My Employee Won’t Take Time Off 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 four questions from readers.

1. My employee won’t take time off

I own a small company, just me and two employees who are salaried. Both of my employees have worked for me for over five years and I give them three weeks PTO each year plus three sick days. We also have paid holidays throughout the year. I am always open to them taking time off for an appointment, errand, or a personal day, and not taking it off their PTO if they make up the time that week (or the next). I don’t require this at all; they are always free to just take the time off, but they often make up the hours and save their PTO for real vacations. I don’t keep track of their daily work hours since they are salaried, as long as they get their assigned work done on schedule.

I have one employee, Emily, who can’t seem to relax and  take her time off without working long hours to make it up. Even when she plans week-long vacations, she works long hours to make sure that she does not lose the entire week of PTO. Yesterday she took a sick day, and when I asked her how she was feeling the next day, she said she was better but thought she had gotten sick due to working long hours the last few days because she had requested a day off next week and wanted to make it up. I told her to just take the day off and not worry about making up the hours. She replied that she knew we were busy and she also has a week-long vacation coming up, so she was fine with working extra hours.

How do I get her to relax and take time off without stressing over making it up? Or, do I just let it be and rely on her to manage her own PTO and work hours as she sees fit? I don’t want to micromanage her time but I don’t want to see her get burned out on the job.

I think you should let her manage it as she sees fit, but I also think you could tell her that you’re concerned she’s overworking herself (she thinks it made her sick recently!) and not getting the benefits that vacation time is designed to give her.

But there’s a second thing here, which is that three days of sick time a year is really, really low. On average, U.S. employers give seven sick days a year, and many give more. It’s easy to understand why she’s hoarding them when there are so few of them. So I’d seriously look at increasing the number of sick days you’re giving your employees.

2. Our staff chat all day long and it’s messing up their work

We use Skype in our office as it’s a great tool for sharing your desktop, talking to international colleagues, and conference calls. However, our staff use the instant message feature and chat ALL DAY with each other. It’s affecting their quality of work and productivity because we are often dealing with tight deadlines. They make mistakes that cause processes to take longer and are not doing the proper analyses their jobs require because they’re focused on being social.

What would be the best way to deal with this that doesn’t make me the “bad guy”?

Well, you might need to be the bad guy. Someone here does. If you’re responsible for their work product, it’s reasonable for you to say, “I’m seeing problems X, Y, and Z in your work. I also see that you’re using instant messaging all day long, and I’m concerned they’re related. I need you to better focus and eliminate these problems, and I don’t think you’ll be able to do that without scaling way back on the chat.”

If you’re their direct manager, you have standing to be even more directive and tell them to cut out the IM’ing, period, and enforce it if they don’t. You should also start managing them more closely since the IM’ing isn’t the real issue; the work quality and productivity are, and it sounds like the work isn’t what it should be.

Sometimes managers do need to be “the bad guy” when people aren’t meeting expectations. That’s part of the job. (Although I think “the bad guy” is the wrong framing. Who are the good guys in this situation — the people who are blatantly not doing their work? I don’t think that’s the paradigm you should be using.)

3. Can I rescind an agreement to let someone work from a different office?

A woman who works for me has requested permission to work at an office location closer to her home three days a week on a permanent basis. (She and her husband bought a house over an hour from here last year.) In the past I allowed her to do this for two days a week for several months because she was working on her masters degree in the evenings at a campus near her home. Then last year she got pregnant and had a letter from her doctor saying she needed to restrict her driving time, so I allowed her to work there the full five days a week until the baby was born. The arrangement worked okay but not great, and now that she’s back from maternity leave I’d really like to limit her to two days a week there.

But in a moment of weakness before she had her baby, I told her she could work in the other office three days a week when she came back from maternity leave. She set up her daycare schedule based on that promise. Is it okay to change my mind and limit her time there to two days a week? Or do I need to honor my word?

You should honor your word. She made plans based on what you told her, and it’s not fair to go back on that now just because you had a moment of weakness — especially given how far in advance people need to set up daycare. And this is a good time to resolve not to have those sorts of moments of weakness in the future. It’s never fun to tell someone no, but it sucks far more to tell them no after you’ve already told them yes and they planned around that.) Otherwise you’ll get a reputation as a manager who doesn’t think it’s a big deal to break promises.

4. The guy who insists on saying “good morning” individually to everyone

This is a question of very little importance, just annoyance. I have a colleague who is a contractor who is probably 15-20 years older than me. He’s nice. But every morning he has to individually say “good morning” to everyone. I even have headphones in and he’ll wave his hand in front of me to say good morning. I appreciate the sentiment, but sometimes I am in the middle of something and don’t want to be interrupted. Others, I just haven’t had my coffee and am just not that cheery. I know I should probably just suck it up, but is this normal for some people to say hi to everyone individually?

I feel like nearly every office has one of these — the really aggressive “good morning” greeter who will insist on being heard, even if you’re clearly in the middle of something else.

It’s mildly weird behavior, but there’s really nothing you can do about it without looking like a huge grump.

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The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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An open minded personality.. fun to be with, because of my positive vibes. God fearing, for without God I am nothing.. Moved with compassion when dealing with you, not selfish or self-centered...

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