Tom, one of your employees, has worked in the office for ten years. He is well liked and knowledgeable about the history of the office and University systems. There is no past history of performance issues that you can see from looking at past performance reviews. What you have observed is that Tom regularly shows up late, (office opens at 8:30am, Tom usually comes by 9/9:15am), takes longer than an hour for lunch, and often is heading out the door by 4:30pm (office closes at 5pm). You notice that this type of behavior seems to happen once in a while for other employees in the office, but seems like a daily practice for Tom. He never records any of this time on his time card as official time off.
Take a few moments to think about the situation and make some notes. What would you do? What would be your first step?
- Do nothing; every one seems to be relatively happy and no one has complained to you about this issue.
- Address the issue with the office as a whole at a meeting, reminding everyone of operating hours and the importance of being on time.
- Address the issue directly with Tom, explaining your concerns, exploring his understanding of working hours, and being clear about your future expectations.
- Give Tom a verbal warning for his lack of timeliness, and tell him if it happens again, he will receive a written warning that will go into his permanent discipline record.
- Your boss notices that you have not addressed the time discrepancies in the office and expresses concern with your abilities to manage the office. You now have created a situation in which your boss has concerns about your ability to do the job. You still need to address the issue with your employees and now also need to regain the confidence of your manager.
- Others employees notice that it seems fine with you that Tom keeps casual hours, so every one starts keeping the same hours as Tom. Your response to one employee’s behavior has now established office norms that need to be addressed. This could have been avoided by addressing the issue up front with Tom.
- Some of the employees accuse you of discriminatory behavior by having different standards for different employees. When staff feel they are being treated unfairly or that different rules are being applied for different staff, they have a variety of options. In addition to approaching you directly, they could go to your boss, or to the Ombuds Office. What if Tom is the only male reporting to you and the women on staff document the fact that Tom is getting preferential treatment? The issue could become a much bigger concern.
This could work. Or it could continue to create an imbalance in who is working actual work hours and who is not. In most cases, this leads to trouble in the long run. Do you want to create an expectation that 9am - 4:30pm with more than an hour lunch is an acceptable work day? Unless there is an accommodation issue or an agreement of flexible work schedule or working reduced hours at reduced pay, you need to address this issue. Talk to your boss for advice, be clear on appropriate contract language governing time and attendance, and/or call WL&D for a supervisory consultation on ways to approach the issue.
Please keep exploring the other potential options.
Possible outcomes of #2, Address the issue with the office as a whole at a meeting, reminding everyone of operating hours and the importance of being on time
- Staff ask for your understanding of work time, share theirs and you all come to agreement. This could happen. This still may not solve your problem, in that people may agree to something but not change their behavior. It would give you a point on which to start giving feedback if you see that staff or some staff are not following the guidelines.
- Staff that are following the rules feel de-motivated and frustrated. By addressing an issue as "some of you" or "everyone" and not addressing the person who needs to be addressed, you are punishing the wrong people.
- Nothing changes. The longer you do nothing, the more likely it will become a bigger issue. Since Tom is not being addressed directly, there is no reason to change. Talk to your boss for advice, be clear on appropriate contract language governing time and attendance, and/or call WL&D for a supervisory consultation on ways to approach the issue.
This could work. Sometimes reminders motivate staff to adhere to the standards. However, often this will only work temporarily. If there are no consequences for disobeying, staff will go back to old habits. More often than not, this option will upset employees that are adhering to the rules (e.g.., “Why is she addressing this with me? I’m always on time! Why doesn’t she tell it to the person who isn’t?!), and allow the person who is not adhering to ignore it (e.g.., “She’s saying it to everyone; she doesn’t mean me.”). If you have a problem with one or just a few employees, it is important to address the issue directly with them and not use a “blanket” approach that covers everyone. Also, always be clear about the contract language that governs time and attendance for your employees.
Please keep exploring the other potential options.
Possible outcomes of #3, Address the issue directly with Tom, explaining your concerns, exploring his understanding of working hours, and being clear about your future expectations
- Tom disagrees with you. Tom may feel he is on time. This is where it is important to have documentation on Tom's behaviors to back up your concerns.
- Tom believes you are picking on him. Tom may not like the idea that you are addressing this issue with him. Yet, it still needs to be addressed.
- Tom doesn’t understand the problem; he says, “I work hard and complete my tasks, so what’s the issue?” In giving feedback to an employee, it can help to also acknowledge what the employee does well. The issue is not how hard Tom works (though some may wonder if Tom could do more if he worked the expected number of hours), the issues are time, attendance and office standards.
- Tom says no previous supervisor ever addressed this issue. This may be true. Acknowledge that reality and say that what may have been accepted norms in the past don't dictate the future. Acknowledge that it is not Tom's fault no one addressed it earlier. Discuss your expectations of his future behavior.
This will work. Although it may be uncomfortable at first, being clear with employees on your standards for the office is important in establishing your performance expectations of quality work. It is important to explore with your boss and employees what are the standard expectations around time and attendance. What have been the past norms? How do these norms fit with your standards of performance? Address that fact that what may have been allowed in the past is the past, and you are now establishing new norms for the present and future. This may take some getting used to for your employees. Be clear about your reasons and be willing to listen to their points of view. It is also vitally important that you understand and are following the contract language governing time and attendance for each of your unionized employees.
Good choice…what would have happened if you had chosen one of the other options?
Possible reactions for #4: Give Tom a verbal warning for his lack of timeliness, and tell him if it happens again, he will receive a written warning that will go into his permanent discipline record
- Tom changes his behavior but will not talk to you beyond what the work requires. It would not be unusual for there to be a period of discomfort after a discipline action. Make sure you are not avoiding or treating the employee in markedly different ways that you have in the past.
- Tom is taken totally by surprise and is angry. Tom most likely will feel that he has been treated unfairly if this issue has not been addressed with him in the past.
- Tom files a grievance. Any time an employee has received discipline, they do have the right to file a grievance. Tom also has the right to have a union representative attend meetings where he is receiving discipline.
This action depends on the circumstances involved. Before taking any disciplinary action, (particularly as a new supervisor), you should discuss the matter with your boss, personnel coordinator in your area, and Labor Relations, to be clear about appropriate contract language and disciplinary procedures. You would need to explore past history and past standards for time and attendance in the office or department. If you have not addressed the issue in the past, this option could be an extreme first action, unless your supervisor feels it is warranted. It is important before giving a warning that you make sure the employee is aware of what is expected in regards to arrival and leaving time and adhering to office schedules. Communication about expectation is an essential first step prior to giving any warning.
Please keep exploring the other options.