My boss and I were having a discussion about how to handle it when employees need small amounts of time off for things such as waiting for the plumber, going to the DMV, emergency dentist, etc. We cannot find a way to keep it in check to make sure everyone is being honest and at the same time avoid a "clock puncher" mentality, so I thought I would throw this out to the MT community. What do you do?

For more details about us, we are a very small advertising sales organization so there is no formal company policy that you might have somewhere like Microsoft. We are basically making up the rules as we go. My boss is extremely concerned about trusting employees to come and go as they please. 

In the past we have had a system where employees would tell HR when they have to be out and when they are going to make up the time. This became somewhat unruly because it was really cumbersome for HR (who is also CFO and IT at our tiny firm) to stay on top of whether or not people are doing what they said they would do. Employees ended up abusing the system i.e. not making up time that they said they would.

As a result of this abuse, my boss is leaning toward no longer allowing people to make up time at all. If you have to be out for any reason then you get docked, even if it's two hours. This approach will no doubt result in resentment from the staff - especially those playing by the rules.

I suspect that the MT community will say that if employees are getting their work done and meeting their goals then who cares? That gets even more complicated since we are an advertising sales organization. ALL of our numbers are down right now, so none of those goals are being met. For the non-sales staff, there is always more work to be done so at what point are they "getting all their work done"? Never, because it's endless. 

I think this is probably not as complicated at other firms and I'm very interested in hearing how you all do this. Thanks much.




jcook's picture

Hi ksg139

I'd be really interested to see other people's opinions on this subject too.

In my organisation, the guidelines from HR say that individual managers need to keep a record of minor absences and ask the employee to make the time up. No manager in the company that I know does this.

I had a problem in my team that one team member thought I was being unfair about how much time off I was allowing to another team member. That team member does a lot of over time and the one who was complaining does no extra hours at all.

To address this, one of the things I have started doing is to keep a log of all of the time all of the team, including me, have off for small appointments like these. It's actually shown that we all pretty much have the same amount of time off and that there isn't any unfair treatment. Things have now settled down and this isn't an issue any more, but I still keep the log.

It doesn't take too long to do as I only have 3 in my team (plus me). So I just make a note when they tell me they have an appointment and I make another note when the time was made up.

It's very easy for people to make assumptions about what happened and how often it happened, when there is no actual log. Having said that I am not a fan of keeping extensive records for the sake of it. So as I said earlier, I am interested to see what others have to say about this .....



Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Easy.  Change your mindset from enforcement to trust, from what you can give versus trusting others.

No official records. No standards, other than I trust you and I know you recognize there's work that needs to be done.  The manager makes the call every time, and has to balance workload.  Let them go and do whatever they need to do, when they need to do it.  Most of us will be able to tell when someone is gaming the system.

Be clear - I will be generous as long as you make up for lost time with best efforts while here.  I know you've got stuff - fair enough.  And so does the company.

Start with trust.  If it's abused, cut back on freedom for the abusers.  Top performers get more leeway, because they're getting more work done.

I sure as hell wouldn't keep a log to appease one of my directs.  THAT is my call.  feedback: when you ask about others, it makes me think you're taking your eye off the ball.  Everyone here gets special treatment.

You can do it your boss's way, or your/my way.  The latter has more risk, and surely more reward depending on the caliber of your team.

Some firms have policies (which many managers ignore, though the policies tend to skew behavior toward the political mean).  Some firms don't, and managers are all over the lot.

Make a decision about how you would want to be treated, what would make you give your best.  Beat the drum for some reciprocity in the form of productivity, which is where the joy is anyway.

jhack's picture

I've done what Mark describes above for many years.  The loyalty and trust it engenders, and the willingness to go the extra mile when asked, more than makes up for the person who runs late at the DMV.   It's not just about the errand - it's about your willingness to develop your people, and their willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed.  Even if they have to get a tooth filled at an inconvenient time.  

My team does R&D, and it can be hard to "measure" what they do.  There is certainly always more to do!  But there are short and long term goals, and the team knows what our milestones are.  Establishing those clear goals is part of the manager's job.  If you do that well, then you can manage to the goals, not the hours.  


douglase's picture

In my industry we have Flex time.  This means that staff can accrue up to 40 hours  (that is recorded on their time sheet).  So if you work 4 more hours in one week than your normal hours (in our case 36.25 hours per week) then you add that to you bank.

You can only flex if you have time accrued.  This time has to be signed off by your manager.

There are a whole bunch of rules around it.  It can be open to abuse.  But I have found that by building a trust relationship it works.




ksg139's picture

Thank you Jane, Mark, John and Doug. Your advice is really helpful.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Time card, time clocks, time sheets and time keeping are all abominations born of power and corrosive to trust. 

And the power comes from somewhere else but the trust comes from YOUR account.

Get rid of them.


douglase's picture

I agree that getting rid of them would be nice.  If you have the power to do it it can work.

But in some industries (ie government) this is not an option.  We have a whole stack of policies, guidelines, and standards that say "all public servants must submit a timesheet".

In those situations where you must provide one, and your staff must complete one, you need to mitigate their impact.  And the best way to do that is to build a trust environment.




Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge


You can do it.  Them submitting it doesn't mean you have to keep it, or have it be perfectly accurate, since by definition it already isn't.

There's just risk.


Bnccna2's picture

I'd have to agree. Coming from the other side of that relationship, I really appreciate it when someone trust me enough to let me take care of my needs. Afterwards I am more willing to help them and work harder/longer. Besides, if someone is abusing that trust you can always give them feedback in their o3. 

stephenbooth_uk's picture

I don't know Douglas' situation and the policies and procedures where he works.  I strongly suspect they won't be far different from where I work in the UK public sector.

Since public sector organisations are paid for from public money they tend to have strong, audit driven, policy requirements for reporting on anything to do with money.  Time, literally, is money because we're paid to show up to work for a certain number of hours each week.  Certainly where i work, and probably where Douglas works, we have to submit a weekly time card to our line manager (or, for those of use using electronic clocking systems, it's automatically submitted for us either to our manager or to HR).  Unless our time and attendance records go to HR, our line manager has to submit a summary to HR showing how many hours each person did, if anyone went sick, if anyone was on leave and if anyone violated core hours (we're on flex time but have core hours when we have to be in the office).  Failure to submit a time card is a disciplinary offense, knowingly falsifying a time card is a disciplinary offence and a manager failing to submit their weekly report is, you guessed it, a disciplinary offence.  There are only three things you can be pretty much fired on the spot for:  Theft; Assault; Failing to submit or knowingly falsifying time and attendance records.  That's how seriously they are taken.  In the nine and a quarter years I've been here, 5 as a union rep, I don't know of anyone who has been disciplined for theft or assault but I do know of 11 who have been disciplined for failing to submit time records, three of whom were subsequenlty dismissed.

Forcing people to clock in and out is corrosive to trust.  It's also a pain for those of us who have to do it as the clocking machines are often off the direct route from the door to our desk and visa versa (where I am at the moment when I arrive at work I have to go up two flights of stairs through a swipe card controlled door, clock, back through the swipe card controlled door and then either catch the lift (elevator) or climb another 6 flights of stairs, through a numeric key pad controlled door, along a corridor through another, door accross one open plan office and through another door to get to my desk; then the reverse when I go out).  Rules, however, are rules and the penalty for going against them is pretty severe.  There have been suggestions of getting rid of clocking and the reports but they are never taken forward by senior management and a number of the suggesters have found themselves under Audit investigation on suspicion of fraud.


douglase's picture

They are fairly similar Stephen.




douglase's picture

They are fairly similar Stephen.




fchalif's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

If the time is insignificant and the team member's results are good, then don't sweat it. If the time is significant and the results are below standard, then provide feedback. Anywhere in between, use your judgment.

When others on the team complain about it, don't take it on. Keep the conversation focused on their performance.

Keeping a detail track of the small amounts of time each team member takes off is likely a waste of your time, however small you think that time may be. Focus and communicate about what they are doing well during that time - it will go a longer way.



430jan's picture

Very interesting thread! I enjoy hearing about the different work environments out there. I manage union nurses. I worked as a nurse under very restrictive rules under old management. The contract was always used as an excuse to manage rigidly, but the nurses that wanted to beat the rules and mess around did so anyway (and of course no one ever corrected them).

I have discovered now that I am management that the union has a contract, but it can be manipulated somewhat to allow flex time for these types of family events and occasions (no union ever grieves being treated considerately).

We have to be accountable to the taxpayers. We'll never get rid of timesheets in a county department. Sorry, that would be a ticket out the door in a big hurry. But we have refused to go with a timeclock, and we also have allowed flexing. They have to write their actual work hours on the timesheet, but it's no big deal as long as they put in their 8 hours. In turn, they have to cover their assignments and make sure they don't abuse the trust. It happens occasionally, and is never fun. It's also no reason to punish everyone.

It works. Stuff happens, work has to happen in the midst of it.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

...about unions in a union shop.

On the other hand, Manager Tools is fiercely anti-union in non-unon environments.

Being a good manager has nothing to do with the groups your directs are or are not associated with.

Build relationships.

Communicate About Performance.

Ask for Improvements.

430jan's picture



JTrapp's picture

If you're flexible in meeting the needs of your directs, they will be more flexible in meeting yours.

Even in a union environment at a large government agency with lots of rules and reporting requirements there is no reason not to be flexible. I've found that if I try to meet peoples needs for small amounts of time off I get less grief when I cant accommodate them. We work in a minimum staffing environment where we must have a certain number of people on duty, as long as we maintain staffing I can work with just about any request.

The trust and good will we have been able to build both between management and staff and among the staff itself has really helped us when we have had to ask people to change plans on days off because of staffing needs. This helps us to avoid either forcing someone back to work or forcing them to hold over at the end of their shift. If we work together it can work for everyone.

We have had a small number of people try to abuse our system. Feedback and peer pressure usually fix the problem.

thaGUma's picture

It all comes down to trust. Even the sytems Stephen mentioned can be abused - one of my future directs just spent two days in Japan on taxpayer's money to attend his mate's stag do. Reports of turning up with hang overs and missing meetings. the majority will work with a flexible system and give a lot more than they take. Accept the idiots and line them up for some adjusting feedback.

I changed the country and the timing to protect the innocent (until proven guilty!).


maestro's picture

I agree with Mark that if you have habitual offenders with respect to attendance, arriving late, leaving early, etc., get rid of them.  I am also in complete agreement about giving feedback, one-on-one's, and having more leeway with top performers. 

However, if you've done all of that, and you see that behavior is not changin, I have found that having an attendance policy on paper, in black and white, can prove to be the best way of terminating an employee as the infractions of the policy are very clear.  You either came in late, or you didn't.  There is not a lot of room for disection and dialogue around whether they are meeting behavior in this area!

Working for a very large company, I've learned that with HR, violation of attendance is one way to move someone to written warning very quickly.  This can be especially helpful if you have other issues with the employees behavior as well.

That being said, please understand I am suggesting that this makes it easier to move to termination ONLY IF you've done your job as a manager in giving honest feedback and discussing the issue during one-on-one's.  I wouldn't make a project out of it, (i.e. discussing it 19 times with an employee) as you are running a business and you shouldn't have to coach someone on attendance, but you definitely should  be sure to follow the basic MT doctrine on this even if it is a quick process.


jhack's picture

" I've learned that with HR, violation of attendance is one way to move someone to written warning very quickly.  This can be especially helpful if you have other issues with the employees behavior as well."  - maestro

This is not a good strategy.  First, you have an ethical obligation as a manager to address the real issues that concern you.  You owe it to your employees to give them feedback, coaching, etc about their most important behaviors.

Second, you put yourself at risk if you do not apply rules consistently.  The employee could charge that you let some people come in late without repercussions, but you fired them for it because you are racist/sexist/ageist/whatever.  You should never put yourself in a situation where you could be accused of such a thing, regardless of its truth.  And by using a minor (easily measured) infraction to substitute for your real concerns, you are doing just that. 

John Hack

maestro's picture

John -

Thank you for your comments.  Please be sure to read my post in it's entirety.  I make it abundantly clear in my comments both before and after the section you are speaking to, that this methodology is NOT a substitute for coaching, feedback, O3's, etc., in any shape or form.  My post assumes that all of those things have been done without a change in behavior from the DR.  A manager who looks to ignore the "real issues" is a terrible manager.

My post is merely a note that with any policy that is very clear within a company (and attendance is one that should be extremely clear) HR departments tend to be much more inclined to support a manager needing to move to a written warning for violating that policy.

Additionally, providing a manager is giving feedback, doing O3's, coaching, etc., with all of their employees, there should be no inconsistency here from one DR to the next.  Any employee that habitually refuses to change their behavior with respect to attendance would be subjected to the same management standards.

- Maestro

jhack's picture

 I did read your post.  I disagree with it.  

When you have properly gone all the way through late stage coaching, and the direct is unable to meet the standards, you have all the ammunition you need to fire them.  HR will not hesitate. 

At that point, firing them on a technicality because it's easier for you and HR is the wrong thing to do.  It's wrong because that's not really why they're being fired, and it's wrong because it puts you and the organization at risk. 

You say that you "completely agree about ... having more leeway with top performers."   If you fire someone for a technicality, you can't give someone else leeway.  You open yourself up to charges of discrimination.  

John Hack

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I agree with John right up until the end.

OF COURSE you can fire one person for a technicality and give someone else leeway.  And virtually every firing opens us up to charges of discrimination.

And if you have a lot of documentation on several things that are not up to par, you don't have to talk about items 2,3,4 and 5 when you fire them for attendance (my instance of technicality for this example).  You can still fire them for attendance - with other things in your back pocket - because the attendance policy is in black and white and lawyers don't like arguing those cases.  That actually can REDUCE risk.

All that said, John's second para is important, because almost no managers know it.  Particularly the HR part.

jhack's picture

Maestro and Mark,

Good points and well made.  I see now the legal logic.   

John Hack

lina34's picture

Hi, for me, I found my solution in a time-off/leave management system: , I tried it online before free.

KTatley's picture
Training Badge

Great post, good discussion.


Your problem sets off alarm bells in my head, this is not just about timekeeping, the problems you describe (endemic abusing a system & hence working shorter hours) could be symptoms of a more fundamental problem.


I submit to you that if the staff were extremely moral and committed to good work/performance then the issue you describe would never have surfaced.


Is the problem caused by a general lack of integrity and performance discipline and what is the root cause of this?

If you find & fix the root cause, you solve all of the symptoms.

Questions you may consider include:

-Do people get their work done to a high standard?

-Do they have a sense of ownership of their output (seen by autonomously working hard when needed and owning their own inputs)?

-Is their a culture of fairness & morality or of shortcuts, excuses, double standards?

-Is this a problem with just 1 or 2 people or is it endemic?


You may then need further root cause analysis to tease out what's causing this - too much for a blog post. Contact me directly if you need some help going through this.

Fixing a culture can also present complications. However the good news is that there is a lot in Manager Tools that you can use to effect improvements:

-Communication: Change leadership, what's your visual: Describe the issue to your employees, the problems it is causing and explain if it cannot be fixed there is a risk senior management may withdraw privileges or put in place a timekeeping system. Then be clear about your preferred trust based system (good cop, bad cop!?)

-Performance & morality: Drive through feedback. Like Mark says - if you pay attention you will know who's pushing boundaries - only by accepting behaviour, does it become a problem. Also use stretching goals (over delegating)

-Trust: Built through relationships through One-on-Ones but also walk the talk on morality

There are casts on all of these topics in bold.

-If your boss does insist on a policy/process change, you could also consider using a hotwash with your staff to help with their engagement into the process.


garytan's picture


Here is my feedback.

I'd say go with trust and empowerment first. If they are good people they will give you the respect and not cheat.

If it still doesn't work, you can look at timesheet management software - some of them exist online and are pretty good.