not the applicant. I would be inclined to send the reference-checkers a standard written reference and not waste my time with stupid demanding forms from a company I have no relationship with.

  19. doreen*

    I’m not clear what’s going on in the first letter – is the employee being flexible with their time but still working the expected number of hours per week/day? Are they being flexible with the total hours per week but most weeks are somewhere between 35-45 hours? Are they leaving every day at 2 pm because all of their “must be done today” work is complete but there is other work without a rigid deadline that needs to be done ? Which one it is matters – if they are working 8hrs a day 40 hours a week, and the problem is that they start at 10 am or leave at 4 pm, then they really don’t have flexibility at all. If the issue is that they work fewer hours than expected over the course of a week , then the OP needs to explain the limits of the flexibility.

  20. Lily Potter*

    Are they leaving every day at 2 pm because all of their “must be done today” work is complete but there is other work without a rigid deadline that needs to be done ?

    This is where my mind went right away. I can’t remember ever having a professional job where each and every thing that could be done actually IS done. There’s always filing. There’s always continuing education. There’s always “call that customer you haven’t talked with in a long time and set up lunch”. Shoot, there’s always “go talk with the new guy in IT and introduce yourself”. This is not to say that a person shouldn’t ever leave the office early but saying “I have all my work done” usually doesn’t mean that you have ALL your work done, if that makes sense. If I were managing these folks, I think that a discussion about the above would be in order.

    Also, optics matter! I don’t think people realize how much other people are in tune with their co-workers’ comings and goings. If a person is regularly leaving early, people are going to notice, and chances are the thought is going to be “must be nice to not have a heavy workload” rather than “that person is going home to log in”.

    1. Lily Potter*

      Something else I thought of….. when I worked for a very large US corporation, a question on our self-assessment every year was something along the lines of “what changes/improvements did you initiate or improve upon in your workload in the past year?” They weren’t looking for anything earth shattering, but you could put down things like “I revamped X routing form to make communications more efficient” or “I taught myself how to use Y software that decreased the amount of time I had to spend on budgeting”. If an employee was lucky enough to have their most pressing work done by 3 pm, they would work on something along those lines rather than leaving the office for the day.

    2. Fishsticks*

      Right, but if that person IS going home to log in and work more, then I’m curious as to why it’s the other person’s business if they aren’t physically sitting at the desk if they don’t need to be there? Like, why do those optics matter in that instance?

      1. Lily Potter*

        Optics matter, because sometimes perception is at least as important as what’s real. When people think of you, you want people thinking of someone who’s carrying their work load, not someone who waltzes out the door the second that their immediate deadlines are met.

        One of my work-study jobs in college exposed me to an Associate Dean who literally had her coat in her hand and her purse on her shoulder at 4:55 pm every day so that she could race out the door at 5:00. She was not racing to daycare pickup – she was just a clock watcher who wanted OUT. Everyone in the office from her direct reports to the work-study students knew it and commented about it. Not a good look. And the fact that I remember this 30+ years later shows the impression she made on me.

        1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          I totally agree with most of your comments but I don’t think leaving dead on time is quite the same as leaving hours early.

          Was she leaving work undone? Because if not I think that’s an area where people’s perception is a bit overly judgemental and should have been questioned a bit more.

          Leaving repeatedly at 3pm is very different to leaving on time every day.

          1. Lily Potter*

            I gave the example of the Dean more to prove the “optics matter” point than the “leaving early/on the dot” one – but I guess they both apply. It’s hard for a 22 year old work-study student to evaluate this, but I’m remembering that the Dean did an adequate job but was in no way a superstar performer. She lasted in the job three years before leaving for “another opportunity” and never coming back into the office after turning in notice. My suspicion is that she was asked to resign, but no one confirmed that. The thing with her “purse on the shoulder and poised at the door” thing was that it was SO blatant. The Dean had no clue that everyone in the office was counting down and watching for her departure. All it would have taken would have been for her to leave at 5:03 with the rest of the staff or to stay late once in a while. But it was pretty obvious that she wasn’t going to start reading a twenty minute journal article if it was 4:45. She wasn’t staying in the office for one minute more than required. Optics matter.

            1. NaoNao*

              It seems to me that while I agree, optics matter, people tend to “see” only negatives. I recall getting pounced on via IM one day out of the blue by my manager asking why I left on the dot. I was paid salary but I had to log hours/clock in and out. I first explained that the last free shuttle to town (I worked on a decommissioned military base) left at 5 and I wanted to be on it, and then pointed out the numerous times I’d come in early and set up, worked through lunch, not taken breaks. All that magically didn’t matter, that was “my choice”–she really said that!
              So when it came to leaving on time, that was an issue, but not taking my breaks, well…that’s an okay form of “flexible”. Bleh. I recall feeling very blindsided and angry. Like what’s the dif of 4.59 vs. 5.01?

              Honestly, there’s not enough work to make up 8-9 hours a day as it is. Lingering until 5.13 “for optics” to show how dedicated you are to a company that would cut you loose like scraping a barnacle off a ship is an absolute fools’ game, IMHO.

        2. Fishsticks*

          While I can understand your perspective in the first paragraph, the idea that it’s a bad thing to leave on time, to the extent that people were negatively commenting on someone leaving on time? I can’t really get on board with that. To me, the optics are “Oh thank god, a workplace where people leave on time based on their work schedule instead of pretending working late is a moral virtue”, and it would have been a big positive for me. I can see that it wasn’t a positive in your book, I assume because the overall culture was one of working late/it not being allowed to be actively aware of your schedule’s ending.

          I feel like the butt-in-seat optics is, thankfully, something that is gradually going out of style. To me, the idea that you need to be constantly Seen or your work doesn’t count is inherently ridiculous. Luckily i’m on a team that is largely remote or hybrid, and so whether or not we are physically present in any one location is not considered something that can be held against us, so long as we are tracking our work and it gets done. Sounds like an issue of expectation and different work cultures.

  21. Nancy*

    LW1: If they just started then they don’t now what needs to be done, so you need to be clearer. “Familiarize the systems” is too vague, give them more direction on what they need to do to familiarize themselves, examples they can work with to test out what they know, etc. there is only so much one can do with systems without having real work. Even fake work that mimics they could see in reality is much more useful. You also need to be clear about what you mean by flexible schedule.

    And sometimes right at the beginning there simply isn’t enough to fill ones day, so them leaving early now doesn’t mean they will always do so.

  22. Fishsticks*

    I think a lot of companies really like to advertise flexible scheduling but don’t actually want to provide it. I would need more details here on what the actual problem is, because my initial response is that it seems like coworkers being nosy about who isn’t in a desk when is a bigger problem if the new hire is doing as you told them was acceptable when they were hired.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I think the problem here is that “you can leave early if your work is done” contemplates a scenario where people generally have enough work to fill a work day. I don’t think flexible scheduling covers a full time employee routinely working 5 hour days. The core of the issue appears to be a new employee that doesn’t have a full workload yet (which is understandable given the time it takes to be able to pick up the full amount of work a role encompasses) and isn’t picking up additional self training tasks.

      The real issue is while OP may have set the expectation that the employee “spend some downtime trying to familiarize themselves with systems”, I wonder how effectively that was done. Telling the FNG “go learn stuff” is not as effective as people doing onboarding generally think — part of the learning process is figuring out all of the “obvious” places to look for information. I’d advise OP to take a hard look at making these “downtime” tasks more explicitly tasks (i.e. with specific concrete steps and goals) so that FNG isn’t twiddling their thumbs at 2pm thinking I could just as easily be doing this at home.

      1. I do not think that word means what you think it means*

        the problem with your framing us that someone with a flexible schedule is not leaving early in any way, shape, or form. A flexible schedule means they set their own hours as long as they work at least 40 hours a week and don’t miss meetings. If they want to work from 5am to 1pm one day and noon to 8pm the next they get to do that, or if they work from 8am to 8pm one day they can work from 8am to noon the next if they feel like it.

        If someone promised me a flexible schedule – and at this point in my life I won’t accept a job without one – then tried to complain because I wasn’t working until 5pm every day I’d be really upset because they were breaking their agreement and I’d probably have to find a new job.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          That’s what it means to you. But it’s pretty explicit that the person in question was not completely all of the work that their manager expected of them. But the referenced standard is “as long as work gets done”. Given that it also notes that they have “less on their plate” I stand by the interpretation that the employee is completely all of their explicitly assigned tasks but not working full days to do it (and not complete the less well defined “downtime” tasks).

  23. Raida*

    You just set core hours, and when someone asks where’s your team – which it sounds like is one person, not the entire/majority of the team not being at their desk – you say “Managing their hours and workload.”

    You can’t set up your team to succeed with flex time but also not tell anyone else and expect an empty desk to be considered normal.

    So… you tell other managers how it’s going – getting through systems and process familiarity while we’re not busy yet, everyone’s really appreciative for flex time, we all know when we’re in the office and not it’s been easy to get together for a meeting, our core hours were not hard to decide on and are working well for the team, I need to be across what my team actually does to be capable of gaugueing each person’s performance which makes me a better manager, we freely discuss workload…

    1. Raida*

      This is, to me, an opportunity for you to *show* you’re a good manager.

      You place yourself as the conduit between your team and the business, especially criticisms. You figure out the question, the answer, and be sure to let the person asking know that you’re happy to answer any questions, thanks your asking me, and if someone actually complains then you are the person who should hear it and settle it – preferably without making your team change because someone else whinged.

      So you handle. the. questions. and do it in a way that is positive, but firm – don’t apologise, don’t over explain, just be clear they are working as expected, the team’s core hours are XX, do you need something more urgently?

    2. I do not think that word mean what you think it means*

      core hours is vfc very different from a flexible schedule. If someone offered me a job with a flexible schg3edule then tried to tell me I had to work during core hours of let’s say 10-3, I’d feel like they completely broke the agreement and would likely have to start looking for a new job.

  24. SB*

    I received a very lengthy online reference check for an ex employee with no way (that I could find) to contact the potential employer directly. The only contact info on the form seemed to be for the company that does the reference checks & even that contact was for technical issues with the form.

    It was very cold & impersonal & it took 30 minutes to complete the form. I was very cranky & have decided to let anyone else who asks me for a reference know that they need to let any potential employer know that I will only provide a phone reference & will no longer participate in these ridiculous online forms.

    1. Your Mate in Oz*

      I would have gone back to the person asking for the reference. They’re the one you’re being asked to help, and they will likely also want to know that every referee they’ve listed is being given this much work. This is a favour I’m doing the applicant, not a task I’m being paid to perform by the new employer.

      It’s also problematic if the information to be conveyed is at all sensitive. I’m not telling some random data reseller anything about the internals of the company I work for or any interactions I’ve had with the subject. It’s strictly “they worked between these days, these hours, this salary band”.

  25. Coin Purse*

    Having worked at a place where coverage was critical, if someone constantly scoots out 2 hours early, that leaves those who didn’t to clean up crisis work. I came from a conservative industry and people came in late, took long lunches without any blow back. Leave early without a coverage plan? It was a noted thing and you’d be talked to. Potentially written up, even at a fairly high level of employment.

    1. I do not think that word mean what you think it means*

      yes, but you don’t offer employees a flexible schedule in that situation. If you hire employees under the guise of a flexible schedule then later say oh I didn’t really mean it you’re going to have a lot of really upset employees and you’re going to lose a portion of them.

      1. Fishsticks*

        Exactly this. Businesses often like to tout flexibility they don’t intend to follow through on, and then managers are baffled as to why their employees thought the job was flexible. Well, because that’s what was communicated to them.

  26. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    Depending on their senority, you could be more active about scheduling work/meetings in for them.

    When I joined CurrentJob, the business manager had scheduled loads of meetings into my diary with different people across the organisation so that I could get to know what their roles are and how they relate to mine. I found it very useful although I’m sure some people wouldn’t like it.

    I was told about flexible working but also my manager was actively making sure I had enough to do.

    When new, I’d always be seeking to make the best possible impression and I’d feel that I hadn’t earned full capital/trust yet. I’d definitely have checked before leaving early at first – but for the first few months I’d always frame it as checking if there was anything I could help with as I had some extra capacity.

    If it’s a full time role then surely the work should generally fill up a week?

    1. Kevin Sours*

      It’s explicitly about a new employee so it doesn’t always when you a still getting up to speed (and limited in what work you can take on) and when you are more dependent on team members to find tasks for you (who might themselves get swamped and not really have time to spend on it).

      The problem sounds like a failure to adequately focus the “get up to speed” tasks.

  27. I'm washing my hair that night*

    LW2/scheduling – Allison’s answer doesn’t sit right with me. Why should LW have to adapt to and work harder to accommodate their peer’s poor calendar management?

    My office has clear expectations, set and followed by the CEO, for keeping calendars up-to-date. Personal time and preferred work hours are respected, but if your calendar says you’re available you’re expected to be available.

    I realize this calendar culture can vary by office, but if LW’s office uses shared calendars effectively and their peer is out of step, that seems like it’s worth addressing and setting expectations for the team.

    1. blood orange*

      I completely agree. Admittedly, my office and I work pretty well with our shared calendars, and rely on one another to keep calendars updated. It’s perfectly fine to have a “what’s going on” conversation and give the coworker the benefit of the doubt that something in her way of working makes using a calendar difficult, but it sounds like she needs to try to make that work to be in line with her team.

  28. TH*

    My company has core hours we are available, usually 10-3. However I’m 100% remote and generally I am available at 9am until 4pm but my boss is totally flexible if I’m away for an hour or so for lunch etc and there’s some days I’m done with work at 3pm but I also work a lot of nights too if I’ve had a lot of meetings during the day.
    However for a new employee I’d want their time to be standard hours until maybe probation is over – 90 days – and they have a good handle on all their work. Then flexibility should be honored.

  29. WorkerAlias*

    For LW1, it would be helpful to talk to the employee and ask 1) if they are leaving early for any specific reason, and 2) if they are doing any work at home rather in the office. My husband and I work at the same company and both of our jobs luckily have extremely flexible work hours– basically, make sure you attend meetings when needed and get your work done, but otherwise it’s up to us when to show up. We usually work general core hours but the flexibility comes in when we have things like doctors appointments in the middle of the day or for childcare needs. My husband has to leave work every day at 4:00 to pick up our kid from school, and then often will do a bit more work after getting home. I wonder just how early the employee is leaving, if there is a concrete reason other than “Well, I think I’m done for today, might as well head home,” and whether they are putting in more work than the manager realizes. It might be that if the employee has some sort of responsibility that requires them to leave early, or if they agreed to something based on being told their hours are flexible, they didn’t think they needed to run it by their manager because they were under the impression that it was okay.

  30. silent i*

    LW1: it sounds like you’ve set inaccurate expectations. I’m in the same boat right now as your employees. I’m new (5 weeks), I’ve been told they don’t micromanage and as long as my work is getting done I can work whatever hours. They’ve given me very little work to do, I have done all I can to come proficient in the systems they have based on the trainings available. What you’re expecting is I sit and spin in my chair for an additional 3 hours a day, “just in case” or so it doesn’t “look bad.”
    You can’t say “our hours are flexible as long as your work is being done” if in reality you expect your employees to be in the office until 4:30 every day.

  31. Dog momma*

    I don’t consider hrs 9-5, leaving by 10am and coming back from 6- 10pm being flexible, I call it taking advantage. You’re being paid for a specific# of there. Not everyone in this office is able to donthat. and why work weekend unless you absolutely have to. Short term extenuating circumstances are different.
    And what about people on a phone line?. Does this employee EVER help others who may be drowning with a late day urgent/ expedited request, that is also expected to get the rest of their work done? I’ll guess and say not. if this is was my co worker, ( & I had one like this) , I’d absolutely say favoritism. and I’d be pizzed off. in my situation, I couldn’t even make an early/ late day Dr appointment.. bc someone had to be there to man the phones & she refused to do so.

  32. umami*

    With new employees, it’s best to be very explicit about what you expect. It might help to tell them to check in with you when they feel they are ‘done’ for the day instead of just taking off because they did what was asked of them. That way, you can either give them other tasks to do or tell them it’s OK to go ahead and leave. The new employee doesn’t seem to know there is a process they should follow before ending their day, so make sure that you let them know ‘flexible work schedule’ doesn’t mean to just come and go as you please when that is not what you intended.

    1. Fishsticks*

      Yeah, you can’t just say “flexible” or “leave early if the work is done”, you really need to lay out what exactly that means in your specific organization.

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