My Employee Insists On Leaving At 5 On the Dot … But Is Behind On Work

0 columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to three questions from readers.

1. My employee insists at leaving at 5 on the dot every day — and is missing deadlines

I manage a large team. Most of the team members are hard working, dedicated, and open to putting in extra hours when it’s occasionally needed to compete tasks.

However, I have one employee, Lisa, who leaves at 5 p.m. on the dot regardless of whether or not the job is competed. The entire team is on salary, so it’s not about the hours but about the work.

I constantly hear “I’m so busy,” yet she never stays late to catch up or complete the work. I’m constantly pushing back deadlines because the work doesn’t get done. I look up at 5 p.m. and she’s gone. Sometimes I wish I could just tell her to put in a few more hours to catch up and get the work done.

You can tell her that! If these are salaried, exempt jobs, it’s reasonable and normal that sometimes she might need to put in a bit more work to get things done. If that were happening all the time, you would need to revisit your expectations and people’s workloads. But if it’s just occasional, this is a reasonable thing to expect.

If Lisa is behind on her work, you should say, “You’ve been missing a lot of deadlines and that can’t continue. That may mean that you sometimes need to work a little longer to ensure your work gets finished. This isn’t a job where you can expect to always leave precisely at 5:00. The expectation is that you’ll put in extra time if it’s needed.”

If she reacts as if you’re saying she’ll never have an evening free again, then say, “I don’t expect you to work late every evening, but right now you’re working exactly 9-5 every day and missing deadlines. I need you to put in the time that it takes to get work done. If you do that and it turns out that the time required is excessive, we can revisit your workload at that point — but that’s not where we are now.”

And you don’t have to push back deadlines the way you’ve been doing. If they’re important, you can hold firm and say, “This does need to be turned in by tomorrow.” And you probably need to address it as a performance problem if deadlines are still missed.

2. My whole team brings their spouses on business trips

Employees on a team I manage attend one regional and one national conference per year for professional development and training. All expenses are paid. Is it normal that spouses commonly accompany them on these trips?

This started years ago when one employee got permission to extend their trip so their spouse could join them for some tourism (they paid the spouse’s expenses and took vacation time for the time days). PTO was taken. Many of the other team members thought this sounded fun and they started doing it too. At some point it changed from spouses coming before or after the conference to spouses coming during the conference. This happens a lot and the norm is now bringing a spouse instead of traveling alone or with the team.

I have two concerns: (1) employees may be missing opportunities and networking that happen in the evenings and other down time, and (2) sometimes the company incurs extra costs because the employees are trying to accommodate traveling with their spouses. For example, taking a different and more expensive flight to a national conference, or opting to drive themselves (and then submit for mileage reimbursement) instead of sharing a rental car with three or four coworkers.

Is this normal? And if it isn’t normal, is it bad enough that I should stop allowing it to happen?

It’s not unheard of for someone’s spouse to join them on a business trip so that they can enjoy the city together in the person’s off-hours (or so the spouse can enjoy themselves during the day, or so they can extend the trip for a vacation afterwards). What’s unusual in your situation, though, is that it sounds like it’s become the culture in your office for lots of people to do this — to the point that it now feels like a perk.

The big question is what the real impact is. Are people less engaged in the conferences? Would substantial networking be happening in the evenings that isn’t happening now because people go off with their spouses? Is part of the point of sending everyone to these conferences to have team bonding time outside of the sessions? If you’re answering yes to those questions, it’s not unreasonable to ask that these trips be spouse-free going forward … while still allowing people to extend the trip at their own expense and have spouses join them afterward if they want. If it’s a week-long event, you could even say spouses are welcome to join on day 3 of the event, or something else that preserves some team-only time first. Or you could just set up a couple of employee-only dinners and make sure people know they’re expected to be there for those. On the other hand, if networking and team bonding are not a big part of your goals with this travel and if most people would probably head back to their rooms alone after the daytime sessions anyway, then it might make sense to leave this alone.

But if nothing else, you need to tackle the piece about expenses; employees shouldn’t be costing the company more because they’re bringing a spouse along. It’s more than reasonable for you to lay down a rule that you won’t cover extra costs incurred by people trying to accommodate spouses.

3. Running into a candidate we rejected

I work in a profession where those of us in it are likely to run into each other at a lot of local and national get-togethers. My question is about how to deal with running into people who were rejected from hiring searches I was involved with. I really put my foot in it recently when I asked someone if we’d met, and then when she heard what company I’m with, she said “Oh, I interviewed for a job there.” I then said, “Oh! That’s where I know you from! I was on that search committee!” and felt terrible. I tried to recover with “we had a lot of good candidates in that search,” and she said it wasn’t the right fit for her anyway. But do you have advice about how to handle these encounters? I’ve been on both sides and it never seems to go well.

It’s good to just be matter of fact about it — and definitely not apologetic, since if you sound apologetic, it’s likely to make the other person think you’re feeling pity or general awkwardness about the situation. Really, the best thing is to convert the interview in your head to just a standard business meeting and just say the things you’d say if you ran into someone from a non-interview meeting. So that means things like “good to see you again” and “how are you?” but not “you were a good candidate” or “it was a competitive search” or any other interview-specific talk. In other words, don’t feel like you have to explain or soothe! Just treat them like any other contact. Most people will appreciate that.

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