my employee complains he’s overwhelmed while golfing mid-day

A reader writes:

My employee, “Jim,” has been in the workforce for about 2.5 years and with my company for 1.5 years. After working with him closely for that time, I’d rate his work ethic as 5/10 (it’s not a concern, but he’s not impressing). However, he seems to believe that his work ethic and workload are higher than average. In his first annual review, he listed limited time and heavy workload as an obstacle to his success. When I took a closer look, I saw that he averaged 38 hours/week (40+ hours/week is typical for our company). A few weeks after that review, he posted in a company-wide Slack channel that he had just pulled into the golf course on Wednesday at 4 pm.

The most recent example was when I was working with Jim and another director on a project. I provided feedback to Jim at 4:15 pm and didn’t get a response. Then other director chimed in with several questions on a different project and didn’t get a response. At 5:15 pm, Jim responded, “Sorry I was on a walk” and then in response to one of the questions said, “I had planned to, I just had other stuff come up today. I’m struggling keeping up right now.”

Our culture does prioritize flexibility and in most situations, I wouldn’t be concerned about an employee logging off for a walk at 4:15 pm (our typical hours are 8-5). However, it rubs me the wrong way when Jim also says he’s struggling to keep up.

Is there a way for me to have a conversation with Jim about optics and how those types of comments in succession are perceived? I’m worried that in my position as his manager, it will sound like I’m telling him he can’t have a flexible schedule or should lie about his hours.

Is he struggling to keep up? If he wasn’t constantly saying that he’s struggling, would you have concerns about his work?

I’m asking because if he is indeed struggling to keep up — if his work isn’t getting done as quickly as it should and people aren’t getting answers from him fast enough — then this isn’t just about optics.

Optics would be if he were doing a good job and staying on top of everything but still dropping comments about golfing and walks to explain why he hadn’t gotten back to someone sooner. Or showily kicking back and reading a magazine while people were harried around him.

But if he’s really not working with the pace or quality you’d like to see, then this is more than optics: it’s him making bad decisions about his time management while simultaneously not getting his work done. That’s a performance issue. Optics would still be a piece of it, since it’s obviously terrible judgment to announce his mid-day golf trips in that context. But it would be a smaller piece than the rest.

If that’s the case, you should sit down with him and say something like: “You’ve mentioned a few times that you’re struggling to keep up, and I’ve seen signs of that too, like X and Y. I’m concerned that you’re doing things like golfing mid-day or leaving work to take a walk while you’re behind on work and people are waiting on answers from you. We do have a flexible culture, but that assumes you’re staying on top of everything. I’m concerned to see you managing your time that way when you’re already struggling.”

But if his work and responsiveness are actually fine, that’s a different situation. In that case, I’d be most concerned that his assessment (“struggling”) doesn’t match up with yours, and I’d want to dig into that. So that’s a conversation more like: “You’ve mentioned a few times that you’re struggling to keep up, so I want to talk about what’s going on. From my perspective, your work is good and you’re staying on top of everything. Tell me how things are feeling to you.” If from that conversation you realize he is struggling (for example, feeling overwhelmed and stretched too thin, even if you don’t see it in his work product), it makes sense to bring up the golfing, etc. in that context.

In either of those situations, it’s not really optics. It’s that all the pieces aren’t fitting together in a way that makes sense: his time management choices aren’t syncing up with his commentary. Something is going on, and digging into it should help you pinpoint whatever it is.

{ 304 comments… read them below }

  1. ThatGirl*

    The flip side of this is exactly why I don’t worry about signing off early some days (I work roughly 7:15-4) – my work always gets done, my deadlines get met, I communicate with coworkers and respond to messages and emails in a timely fashion. So if I’m not around at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon almost nobody would notice anyway. But if I ever started to feel like I was struggling to keep up, you better believe I’d make sure I was logging a full 40 hours first before complaining about it!

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Exactly. I may not put in as many hours as other people, but I also fundamentally am getting my work done. (I also do not include the workaholics in the mix – they have a problem as well, its just a different problem.) It’s not precisely earning the flexible schedule, but if you’re behind then the flexible schedule needs to be less flexible until you get caught up and in a better position.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Yup. I sometimes flex my time if it’s a slow period, but when there is a lot to get done on a deadline I’m going to bunker down and get it done. And thankfully my boss supports this (because, like you, I get my work done).

      1. anecdata*

        But of course, you are not regularly telling your boss you’re overwhelmed & have too much work — I think that’s the core of the issue, if a report of mine were telling me they were way overworked, the typical next step would be to look at work load together and either figure out what can be deprioritized or transferred (if I agree the workload is too high); or figure out where his time is going and work together on strategies to be faster/more efficient (if I don’t agree workload is too high)

    3. lunchtime caller*

      I’ve always said that one of the big danger signs in a job is letting your boss ever think “what are they DOING all day?” On a sunny Friday I might be taking a long walk to the coffee shop and napping a little in the park, but my phone volume is on and when Outlook pings, I’m responding right away. No one ever wonders what I get up to when I’m out of sight, because they get answers just as quickly as when I’m at my desk in the office.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I think this is very role and culture-dependent. No one in my office expects me to respond within an hour, so I’ll fully disconnect when going for a long walk. The long walk lets me have a burst of productivity when I get back, so my boss doesn’t have to worry about me getting shit done.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, I work mainly (90-95%) from home and breaks are encouraged. We are absolutely encouraged to be unreachable during our unpaid lunch breaks, provided those breaks are noted on our calendars that are visible to the entire organization. Private appointments can be locked down so that not even our manager gets to see the contents. (My manager only cares about when I’m available, not what I’m doing when I’m not available.)

          I’m expected to respond to emails/tickets within one business day, IMs normally within a few hours. If there’s a genuine emergency that requires instant action, I’ll get a phone call. This happens extremely rarely, I’ve taken exactly one unscheduled call from an internal customer since March 2020. Unscheduled voice/video calls on Teams are also about as rare as hen’s teeth in my current job. Thankfully.

      2. RussianInTexas*

        Right. My work is structured around incoming e-mails. I need to answer them all ASAP during business hours, which do not ware, they are 8-5 every single day. As long as I remain in communication, and can open various databases and folders I need to see, I can be not in my seat (I work from home), and no one will know.

    4. ferrina*

      This. My work gets done, and my hours are my own. Some days I log off early. Some days I work extra. But if company expectation is 40 hours and I’m working less than that, I sure am not going to be complaining! (unless it’s to ask for more work)

      Does Jim know that he’s supposed to work 40 hours? Does he understand that his boss can see his timesheet? And if so, I gotta wonder if he’s accurate on his time keeping. Is he actually doing 40 hours of work?

    5. Flower*

      more: you may see the following as unrelated or a bit derailing, depending on your POV. it’s an alternative narrative, one to which I relate.

      the more overwhelmed I get the less capable I am of working a full 40 hours. Frankly, as I’m desperately trying to keep my shit together and prevent myself from falling into a full depressive episode where my work efficiency drops to max 10%, I start pulling back and becoming less effective and efficient while building in more outlets and chances to recover. I figure that having me at 60% is better than having me at 0%. (This is partly because when my mental health gets poor, I start leaning heavily on avoidance as a (negative) coping strategy. but it’s also because I just don’t have enough spoons in those situations to exist as a working adult and I’m trying to balance needs.)

      does it backfire a bit, in that I’m still overwhelmed and have a little less time to handle it? probably. but it simultaneously helps me delay (if not avoid) full depressive spirals and getting to a point of sleeping upwards of 16 hrs a day, and becoming incapable of, say, maintaining personal hygiene. it helps me avoid totally dropping off the face of the planet. when I’m in this situation, asking me to work 40 hrs a week is asking me to forgo literally all self care, exercise, showers, and prepping more than snacks included. it’s when I start to feel like ANYTHING I do that isn’t work is procrastinating, especially anything to decompress.

      I’m NOT saying the employee described in the letter is in a similar conundrum to what I have been more than once. There is no way to know that from what is written. I just wanted to present an alternative narrative to the one I’m seeing in these comments.

      1. Happy Pineapple*

        Flower, I can completely relate to this. You just gave a summary of my grad school experience and I’m so grateful to see someone put it into words. It was a mental and physical health low point in my life.

        Is this happening with OP’s employee, probably not, but it does happen. Letting the employee know about EAPs would cover all bases.

      1. No clever name yet*

        it’s not really the middle of the day if there’s only one hour left in the workday, though.

        1. Colette*

          It’s still within regular work hours, so if he is truly overwhelmed at work, it’s an odd time to choose to golf.

          1. Shoes*

            It depends?

            Not ideal, but if I have something to do that will take several hours, but I have one hour left to the workday, I would probably still leave one hour early. I feel like there’s missing information and context. But telling people you’re golfing, walking, or whatever is not wise.

            1. Itsa Me, Mario*

              I also think it depends on workplace culture and how “golfing” reads. I work in a field where that sort of old school fratty type of activity isn’t popular among my colleagues (that I know of? I’m sure someone here plays), and where we’re not client facing so “golfing” doesn’t come under the category of networking or a form of client meeting or account servicing. Similarly, even in a field that is more sales and client relationship driven, the guys in accounts payable probably don’t need to be “golfing” a lot on company time.

              But yeah, if this is sales or client services and golfing is assumed to be business adjacent, I wouldn’t really see an issue with doing that at a time of the day when a lot of others are winding down, anyway.

            2. Annony*

              It also depends on where the golf course is. It doesn’t sound like he works at one, so he almost certainly left before 4.

            3. MigraineMonth*

              If it’s something like a dental appointment that can only be scheduled 9-5, I’ll try to schedule it at 4pm so I won’t have to make up travel to and travel from the appointment, but I feel like that’s different than golfing.

            4. Lucia Pacciola*

              When I’m struggling to keep up with my workload, I usually end up working late, not dipping out early. And I certainly don’t end up telling my manager, who is trying to reach me during normal business hours, and who is concerned about my performance and productivity, that I dipped out early.

            5. JM60*

              Some potential context is that it sounds like he was asked what was obstacle to his success (the way I read it). I don’t think he came forward and said that he’s struggling due to lack of time. It could be that he felt he had to give an answer, but didn’t have any notable roadblocks, so defaulted to saying more time would be needed for him to do better than he already is doing.

          2. Corey*

            If a company advertises itself to me as “prioritizing flexibility”, then I would NOT take that to mean “unless we can overwhelm you” or “unless your other plans are relaxing or enjoyable”.

            Giving the company a pass on this because other companies practice the same false advertising is how they are allowed to benefit from the perk without truly offering it.

            I promise you that there are companies where it is totally normal to take and mention an hour off for golfing. Those companies would want to reduce the sense of overwhelming here (because they actually prioritize flexibility). The *optics* they care about are that of an overwhelmed employee.

            This employee’s work ethic is rated “not a concern” by the OP.

            1. Felicia*

              Yeah, I’m a little surprised by that. By their own admission, they are already stretching past a 40-hour week. They even begin by saying that his work ethic is “not a concern,” so I’m even confused about why they are really writing in. Maybe they need to address the fact that they expect him to be more responsive during work hours, but based on OP’s assessment, I’m not sure that the worker is the problem in this scenario.
              This sounds like someone who expects people to give their lives over to a company, realizing they are managing an entry-level employee who is putting up health boundaries.

              1. Moira Rose*

                Yes!! 8-5 is not a 40-hour workweek. Are the expectations actually a 45-hour week? If so, get that very clear. I wouldn’t want to work under those conditions, but not everybody is me!

                1. amoeba*

                  Exactly, same here. (Although the minimum mandatory unpaid lunch is only 30 mins, so you could in theory do 8-17.30 – but walking to the canteen and back is more like 45 mins for mist of us.)

                2. watermelon fruitcake*

                  @Aquamarine and Prismatic Garnet

                  Just because the Overton Window of what is acceptable re: work has shifted, does not make 9 hours into 8. If you are expected to be available or on-site for all 9 hours, even if one of those hours is unpaid (because employers get away with what we tolerate), then that is, in fact, a 9-hour day. A regular full-time job famously used to actually be and is still called a “9-5” for a reason.

                  At any rate, it’s entirely reasonable to imagine the person in question who went golfing on Wednesday at 4, put in his 8 hours from 8-4 and moved his lunch to the end of the day to allow more time for his after-work plans.

            1. allathian*

              Unless I have an urgent deadline that gets my adrenaline levels up, I’m pretty useless after about 3 pm. But I’m a morning person and work mostly remotely, so I’m usually at my desk by 7.30 at the latest, often as early as 7. This means that most days I get to log off by 3.30. If I’m really pushed, I’ll take a 30-minute walk in lieu of a lunch break and eat at my desk while I read my email or something.

              That said, we have flexible working hours that we’re supposed to balance on a quarterly basis, and sometimes I’ll work 9 hours one day and 6 hours the rest of the week (our full workweek is 36 hours 15 minutes, or 7 hours 15 minutes per day).

              At this point in my career, I’d hate it if I had to work 8 hours every day with no flexibility.

        2. Banana Pyjamas*

          This. It also seems maybe Jim’s expectation is that he works a 40 hour week, which is actually less than 40 hours once you account for lunch, but work norms are over 40 hours. In that case he probably is struggling to keep up because work will be assigned based on norms. It’s possible this work place isn’t a good fit. There’s a mismatch around work hour expectations.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            I think the mismatch is more that it’s supposed to be working 40 hours excluding lunch. He’s working 38 of those. If he worked the extra two hours, even if no more than that, even if most other people do, would he still be overwhelmed? If so, how much? Because it does sound like he’s underworking, and not in clock-watching way, in a “people expect him to be getting back to them during business hours” kind of way. If the two hours are a drop in the bucket, then yeah maybe his workload is too much. But it is weird to be saying you’ve got too much on your plate AND be ducking out early on the reg. If he were on top of things no one would care whether it’s 38 or 40. But it sounds like he’s not on top of things. I mean, OP said he’s a 5/10.

            1. Ellie*

              It doesn’t sound like he’s under-working, but I’d check his timesheets to make sure that he is actually working the hours he claims. If he’s starting early so he can leave at 4, or working through lunch, that’s fine of course, and might be a wise way that he’s managing his anxiety or work/life balance. But if he’s regularly leaving at 4 and still claiming his regular hours, that’s a problem.

              But I agree that the first step is just asking the employee about what’s going on.

            2. JM60*

              I interpreted the 5/10 to essentially mean that he’s performing better than 5/10 people in his position (and worse than 5/10 people). I’d consider that to be on top of things.

            3. watermelon fruitcake*

              But it sounds like he’s not on top of things. I mean, OP said he’s a 5/10.

              I think you’re misrepresenting what was said here, a little bit. OP said 5/10 as in completely average; not exceptional, but not falling short, either. They literally wrote:

              (it’s not a concern, but he’s not impressing).

              Where it seems like you’re interpreting a 5/10 as a failing grade. I didn’t read anything in the OP’s letter that suggests, other than a couple gaffes, the employee in question is routinely failing to perform, and even Alison starts her letter by asking “you’re focused on optics, but is the problem with his actual work quality/performance, or is it with his personal assessment of his workload?”

      2. JB*

        For me it’s usually the period from about half past eleven to one, give or take half an hour either side. Two pm is definitely afternoon and four is mid veering on late afternoon.

    1. samwise*

      That’s in the title of the post. OP doesn’t say midday nor does Alison. And really, does it matter?

      1. Stopped Using My Name*

        Yes, because noon is not the same a 4 o’clock if your hours are 8 to 5. People can ask for clarification.

      2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        It technically doesn’t. I just expected a story of a guy fucking off during lunch instead of a guy taking off early and so I was surprised

    2. Yorick*

      This is getting too close to nitpicking language. If people typically work 8-5 in this company, then 4 is during the work day, which some people will call mid-day or the middle of the day even though it’s not directly in the middle the way 12pm would be.

      1. Bast*

        I don’t know if it’s too nitpicky. There was quite a difference, coverage wise for me, if someone had asked to take a half day (leaving at 12:00 or 1:00) vs. leaving half an hour or so early. One was more manageable than the other, and one also required the use of PTO whereas the other wasn’t a big deal as long as they offset it by coming in half an hour early. Likewise, if someone was 5 minutes late vs. an hour late, one would be an issue and one was not so much, even though they were still “late” both ways. In the context of this particular scenario, the odd thing for me is that this guy is complaining he can’t get his work done and is still leaving early.

        1. Elsajeni*

          Counterpoint: if the examples the OP had given all happened at noon, there would be a thread decrying them for not letting Jim manage his lunch hour the way he sees fit. The specific time of day is not the issue; the fact that he’s disappearing for hour-plus chunks of what would normally be work time, without discussing it with his manager, and while also complaining of being overloaded and not having enough time in the day.

      2. Felicia*

        If 8-5 is the norm for this company, then they need to assess why they are making people work an extra hour each day. 40-hours includes breaks, and people who try to stretch that definition are bad actors. It may be easy to say its “just an extra hour”, but that means about 250 additional hours over the course of the year, and I know I wouldn’t work 10 free days because someone doesn’t respect work life balance.

        1. Gumby*

          I have never worked anywhere that included lunch in my work time. I am free to eat while working and then I could work from 9 – 5 as a ‘full-time’ day. But if I head off to the local In-n-Out for a burger at lunch time then I am leaving at 6 that day. Or I could work 6 hours today and 9 tomorrow and the day after as long as it generally averages out somewhere near 8 hours a day. Still – the hour away from my desk not doing anything work-related doesn’t count. I can’t imagine the brouhaha that would be raised if I reported that time on my timecard since my company does have some government contracts.

    3. Purpleshark*

      Well, I don’t think we can consider it evening yet. Perhaps “during the middle of the day” is more accurate?

    4. Midday-er*

      In my line of work, we’re here typically 8 or 9 am to 6pm, so 4 pm is still “midday” enough- I’ve got a coworker who takes lunch at 3:30!

    5. TG*

      Yeah that’s not the case in my mind. To me it might sound like if his work was clearly prioritized that would help and does he often have work that comes up every day that had to get done? To me if that’s the case that yes maybe he’s struggling. Also to be honest my generation also puts in effort and I’ve seen too many layoffs lately – including my own – where that counts for nothing so his wanting a balance is a good thing and golf at 4:15 is certainly not something to be punishing him over.

    6. Also-ADHD*

      I found that odd too, and that the LW says there’s a “flexible” culture but expects answers generally at 4:15ish? My job is fairly flexible and if my boss sent something that late which wasn’t rare and urgent, she’d not necessarily expect a response from me until morning (though she’d send it when she had questions and then I’d respond at my ease, with flexibility).

    7. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      It’s not literally the middle of the day, but I take it to mean that there’s plenty of working time left to go, during which people may need things from you (as happened in this case).

    8. Aeryn Sun*

      I was wondering that too. I know plenty of people that start work early so that they end work at 3 or 3:30 PM while still working a full 8 hours. So getting a 4 PM tee time might not necessarily be indicative of not working those hours.

      The thing I wonder in this is if there’s an expectation of what the standard office hours are for this office. Is the employee expected to be working until a certain time? What kinds of communication are expected after hours? Is this employee expected to work overtime if their workload is too high, or are they expected to communicate that they have too high of a workload? Also, 38 hours isn’t too different from 40 – it sounds like a standard 8 hour work day with a half hour lunch.

  2. Dust Bunny*

    Is he a bad fit for whatever type of work this is? Even a light workload seems awful if you hate what you’re doing. But then it’s on him to admit that and deal with it.

  3. FricketyFrack*

    This sounds like a guy who has really internalized the whole idea of hustle culture as seen via LinkedIn, which generally involves very little actual hustle and a lot of talking about it (“man I’m just so busy, got so much on my plate, but I somehow still have time to write a 5 paragraph essay so my network knows how busy I am!”), but he’s apparently pretty young, so maybe OP can still get through to him about how that’s not great from any angle.

    Also, ughhhh to posting about going golfing on the company-wide channel. My guy, no one cares. Post it on whatever social media 25 year olds are using these days. Or just go golfing and tell no one like we used to do back in my day, sonny! Sorry, I’m in full get off my lawn mode today, I guess.

    1. urguncle*

      The only people who care about your 4:15 tee time are the people who you definitely do not want to care, like LW here.

      Some people are just Whiners. I had a boss whose “busy schedule” occupied too many of my waking hours. Big chunks of free time in the middle of the day, but she was constantly “so busy!” I was honestly perplexed at how this woman spent her time.

      1. birb*

        It’s common bad advice that you can get away with doing less / will be asked for things by others less, if you constantly talk about how busy you are. Some people also think it makes them sound important.

        In every job I’ve ever had, the people who do the least scream the most about being busy, and any time I’ve seen someone advocate for themselves when they absorbed a new role or got voluntold they’re in charge of a new task, the answer is “But we’re all busy! I’m so busy all the time, too!”

        1. StarTrek Nutcase*

          I experienced the same thing. I was always amazed at the obliviousness of the least productive coworkers who claimed to be extremely busy yet had plenty of time to complain with others, while simultaneously making snarky remarks about those of us who preferred to just put our heads down and crank out our work. And they really got po’d when one of us ended up having a free afternoon or substantially less supervision.

          I don’t think that first of worker can be convinced one of the biggest blocks to their success is their poor time management and the second type convinced a more casual pace has value.

      2. nofiredrills*

        I was a nanny for a woman whose whole schtick was being a “boss babe” and was always lecturing people about hard work. From what I saw that means silently sitting on conference calls with plenty of time for midday nail appointments.

      3. CommanderBanana*

        Yes, my former boss was always “so busy,” but god knows with what, because she produced no work product and barely responded to emails.

    2. Anonym*

      It does seem like an odd thing to announce to allllll of your colleagues. Wonder if he’s still absorbing some norms of the professional environment.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        At 2.5 years at a professional job, I was still a mess, so I wouldn’t be surprised.

        (Admittedly, I was also neck-deep in a mess of a workplace and it took me years to realize it.)

    3. Turquoisecow*

      Oof yeah I definitely have worked with people who like to talk about how so VERY busy they are, 500 emails, 200 things to do before they go home, boss knocking at the door, phone ringing off the hook, no time to do that extra thing so can I please handle it? And then I go ask them a question and they’re on Facebook or taking a personal call, and I finish their “super hard, going to take all afternoon!” task in half an hour.

      For them it is important to act like they’re so busy either because they feel like they should be, maybe because everyone around them talks like that, or they’re afraid of losing their jobs or taking on too much work, or they’re just lazy.

      I can’t tell from the letter if Jim is talking about busy while slacking because he wants to slack, talking about being so overwhelmed because he doesn’t want to take on more work, or because it’s the culture and he’s trying to fit in, or something else. The couple of examples OP cited here are not super egregious but if they fit a pattern of behavior it’s definitely worth having a conversation to get to the bottom of it. If he is overwhelmed AND taking an hour to reply to a higher-up (when the expectation is it should be quicker) because he’s doing something personal in the meantime, that’s not necessarily a really terrible thing, but if that’s happening a lot, it’s giving the higher ups the impression that he’s got extra time on his hands which could lead them to think he’s *under*worked.

    4. Clare*

      I can definitely see a scenario where he’s so new to the working world that he thinks that golfing and talking about being busy are very important parts of a working man’s persona. Probably also making loud phone calls in front of people, flooding every sentence with pointless jargon, having a bone-crushing hand shake, and using a copy of ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People’ as a pillow. Of course there are also plenty of other possible root causes, but the ‘work age’ fits. I’ll be interested to read the update on this one.

      1. HG*

        He totally thinks important, hardworking men play golf. He just doesn’t realize they’re using it to network/make sales. He’s thinking of when Jim Halpert decided to actually make an effort at work and took a potential client golfing, but he missed the point of that scene.

    5. Jade*

      My ex used to tell his boss he was swamped when he had plenty of time for golf. I told him he was going to get fired. He did.

  4. No clever name yet*

    I assume that the LW checked to be sure he didn’t come in early on the days when he left early? I leave half an hour early on some days to go to Pilates but I always log in half an hour early on those days so I’m still working my full hours. My workload actually is totally unreasonable (my manager agrees and has been begging for a second position in our area) and Pilates helps me manage my stress from being overworked. The difference is, I guess, that my performance reviews are always stellar.

    1. Lydia*

      Well, it’s not really the job of the OP to chase down Jim’s schedule. Jim should probably be sharing it if he needs to flex when it becomes clear his boss doesn’t know where he is.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        But if the company has ANY small flexibility, his hours don’t sound odd at all, do they? Though a company where most people work over 40 hours and 38 is side eyed is not necessarily THAT flexible.

        1. amoeba*

          It’s not really the 38 h that are side-eyed though, but the fact that he complains about being overworked while simultaneously working less than other people/than he’s officially supposed to! LW explicitly says that it wouldn’t generally be a problem otherwise…

          1. Also-ADHD*

            I feel like it’s also normal for young workers to feel overworked. I don’t have many on my team due to function (we have one cusp of Gen Z worker, but it’s rare for someone to work in my function as their first job, even our entry roles) but our trainers that I work with can be entry level and many of the young ones seem overwhelmed by what I consider (after years of much harder jobs) super easy, flexible work—but it’s still hard to work 40 or even 38 hours those first few years (was for me too at least). Though I didn’t get the liberty of remote work back then—that was a big game change for me!

            1. allathian*

              That’s true. Regardless of background, it usually takes a while for young employees in their first full-time jobs to adjust to the demands of working full time. In office jobs this is true whether they work in an actual office or remotely. And some employees need more social interaction than others, which can add another dimension of exhaustion to working remotely 40+ hours a week (this is a known issue, and something experienced employees, especially those introverts who prefer an environment with minimal interruptions, often fail to acknowledge).

              No matter how grueling your college schedule is, it’s usually more predictable than office work, and with fewer interruptions that require you to reprioritize your work on the fly.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          The flexibility may be more about when you put those hours in rather than the number of hours. That’s what flexi-time means for me at any rate.

    2. WomEngineer*

      Or he could take a shorter lunch. Most people around me work 8-5 but take <1 hour for lunch.

    3. Friendo*

      “When I took a closer look, I saw that he averaged 38 hours/week (40+ hours/week is typical for our company).”

      I mean, yes, they are.

  5. Lacey*

    My office is really flexible, but we are supposed to let people know what’s going on up front. I wouldn’t just reply next day with, “Sorry, dipped out early” – I’d let my team know I’d be out at 3.

    And, the flexibility is presuming we’re on top of stuff. I work in a pretty chill place, most of the time it’s not an issue if I walk my dog for 20 minutes, but, it wouldn’t be ok for me to do it if I wasn’t hitting my deadlines or if we had a lot of new work coming in.

    1. BellyButton*

      That’s the same for us. We post in our slack “I am logging out early for an appointment, contact OtherPerson if you need anything.” Or sometimes it’s “You can still reach me by Slack but I may be slow to respond.”

    2. AngryOctopus*

      Yeah, my boss has no issue with me coming in at 7:30 and leaving at 3. But he knows that I’m available online while my group members are working (they’re more 9-5 people), in case there are questions (it’s a lab environment, so that’s not very likely, but sometimes it happens), and I always get my work done in the timelines we’ve talked about (and if I don’t, I’ve already told him why there are delays). It would be different if I never got anything done to time and couldn’t handle new experiments, or if I complained that I had too much work.
      It might be worth going over expectations with Jim and figuring out how he likes to work–if a late afternoon break means he comes back and wraps up between 5:30-6:30, this *might* be OK if you establish with him that he has to let others know, and that he’ll get to X/Y/Z before the next AM, AND that he’s not missing EOB deadlines that could come up. If that second thing isn’t an issue, maybe trying a sanctioned “we are aware of this” break for him could help, he might relax knowing that it’s OK to take time for himself and he can get to his things by time X with no problem.
      It’s worth a shot since he’s still relatively new. But you’re also not obligated to try to Make It Work At All Costs.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      Though what is the expectation if you’re just working on something else? The example – between 4:15-5:15: 1st email comes in with feedback, 2nd email with questions on another project. I don’t actually think it’s bad to answer those the next morning. Leaving earlier than that is different, but even then I don’t necessarily expect a response that day even without context.

      1. Cat Tree*

        The difference is that if you’re working on something else, you will periodically check email or Teams to see what’s coming in, and you can prioritize accordingly. If something urgent comes in, you’ll be available to know that, which you would miss if you were out golfing or whatever.

        1. Jen 2*

          Sure, but you probably wouldn’t be checking email more than once an hour, so you’d see both emails when you check at 5 before you sign off for the day. You’d still probably only respond that day if it seemed truly urgent.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            That highly depends on your job! Most of my work comes through e-mails, so my e-mail is always on, the notifications are always on, and I am absolutely expected to at least scan the e-mail the moment it comes in to know if it’s an urgent matter or can wait.
            An e-mail that comes at 4:15 could very well may need an answer in the next 30 minutes.

            1. GythaOgden*

              Yeah, same here. As an admin, emails are the backbone of my job and I answer them when they come in so they don’t like up. They generally hinge around people getting paid, so it’s my job to action them ASAP.

            2. Lacey*

              Yup. I don’t have those situations often but they happen. And I’m being paid to be available when they do.

        2. Your Mate in Oz*

          Eh, maybe. I’ve taken to having my laptop open with teams and signal side by side because I often miss the notifications on my working desktop. That helps but doesn’t fix the problem. I’ve had my team leader say “you’re not answering messages but I saw other evidence that you are working right now so I rang you”. And that’s happened more than once when they have something urgent (more than once in ~5 years, not more than once this week).

          OTOH as a child I was notorious for being so engrossed in a book that I’d miss the call for dinner. This isn’t new and I am capable of ramping up alerts if need be, it’s just that 90% of the messages on teams/signal are either gossip or “eventually we might want to think about looking at this” level work.

  6. AnonANoNo*

    Ugg I am having a similar conversation with someone today. Our company is 100% remote, we have discretionary PTO (not unlimited, it is up to the manager) and we are incredibly flexible with time, as long as the work is getting done and clients can get the attention they require. I have one employee who is taking off so much time it is an issue. She has an employee who is on a PIP and is likely going to be let go. If that employee isn’t let go, then my DR needs to be supporting her, following up with her work, and picking up any slack. If she is let go, my DR will need to interview, hire, train, and support the new hire- and that takes at least 3 months. The last time she was away she had made very little plans to have her work covered or to have someone supporting her DR and it fell on me. Now I have to have a discussion about her plans for coverage and how February and March may not be ideal times for her to be away for the lengths of time she is asking for.

    1. Properlike*

      Makes me wonder if your DR’s employee’s problems aren’t a little bit due to DR’s management style (or lack of, if they don’t plan in advance and are gone a lot?)

  7. TechWorker*

    I am not in the same position because my manager is happy with my work output.. but I do find my productivity varies a lot (& sometimes being overwhelmed means I have a stressed & unproductive day). My boss and bosses boss work hard when needed bt also prioritise exercise at lunch & usually leaving on time… and tbh this is so so important to my mental health too. If I’m busy and overwhelmed and skip exercise/work late it takes my body about 2-3 days to punish me with a crippling migraine. And then I’m useless for a couple of days… So… idk I think there is maybe a bit more nuance here. Maybe his productivity would be even worse if he wasn’t taking the walking breaks :p

    1. Lenora Rose*

      There are days when I have a long to do list or a huge deadline, and I barrel through it, and days where it causes me to start doing an avoidance dance. I’m trying to identify which stressors cause which effect, ideally to turn more of the avoidance dances off. But yeah, whatever’s jamming me is pretty much never caused by the times I stop and stretch.

      1. GythaOgden*

        He’s not just taking a break to stretch. He’s actively leaving work during the day when he should be available and not answering any calls or whatever he should be doing.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I read somewhere that every hour of overtime costs about 2 hours of productivity the next day, and that is so true for me. I worked a job that sometimes required us to work 11 or 12-hour shifts several days in a row and the entire next week I was the walking dead.

      I’m pretty sure I’m at peak productivity at 6 hours per day. Fortunately, my manager cares about my results, not whether my butt is in a seat for 8+ hours a day.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yeah. I had to travel to our annual meeting and the secretary booked a return train very late in the evening. I asked my immediate manager if I could come in late the next day and he said to check with the big boss, but she was in an important meeting. So I just decided to come in late the next day. It wasn’t as if I had anything on my to-do list, and even if I had I wouldn’t have actually accomplished anything in the first few hours apart from deplete the coffee reserves.

  8. Boss Scaggs*

    Depending on your location and when this was written, the sun sets pretty early in some places so it could be that 4pm was his last chance to play golf before it got dark.

    1. Peachtree*

      Yeh, and don’t people get a lunch break? I know 4pm is late but I can imagine someone working through lunch to get out early for a quick game. I find it difficult enough to get out for a run during the work day and that’s only 45 mins of my life!

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Sure, but playing golf isn’t a necessity, and if he’s doing that in favor of finishing necessary work it’s not a good look.

      1. Spicy Tuna*

        Eh, as a person with SAD, getting even a little sunshine is a huge mental health benefit and can be a necessity sometimes. Playing golf is a good way to do that. But, if I were golfing at 4, I’d also log back on later that evening (after the sunshine is gone) to make up for it.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          I get that it can be beneficial, but I think a walk (or even working outside) can produce the same benefit. And again, if he weren’t always talking about being stretched thin and not having time for things I don’t think leaving early to play golf occasionally would be as big a deal.

    3. Colette*

      That might be true. And maybe there’s a good reason why he prioritized golf. But if he’s truly leaving work before regular business hours are over and complaining about how he’s overwhelmed … there may be a connection.

    4. The Person from the Resume*

      … but the times he can play golf doesn’t matter if he’s so busy at work, he shouldn’t be leaving work/his home office more than hour earlier than the normal end time on a workday. He presumably has all weekend daylight hours to play golf when he is not expected to work and as much PTO as he is authorized to take.

    5. Ally McBeal*

      Is that supposed to be some sort of justification for golfing (and being unexpectedly unavailable to coworkers) during the work day?

      1. Boss Scaggs*

        No, but since the OP said they prioritize flexibility, and that she hasn’t even talked to Jim about this, he might think it’s perfectly fine.

        1. Lucia Pacciola*

          “Prioritize flexibility” means “finish your work at odd hours (up to a point) if that makes it easier to handle some personal business during normal working hours, as long as your work gets finished and we know what you’re up to”.

          It doesn’t mean, “dip out whenever, leaving your work unfinished and your colleagues in the dark, all while you complain about having so much work to do.”

      1. duinath*

        seems like an odd take. if you’ve got time to golf, you’re not struggling to keep up. if you’re struggling to keep up, you don’t have time to golf. if he doesn’t get that (somehow) lw better sit him down and talk about it. it’s not wrong to have hobbies, but if they’re taking a toll on your job (or appearing to) something needs to change. maybe golf on the weekends, or stop telling people you’re struggling to keep up.

    6. Baunilha*

      But if he is leaving early for whatever reason AND is feeling behind in his workload, then he needs to make up for those hours later. I’ve been taking an extra break during the day to go to the gym (on top of my regular lunch break), but I go back to work after and usually leave later so all my work gets done. The only times I don’t make up for it is if I’ve finished everything on my backlog, which doesn’t seem to be the case with Jim.

    7. slippers*

      But playing golf shouldn’t be his priority on a working day. He can play golf on his days off! I don’t understand this reasoning.

    8. Kella*

      If there is some reason that golfing is a necessity for him, it should be perfectly possible to go golfing and a. loop in his coworkers that he’s leaving early so they’re not waiting on a response b. make up the hours somewhere else in the week so he’s getting to the 40+ hours that is the company’s norm and c. stay on top of his workload. The golfing looks bad because he’s not doing a, b, & c.

      1. Dog momma*

        If I had to cover for someone ALL THE TIME, plus my own work, so they could go golfing, ( our work was time sensitive.. medical); I’d be documenting & letting the boss know. And I have done it & was informed I had to..Couldn’t even make a Dr/ dentist appt. Stayed a couple yrs and got out. it was ridiculous.
        if it was medical appointments, that’s different. And ID be more understanding.

    9. ClaireW*

      I mean yeah that’s true, it gets dark around 4pm where I live – but that doesn’t mean I can just decide to go down to the beach or go wandering in the forest or something for over an hour and then tell people I don’t have time to get all my work done.

      My work is flexible and I could leave early or take a break and come back later, and I actually live like 3 minutes from the beach – but I’m not going to tell my coworkers that I’m on the beach while also telling them I can’t possibly get all my work done because I’m soooo busy!

    10. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      yeah well thing is, work should take precedence, if only to pay for the golf club membership fees! There’s still the weekend! Blimey, what next? The swimming pool is only open from 9-5 so I’ll be away all afternoon? My gaming friends are only available during the day?

  9. 123*

    While I wouldn’t post about golfing on my work Slack, it doesn’t seem reasonable to hold a walk break against an employee (even a struggling one) if they’re working a role where specific coverage isn’t necessary at all times.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think a walk is a big deal – unless it’s combined with being unexpectedly away during the work day and complaining about running out of time during the day. When both of those things are true, it becomes a little concerning.

      This walk, in particular, started during the work day, extended to outside of work hours, and was at least an hour long while he was working on a collaborative project – and then, when he didn’t get something done, he said he’d intended to do it but ran out of time. Maybe he truly has too much work on his plate! But maybe the issue is he’s not working enough hours to keep up with his workload.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        More hours does not always equate to greater productivity, and I’ve even found my team more likely to be unresponsive or step away more when they are overwhelmed, even (or especially) with a good work habit. I imagine LW has also actually looked at his workload and deemed it normal for the company, though how reasonable that is if most people work above 40 hours most of time, I’m not sure. (We should de-normalize that, and the current discussion is if even 40 hours should still be the norm etc.)

        I feel like the letter doesn’t give enough insight into the work produced, but the examples given don’t make me think “This guy is lazy” so much as “This guy believed his company’s line about flexibility”.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          yeah, well when I was working four hours fewer than my colleagues, I wasn’t paid for those four hours, so maybe this guy should take a paycut if he’s not putting in his hours?

    2. Daisy-dog*

      He’s presenting these separate statements in a way that they appear conflicting:
      – I’m so, so, so, so, so busy!
      – I went for a walk and wasn’t looking at email from 4:15-5:15.
      They can be presented together and not be conflicting:
      – I was so overwhelmed that I needed a walk to clear my head.
      Or he could ask for help/support:
      – I’m struggling with all of these projects. I frequently need to step away from my desk because it’s so overwhelming. Can you help me? (or other more specific question including: Is it okay that I’m disconnecting a couple times/week?)

      But LW just doesn’t know what to do with the information as given.

      1. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

        Love this example! My concerns as the manager definitely stem from the conflicting communication.

      2. Awkwardness*

        Great example.

        I am a little bit torn on this letter as this happens with me if I have too much on my plate. As in: overwhelmingly too much combined with running too many meetings and no time to actually think or do anything about the topics.
        My brain will just shut down after 7 hours and not process any other information. I am getting better in logging off or taking an extended break as I do not get anything done anyway. But I believe just working longer hours will not always help you in getting done more if the intensity of your workload is too high.
        I cannot really tell from the letter if this might be the case here.
        Sure, in general, people who brag too much that they are under stress are the ones very likely to not be under stress. But I am really stuggling with the argument of optics here.

      3. Dog momma*

        He doesn’t need to walk an hour, 15- to 20 min will do just fine. I did 10 min walks around 3pm, made all the difference

        1. Evan Þ*

          Maybe he does. Sometimes I’ve needed that long a walk to feel decent – not often, but sometimes.

          (Of course, if he needs to walk that long regularly, it’d take a lot of time and there very well might be better ways to manage his workload. If so, LW should open a more general conversation about that.)

  10. Double A*

    I think it would be really helpful to spell out explicitly for Jim what “flexible” means at your company. It sounds like you expect communications to be monitored and responded to promptly during standard business hours. I work from home with those stipulations, and honestly my work doesn’t feel that flexible. I *can* flex time occasionally, meaning that rather than taking PTO for a 2 hour chunk, I let people know I’m away and I make up that work at another time (or just stay on top of my work and no one knows I didn’t make it up). But if someone told me our work was “flexible,” I’d wonder what balls they were dropping because it’s pretty densely scheduled other than you can take 5-10 minute breaks as needed.

    1. Bast*

      I wonder how clear they are on “flexible” as well. OldJob was flexible in the same way — as in, taking off/coming in a half hour, or an hour early with advance notice for an appointment was fine, as long as the time was made up. Anything longer than an hour/hour and a half required the use of PTO, but the idea was that even while working remotely, you would be at your desk, working, and available the same as if you were in the office — so if you went to lunch, you were expected to make people aware that you were going to lunch, and you better be clocked back in right in half an hour and not a minute later. I wouldn’t exactly call it flexible either, although they certainly thought they were. Working from say, 8 to 12, and then not logging in until 6 again, even if you did another 4 hours and fulfilled your 8, wouldn’t have been acceptable, though in other companies this would have been the very definition of “flexible.”

    2. BottleBlonde*

      Agreed, and flexible can mean something different in different places. At my job, it basically means I can step away for an appointment occasionally, but I’m expected to let my manager/team know & make up the time. Whereas for my mom‘s job, as long as she doesn’t have a scheduled meeting, is accessible by email (on her phone), and get things done by their deadlines, she can manage her time however she likes.

  11. Georgina Sands*

    Maybe he’s taking walk breaks *because* he’s feeling overwhelmed and stressed out? Going for a quick walk every now and then can definitely be beneficial when staring down an unending pile of work. Alternatively, maybe he finds the work particularly difficult rather than the volume of it? Or perhaps he’s just one of those people who gets stressed out by having things to do – I work with one at the moment and honestly I’m tearing my hair out. If it’s a full working day he acts like someone’s asked him to work 48 hours straight, and even if we have a super empty day with only a few hours of work (which we have quite a lot) he complains and stresses about it all day only to get it done at the last minute with maximum drama. It makes me so stressed since I have to work with him!

    …that ended up in a bit of a digression sorry! Maybe something to post on the next work-related thread.

    1. Enginerd*

      +1 to your first sentence. I could easily see someone who is stressed out feeling the need to check out early some days for their own sanity. That’s not necessarily saying that leaving to go golfing is a good time management choice or that his level of stress is normal for his workload, but I can see the desire to take breaks out of the building as an understandable response.

      1. curiosity killed the cat*

        I can see the walk being in response to the stress — but then I still do think it’s an optics issue. A response for the exact same thing that might not have produced the same situation would be “sorry for the delay – that’s definitely on my plate and I think I’ll be able to get to it by [X time].”

    2. Mim*

      I was wondering the same thing — walking as a way to cope with stress, or to get one’s body and mind moving after grinding your gears on something without much progress. Sometimes taking a break is actually the most efficient way to move forward, or at least a way to preserve one’s mental health when feeling overwhelmed for whatever reason.

      I’m also wondering about whether this is an hourly or salaried job. Is it 40+ hours as in hourly + overtime, or 40+ hours as in people work as long as necessary to get the job done, because they are paid to do their work and not by the hour?

      As someone who has a 40 hour a week job and is paid hourly, feeling overwhelmed with too much to do while putting in an average of 38 hours a week should be a red flag that there is probably too much to do, because 2 hours a week shouldn’t be the difference between feeling you can manage and not manage your workload. That leaves no room for taking PTO. As someone in a position like that, I actually lost PTO at the end of the year because I had accumulated more than I was allowed to carry over, because I always felt too busy to take any.

      I feel like the default assumption around these parts is that everyone is working in a salaried position, so who knows, maybe that person is too, and the expectation is put in as many hours as necessary to do the work. But as someone who has literally never been lucky enough to be free from the yoke of tying my paycheck to a timeclock, it’s easy to see how this could actually be someone who has been given too much to do.

      1. works with realtors*

        I wondered similar as you – with the added question of “is the 5/10 rating with a not impressing anyone because anyone working over 40 hours is seen as being impressive?” The optics are bad, sure, but is that because the company culture immediately jumps to “you’re not productive enough” when thinking about hours on the clock.

        That said, I don’t think the LW is wrong to wonder what to do – but I think it’s a matter of “are we unknowingly rewarding those people we see working longer hours, and so he feels he needs to say he’s stressed in order to fit in?” I’ve been at places that absolutely would love to milk extra hours so they act like if you’re not stressed and working overtime, you are at risk of consequences.

    3. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I had the same read. This question and the response to it is the kind of thing that gives the lie to workplaces that claim to support employee mental health.

      Stepping away from your work is like top three recommendations for dealing with workplace stress but if folks immediately jump to the conclusion that you’re lazy or can’t manage your time if they don’t see you at the desk, then you don’t actually have the flexibility to do that.

      And I would like to add that if your work time averages to 40 hours a week throughout the year, then you are working a lot of overtime or not using your time off so I would not say that flexibility is a priority there.

      TBH this answer disappointed me a little.

      1. Corey*

        > TBH this answer disappointed me a little.

        It disappoints me a lot, as do the comments here. A manager is concerned about the optics of an overwhelmed employee who goes for a walk at a company that prioritizes flexibility, and we are treating that as a problem with the employee??

        1. Tio*

          If it were a single walk, probably not.

          But flexibility doesn’t mean “Work whenever you want and I don’t know when that is.” If you’re out early, or taking a walk that takes over an hour, you need to let your bosses know where you are and at least an estimate of when you’ll be back, a slack message, a teams status, nothing! I’m kind of shocked that so many people think that disappearing without telling anyone where you are for over an hour during the official workday is what flexible means

            1. Tio*

              Here’s the framing I see from a letter:
              An employee who’s seen as having a lowish work ethic, who doesn’t appear to have more work than others. He’s unreachable for at least an hour when his boss doesn’t know where he is.

              You may have your own goalposts and a job where no one cares where no one cares where you are during the day – I believe you, those jobs exist – but they’re not the standard expectation of flexibility. You can argue it should be, sure, but it just isn’t, and it definitely doesn’t sound like that’s the case here. Most companies prefer to know when their employees are in or out for a variety of reasons, even if they’re ok with those employees being out at those times. And it sounds like this is a concern for the LW. They need to explain what the specific expectations are to this employee and see if they meet them. If not, then that’s another conversation to be had.

          1. Katie Impact*

            Seconding Corey that there really are jobs where you can take time off without notice and nobody cares as long as you meet deadlines. I have one (although I’m a contractor rather than an employee, so that kind of flexibility is more the norm). I guess there isn’t a single objective definition of what’s flexible enough to count as “flexible” and what’s not, but it’s worth keeping in mind that there are jobs that are even more flexible than what meets your personal bar for “flexible”.

          2. Also-ADHD*

            I work remotely and we never really tell anyone we’re going to be away unless it’s quite a long time (not coverage based work but it sounds like neither is this guy’s). We’re pretty flexible so we’d never expect anyone the first or last hour of the day (could easily be shifting time or skipping lunch) or any time we hadn’t specifically booked. Even an urgent message would probably be same day, not same hour!

          3. Dog momma*

            Plus you’re expected to be at WORK. They are paying you to work40 hrs. Not to golf on company time. A short walk doesn’t mean one hr.. or more!

            plus, if he can’t be reached,has an accident, hit by a bus/ whatever when he’s supposed to be working, how does that work out

        2. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

          Where I’m struggling as the manager is the “overwhelmed” part. Jim says that he’s overwhelmed, but he’s working normal hours, hitting deadlines, and performing at expectation.

          Alison makes a good point about digging in there, because that’s not my definition of “struggling”.

          1. MissNomer*

            OP, I had a report in a similar situation last year. His work was fine, he was working about an average number of hours, but he was telling me (and a couple of his peers who were working significantly more hours) pretty consistently that he felt overwhelmed. I meet with him weekly so I started asking him to come prepared with a list of everything he was working on and what about it was making him feel overwhelmed.

            That actually ended up fixing the problem; he was just pretty new to working and not used to having enough discrete items on his plate that he couldn’t mentally track them. Once he had to come up with some way to track the items, what they entailed, and the timelines involved, that made him feel like he had it under control. We still meet to check in, but it hasn’t been an issue. Fingers crossed your situation has an easy fix too!

          2. PK*

            Without knowing if the golf game was a one off thing or a reoccurring issue, I can say that in my personal experience, there are sometimes where if I have enough work that I can technically do all of it in 40 hours/week but it means that I am tied to the desk working at a high level of intensity and adrenaline, I find that very overwhelming in the long term. If there are weeks or months in a row where I can’t take a 15 minute walk without having to be glued to my email, it’s mostly do-able but very stressful. I leave you to judge, if this is true for him also, if he will be successful in his role long term and/or if he will not thrive in your industry – but it might explain how he could be feeling like his workload is too much if he feels like the intensity and amount of “on” he puts in that 38 hours is not sustainable for him.

            One question might be, if he had a lesser workload but worked the same hours – does he think his performance could be maybe more like an 8/10? It could very well be that he procrastinates, or that he just doesn’t have an aptitude for the work, and that’s why he’s a 5/10. But maybe he feels like he’s only able to put a half amount of effort into his work to stay at 38 hours. If it’s expected for someone at his level in your industry to voluntarily work overtime to get to 8/10, rather than rushing and doing incomplete work just to stay at 38 hours, I think that’s a legitimate conversation to have just so he knows where he stands in his future career. While I love remote work, one of the drawbacks is that people sometimes don’t have a sense of how many hours their other peers are putting in, for better or worse. (Ie, there’s no opportunities to performatively stay late to artificially look like a hard worker, but also lots of hard work can go unnoticed by those who are more humble and don’t tell people how many hours they’re putting in – I realize he fills out a timecard for you, but does he know that others are working more than he is and that’s why they’re not complaining?) Perhaps he doesn’t realize that it is common for people in his role to “stretch out” their workloads so that they can take a golf break, but then they have to put in a few hours on Saturday too. It sounds like from your letter that most other people in your industry do put in more hours, probably uncompensated? And as much as I’d love to say that we should all be taking a stand to do just 40 hours only, I know that there are many industries where that is a very uphill change that realistically will not happen soon. I think it’d be very interesting to hear if he is just drawing a very firm line with work/life balance, because he wants to be the change he wants see in your industry. Or if he genuinely doesn’t realize he probably needs to put in more hours and that the rest of his peers are putting in the time also.

            There was a letter awhile back here where the OP was a lawyer, and had a couple first year lawyers refusing to put in the traditional lawyer overtime, and she had to make up for their work herself. There was a huge debate in the comment section over whether the young lawyers were in the right, or whether the OP was right to be frustrated her well paid employees were not following industry expectations. I mention this letter not to imply that you are the same and in the wrong, but just as an example of how it seems to be becoming more common for new lawyers to try to push back on workloads and it’s been something Allison is getting asked advice on a lot!

          3. AngryOctopus*

            It might be good to have a conversation with him where you TELL him all of that, and ask him why he feels like he’s struggling (and what can you do to help)? Because as said below, he may just be struggling with all the *things* that come with being a salaried FT professional for the first time. Maybe he needs better help with tracking. Or with prioritization. Maybe a last minute request comes in from you or someone above you and he panics about when it needs to be done and ruminates on it and stresses himself out. Maybe he’s upset because the request came in when he was taking a walk to clear his head, and then he got overwhelmed thinking what you think of him for not seeing the message right away. Who knows? But you’re right that you need to sit down with him. He’s still early career, so it could be a simple matter of helping him prioritize and realize when something is urgent and when “oh by noon tomorrow is fine for these things from Big Boss”.
            And if he’s kinda spiraling after missing things, I think you can reassure him that “hey, taking a long walk or playing a round of golf is fine, if you can get X requests done by 6 and Y requests done by EOB tomorrow, and Z never need to be done before the next Friday at 3”. That way if he comes back to a Y request, he knows ‘OK, gonna grab that first thing tomorrow so it’s done’ and feels better with a solid plan.

        3. ClaireW*

          I feel like going for a walk and going for an entire game of golf are very different though! Lots of people I work with take walk breaks if working from home, but announcing that you’re out playing golf at 4pm would be considered more like saying you’re at a birthday party or the cinema or on a shopping trip aka you’ve stopped working and should have made that clear – especially if you’re already behind and very especially if you’re claiming you have no time to get your work done.

      2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        I’m.glad other people know it’s not flat time management but also energy and morale management as well

    4. Your Mate in Oz*

      when staring down an unending pile of work.

      Doing a phone support job did my head in for that reason. There was never even a minute when there wasn’t a queue of tasks to do ASAP. I was up the chain, so by the time I got to a problem it had been stewing for hours to days. People were polite, but it was never something that maybe needed attention sometime, it was at best “maybe not today, but soon” priority.

      I had to quit, it was just not a job I could do and stay sane.

      Partly that’s because I work at the start of tasks, to get a clear understanding of what’s required and an idea of the effort and time I’ll need. Ideally I coast through the last week tidying up loose ends. But week one I might work 60 hours. An endless queue of random-length tasks doesn’t work like that.

  12. Parlez Vous Francais*

    I’m struggling with this one and I find myself kind of on Jim’s side assuming his actual work product is acceptable. I’m also making an assumption that he’s a salaried expert employee. Being salaried is kind of a scam, the idea being you should work on average a 40 hour week, and yes he’s slightly below that average so I think there’s room for improvement there, but he’s not so far below that he’s clearly blowing off work constantly.

    I want to know where the 38 hour average comes from. Is it active time on the computer? Does he have to clock in and out or fill out a time card? Is he typically working 8:30-5 and taking a half hour lunch? Is there the possibility that he works from home outside of those hours and you’re not seeing it? Is he coming in early on the days he does take off?

    I’ve been in a similar situation to Jim where I had a shifted schedule from my boss. I worked 7-4 and he worked 9-6. At one point my workload got really overwhelming and I tried to talk to him about it, but he mentioned that I left at 4 everyday so it couldn’t be that bad/was on me to handle. I had to lay it out for him that even if I worked an additional 15 hours a week I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the current demand, and we agreed that my actual work product and pace was actually very good. I also reminded him that I signed on for 40 hours worth of work a week, and while I didn’t mind the occasional late night or crazy week, that it wasn’t sustainable to plan for long term. Basically I told him that I was going to work my 40 hours and we needed a plan for how to deal with the excess because we both knew that if I started working 45-60 hour weeks that would become the new expectation

    1. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

      LW here! This is a good question – 38 hours/week average is what he’s manually logged in our time tracker. This covers billable and non-billable work. Basically, as a boss I assume it’s a log of hours he’s worked (no matter the day or time) and doesn’t include any break that’s more than 15 min.

      1. Parlez Vous Francais*

        Thanks for answering!

        To me this means the data you are using is potentially flawed. Depending on your industry and how he’s been told those are used it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s treating it as more of an “estimate”. Like if he takes an hour for lunch because he knows he’s “supposed to” but really works through lunch. Or if he comes in half an hour early but puts his official start time as later. I’ve had to do these in the past and I almost never clocked in work I did outside of my normal hours unless it was a significant amount.

        On the flip side he could also be logging an 8 hour day that’s really more like 6 and a half.

        Whenever it’s manual reporting I question it lok

        1. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

          Yes for sure! I always take our time tracking with a grain of salt. I usually measure it against “does this make sense for their workload” and “does this reflect the online/offline availability and response rates/times that I personally witness from them”. In this case, what he was logging passed my gut-check.

      2. Dasein9 (he/him)*

        “Breaks,” then are times that the mouse isn’t moving? That’s not going to give you an accurate idea of how much work is being done if Jim’s job involves thinking, strategizing, and planning.

        Getting up from the computer and moving around is part of the thinking process. When people do this in offices, they are clearly “at work,” because they are physically there but there can be a tendency to assume people who wfh are “not at work” when doing the same thing. Yes, I’m washing dishes or taking a walk during my work day, but I’m also thinking through a problem in a way I can’t do in front of the computer and returning to my desk to produce the output.

        1. hello*

          since LW says “manually logged”, it probably isn’t an automated activity tracker like you’re implying in your reply

      3. anecdata*

        Oh, thanks for this info LW!

        I think this will probably come up if you start with the broader question (“hey, I’m hearing from you that you’re really busy, but also seeing you only log 38 hrs/week, what’s up?”), but ime norms about what you log to a project vary a lot by company and could be worth reviewing with him how your company handles it (tell him explicitly all time worked should be logged; make sure he knows the norms around logging admin time, planning time, etc)

      4. Zee*

        doesn’t include any break that’s more than 15 min.

        Okay, so, 37.5 hours a week is considered full-time at many places that have an 8-hour workday with a 30-minute lunch. Are you sure he knows that your workplace does not include paid lunch breaks and consider 37.5 hours full-time? Especially since this is only his second job, if his first one did include paid lunch he might not know that he’s actually expected to be “at work” 42.5 hours a week instead of 40.

    2. Emmy*

      The LW says the employee has only been in the workforce 2.5 years, so unlikely that they are in a salaried exempt position. Not many jobs are like that for new-to-work employees since exempt implies a bit of responsibility, professionalism, and experience that one probably won’t have in a short period. At least, that’s my reading of the situation.

      1. Orv*

        It depends on the industry. Even entry-level IT jobs are usually exempt even if they don’t manage anyone. My first job out of college was exempt.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          That was probably incorrect, unless you were designing computer systems. I had a great boss out of college who correctly pointed out to HR that my role didn’t meet the requirements for an exempt computer professional – oh wait that might be a California-specific designation? But when I think entry-level IT I think helpdesk and those mostly don’t meet the duties test. Entry-level software engineers would potentially though.

          1. Orv*

            I was a system administrator for a small company. I think the fact that I was independently making purchasing decisions pushed me into the exempt category. But I don’t think I’ve ever met an hourly sysadmin.

      2. Parlez Vous Francais*

        I have to disagree with that. I, and most of my friends, all immediately went into salaried exempt work right out of college (we’re middle millennial age). It really depends on your field. My reading on this is that it’s a professional job, which tends to lead towards salaried exempt earlier, but who knows that could be my experiences coloring my read on the situation.

      3. RussianInTexas*

        That’s not really the case. Pretty much any office job, especially with college degree can start as a salaried exempt as a fresh out.

      4. Also-ADHD*

        My first job after college was salaried exempt and so was my final job in college, lots of entry level jobs can be, though lots of jobs at entry level aren’t. I don’t think salaried implies level so much as type, and it sounds like Jim is a knowledge worker so he’s very possibly salaried.

  13. BellsStells*

    Interesting that he has only been working for 2.5 years so maybe he is not a good fit for the role as it clearly is not matching his expectation for what a job looks like? Is he a missing stair in the training phase, perhaps? Does he have weekly 1:1s with his boss to align on deliverables and deadlines and weekly expectations? Is his missing stuff actually addressed? Has his manager told him company norms are not to post on slack about golfing at 4pm when others are working?

    1. ferrina*

      The 2.5 years stuck out to me too. It’s possible that Jim just doesn’t know what’s normal yet. OP can definitely talk to Jim about workload and optics. It can also help to have a few scripts in your back pocket- early on I found I would apologize for not responding to a message for 10 minutes, when later I realized that that was just fine!

    2. Brookfield*

      2.5 years in this job means that Jim started his work life during the early stages of the COVID work-from-home upheaval. Time / energy / attention management habits can be really hard to establish if you’ve only ever worked remotely!

      Those of us with years / decades of prior “in office” work history can rely on our muscle memory of workplace norms … but new grads probably don’t have that experience at all.

  14. Formermanager*

    Is the employee actually clear on what is acceptable for flex and has the manager been clear? If he’s posting about golf and readily admitting to taking walks, but the expectation is 8-5 work hours, there needs to be clarification about what is acceptable. Does flex mean you can run to pick up your kids for 15 mins or make a dr appt work or does it really mean flex to your life like golfing or taking a walk? And what’s the expectation for making up those hours? The natural ebb and flow of the role because next week it’ll be 45 hours or it’s ok to take a walk from 4-5 if you start at 7 or come back and work until 6 or don’t take a lunch.

  15. BellyButton*

    I typically work while I eat lunch and I take a walk every day in the late afternoon. Taking a walk isn’t something I would hold against someone, but he should be made aware of what the norms are for your company. Should he announce when he is stepping out? Should he make sure his Slack status shows he is busy or on focused time if he can’t be reached. What does flexible mean at your company? I think we often assume people see what other people are doing and follow, but not everyone notices. It is helpful to lay our what the cultural norms or the unwritten rules are for someone who isn’t getting it.

    1. londonedit*

      Yes, I agree. Unwritten rules like this can really trip people up, especially when they’re new to the world of work. I work on a small team, and it’s totally fine for all of us to take time out during the day to, say, pop to the post office or go out for a half-hour walk if we’ve been in meetings all morning, or take a longer lunch to catch up with a friend. But in our work culture, everyone – boss included – lets everyone else know that they’ll be away from their desk for half an hour or whatever. And that flexibility, for us, wouldn’t include ‘Hey, just arrived at the golf course’ during the working day. It would include ‘I’m going to take an extra half-hour at lunch so I can go to a new Pilates class that’s started down the road, will stay late to make up for it’, or ‘Would it be OK if I worked 9:30-5:30 on Tuesdays, because there’s an 8-9 gym class I’d like to go to’, but not ‘Just arrived at the golf course’ with no prior notice.

  16. K*

    It’s possible that both things are true — Jim is overwhelmed and struggling AND golfing midday.

    If he is so overwhelmed and struggling that he is shutting down and not even trying anymore (something I have seen, unfortunately, way too many times), focusing on the golfing is not likely to achieve the change you’re needing to see.

    Digging deeper might get you more (necessary) details.

    1. Ama*

      I do think a talk with Jim focusing on the fact things aren’t getting done on time and (if this is a problem in OP’s office) he sometimes isn’t as responsive as needed during core hours is a good place to start. I have seen “too overwhelmed to even know where to start,” “not great at time management,” and “unclear about the expectations of a 9 to 5 job” in different reports and they can look surprisingly similar from the outside, but the solutions are very different.

  17. Sunny*

    It sounds like there’s some disconnect too around responsiveness. To me, a one-hour response time is perfectly normal and I wouldn’t even expect my employee (or myself) to provide a reason. I wonder if there’s something more going on with your culture OP, and your definition of flexible is different from Jim’s?

    So in addition to suggesting Jim should probably be less cavalier about where he is when the ‘where’ is more leisure than things like a doctor’s appointment – maybe you need to talk to him about expectations for responsiveness in his role. Was this a very fast-moving project and he didn’t realize that? Or do you and him simply see those things differently – in which case, is there also room on your side to be more accommodating of his work style and approach to work-life balance?

    And even with the difference between working 38 hours and 40 hours – which isn’t a negligible thing, especially factored out over a year – would that actually get him to where he needs to be? Is he consistently working only 38 hours? Or does he sometimes work overtime, so it balances out? Like the email response time, in a lot of places 2 hours here or there wouldn’t matter, which is why I’m wondering if there’s a misunderstanding on what flexibility means.

    1. anecdata*

      I am having trouble bailing down why exactly it’s a problem, but it does seem outside-of-norms to announce that you’ve been taking a personal break. In my job, being in a meeting for an hour is completely normal, and we don’t get urgent questions – but if I got back to my desk and saw eg. a missed question from my boss’s boss… I would just answer it without any comment on the timing. But adding with something like “Sorry, just saw this” or “sorry, just got back from a meeting” feels fine if unnecessary whereas “Sorry, just got back from a walk/laundry/golf” feels ill advised and kind of unprofessional. Like I could do those things, but I’m not going to highlight it

      1. sparkle emoji*

        Yeah, the part that’s jumping out to me most is someone needs to tell Jim he doesn’t need to explain himself as much as he is currently. That talk probably can’t come from the boss, but he’s giving more detail than he needs to and it’s hurting rather than helping.

        1. anecdata*

          Actually I think a boss version of “hey you don’t need to explain /why/ , and it’s actually distracting from the info big boss needs to get that explanation” could work. Same with something like telling a report you don’t need or want a symptom rundown – I just need to know you’re out sick.

  18. I heart Paul Buchman*

    This question is really interesting to me. Not in the US but I find a lot of the content on this site very relevant to my own work norms. This is one of the best examples of where the *culture* differs as opposed to the laws and regulations.

    This would be unremarkable in my country and any boss raising this would be considered unreasonable. 38hr weeks are typical and finishing up early occasionally encouraged (we tend to make up time on other days). Going for a quick walk on a busy day would be seen as productivity boosting. I actually did this today. I was having a shocker of a day and talking with my boss about what to do she said ‘why not go for a quick walk and grab a coffee and we’ll have a look when you get back’. (And I did!)

    1. ThatGirl*

      Well, the problem is not finishing up early or going for a walk. It’s doing those things and talking about them while *also* complaining about a heavy workload and feeling overwhelmed.

      1. Kel*

        Yes, I feel like people are missing that point. It’s the two things together; complaining about overwork but also going golfing at 4pm (which meant he left early, he was pulling into the course at 4pm)

    2. londonedit*

      It’s basically the same where I work (also not in the US) but I think the difference is that Jim is a) complaining about being overwhelmed with work and b) just taking off during his working day to go and play golf. The optics (hate that word, but never mind) of that are different from ‘Hey Boss, I need to clear my head, just going to pop out for a walk, should be back in half an hour’. Disappearing to play golf feels like slacking off to me, and it definitely doesn’t fit with Jim’s complaints about having too much on his plate.

  19. Itsa Me, Mario*

    Am I crazy to feel like an hour isn’t unreasonable turnaround time to answer questions on a project? Unless the question is, like “Where are you? The meeting started 15 minutes ago?!!!!”

    I frequently — regardless of what is on my plate and how I’m broadly feeling about my workload — let a personal task like using the restroom, walking to the kitchen to refill my water bottle, etc. take priority over answering a question from a colleague (even my manager) that isn’t particularly urgent. If it’s a WFH day, I usually will not come back early from a short walk or stop folding the laundry to answer this type of question on the double.

    I don’t know that I would let it go an hour if I was otherwise generally able to respond, but I feel like there is a world where I was in a meeting or working on another work task for 30 minutes, then I took a brief break to take care of bodily needs or do a brief personal thing, and to the person sending the email it could have seemed like it “took an hour” for me to respond.

    To me, the “didn’t respond promptly” issue would be more concerning if it was half a day, if the questions were extremely urgent/there was a looming deadline, or if the explanation was something more like “I was flying to Vegas” and less like “I stepped outside my home to briefly get some fresh air.”

    1. Roy Donk*

      I agree with this! The only circumstance in which I could see this being an issue is if the project in question was due by end of day or first thing the next morning, but the LW didn’t specify that.

    2. Antilles*

      You’re not crazy for thinking that, but the context matters here.
      The fact he’s known as a “5/10 work ethic”, openly posted to everyone about making his 4 pm tee time, isn’t even working the normal 40 hrs/week, etc all play into the reaction. Also the fact that he’s making such a big deal out of how difficult his work load is.
      If he was killing it for 40 hours a week and nobody had any questions about his overall drive, then nobody would notice for a second. But when it seems to be yet another in a line of issues? That makes it come across differently.

      1. B*

        He just seems like a typical good-enough employee who doesn’t care that much about his job. I’m not sure there’s a problem to be solved here.

        1. Antilles*

          In terms of his actual work load, maybe, maybe not. Depends on just how much the 5/10 is affecting his overall performance.
          At the very least though, someone should give him a heads-up on the optics of not announcing stuff like that. Don’t post to the entire company that you’re out golfing, don’t tell the director that you missed their email for a walk.

          1. GythaOgden*

            At 5/10 we’re having a serious conversation about performance and expectations. It kinda got buried, but while it may be not PIP-worthy, it’s not at the point where the guy is actually developing his own growth and may be looking at a longer-term ‘are you in the right position here?’ I certainly had that in my first job out of uni and it was a mutual thing — I was out of my depth practically speaking and had issues that bubbled to the surface when I was outside the supportive, structured life of university.

            I think there is more to discuss with Jim here — not necessarily disciplinary at this point, just some active management to sort out his priorities, expand on what’s ok and what’s not and build a bit more of a sense of context for him as to what your flexibility looks like. Because for me, my boss does need me available during normal working hours and it looks like OP does too, and most jobs like this at entry level, regardless of industry, are going to be more focused on getting someone integrated into the workplace and earning the trust to be able to go AFK without concerns.

            1. anecdata*

              I took 5/10 as “50th percentile” aka about average – not “serious conversation about expectations and performance” territory

              1. Bast*

                I did as well. Average is… well, average. Not PIP territory, but no rock star either. This is the vast majority of the work force; not everyone on the team can, or even has a desire to be a rock star, which is okay. Burn out culture is way too prevalent. Nothing wrong with being average.

      2. Itsa Me, Mario*

        I think posting to company channels about doing a time consuming leisure activity during what is the work day for most people is absolutely not the done thing, and if a youngish coworker of mine was doing that, I’d probably give them the advice that it’s a bad look. And if their work *product* was suffering, I’d probably tie that in as well. (I also think “If you’re so overloaded, how are you finding time to golf?” is completely acceptable to point out!)

        However, the way it’s looped in with the “I asked him a question and it turned out he was taking a walk” feels a little bitch eating crackers adjacent.

        Personally, I don’t think it’s any of my manager’s business what my work ethic is beyond “acceptable to maintain employment”, assuming I’m getting my tasks done and available in a coverage context. I’ve learned the hard way that hustling hard, or even self-consciously crafting the appearance of hustling hard, gets you nothing. I do my job and then I go home. I put my own oxygen mask on first. I don’t golf at 4pm on Wednesdays, but all the rest of it? Workers are human beings, not well-ordered parts in a machine.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I might have misunderstood but it also seemed like the walk took at least an hour? And was near the end of the workday? “Took a quick walk” is generally unremarkable. But if he took a long walk right at the end of a normal workday without anyone knowing and thus got back after everyone else was gone and responded then, that’s a weird look. It’s basically leaving early to take that walk. Maybe he thought the flexibility meant he’d make it up later? And that might be true in some roles. But in others it’s more like “someone has to know you’re doing that before it happens”.

          1. GythaOgden*

            I do this occasionally now the days are getting longer again and I’m going to start taking my phone. I’m able to do it without letting my boss know, but I’m also in a role where I need to be responsive between 9 and 5, and so the trade-off for getting exercise outdoors is going to be taking my company phone with me.

            There’s a corner shop about 10 minutes walk away and if I’m not working on a project like I was yesterday I might start going out there when I need milk rather than paying for it in a larger delivery. But I need to know that I can do that successfully /and/ be responsive for the half an hour that will take, because there’s taking advantage of a more flexible schedule than I had on reception and then there’s abusing it, and I think golfing during the work day at only 2 1/2 years into your career when you’re only really performing at 5/10 to begin with is the second rather than the first.

    3. Charlotte Lucas*

      I think it depends. Right now, I have some things where an immediate response is needed both to my questions and from me. But that is very deadline driven. some things can and will wait.

    4. ClaireW*

      But to me, “I’m out playing golf” is a lot closer to “I’m having fun free time” than “I’m getting some fresh air and clearing my head”. Golf is a social leisure thing, not a health or break thing, it’s closer to “I’m out playing five-aside with some mates” in my mind.

  20. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

    It kinda sounds like he wants you to think he’s busier than he actually is, but doesn’t have the sense to realize that saying he’s going golfing or for a walk makes him sound like he’s actually slacking. When probably he’s doing fine–not really slacking, but also not as busy as he’s trying to make himself out to be. Because there’s definitely a mindset where “I need my boss to know I’m working hard” is a Thing. It’s just usually not combined with someone *also* announcing things like taking a walk or going golfing during part of the work day, and that’s causing a disconnect for LW.

    I would be tempted to pull him aside and ask is he actually busy/overwhelmed, or just wants me to think he is, OR is it that he’s having trouble managing the difference between the busy/non-busy cycles that most jobs have?

    1. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

      LW here – Yes I totally agree! It’s confusing to tell if he’s *actually* too busy or if he just wants me to think he’s working hard. The second one is fine if it’s just about the narrative he wants to tell, but then I would recommend he’s a little quieter about golfing :)

  21. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

    Hi! Letter writer here—jumping into the comments early to provide the additional context that our workplace is fully remote, and there is no set number of hours in a day or week. We don’t have “log on/log off” or “lunch breaks”.

    My main concern (which I think Alison nailed) isn’t his hours or his availability, but it’s his narrative about “heavy workload” and “stretched thin” when his hours and availability tell a different story!

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, either way it merits a conversation — either that he needs to manage his time better or that he’s fibbing about “heavy workloads”, only you know which might be true.

    2. Kes*

      I think it would be worth starting by just talking to him, bringing up the fact that he’s said he’s struggling and asking him for more context on what he’s struggling with. From there you can see.
      I do wonder if he’s just feeling overwhelmed by the work or is struggling with it and so is checking out early or taking breaks in order to be able to keep going because of this. If he’s struggling with the work and so it’s taking more energy to get things done he may feel he’s putting in a lot of work even if objectively his workload isn’t heavy (and he may not have energy by the end of the day to put in extra hours)
      On the other hand, it’s possible he’s just using this as an excuse, and thinks it makes him look good to have such a heavy workload.
      Either way, hopefully talking to him will make it clearer what the situation actually is (does he need help, is the job a bad fit, is he just puffing himself up and you need to talk to him about not doing that and the optics concerns).

      1. Eng Girl*

        Seconding the idea of being sapped at the end of the day! My job is very mentally demanding, some weeks more so than others. I work until my brain can’t work anymore. Depending on the task some days that can look like I’m ducking out early, but in reality there’s not going to be anything gained by me sitting and staring at a computer screen for another hour because I’m tapped out.

        On paper, just going by hours, there are times I must look like a terrible employee, but in reality the way to get the most out of me is to let me drill into something until it’s done and then let me take a recovery period. I’m way more effective that way.

        1. Bast*

          I have also been this employee. In the beginning of the week, I did not yet have the burn out and stress that seemed to creep up on me as the week went on. A 10 hour day on a Monday or Tuesday was reasonable; by Friday I’d be burnt out and usually have about 5 or 6 hours of productive time.

      2. WillowSunstar*

        Is it possible he’s saying this because he thinks it’s good to appear very busy, even when you’re not? Not sure how young Jim is but in the past, I used to temp. It was a matter of survival to look busy at a temp job, because the day you started looking bored was when they started the ball rolling to let you go. He may not have put some temp jobs on his resume, IDK.

      3. Itsa Me, Mario*

        I think this is the answer. When your employee said he was overwhelmed but you knew that he wasn’t working crazy hours, missing deadlines, or any other red flags for people who have too much on their plates, you should have asked some follow up questions. Now would be a great time to ask those follow-up questions.

    3. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

      Curious though, if he is “only” working 38 instead of 40 hours/week…is that really such a huge problem? Is it worth agonizing over & mulling disciplinary efforts? Workers in many jobs, the overwhelming majority of the time, simply aren’t working every single minute of an 8 hr work day. It’s unrealistic to expect they would. Human nature, nature breaks, mental health breaks, eye strain breaks, brain rest…there’s so many reasons why managers shouldn’t expect employees to actually be nose to the grindstone every second of 40 or more hours.

      1. Itsa Me, Mario*

        I’m also curious how exactly they know he is working 38 hours a week if there are no log-on or log-off times, no formal lunch breaks, etc. That’s a very precise piece of data.

        1. Parlez Vous Francais*

          LW responded to my question on that above. It’s based on a time sheet the employee fills out.

      2. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

        I don’t think it’s a problem at all! In this case, Jim is working the number of hours that are typically expected and still performing at expectation – no complaints from me.

        But reporting in an annual review (and frequently talking about) workload as an issue is what raised the flag here.

        1. samwise*

          And if he’s doing it publicly (not just to you), then I’m sure he’s annoying some of his coworkers, who are working just as hard, and possibly harder, but not bitching about it.

    4. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Hey LW!

      Being stretched thin and taking breaks are not mutually exclusive. Maybe Jim is a bad fit for your company if the expectation is an average of 40 hours a week. I think for you to make an informed decision about that, you need to get really clear with yourself and Jim about what you expect from him because it seems like neither of you are really sure.

      You say your company prioritizes flexibility, but I would encourage you to rethink that. Maybe your company is more flexible than some others in the industry, but if you are taking the time off that’s part of your compensation package and not working obscene overtime, you should not be averaging 40 hours or more. If that’s the expectation, flexibility is not a priority and both you and Jim need to understand that to communicate effectively about his role.

      I also would encourage you to ask yourself what you need to see to believe an employee is overwhelmed. This kind of thing is tricky because people don’t have to always appear stressed or depressed or anxious or what have you in order to be experiencing it internally and many of the tools for dealing with those things look like “slacking off”.

      Jim may well be lying or unwilling to give as much to the role as it requires. I’m not saying he’s innocent and you’re just being mean or anything, only that cultural expectations really deeply inform perceptions of hard work and I think it would be good to step back and get curious about the roots of your assessment. You may find your initial assessment was correct! I’m just trying to give you some additional things to think about so you can make the best decisions.

      Good luck!

      1. Letter Writer 1/22/24*


        I appreciate your thoughts about flexibility. It’s insightful that some people may approach a “flexible” workplace with different expectations. In our industry/level/salary 40+ hours (not counting PTO) is definitely normal. When I say our workplace is “flexible” I mean that popping out for a walk or an errand during the day is welcome, as long as your work is getting done and you’re responsive when needed. It is definitely on managers to define what flexible means for each workplace/team.

        The symptoms I expect to see from an over-worked or over-stressed employee are typically long hours, missing deadlines, and declining performance. You make a good point that some personality types don’t react that way.

        You bring up some great points to reflect on!

        1. Cmdrshprd*

          “The symptoms I expect to see from an over-worked or over-stressed employee are typically long hours, missing deadlines, and declining performance. You make a good point that some personality types don’t react that way.”

          To me I would consider that much more than “over-worked or over-stressed” that is more like unsustainable/burnout mode. I think maybe because you say that 40+ hours are normal in your industry. That might be the norm but that does not mean it is necessarily good.

          You say he is performing okay, so for him 38 hours maybe overworked even if he is able to take an hour/two to get his work done. Maybe he is not a good fit for this job. Not everyone has the same bandwidth/capacity for certain things/jobs. My brain might be fried after 10 hours of physics/chemistry work, but I can handle 35/40 hours of reading/research and summarizing just fine.

          1. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

            It’s definitely possible that 38 hours could be overworked for him. I plan to dig in more on this with him and if he’s struggling with putting in 38 hours, you’re right that he probably isn’t a great fit for the role.

        2. Modesty Poncho*

          “The symptoms I expect to see from an over-worked or over-stressed employee are typically long hours, missing deadlines, and declining performance. You make a good point that some personality types don’t react that way.”

          Oh yeah, I would hit “overworked” long before I’m missing deadlines and performing poorly. That’s the crisis point in which it’s impossible to continue, not the beginning of unsustainability. I probably would be putting in extra hours to get in the work but I wanted to flag that assumption.

        3. Dinwar*

          “The symptoms I expect to see from an over-worked or over-stressed employee are typically long hours, missing deadlines, and declining performance.”

          A question worth asking is: Are these the symptoms HE would exhibit, or YOU would exhibit?

          I know from experience that the panic deer-in-headlights response is not uncommon to being completely overwhelmed. Some people just sort of shut down for a little while, then scramble and get it all done. This could explain the walks he’s taking–that’s how he shuts down.

          And as others have said, these are extreme symptoms. It’s called The Clinician’s Fallacy. Basically, no one goes to a doctor unless the disease is REALLY bad, so doctors tend to view the extreme symptoms as the norm. Similarly, at least in the past no one was going to complain about being a little burned out. They wait until they crack. So what we tend to think of as normal symptoms of overwork are in reality symptoms of overwork so extreme that coping mechanisms no longer work. What we SHOULD be looking at is the onset of coping mechanisms. Of course, this is tricky–growth is uncomfortable, after all, so some degree of discomfort is necessary. Everyone’s got to find that happy medium where they’re pushing themselves, but not to the point of drawing on their reserves (at least, not very often).

          Of course, he could just not want to do the work. That’s always a possibility worth considering, and if that’s the case he’s not an asset to your team.

        4. Grith*

          You 100% need to start by communicating this with him. This might be a UK culture thing, but what you describe is just “normal office job” flexibility to me. A job that actually advertises itself as flexible can’t have 9-5 core hours where immediate email responsiveness is required.

          Particularly if Jim is still new to the workforce and/or your company, talk to him and clarify expectations is the first necessary step.

          1. PK*

            I agree. There’s lots of varying definitions of what flexible is. To me personally, a flexible job means you could take two hours in the morning or afternoon to not work, or a long lunch to go to the gym, while making up the hours some other time- but also not be expected to check email during that time. To me, a flexible job is not “you are allowed to visit the doctor” or “work ends at 6 but you can leave at 5:30 on Fri sometimes if you have a good reason and got special permission.” My definition of flexibility usually is a job where someone works quite independently and probably project based, with deadlines that are usually not sudden and have a longer term. They manage their own output and don’t often have to answer to others about what they’re doing except during a few regularly scheduled touch base meetings. To me, flexible is not having to tell anyone what time you’re starting and what time you’re finishing. They don’t give you side-eye if you show up at 11am and leave at 3 to finish the day at home or 2 hours on Sat.

            If there is the expectation that you have to be checking email and responding within 15 minutes, that is active engaged work brain time and it’s not relaxing. It’s actual work, even if there isn’t any tangible output other than the email logs. Maybe OP’s job is my definition of flexible, as long as he communicated he was flexing his time … but if there are core hours that are something like 9-5 instead of noon to 4, then maybe he’s been advertised a flexible position but feels like he can’t exercise that flexibility in the way it’s meaningful to him. That would be stressful to me, to keep being told my job is flexible and I can work whenever I want, except that my nervous system needs to be on high alert for the “new message” ringtone no matter what. And if everyone is remote, and there are no core lunch hours, does he feel obligated to be checking his emails on breaks? Is there a system where he can put “At lunch” on Teams and people won’t bother him or expect him to respond to emails until his status is green again?

            Which brings me to my other point – do people frequently check their email after and before hours, and is there the expectation that people stay on top of the slack messages? Do some people type unimportant things that could have waited until morning into slack after hours? If these things are true, are they logging that time as work on their timecards?

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      Ahh…you’re thinking it’s George Costanza trying to look annoyed all day so everyone thinks he’s doing a mountain of work. Well, I think the advice is the same anyway. Talk to him about why he feels overwhelmed or why he feels stretched thin. Either you’ll find out there’s something real going on or he’ll figure out that he needs to tone it down.

    6. Dinwar*

      It’s worth looking at how his work occurs. There are parts of the day where it’s slow for me–I could probably cut out between 2 and 4 and no one would notice–but the mornings are absolutely slammed and the last hour or two of the day are even worse. Unfortunately, the nature of my work is such that you can’t spread things out; things HAVE to be done at certain times. And believe me, the two don’t cancel one another out.

      If his work is something like that, both things can be true. He can be overwhelmed and stretched thin, while at the same time having periods of downtime.

      I would also take a look at your email practices. Is it normal to have to respond to emails immediately? If so, that’s not really great. It shatters concentration, and makes certain people (I’m one) feel like they’re being held hostage by whoever decides to interrupt them this time. Going on a walk may be this employees response to this mental stress. It’s worth asking if you really do need to respond to emails quickly, or if they can be put in a cue to respond to more systematically. For what it’s worth, neither is wrong–if your job needs fast responses, that’s what it needs, and this employee may not be a good fit. But it’s worth looking at to make sure you’re consciously aware of this, rather than simply drifting towards some standard that may not be a good fit for your business.

      1. PK*

        I have a job where I am expected to respond to emails very promptly. This expectation is clear and I knowingly agreed to it when I accepted the job. However it means that I essentially feel like I spend most of my work day doing things that have no “tangible output” that is my “actual work” – it’s just more where I answer a bunch of people’s teapot questions, order teapot making supplies, and acknowledge/get details on requests for teapot orders, and that then I can only really do my actual “build the 20 teapots” work after hours or on weekends where I’m not getting emails. Because my brain just can’t have my hands stop painting a teapot to answer the email – I totally lose track of what flower petal I was panting. (I would, however, say that I work more than 40 hours of course and I do think my company should split my position into two separate roles – “teapot project manager” and “teapot painter”). But OP mentioned billable work and non billable work which makes me wonder if OP’s employee is struggling to do, say, the billable research writing when they are also expected to be answering emails promptly.

    7. All*

      Late comment here, but in combination with you saying that 40+ hours are typical, I’m not seeing a contradiction between these 2 things. If I had to routinely put in over 40 hours to actually get all my work done, I’d be feeling overwhelmed even if I steadfastly refused to work more than 40 hours. I don’t think there’s anything strange about that.

  22. Glazed Donut*

    Ooh, I had a similar employee situation a few years ago. Jane didn’t like in-office days because she “never got a break” (she was one of a few people in the office, mostly just there for in-person drop-in needs from clients, which happened maybe 2-3x/day)…but her work didn’t reflect that she was working non-stop. Then, when she worked from home, she told me how much she enjoyed being at home because she could work on her bread recipes and was around to do all the time-intensive bread work to make bread her fiance liked.
    We ended up letting Jane go. In more ways than one, our visions for work didn’t align and she wasn’t quite willing to put in the work or communication to help us get there together.

    Because Jim is so new to the workforce, I’d start by making things clear: what flexible work is, what the expectation is regarding response time (& how to indicate being away, if needed), and what work hours are expected and why. Also given the greenness of him, I’d be open to conversations about how management gets work done (this works for me, this is how Bob keeps up with things, this is how Sue does in her area….) and some more transparency about why certain expectations are in place. In doing so, maybe some aspects won’t make sense and that can reframe complaints (ie if there’s no good reason to expect 8-5 work hours, let it go).

    1. Julie*

      I think both employers and employees who work in salaried, flexible environments would benefit from exercising a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset more often. I know this is culture-specific, but there is no reason an employee should be telling their boss all the fun breadmaking they’re doing during the workday. If you can get your work done and tend to your starter, awesome, but your boss doesn’t need to know! And the same way that my boss may be unavailable at certain times during the day to pick up kids from school, I don’t ask where she’s off to, because it’s really none of my business. Just keep your head down, ensure your work is getting done, and then maybe you don’t need to specify in your away message that you’re going out for a walk or a yoga class or whatever. Just…go, and take care of whatever comes into your inbox when you get back.

      1. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

        I absolutely agree. That’s the advice I would give most people entering the workforce. I would love ideas on an appropriate way to say to my direct report, as a manager “hey, it’s actually sort of a liability for me to know when you’re doing leisure activities during the day so just…hush”

        1. works with realtors*

          I just started a new job, and the old job had the expectation that if our teams was ever yellow/idle, we better have a good reason. I’m saying this for context, not cos you’re doing that :).

          My new boss literally told me that she doesn’t need to know what I’m doing if I need to step away for a bit – to just put a private meeting on my calendar in advance. I honestly think just saying that is enough (assuming that works for your business).

      2. Itsa Me, Mario*

        This, also I wonder if part of the reason to err on the side of DADT here is that it’s unrealistic that every manager has an accurate understanding of what something like “baking bread” really entails. Because baking bread isn’t a particularly time intensive activity in terms of active time. It’s easier to do when you WFH because you can preheat the oven between work tasks, be in a meeting while you have bread in the oven, etc. Not needing to commute also gives you back some personal time to do activities like that. It doesn’t actively take hours per workday to bake bread, FFS.

        Better that your coworkers never hear about any of your hobbies outside of maybe a “what I did over the weekend” context.

        1. Jaydee*

          Yeah, bread making is kind of like laundry in that way. The total process takes a few hours from start to finish. But the actual active time is short and sporadic. A lot of the time is spent waiting (and working!) while the laundry machines do their thing, the dough rises, or the bread bakes. That waiting is punctuated by short 10-15 minute periods of kneading dough, shaping loaves and putting them in the oven or bread machine, or switching loads between washer and dryer.

      3. Your Mate in Oz*

        That kind of depends on the boss. Mine is very much inclined to have the new grandchild on his knee during the video call because he’s 90% a new grandparent oh and also an employer (real problem we had!) but more generally he wants us to know that he has a life outside work, and wants to know that we do too. It works because he’s leading by example.

        So we get “I’m off supervising the people repaving my second runway, ring me if you need me” type messages from him, and we get to say “I’m taking my llama to a new yak shaving specialist so I won’t be around tomorrow morning”.

    2. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

      LW here – thank you for this comment! The idea of highlighting a few different work schedules/styles between managers is a great idea (so it doesn’t come off that he *has* to follow my specific work style).

    3. Generic Name*

      As to your second paragraph, I completely agree. I wonder if Jim is observing how managers or maybe even executives behave and drawing some wrongheaded conclusions. Like maybe the folks in sales go golfing mid-day because they are closing a deal with clients on the golf course (not that I love the bro-y private golf club way of doing business, but it’s definitely happens). Or a senior executive just got out of a tense meeting and takes a walk before she goes home to spend a few hours with her family before she logs back on to work after her kids go to bed. I think a lot of the time, what’s externally visible in flexible work environments can often look like slacking, so Jim is following suit, except he’s not doing the other part of flexibility by working some of those working hours at other times of the day AND he’s complaining about being overloaded. I think you do need to bring up the optics of the situation. I think you can explain it to him the same way you’ve explained it here. You can mention that you looked at his timecard as a result of him saying he was overloaded and was surprised to see he’s not even working 40 hours. Wait for his response and then you can also bring up the talking about walks and golfing in the context of saying he’s so busy but not working his full hours.

      1. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

        Thank you for your suggestions on approaching the conversation! I like starting with the timecard as the main evidence, and bringing up golfing/walks really from the optics perspective. Especially because those things aren’t issues individually, it’s the narrative mismatch.

      2. Dog momma*

        AND, unless he’s at high management or C suite L
        levels in the company, that’s their perk( golfing and doing business at the same time) … & those folks may work harder/more hours than the typical employee.

  23. HiHello*

    Maybe it’s because I’m a young millennial but I would not be breaking my back to work 40+ every single week. I also will do a lunch workout only to stay longer that day or start earlier. Mid-day workout breaks are actually amazing to my productivity and general mental health. Also, there is this weird notion of certain people thinking that talking about how much work they have is some kind of a flex. Maybe he thinks he needs to keep saying it, considering he is still young in his career. If he has been working for 2.5 years, I assume he is still in his early 20s.

    1. Itsa Me, Mario*

      This. I think there’s a generational divide in terms of some unspoken attitudes about work, and as an elder millennial, I think the shift is a positive thing.

      Unless I’m salaried, I will be coming in for the 40 hour work week we agreed upon when I was hired. If I am salaried, I will use roughly 40 hours as my baseline but with an expectation that I will work more than that when called to. If there is a deadline or an unexpected emergency, I’m happy to do extra work as long as it doesn’t become the new normal. Otherwise, yes, I will be going home at the end of the work day, and not coming back until the beginning of the next work day. I am not interested in creating the appearance that I work beyond that, or that my life outside of the workplace does not exist, for “optics” sake.

      I think this is a healthy way for all working people, regardless of age or generation, to approach work.

      1. anecdata*

        Yeah, but I wouldn’t be telling my boss I was overwhelmed and had too much on my plate, if I was regularly able to finish everything in just-under 40 hrs

    2. Generic Name*

      All very true. But do you say you are “so busy” out of one side of your mouth while talk about your afternoon golf games out of the other side of your mouth? I assume not. Your lunch workouts are balanced by staying longer or coming in early. From Jim’s timesheets’ he’s not making up his golf time AND saying he’s overwhelmed. Either he’s just claiming to be overwhelmed, or he actually is overwhelmed but doesn’t have the wisdom to stay mum about his tee time.

      1. Heather*

        Yes this is the main point here. He is making a show out of how busy and overwhelmed he is. Like, it’s great to be a GenZ with great boundaries and work-life balance. Go golfing. Truly. But you can’t pair that with constantly complaining about being overworked and stressed.

    3. RM*

      Eh, how does this work if you are new to the job and learning a lot? That learning takes time. If you have to sit and figure out how to do the job, and then do the job, it’s easy to go over 40

    4. Bast*

      I am a young millennial and used to bust my butt doing 45-50 hours a week until we “caught up.” We were NEVER “caught up” because upper management refused to hire anyone else despite constantly promising to do so, and despite there being enough work for a whole other position (possibly 2). What I thought was “good work ethic” was just me being taken advantage of so they could save the money on hiring another employee. There are many burned out, stressed to the max people in my field, and until about a year ago, I was one of them until I found a company that prioritizes work/life balance… Like ACTUALLY does, not just pay lip service to it while expecting you to put in crazy hours. The partners here really care about you not burning out — my typical hours are until 4, but our building shuts down promptly at 5, so late nights at the office are in no way subtly encouraged like they were in Old Job. There is no “everything is a priority” attitude that I used to face, and because most smoke is dealt with well ahead of time, there are no blazing fires that turn up months later that demand immediate attention. I am not sure if it was mentioned when people are hired here, but if the expectation is that they will work a 40+ week, this needs to be mentioned up front, as many people are not about that life. If my expectation is that I would be working a 37.5 or 40 hour a week job and sat down and found a work load that demanded at least 45 hours a week, and the expectation that I’d be doing over 40 hours every single week, I’d be pissed, especially as LW said further up there are no set hours per week that must be worked or core hours. It’s like being told “no weekends” and then getting hired and told you have to work one weekend a month — that’s NOT no weekends.

  24. econobiker*

    He has executive/ chief corporate level written all over him with that type of hustle culture!!!

    Show how much you are swamped and how much you do even if you don’t do anything and the higher ups will recognize the golfing guy as a “go getter” versus the quiet mouse guy who consistently performs and works hard without any promotional griping about workloads.

    1. juliebulie*

      You’re not wrong. That isn’t the case everywhere, but I’ve seen it happen. I don’t know how they get away with being useless.

  25. Dulcinea47*

    You can’t really say you have a flexible workplace, yet also expect someone to respond immediately to the emails given as examples. What’s really going on here is you’re not that flexible, so you’d better tell him he needs to be logged on and responding until 5pm, every day, as that seems to be the actual expectation.

    1. Yorick*

      You’re missing the point of the letter. It’s not that he didn’t respond right away. It’s that there’s a combination of talking about struggling with his workload/being so busy and not working all the typical hours.

      1. Dulcinea47*

        The fact that he didn’t respond right away is the example of something he’s done wrong. I don’t think I’m missing the point at all.

        1. GythaOgden*

          In many workplaces that’s reasonable to ask. As someone on the other side of the need for responses, I understand that the people I’m serving are a couple of tiers of middle management who might not be terribly responsive. But there is a certain collaborative aspect to workplaces that really needs you to be responsive to emails, because no workplace will be infinitely flexible.

    2. Betty*

      Enh, I’d describe my workplace as flexible but expecting advanced notice for stuff (“I’m going to be offline tomorrow morning for my kid’s dentist appointment, but am expecting that I’ll be back before the 1 pm Trends in Llama Grooming presentation” or even “I need to take a breather from the report for a bit. Going to take a walk and will be back in an hour to dive in with fresh eyes. Is there anything you need from me before I hop offline?”) So I agree that communicating the actual expectation is key, but it may not be that there really is no flexibility.

      1. Sorrischian*

        Yeah, based on this comment section it seems like a lot of people, ironically enough, have very rigid ideas of what a ‘flexible workplace’ is and exactly what kinds of flexibility it has.

  26. B*

    Based only on the limited examples presented, this sounds more like a boilerplate excuse than it is an expression of a genuine problem. Someone asks, “By the way, where’s that report?” and you say (on your way out the door with your golf clubs), “Sorry I’ve been totally slammed!”

    (I say this with no malice or judgment in my heart–I relate to the behavior immensely! As long as he’s meeting requirements I would just let it go.)

    1. Letter Writer 1/22/24*

      LW here – I think it could just be a go-to excuse. If that is the case, it’s not a large concern for me as a manager, but as a “mentor” I do wonder if it’s worth it to point out that’s not a great excuse to use when you’re also advertising leisure activities during the work day.

      1. juliebulie*

        When he complains about being slammed, does it occur to him that you’re aware of his workload?

      2. Brain the Brian*

        There’s definitely something to the notion that someone who’s only a few years into the workforce (especially someone who joined during the wackiness of the Covid years) may not have realized that “I’m so busy” should refer *only* to their workload. In Jim’s mind, he *is* busy — he probably has a commitment for a T-time, after all! — but it’s just with things that aren’t necessarily work-related. I think you can just be direct about that: tell him that he’s fine to say he has a personal commitment in the afternoon and that he should only use “I’m busy!” or “I’m slammed!” when referring to his workload with your company.

  27. Beboots*

    It makes me think about something by boss and I are trying to balance with my team of staff. We want to make a distiction – we want people feeling manageably busy but not stressed. We had a much slower pace and fewer projects during the early years of the pandemic, and now we’re trying to gear back up to the level of work we had prior to 2020 in a sustainable way. (Same number of staff now as then, and roughly the same number of projects, as opposed to same number of staff but about 2/3 of the work.)

    My staff get their work done without doing overtime (or feeling like they need more hours in the day to get work done), they’re given the resources they need to do their job, they’re given clear expectations, they have time to do admin tasks (it just may take a few days to get around to it instead of the moment they’re aware of it)… they have full days and are accomplishing their projects and excelling in performance management indicators. So what are indicators of your staff member being “stretched thin”? Or overwhelmed? If OP’s employee is accomplishing all his work to an acceptable level in the hours allotted, and he and his boss don’t feel like his work quality is slipping, and he just has full days – is he just busy, but unacceptably so? Is this more about how he frames his work?

  28. N*

    38 hours is considered full time in many countries. Even if he were doing 8-5 as you say are standard hours, that’s only 2 additional hours per week. Unless what he’s not getting done can’t be done in those 2 additional hours or unless he’s a particularly slow worker, maybe he is overloaded, but just clocking off at the end of the work day to prioritise mental health.

    1. londonedit*

      35 hours is full-time and perfectly normal in the UK. Of course in some jobs you have to work long hours, but 35 or 37.5 hours are completely unremarkable working weeks here and no one has the mindset that anything less than 40 hours isn’t full-time work or isn’t putting enough hours in.

      1. DisgruntledPelican*

        32 hours is considered full time in the US. Doesn’t mean I can unilaterally decide that’s my schedule when I was hired for job with an expectation of 40+.

  29. Sparkles McFadden*

    I think you need to be clear on your expectations and focus on Jim’s work output. Tell Jim what you consider a “timely response” to email to be. You might be thinking 15 minutes but he thinks an hour is timely. Do you need him to tell people “I’m offline for a bit but will be back at 3:15” in a Slack channel or something similar? Be as specific as you can around expectations regarding availability. Next, see what he’s getting done. If things are late or if people need to hound him repeatedly to get something done, then talk about that with Jim. How is he prioritizing work? Is his work output below what you could reasonably expect? Then address that without the raising issue of the golfing and whatnot. The golfing is just salt in the wound for you, so don’t make that the focus of the discussion (or even bring it up).

  30. WillowSunstar*

    I’m hourly and have never had the opportunity to go golfing during the workday. (Bowling once, but that was during one of those work whole team event things.)

    I would say unless the golfing is for having informal meetings with work contacts, it needs to go to the evenings or weekends route. But maybe that’s just me. It does look bad.

    I work in an area with frequent urgent emails and an hour is acceptable for most things. So this could be a company culture thing that he is not aware of.

  31. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    The LW doesn’t actually complain about the employee’s ability to get his work done. It seems more like he doesn’t like it that the guy is claiming to be soooo busy when he’s not really so busy, but being sort of annoying is not a fireable offense. And I get why it’s annoying but it’s pretty contradictory to say that the company “prioritizes flexibility” while also complaining that someone didn’t answer your email for an hour or left an hour early one day. If he’s not getting work done or not getting it done timely, that is a legit complaint but “it took him an hour to respond which was fine except that he complained about how busy he is when he’s not” is just letting a pet peeve get to BEC level.

    1. Allonge*

      It’s not a fireable offense but there are a thousand things that a good manager would address even if they are not a fireable offense. Especially for a younger, inexperienced employee. Good managers help people grow, in soft skills as well as the technicals.

  32. TheBunny*

    Or…he could be struggling and the time management issues (walks and golf) are indicators of him feeling overwhelmed and not handling it well.

    I get why LW is concerned…but I’ve taken an hour to reply to a message I didn’t see because I was doing something else and had he said “sorry this took a minute I was head down on something else” no one would have said anything as an hour to reply really isn’t that long.

    Not saying he’s handling it well…but the golf and the walk, my first thought was that those are stress relief activities…or at least could be.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      This is EXACTLY what I jumped to. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I do one of two things. Either I burn myself out doing nothing but work, work, work OR (particularly if the things burdening my plate are the parts of my job I find boring or otherwise really hate) I do things that I hope will relieve the stress enough that I can focus. For me, it’s not golfing but it might be pulling up a video game for a couple hours or doing some chores around the house. I’m definitely still overwhelmed, I’m just employing the strategies I need to regulate my overwhelm before I get back into it. The fact that he wasn’t gone for the day after his walk, but that he logged back on after “normal” hours to respond to the inquires suggests to me that it may be a coping mechanism for him rather than a time management issue.

      The optics of the company-wide slack are not good though. I definitely would expect my boss to question my judgement if I sent a message to our company, our team, or even just to her saying I was logging off early to play a game.

  33. HonorBox*

    I can look at this from a few different angles, any of which may be true.

    1. He is sliding out here and there, with the idea that the workplace is flexible, and maybe he just needs to shut up about it. Being immediately available isn’t the expectation in many workplaces (though it may be here) so slipping out for a walk, or dropping out a bit early to golf may be because he’s put in time elsewhere during the day. He may jump on unofficially at 7 some days, or work through lunch. But telling people that he was doing a personal activity during those times means there are bad optics when someone can’t get an immediate response.

    2. He’s overwhelmed with aspects of his role and isn’t sure where to start in some cases. I’ve had a to do list that is a mile long some days and it can be daunting to find the right place to start. So perhaps there are parts of the job that are overwhelming to him and it would be good to find those out.

    3. He’s one of those people who are always “so busy” and are just trying to project how busy they are in order to show some value. I know people like this, and asking some specific questions about what is on their project list, where there are places someone could provide assistance, etc. can really uncover the fact that busy may not mean productive. And I know he’s not saying busy, but overwhelmed, but it could be the same sort of projection.

    I think LW needs to have a conversation to get a better sense of which one(s) of these the employee lands in, and they’ll have a better sense of how to approach a resolution.

  34. Ann O'Nemity*

    Two and a half years isn’t a ton of professional experience. The employee could be struggling with imposter syndrome, time management, prioritization, or ignorance of professional norms. Or some combination of the above and more!

    As a manager, try to figure out: (1) do you think this employee is struggling? and (2) do they really think they are struggling, as opposed to just complaining about it. From there you can work on coaching.

  35. Lobstermn*

    I guess have the employee read a bunch of Ask A Manager and then ask them if they think their communication is within the norms advocated for on the site. :)

  36. CTT*

    I will admit that this question made my eye twitch because it brought back Very Bad memories of a title agent who almost ruined a real estate closing because he took off the afternoon to go golfing and was oblivious to a title issue that popped up only he could resolve. But to give the employee the benefit of the doubt, I agree with Alison you should definitely talk to him about the disconnect. This has happened with my department at work, where someone will say “I’m way too swamped to take on X” and meanwhile the department head can see their billable and non-billable hours and it doesn’t add up. Finding out the root of that feeling (is there stuff at home you’re having to attend to? Are you holding space for a project that’s been paused but you’re worried will come back? Are you wanting to work less?) and finding solutions from there has been really helpful.

  37. Yup!*

    He sounds young, inexperienced, and in need of structure and support more than critiquing. And I also think many young people entering the workforce today are putting boundaries down regarding their personal lives. It doesn’t mean they can just not be at work when they’re supposed to, of course, but that their own time isn’t the company’s, and they may take back an hour at some other point if they’ve given more than their 40. But it does sound like a convo needs to be had, with a dose of understanding and some mentoring.

  38. boof*

    LW, I like the idea of starting out by asking your employee more about their (apparent) concerns with their workload. It’s not quite clear to me how often he’s “complaining” and/or citing workload and an issue (just the annual review? Constantly? Whenever he’s given a new task?). If it’s just the annual review then maybe he was trying to come up with something to say, but worth just asking “it looks like you brought up the workload and time as a challenge, can you elaborate?” and see what they say. Start with the open ended questions etc. Then maybe get into the fact that both their work load as well as their output and hours appear to be normal / average, only if your employee seems to think that they are actually above average, etc. For some of the other comments, maybe it’d actually be better to say something along the lines of “hey, I don’t need to know what you are doing every minute, as long as you get back to us within (2 business hours, 1 business day, whatever you’d consider an acceptable response time) you don’t need to apologize for or justify any elapsed time!” And finally, if announcing going golfing on company wide slack during usual business hours is out of norm, then maybe talk about that if it happens again (“a lot of people are busy and the slack chat really ought to be for needed communications” or whatever slack is for (IDK not part of my industry seems weird to have an ongoing chit chat group open during work, would distract me like mad personally))

  39. Nomic*

    OP, I’m struggling for a bit with these two statements:
    * Our culture does prioritize flexibility and in most situations
    * it rubs me the wrong way when Jim also says he’s struggling to keep up.

    If these two things are at odds, do you give up flexibility, or do you reduce workload. If the former, then how much do you really value flexibility ?

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I’d always assume satisfactory work performance is top priority and that if someone’s work is not up to standard then they can lose their standard job perks – such as flexible time or wfh or high autonomy – if it is thought those perks may be reducing performance

  40. Bess*

    This is kind of a confusing letter and response–LW ballparks the amount of time the employee is working and gives a medium quality rating, but doesn’t really talk about what the flow of work is like in the position, and whether the middling quality is due to lack of speed, lack of thought/skill in execution, etc., or whether there’s an overall lack of proactivity and needing to be prompted for things that wouldn’t be expected at his level?

    Anyway, it’s fully possible he’s busy and overwhelmed and he’s only producing medium-quality work–in fact, I would expect a busy and overwhelmed employee to be missing the mark sometimes. Is it because it’s something he’ll bring up or toss off but not seem to problem-solve? Like, think about what’s contributing to the mediocrity from your perspective, then see if you can talk with him about where he’s struggling so you can find out if there’s something in particular that’s impeding him? Or if he can’t really point to any one thing and it’s more just for show.

    But the idea of a 4pm walk or golf outing doesn’t really contradict those to me. Is the problem with a 4:15 lack of prompt response that it’s near the end of day and he should know to be available around that time? Or are you a flexible workplace that still expects people to answer messages when they may be taking a break?

    1. Grith*

      Exactly, this doesn’t really sound like a flexible schedule to me – if the usual end of the day is 5 and a 4 tee time is an issue, where’s the flexibility?

      I also struggle with the idea of baselining the work of a low-level employee on what is “typical”. Does Jim have a contract that specifies he’s expected to average 40 hours, or access to the data that tells him everyone else at the company is averaging 2 hours a week more than him? Or his he just supposed to absorb the fact that his in-office time is low via osmosis and guesswork?

      Clarity of expectations is the first issue here IMO. He needs to be told that he should be working more hours, and he should be trying that for a few months and you can then reconvene to see if he still feels rushed once the average bumps up. He also needs to be told that your definition of “flexible” doesn’t include taking an hour-long break from 4-5 or going golfing within the 9-5 work window, because I think it’s really unfair to expect him to know that – both of those are things that I would think are fine in a workplace that boasts of flexibility.

      1. I Have RBF*

        IME, “flexibility” is in terms of bugging out early for doctor’s appointments, dental work, plumbers coming to the house, kids needing to be picked up from school, and other obligations that would otherwise require PTO or sick time, but not a 4 pm tee time or a crossfit class.

        But different companies have different standards on what you can flex your hours for and what you can’t. My current job lets me take flexible sick time to drive my wife to medical appointments. Other companies would demand I take vacation/PTO for a half or full day.

  41. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    “he seems to believe that his work ethic and workload are higher than average”

    Is your main concern that Jim seems to overrate his performance ?
    If his self-assessment became more realistic, would your concern go away?

    Is your 5/10 rating average or below average for the team?
    Is his response slower than that of his coworkers or also 5/10?
    Does he average fewer hours?
    Do his coworkers also complain of high workload – i.e. is it a Jim problem or a general problem for everyone?

    Or is your concern about awkward optics, i.e. you and another director having to wait for his response to several questions about projects only to hear the delay was due to his golf break?

    Anyway, it sounds like he is not fitting in well, so you need a 1-1 with him to explain your expectations in more detail, e.g. his expected work hours, any core hours, deliverables, response time, notifying before he takes extra breaks

  42. Coverage Associate*

    I wonder about the particular fun/exercise here and whether a lot of people are getting caught in the optics. Booking off time for self care is the #1 advice for people who feel too busy to take the time. As others have mentioned, golf has had to start around 4pm latest and a long walk too, if the employee doesn’t want to walk after sunset. Would we react the same way if it were a kickboxing class or coaching a kid’s soccer team? I think we would want to say it’s just a communication issue. So I would focus on making the implicit explicit regarding responsiveness before 5pm.

    So billable and non billable time suggests a para professional in law, accounting or consulting. In California, paralegals are hourly by law, and 38 hours entered seems really reasonable to me. That’s less than half an hour per day for bathroom breaks, sign ins, tidying etc. I strongly believe that good law firms need to have this billable and non billable targets for paralegals, but I have never seen a firm that wanted bathroom breaks and logging into systems actually entered. If you do, please provide a billing code that’s separate from the admin code for office meetings and other non billable actual work things and also different from PTO. I feel silly entering 0.2 “talking when co worker about Saturday football game” and is that PTO or work related admin? Again, in California you have to pay hourly for that, and 38 hours entered coming out to 40+ hours worked seems reasonable.

    If this really is a salaried professional, and the non billable time is for marketing, continuing education, etc., I

  43. "Jim"*

    I feel like this letter could have been written about me :/ My boss seems to be constantly operating under the misconception that I am SO BUSY. So much so that they hired another person to work with me.

    People: I am not busy. I am so not busy. I never tell him I’m busy. I am salaried, but we log our time. I struggle to come up with 40 hours of work most weeks. I said, repeatedly, we do not need to hire another person, I have plenty of bandwidth. I am very “generous” with my time estimates because I got tired of getting told I wasn’t putting down enough time and also got pretty tired of trying to say I have plenty of time for more work. I really tried, trust me, I did. And I do every on all of our weekly 1 on 1 calls. I really can’t figure it out. He still thinks I’m “so busy” and that I underestimate my time entry.

    I am always available, but I definitely do alllllllllllll kinds of things that would sound like pretty bad taste to advertise to my coworkers. I usually just say I “took my dog out.”

  44. Andi*

    Is taking a walk during the day really that awful? I am salaried, work normal 8-5 hours, and I take 2 or 3 walks on the trail by my office during the day. No one has ever batted an eye at this, and sometimes my coworkers come with me. The office I worked at before this was the same; people took lots of walk breaks to clear their head and get some exercise and fresh air.
    Is that just… not done at some places?

    1. sparkle emoji*

      I think the issue is that Jim gives too many details about why he’s not working, not the walks/golfing on their own. In the walk part, he didn’t need to explain he missed the email due to an hour-long walk. He could have just proceeded with the response, maybe with a “sorry, just saw this” but nothing else was necessary.

  45. Justin D*

    I’m not sure what the problem is here.

    He says he’s swamped but isn’t really? So what.

    Workplace is flexible but going for a walk is a no-no? I don’t get this.

    The golf thing though is pushing it for him.

  46. EA*

    There’s always that one person in the office who complains constantly about being swamped and “so busy” yet is always the person taking the most coffee breaks and chatting with everyone (to whine about how busy they are). This is like the remote worker version of this, and I get why you’re annoyed, OP! Also, you can tell him it’s not OK to golf during the work day and still be a flexible workplace. Golf is definitely not the same as a 20 min walk.

  47. Cannibalqueen*

    I’d just like to suggest that ‘struggling’ or feeling overwhelmed can be a lot more complex than a simple tasks-into-time equation. A person’s capacity can fluctuate dramatically depending on their mental health and what else is going on in my life. For example, when I returned to work after my husband died, my manager made a conscious effort not to load me up with work, but I still often felt overwhelmed by the simplest tasks because so much of my mental and emotional energy was taken up just trying to hold myself together. With Jim, it could be a simple case of poor time management, but I’d urge the OP to go into the conversation with an open mind.

  48. Witch of Oz*

    Perhaps he’s going for walks, playing golf etc BECAUSE he’s overwhelmed.
    For example, I have approximately 1 billion things on my to-do list right now, but I’m reading AAM. (I’m on holidays, not reading during work hours).
    I quite often just give up and read a book or watch TV when feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff I have to do because then I don’t have to decide where to start. When I was younger, I was certainly guilty of wasting time complaining about having too much to do instead of just… making a start or talking to my manager about taking stuff off my plate.
    LW needs to establish how much this employee has on his plate and if that’s a reasonable amount of work to get done in 40 hours or not.

  49. Cookingwithclaire*

    Maybe this has been mentioned, but I haven’t seen it- not everyone has the same capabilities. For example. I have severe ADHD and even on the highest dose meds, I often feel overwhelmed with workloads deemed “normal” by other people. My brain processes slower and constantly gets distracted, so each task takes much longer to complete. On top of that, low-dopamine/high-attention-needed tasks like reading and answering emails can feel excruciating and as a result, take a much longer time to complete – and that’s when I’m lucky enough to have enough brain energy for it. Taking breaks would be the only way to survive. Just reading this I felt sick with empathetic anxiety! (As a younger ADHD person, I could also definitely imagine not understanding office norms and/or my impulsive blurting/TMI thing having me share the golf or walk thing…) I addressed this ultimately by getting out of the office world, but it’s a shame, because I’m way less financially stable, though worth it for mental health.

    Maybe we should take employee at his word that he could be struggling AND need to take “long” breaks to feel like he’s keeping his head above the water. I think you could just directly tell him not to share about breaks publicly if that concerns you, and include what language he should use — but also meet to figure out what the content of the struggling really is and if there’s any way to help. There may not be, but worth a shot.

  50. Lady Sally*

    I thought from the headline I’d be on the employers’ side, but I’m not. Here would be my question:
    1) Is his work quality and output acceptable to meet your standards? (Doesn’t sound like a super star, but in my field right now we have such a shortage that “meets expectations” is totally ok)
    If his productivity or quality is not good, I would address that. If it is good, I wouldn’t let the other things bother me. Now, I’m coming from a flexible work environment where people get their work done on their schedule – plenty of busy people leave at 4, and it doesn’t bother me if it takes an hour for someone to reply by email. It sounds like this workplace isn’t very flexible, so that may warrant a conversation around the expectations of this workplace. But on its face, what was described sounds at worst like a young employee who may have some things to learn, but nothing I would call serious.

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