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 Hi all – I’m wondering if I’m being too harsh with my directs and my expectations of professional behaviour when it comes to attendance. I’m often told (only hours prior or the night before) that they will be late or be leaving early for a variety of reasons which don’t fall in to the “urgent” or “emergency” basket. Though they are for family reasons and I’ve always made it clear to the team that family comes first as long as they remember that they also have an obligation to the organisation (unless it is an emergency of course).

Examples:

Direct 1 who car pools with her adult son will often text me in the morning to say they will be a bit late as the son has a doctor appointment or his shower isn’t working and he has to shower at her house or one of them has a physio appointment that they forgot.…. (she then gets in about an hour later than normal).

Direct 2 has an adult daughter at university and calls dad at 1pm when her car breaks down and asks if he can pick her up, drive her to where she’s supposed to be meeting friends for a tutorial/ workshop and then he has to go back to the car to get it fixed, followed by a call to his wife to pick him up and to get the second car. Doesn’t return back to work that day as it took 3.5 hours to organise this.

Direct 1 texts me at 7pm Sunday night to let me know it’s her granddaughter’s 1st birthday the next day (which I knew as it popped up on my smart phone earlier that day) and the granddaughter has a sore throat and is feeling miserable. The direct wants to stop by her daughter’s house in the morning to check on the granddaughter (the adult daughter is a very capable mother).

These 3 examples are the most recent and not unusual.

I’m now planning on speaking with each of them in their O3s this week that in my view, these examples were not emergencies and remind them they are required to be in the office between certain times (eg 8am to 6pm usually). I will use specific examples and use the feedback model (though I’m still on positive feedback – I would like to follow the model in the giving of the example and illustrating the behaviour). By being away from the office during these times, tasks that were required were missed or had to be worked around – though the issues weren’t a huge deal and obviously in a real emergency could be overlooked, it’s unprofessional behaviour which is letting the team down.

I’m quite flexible and don’t expect long hours and martyrdom; I do expect their jobs to be done and done well and rarely do they have to work back late. If there’s something pressing at work on occasion I hope they stay back to help out. If they have a life outside of work (gym, yoga, date night or children to get home to), that’s ideal and encouraged.

Background – 2 of the directs are in their late 50’s/ early 60’s and I was their peer until 8 months ago. I’m now their manager. They’ve acknowledged and respect that my expectations are much higher than their previous managers. We have a good relationship; healthy and respectful. I’ve been rolling out the trinity which they have openly said they love. I know this will come as a complete surprise to them as they honestly feel this is quite normal and acceptable behaviour.

These 2 employees are at a middle management level and therefore non-award employees (ie they don’t get paid overtime for additional hours worked). They both work 8 or 9 hour days, usually starting between 8am and 8.30am and leaving the office about 5.30/6pm. These are pretty standard hours for this level and it suits their arrangements (arriving early due to easier traffic or leaving later due to car-pooling and waiting to be picked up by partner or adult child who they share the drive with). We have a policy that time off in lieu will not be granted for additional hours worked by choice. Only where additional hours or overtime has been requested by the manager. However I’ve been flexible around this up until now (where in the examples below I’ve let it slide because they do work an extra hour or two here and there) so I don’t mind if they take an hour for an appointment (where the team and myself are aware of the absence in advance).

Personally, I think the examples above were inappropriate and in each circumstance, the adult child could have arranged their own transport (bus, tram, train). In the situation of doctors appointments etc, these were known in advance and both parent and adult child who they car pool with could have arranged something earlier rather than leave it to the last minute.

And honestly, I know it’s miserable having a sick child or grandchild – but what’s wrong with leaving home earlier and popping in to see them on the way to the office (eg 8am) or after work?

Am I being too high D and unreasonable?  Direct 1 is a High S. Direct 2 is a High I/D.

Doris_O's picture

Two thoughts:

1. Make sure you have clearly stated your expectations regarding coming to work on time, etc...

I work in higher education and hire a lot of student workers. When I interview them I say "I know you are a student. The philosophy in my office is that your school work comes first. However, working in my office is also part of your preparation for professional life. As a result, I expect you to be professional in regards to coming to work on time and communicating when you have to take time off." I'll also say : "I expect you to let me know in advance if you have a big deadline or exams coming up and may need to take time off to do your school work. My expectation is that for a class project deadline, an exam or appointment, that you will give me at least one week's notice in advance."

I remind them again about my expectations when they begin working and later give feedback when appropriate.

2. When the time comes to do negative feedback, if this is still happening then you'll give them negative feedback.

mattpalmer's picture

Doris makes good points, particularly in regard to setting clear expectations before you start coming down on people.  You've said you're enforcing a stricter standard than their previous managers ("my expectations are much higher than their previous managers"), so my assumption is that unless you've made some unusually in-depth proclamations previously, you haven't set the clear expectation that this behaviour is unacceptable.  The fact that "this will come as a complete surprise to them" supports this.

Therefore, my recommendation mirrors Doris': "When the time comes to do negative feedback, if this is still happening, then you'll give them negative feedback".  For now, you might want to make a note to make a blanket proclamation in your next staff meeting about "acceptable absences", after getting it clear in your mind what you do believe to be acceptable and unacceptable.

Before you start laying down the law, though, really take a good look at the work you're supervising and consider how flexible you can be.  A call center or retail store has far more stringent attendance requirements than most office jobs, for example.  Managing phone support people, I was strict on arrival, departure, and lunch times -- highlighting the fact that if they weren't in their seat ready to go, calls would be missed and customers would be unhappy, or people who weren't on phone duty that day would get interrupted in their work, which they hated when they weren't on the phones (everyone rotated on and off the phones regularly).  Conversely, for developers, it was all about hitting the deadlines rather than when you were in the office -- although being available (or, preferably, physically present) for certain times of the day for collaboration was required.

There's also the question of what the exact behaviour was that caused the problems you're trying to fix.  You said, "By being away from the office during these times, tasks that were required were missed or had to be worked around" -- does that mean that if the direct in each case had organised with a colleague to cover that work, or let whoever was dependent on them know they were going to miss (in the "worked around" case), then there wouldn't have been a problem?

Addressing that behaviour, rather than the leaving early/arriving late, might be more productive.  It signals that you really do care about the work getting done, rather than clock-punching.

 

cynaus's picture

Hi Doris and Matt - thank you! You actually brought some clarity to my thinking and though I talk/ write a lot (also High I!), getting to the point succinctly often evades me ;)

To be honest, I thought I had been quite clear on my expectations (due to various conversations one on one and in groups) AND it will still be a surprise as this is re-programming for them of a sort. I sometimes think they hear me and just don't 'get' it and then fall into previous habits. That's ok and I understand I'll need to provide further clarification and reminders. I think in the past too, I probably did this more subtly (being a new manager and previously a peer) and informally. So now it's time to make it more notable. I will add it to this week's agenda for our staff meeting.

And you're right Matt, I'm not about the clock-punching at all - rather it's about the work being done and that the staff are available for collaboration and point of contact. I manage HR and these 2 individuals are advisors to the business in HR  and WHS respectively. 

 

 

 

 

mrreliable's picture

 I'd try the blanket proclamation Matt talked about first. I recently had a situation that was similar in the sense that employees were taking advantage of the "flexible" and "relaxed" work environment. The work can be intense and stressful, and we encourage interaction among the employees. Unfortunately on occasion the friendly banter would escalate to something akin to happy hour down at the corner bar. I was considering addressing the most vocal employees directly, then reconsidered and decided to address the entire team with a "Work Environment" document, quiet voices, remember anyone within earshot could be distracted, if the call you took on your cell phone is going to last more than 30 seconds, take it outside, etc. I was amazed at how well it worked. Just getting people to think about it resulted in them policing themselves, and now there is still the desired conversation and communication, but at a much lower decibel level. In this case just mentioning it allowed them to easily fix it as a group.

 

mrreliable's picture

 I'd try the blanket proclamation Matt talked about first. I recently had a situation that was similar in the sense that employees were taking advantage of the "flexible" and "relaxed" work environment. The work can be intense and stressful, and we encourage interaction among the employees. Unfortunately on occasion the friendly banter would escalate to something akin to happy hour down at the corner bar. I was considering addressing the most vocal employees directly, then reconsidered and decided to address the entire team with a "Work Environment" document, quiet voices, remember anyone within earshot could be distracted, if the call you took on your cell phone is going to last more than 30 seconds, take it outside, etc. I was amazed at how well it worked. Just getting people to think about it resulted in them policing themselves, and now there is still the desired conversation and communication, but at a much lower decibel level. In this case just mentioning it allowed them to easily fix it as a group.

 

cynaus's picture

Hi Mr R - I had the same thing in the team also and in our staff meeting recently I mentioned the noise factor and that it did indeed sound like happy hour on a Friday night. We've recently moved into new offices too and the sound proofing is non existent. In fact, the acoustics do quite the opposite and every sound is magnified.  Thanks for the input :)

mattpalmer's picture

Getting people to think about the consequences of their actions can, all on its own, have a remarkable impact.  This is largely what Mark is getting at when he talks about communicating "Commander's Intent" -- the big picture around the why, as well as the what.  It's also the entire foundation of providing the "here's what happens" step in the feedback tool.  Telling someone, "don't do this" may get you compliance energy to not do that specific thing (although I think you're more likely to get increased energy to hide it from you), but if you tell someone "don't do this and here's why you shouldn't" then you can get commitment energy (that horrible buzzword "buy-in") to avoid the proscribed behaviour and a whole bunch more.

On the subject of "setting expectations", Cynaus, I've been terribly guilty of trying to set new standards by being subtle and informal.  It really doesn't work.  The intent is absolutely laudable: you don't want to be thought of as a tyrant, throwing everyone out of their comfortable little ruts, that sort of thing.  But Mark's saying that "tell your team something seven times, and half of them will say they heard it once" is frustratingly precise, and it only gets worse if those seven times were subtle.  People have a remarkable ability to genuinely filter out things they don't want to hear.  I know this because I've done it, and I pride myself on having an excellent memory, so it hurts me to have to admit I don't recall hearing something.  It's much easier to filter out a subtle, informal communication.

That doesn't mean you have to reprise the role of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (caution: not safe for work, small children, or those with delicate constitutions).  You can (and should) be pleasant and sympathetic.  You can do that while still being absolutely crystal clear about what your expectations are.  I might say something like:

"I'd like to clarify something about my expectations regarding unexpected absences, whether they're because you're sick, a family member or friend needs help, or just because you'd prefer to be on the beach rather than in the office.  I'm perfectly fine with you not being here when you need to be somewhere else.  However, I do expect that you take into consideration the impact your absence has on the rest of the team and the wider organisation, and make a reasonable effort to mitigate those problems.  A quick two minute call to the person who was expecting your report that day, or a quick e-mail to someone you think might need to talk to you, saying you'll be available on your cell between certain hours if they need to pick your brain, is the difference between a smooth absence and a disruptive one.

"Now, I know that sometimes it just isn't possible to smooth things over.  If you're struck down with the plague, or your family calls you to say you need to visit a family member now, then we'll just do our best in your absence.  Most of the time, though, it is possible to take a couple of minutes to smooth things over, and it is in the best interests of everyone if you take that time if you can.  You'd want the heads-up if someone else could give it to you, so please observe the golden rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

cynaus's picture

...witty and concise and right on the money!  Thank you for the reminder about Mark's comment re telling the team something seven times and half of them only hear it once.... I had forgotten that and yet it's absolutely accurate.

It's nice to know I'm not alone with the subtleties.  

Thank you also for the extra leverage with the script too - we have our staff meeting today and I just popped back to re-read the comments so that I could prepare for the meeting and received this little bonus pearl!  Awesome timing!

mattpalmer's picture

I'd be interested to hear what sort of reaction you get from the team.  Also, I forgot to mention it before, but it's probably worth following up with the people you've specifically been having issues with, to reinforce the message.  One risk with "public broadcasts" is that the worst offenders can have this strange "oh, she's not talking about me, I'd never do anything like that" forcefield around them, so bringing it up with them separately is worthwhile (one of the "seven tellings", if you like).  In your next O3, in your 10 minutes, you could ask something like, "What are your thoughts about what I mentioned in our last staff meeting, about giving people a heads-up if you're going to be unexpectedly away?", and see what they say.

cynaus's picture

 Thanks ;)  We need a Like button...