flexible Work schedule
A reader writes:
I’m a young professional who recently started my second job post-grad. I live with multiple chronic illnesses and like everyone else have “everyday problems” too: car issues, sick pets, etc.
My former workplace was incredibly lenient about salaried staff flexing their schedule or taking leave when needed. For years, I could easily take a Tuesday afternoon off for a doctor’s appointment and make up the hours on Saturday morning. I just needed to ask for my manager’s prior approval, and almost always got it and never was told no without just cause. I understand I was fortunate to have this arrangement in place.
My new employer (I started a bit before the pandemic) had affirmed that this was also their M.O. I saw it in action prior to us shutting down, both personally and with coworkers, and it seemed to be working well. Both my current and prior positions require night and weekend availability, and I would say prior to Covid-19 I was scheduled to work outside of regular business hours about 30 hours a month. Both employers stated that if I’d rather flex my time than take leave, it would be okay with them so long as I tracked it using a calendar. Even with the added hours on nights and weekends, I used the flex policy at most twice a month — up to 16 hours — for doctor’s visits or vet appointments. The company always came out ahead.
Recently while back in the office, my husband and I had a family emergency and I needed to leave well before the end of my shift. I spoke to my boss and explained the situation briefly and he told me to go take care of the emergency. After the emergency was settled, I notified my boss of the outcome, thanking him again for his understanding, and I was in the office the following day to make up my scheduled time as promised from 8-5.
It recently came to my attention that that my boss and grandboss have an inside joke about how much I request a “flex schedule.” In passing, my grandboss told me about their jokes, and that they had been concerned about my time. I’m confused why I’m being singled out when several coworkers have permanently altered schedules, including never coming in before 11 am or not working one or two days a week every week. (I know I shouldn’t compare their schedule to mine since I don’t know the extent of their workloads, but it doesn’t seem to be an office culture issue to ask for leave is what I’m trying to say.)
It sounds like they’re starting not to believe me, but I’ve offered to show doctor’s notes, proof of appointments, vet receipts, etc. and they say they don’t need documentation. Am I asking too much of the policy?
It sounds like they said they were okay with you making up hours rather than taking leave when you’re out, but didn’t intend for you to be doing it as much as you are.
If they meant “people will flex their hours four or five times a year” and you’re doing it twice a month … yeah, it’s going to seem out of sync with their norms.
But if they didn’t explain clearly what they meant, that’s on them! People often fall into speaking in a kind of shorthand and then are surprised later when it turns out they were misunderstood. If that’s what happened here, it was also on them to address it with you once they realized you were on different pages. So if they are indeed looking askance at how often you’re using flex time, they need to use their words and explain that to you.
That said … to some extent it’s also on you to pay attention to what your office norms seem to be. You mentioned that several coworkers have permanently altered schedules, but that’s not really the same as flexing their time. If they stick to those altered schedules, then everyone knows when to expect them in. Being out unexpectedly and then showing up at other times to make up the work is different — it has a different impact on other people and maybe a different impact on the workflow too.
In any case, all of this sounds like a lot of miscommunication. Your managers said X, you assumed it meant Y, and it might really have meant Z. Now they’re making comments about it but not addressing it directly, and you’re wondering what’s up but also not saying anything directly. (They’re more at fault — their jobs require them to say something directly — but no one here seems to be communicating well.)
It does sound like your grandboss might have been trying to address it, but telling you “we joke about this” isn’t terribly clear. On the other hand, “we’ve been concerned” is pretty direct, so I’m curious about the rest of what was said there.
But instead of asking me if you’re asking too much of your office’s policy, you’ve got to ask the person who can actually tell you: your boss. Sit down with her and say something like, “I’m wondering if I’ve misunderstood our policy on flex time. When I started, you mentioned it would be okay for me to make up my hours when I’m out rather than using leave. I’ve done that about twice a month since I started. But Jane mentioned to me recently that you and she have joked about how often I do it, and that you’d both been concerned about my time. I don’t want to do anything that’s concerning you! Would you prefer I flex my schedule like that only rarely, and not as often as I’ve been doing?”
Your goal here isn’t to defend yourself or argue for using the policy the way you have been. It’s just to find out what your boss really wants — since the letter of the policy doesn’t matter as much as what your boss will actually be okay with.
This post was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.