//Is my employee taking advantage of the flexibility I give her?

Is my employee taking advantage of the flexibility I give her?

A reader writes:

In my current position (where I’ve been for two years), I’m a first-time manager of two direct reports, both of whom are salaried, not hourly, employees.

One of them — who’s younger, less experienced, more eager — rarely asks to adjust her work hours or work from home, and is generally happy to do anything I ask her to do.

The other is about my age or a little older, has less of a teamwork attitude (“is this technically one of my job responsibilities?”) and frequently asks to work from home (one day per week) or leave early to take her daughter to appointments, etc. In other words, she enjoys a lot of flexibility and independence while generally defending her own job boundaries. She does seem to know she always needs to ask, and sometimes will even ask, “Am I asking too much?”

I’m trying to find a good balance when it comes to my managing style. I have no problem with either of them taking time to live their lives, as long as they get their work done, I don’t have to constantly keep track of whether or not they’re on top of things, they take initiative, and, most importantly, I feel like they actually show up and care.

But I can’t help feeling like always saying yes is a bad idea. I spent years under unreasonable managers and know how frustrating it can be to feel chained to your desk or unable to prioritize certain things outside of work, and as a manager, I don’t want to say no just to say no. That being said, I feel like there are reasonable boundaries I should be setting to let them both know that while I’m generally accommodating, they should not take advantage of me and there are limitations to what they can and should ask for, regardless of whether or not their work has been done for the day. Our organization’s policy states managing salaried employees’ time comes at the supervisor’s discretion. What’s your advice?

In general, as a manager, you want to maximize the freedom and flexibility that people have at work, as long as it doesn’t negatively harm their work or other people’s work.

Your job as a manager isn’t to “keep people in line” or to make sure they show proper deference to your authority. Your job is to ensure that people are getting the right results in their work, and that the environment of your team supports that.

In some cases, that might mean that you do need to say no to a request for work reasons. Or, if we’re getting into authority, in some cases you might need to talk to someone who’s undermining your authority in team meetings, or not running requests by you that you need to approve.

But none of that sounds like the case here. It sounds like you have an employee who’s asking for things that aren’t getting in the way of her work, and who’s giving you the opportunity to speak up if it would pose a problem.

You wrote that you want her to know that there are limitations to what she can ask for and she shouldn’t take advantage of you. But you can convey that by telling her no if she ever hit those limitations. If this stuff isn’t affecting anyone’s work, then she’s not hitting those limitations, right? And saying yes now doesn’t obligate you to say yes every time in the future, if a future request would pose a problem.

So I’d take a really hard look at why you’re actually uneasy. When she leaves early or works from home, does it create workflow problems? More work for other people? Delays in her projects? Is she behind on her work so you’d really like her maximizing her hours in the office? Does it make it harder for your other employee to leave early or work from home herself, because she needs to be in the office if her coworker isn’t? Those would all be legitimate reasons to reconsider saying yes.

But if it’s just the frequency with which she asks for things, things that help her and don’t harm the work … well, that in itself isn’t a reason to say no.

In fact, if you’re just uncomfortable with how often she’s asking, even though the individual requests themselves are fine, maybe that’s a sign that you should reconsider whether she needs to get your permission each time. Is there any reason you can’t allow her to manage her time on her own (still keeping you informed, but without the getting-permission piece)? It sounds like she’s been pretty good about only switching up her schedule when it won’t have a work impact — but of course, if that changed, you could address it at that point.

Lots of jobs do work that way, especially as people become more senior. The idea is that when you have competent, professional people who prioritize their work correctly, you can trust them to know when they do and don’t need to be in the office. I’d take this situation as a push to look at whether that should be the situation here. You’d free both of you from a permission process that doesn’t sound all that necessary, and likely increase her happiness and investment in the job, because this is exactly the kind of flexibility that people value and that helps retain good workers. (You could do the same thing with your other employee it it made sense there as well.)

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is my employee taking advantage of the flexibility I give her? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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