I've got an employee who does a pretty good job with her work. She does stay on top of tasks but she has a serious issue with start / end times. I am pretty flexible as long as work gets done so I don't mind it too much.

She is a single mother with two kids (both pretty young kids) so she has to take them to day care and pick them up from day care. She also has summer camps for her kids and a whole slew of other stuff.

A while back she filled out a company document allowing her to start at 8:30am EST rather than everyone else's "be at the office by 8am policy". But even this has not helped her — she arrived today at 9:10am.

I have had a couple of talks with her telling her to be a bit more attentive with her time / attendance but without pursuing any sort of further action. The rest of my team who report directly to me know this and do not complain about it as they know being a single mother is difficult. So I am okay with it and others in the same department seem to be okay with it.

What seems to be the issue lately is other departments who either just notice it and mention something or need something from her directly. They will come over to me and say, "Hey where's X, I haven't seen her today...is she in?" and many others who just like to gossip. I don't like the gossip but I also don't like how her attendance reflects on my department. At the same time she gets stuff done...

She is also the type who doesn't take disciplining very well. If I say something to her she usually ends up trying to ignore me and gets less done. I understand having two kids and being a single mom is hard and I've asked her to be careful, to which she replies, "I am a single mom I can only do what I can do...my kids come first".

I really cannot tell her "No, you cannot go pick up your kids from daycare". She also has NO family here — so no one else can help her out at all.

The question I really have is: How do I get her to understand that her attendance is critical but at the same time try to cater to her being a single mother? I think this is a tough question because everything I think of comes back to her answer of "...well I'd love to come in earlier but I have kids...and I'm a single mom."

  • 174
    You say you're ok with it. But the tone of your question says you're not ok with it. Which is it?
    – Mast
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 6:25
  • 37
    @Mast: Sounds like he's OK with her as far as they are concerned but not happy that it's reflecting poorly on him from other's perspective. I don't see a contradiction.
    – user541686
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 11:56
  • 2
    Note that she may not be able to do what you want her to. Are you interested in her finding another job? Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 7:06
  • 11
    "her attendance is critical" "I am pretty flexible as long as work gets done". These two statements are direct contradictions of one another.
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 10:34
  • 9
    @Michael - I am flexible but she still needs to be here in a reasonable amount of time. If you have a doc appointment at 2pm one day and you are scheduled till 4pm I'll let you go (flexible). But don't do this EVERYDAY!
    – JonH
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 11:56

23 Answers 23


How do I get her to understand that her attendance is critical but at the same time try to cater to her being a single mother? I think this is a tough question because everything I think of comes back to her answer of "...well I'd love to come in earlier but I have kids...and I'm a single mom."

First you have to be clear in your own mind how important attendance is to the role and to the company. If a worker is able to do all of the work in a timely fashion and still come in late or leave early on occasion, that says that strict attendance isn't really all that important. On the other hand, some roles simply require being around and available throughout the work shift.

Once that is clear then you can decide on the importance and convey it to the worker. And only then can you expect adherence to the policy.

Still, adherence to an attendance policy isn't optimal or sometimes isn't even possible for everyone. In that case, you'll have to decide if this role is right for the person, or if she'll have to leave and find employment elsewhere.

In my office, strict time and attendance was not important - within limits. It was almost always completely reasonable for folks to come in when it made the most sense, and leave when it made the most sense, as long as the work got done on time, and all the usual meetings were attended.

But I've also owned a fast food restaurant. There, time and attendance was critical. And people not showing up on time or having to leave early on a regular basis were simply told that this was not the right job for them.

Most jobs are somewhere in between those two extremes.

In either case, a frank discussion of the expectations of the role is most important. Then, you can do what the company requires of you, and the worker can decide if the job meets their personal needs or not.

  • 54
    I really like this answer because it puts the basics into my mind. By Joe mentioning fast food I remember when I was 15-17 I worked at a local fast food joint and he's right it was required to be on time and not to leave early. Customers needed us there...but this role is not much customer facing...and I'd hate to discipline someone harshly when I actually like her work. Believe it or not I am accepting this answer because it puts a reminder into my head on the differences in roles and it brings back old memories. It also lets me stop and think to answer the first question.
    – JonH
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 11:44
  • 68
    "First you have to be clear in your own mind how important attendance is" I think this is crucial. JonH doesn't seem too sure how important it is. If he doesn't know, why would the employee think it's important
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 12:32
  • 17
    I'd also suggest that job employees (in the sense of people who you can trust to do the work and do it well) are harder to find than to lose and it's worth considering if this employee is valuable enough to make an exception for. Finding a good replacement is a real cost worth factoring in. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 13:09
  • 2
    I agree. In an ideal world you'd talk to her and she'd stop having issues showing up late/leaving early and life would be grand but it's also quite possible that that isn't a realistic scenario. Then you need to decide which situation you'd prefer. Keep her and accept that her attendance will continue as it currently is or end up replacing her with someone else who can reliably be in on time and not have to leave early. Once you've decided between those two options you can then follow a path that leads to that if she can't fix her attendance. Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 19:49
  • 4
    But I've also owned a fast food restaurant. There, time and attendance was critical. In my mind this is just an extension of the as long as the work got done on time principle. If you are physically absent from your job at a fast food restaurant, it is impossible for you to be getting the work done. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 16:48

How do I get her to understand that her attendance is critical but at the same time try to cater to her being a single mother?

I think what you need to do is make them understand that her attendance on time is not critical since she does a great job (and is a single parent). Change the policy maybe?

I also don't like how her attendance reflects on my department

The work done is what is important for your department, the rest is talk-the-talk.

Since she "does a pretty good job with her work" and she "does stay on top of tasks", that means she is trying her best to make everyone happy. Be careful not to give her bad time about it, but instead, be on her side.

Life-Work balance is a serious issue in all departments these days, so I would say you won't be the only one. And reading up on your situation, seems like the exact number of hours worked is not important in your case.

People OVER Policy. I would try & fight for a flexible hours environment for everyone. Then, maybe set a time window (10 to 4?) were all employees have to be on their desks, no excuses.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 23:46
  • 2
    This policy means that other workers would feel free to have flexible hours as well.
    – Santiago
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 16:19
  • 11
    @Santiago Yes. And if they get all their work done and do it well then it's not a problem. Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 16:18
  • @Santiago - generally flex time policies are extremely firm on the "... assuming the job gets done" precondition.
    – user13655
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 20:32
  • 1
    I have a hard time upvoting this answer because it means reconfiguring the entire office's attendance policy to satisfy one employee's attendance problem. It's just not practical.
    – WalkerDev
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 21:24

Speaking from experience.

If she gets her work done in a timely manner, doesn't make undue mistakes (due to rushing to get it done, for example), and is on the worksite when other employees need to interact with her, then the only thing she seems guilty of is not adhering to a policy you don't seem all that concerned about her following, except as to how it impacts the image of your department to the rest of the company.

It doesn't sound like it's affecting team morale or cohesion, and it sounds like she's a fairly reliable employee as far as completing the work goes. I would personally take the approach of 'As long as she doesn't abuse it or inhibit anyone else's work'. If someone asks if she isn't coming in that day, let them know that you haven't received anything saying she won't be, and ask if they are waiting on her for something work related.

By and large, barring some over-arching corporate policy enforced by HR, the start and end time of an employee are managed by their manager. So long as you (being her manager) don't see a negative impact from her schedule, you have the discretion to allow her to continue as she is. NOTE that this may conflict with individual regulations at your place of business, and you may wish to check with HR so far as to how flexible the work hours and scheduling is allowed to be.

If it's a serious enough issue that you feel it warrants further discussion, then your options are to either threaten to fire her for violating scheduling policy, or work with her to find a way to 'even the score' (e.g. making up the hours on a Saturday, or if possible, adding a work-from-home stipulation that she completes a certain number of hours from home each week).

  • OP edited the post and clarified the question in need of answering. Mind checking it so you can address it?
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 17:51
  • 2
    "They will come over to me and say, "Hey where's X, I haven't seen her today...is she in?" and many others who just like to gossip. I don't like the gossip but I also don't like how her attendance reflects on my department." - OP, sounds like it is affecting morale and the professional image of his department.
    – James
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 17:09
  • 1
    "So I am okay with it and others in the same department seem to be okay with it" - it's only persons in other departments who seem to have an issue. That's for their manager to address, not OP.
    – GOATNine
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 17:26
  • 2
    @James A perfectly valid response to that is "Why do you ask?" rather than giving an answer. If someone is just trying to gossip, they probably won't be able to provide a good answer and you can end the conversation there and then, with it reflecting badly on them rather than on your department.
    – Cronax
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 15:02
  • Other departments need things from her and she's not available. So she is not onsite when other employees need to interact with her. Maybe that's unavoidable but it's clearly a bigger problem than just violating policy
    – DaveG
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 18:27

I'm mostly all about getting the work done and less about the schedule, but it's not possible to entirely ignore the schedule. Unless she's working 100% uninvolved with any other person in the company, there will be times that people need to know if she's in to ask her a question, get some work to/from her, etc.; knowing when she's going to be there is important to avoid her being a bottleneck.

It's also important for morale; while she may have a unique situation, other employees will have their own issues, and may not appreciate her being able to come and go at work as she pleases - even though she has a good reason for it.

What I like in cases like this is sitting down with the employee and asking her for a schedule that she can stick to at least 90% of the time. Understanding that things come up, kids get sick, whatever, for a day or two a month is fine; but what's the hours she can work most of the time. Determine that, and work out with your upper management/HR whether that schedule is acceptable as a baseline. If she can come in earlier than that, great - please do; but that's the hours that she's expected to be in the office.

Then, if she has to deviate from that, she has to follow a protocol - text, email, call, whatever, as soon as she knows. Obviously if traffic/train/whatever is delayed she may not know ahead of time - just as anyone else - but if it's a delay arising from her kids, she should know at least before she leaves for the office; so have a notification pathway for her to get that information in so nobody's wondering where she is.

As far as everyone else, just make sure everyone knows her actual expected in the office hours. If that's 9-5, or whatever, just make sure it's known; that way people who depend on her can know when she's going to be there.

Of course, HR may not permit her to work the schedule that she needs; that's up to you and HR to work out with her. There may be other alternatives (Can she work from home in the evening? Can she work through lunch? Can she arrange late pickup at daycare and work 9-6 instead of 8-5?); or it may well be that your company isn't willing to adjust things as much as she needs, and she needs to either find other alternatives or find a job that is more flexible. Do your best to be her advocate here, but it's up to upper management and HR to set the limits on what's okay.

  • +1 pretty much giving the answer I intended to write - set some formal "core" hours where attendance is a must (e.g. 9.30-4.30) that gets advertised more widely e.g. via email auto-reply so that others have some guarantee of when she can be contacted. In addition to this formal arrangement, there can also be an informal (internal to the department) expectation of being in from 8.30am. Of course, precise timings will need to be adjusted.
    – kwah
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 0:10
  • @Joe I would suggest adding in some emphasis on availability and communication over a set schedule. In my last workplace, we all had a general schedule and core hours we needed to be available. In our case we had a lot of people with differing work from home schedules so we used our calendars and statuses in slack to communicate availability and changes in schedule. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 22:52
  • Actually morale goes either way, employes with a conscience might loose loyalty if they see her treated badly.
    – lalala
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 19:11

Perhaps you should consider going the opposite direction and giving your entire team flextime, since, as you say, this arrangement doesn't bother you if the work gets done:

In contrast to traditional work arrangements that require employees to work a standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day, flextime typically involves a "core" period of the day during which employees are required to be at work (e.g., between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.), and a "bandwidth" period within which all required hours must be worked (e.g., between 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.).

This means as her attendance is now within policy (eliminating the need for discipline and gossip) and extends those privileges to the rest of your team, which removes the shadow for favoritism.

It also means you now have a policy for those who inquire.

It sounds like you may also wish to work on your communication, in particular them calling you if they aren't going to be in at the normal time. Emphasizing that will lead to being able to account for your employees outside of the core period:

"Bob usually comes in at nine, but he called saying he had to take his son to school and he'll be in at 10 today" or just "He'll be in at 10".


You have said yourself that you have no problem with her, just with the gossip, so start responding differently to that in a way that defends your good employee:

Hey where's X, I haven't seen her today...is she in?

Yes, she'll be in shortly, we have an arrangement you know. Is it something that I can pass along to her, or should I get someone else to help you right now?


Must be nice, X can come in whenever, wish I had that arrangement

It is nice, knowing I can count on her to finish everything she's assigned, work hard, stay cheerful - I'm happy to give a little flexibility to my staff. I don't know how things are in your department, of course

a full on complaint?

I couldn't find X this morning and I needed her, you should get on top of her about arrival times

Thanks for letting me know. If this ever happens again, please do contact me directly and immediately. [And when that happens you'll use approach #1.] Are you all sorted out now, or do you need to talk to her right this moment?

Others will hear you supporting and defending your hard worker while ensuring that deadlines and other needs are still met. This is all good. And you know that X will never leave for another job -- where else could she be sure of this kind of support?

  • How should he address " If I say something to her she usually ends up trying to ignore me and gets less done."? Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 23:06
  • 10
    I am not suggesting OP take this up with her at all. Her performance is meeting the employer's needs. OP is only going and pestering her to come in earlier because other departments are "gossiping" about the arrangement. Since it doesn't help anyway, OP should stop doing it. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 23:09
  • 2
    +1. Part of being a manager is standing up for the right thing for your reports, not letting others' gossip drive what you do to them. If you have set an arrangement, then you say "Yes, her start time was later today, we have an arrangement. What do you need?" If the answer is "to bitch, because what if it were a man, who slept late due to hangover?" then the answer is "Well, that's not the case, is it? I think you'll find my team is delivering our work, let me worry about how I manage my employees, thanks."
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 3:08
  • 4
    You will notice none of my suggested replies mention her parenthood, singlieness, or gender. Who knows, perhaps OP would cut some slack for hungover men. The point is to have your team's back and to care more about accomplishment than inter-department gossip. Anyone who gets drawn into "but what if" conversations will learn to regret that. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 11:22
  • 2
    I am not an early bird myself, and from personal experience, I can tell from the outset that the real problem is the gossip, not the "being late". Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 11:35

It doesn't matter if she is a single parent.

She is 100% correct to state and feel, that to her, her kids come first. At the same time, you are 100% correct to state that to the company her attendance is important.

What does this mean? Well, you have to decide if your department is going to be more lax with time or more strict with time. If you're going to be more strict with time, then apply the rules equally. What would you do if she was a just a single woman? Again her parental status just doesn't matter. If on the other hand, you decide that your department is going to be more lax with time, then do so.

If you are violating some company rule, then either enforce it or work to change it.

The most important thing is that you treat her like everyone else. Her parental status doesn't matter. Yes, being a single parent can be tough, but being a single parent doesn't keep you from reading a clock. That's one of the hard parts of being a parent (single or otherwise). Maybe she would be better suited at a company where start times were more relaxed. Or maybe your company would be better off relaxing its start times. As long as the rules are applied evenly then it doesn't really matter which one you choose.

  • 19
    I was a single dad during 2 years, I can assure you there were quite a few occasions during which it simply wasn't possible to arrive on time or to even arrive at all at work. I'm really thankful that my employer didn't add more stress to this bad situation. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 13:23
  • 1
    No down-votes from me. This is all about applying the rules equally and having a policy that is consistent and clear and applicable to everyone.
    – GWR
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 15:04
  • 3
    @GWR Except that rules and policy are not consistent when it comes to compensating productivity. A person who is three-fold more productive than his peers (same employer) is paid significantly less than a three-fold salary. Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 19:01
  • 4
    I'd take a three-fold productive worker who shows up late and leaves early over someone who comes in and leaves on time and gets nothing done. Its one of the reasons why I think the metrics used to "grade" store workers (cashiers, stockers, etc) are messed up: Namely they're graded on how fast they are, which encourages lying to the computer. "Oh, you had a customer with a long order and it took more than 90 seconds? Put the transaction on pause, then go back into it again, it resets your time." (And takes longer for the customer!) "Couldn't find enough widgets? Just say you did." Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 19:30
  • 2
    There can be people with other things going on in their live that they could equally ask for flexibility for... going through depression, or a divorse, or sick kid, or whatever. It's understandable that others can get upset when they observe special treatment like that... Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 10:18

The question I really have is: How do I get her to understand that her attendance is critical but at the same time try to cater to her being a single mother?

Well, the short answer is that you can't, because those things are mutually exclusive.

What you need to do is come to a decision. When all is said and done, either this employee's productivity and ability to get things done is what's important, and you need to find a way to accommodate her inability to adhere to current corporate policy, or her inability to adhere to current corporate policy is what's important, and you need to find a way to accommodate the resulting loss in productivity (either because she becomes a less productive employee who's punctual, or because you're training a new employee).

We could argue endlessly about which approach is the better one, as many of the other answers have been doing, but that's really not relevant. (Nor are the merits of her prioritizing her children over her job.) The way you've presented this situation, you're not going to be able to have it both ways here, with getting shot down over remote work and more flexible hours, so you have to pick which way you'd prefer. Once you've done that, you have a difficult, but straightforward path ahead - you either accommodate and defend this employee going forward, or enforce and defend the corporate policy going forward (and work on hiring and training a replacement for this employee, from the sounds of things).


This woman has a responsibility to her family, but she also has a responsibility to her employers. And that responsibility goes above simply finishing her work whenever it's convenient for her to show her face in the office.

People need to reliably be able to schedule meetings with her, ask for her support, etc. Right now, they're all expected to schedule their personal lives around their work, while this woman has essentially made you all bend to her will.

Her bringing up her children when you attempt to talk to her about it is a big red flag, because it strikes me as blatant manipulation. She's using her children as a trump card to shut down your very valid concerns, which in my view is fairly low of her, given that you've been very understanding.

If you think that everyone else is not thinking that this situation is incredibly unfair and/or they deserve the same privileges, then you're being incredibly naive. There's nothing more corrosive to the cohesion of a team than a thinly veiled double standard, and by the time they're expressing it to you verbally things have will likely have gone too far.

I'm sure you have other employees with kids who may soon start making similar excuses. Or perhaps single employees who would love some of the same flexibility, and soon seek it. It is for their sake that you have to reign in her behavior. You have to demonstrate leadership before the situation creates animosity in the team.

You should also understand that putting your foot down once you've already allowed her to walk all over the rules will likely result in her being bitter, angry, and maybe even vindictive. Her quitting, or lobbing excuses of discrimination is not entirely unlikely.

I would proceed carefully, and document everything: her daily schedule, any warnings or counselling you've issued, etc. Start the process by gently reminding her (in private) that others depend on her, and that she must be punctual. If she fights you on it, stand firm, and - if her behavior does not improve - escalate your warning, and maybe even put her on a performance improvement plan.

At the end of the day you don't need that sort of manipulative and dismissive attitude on your team.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 20:02

Is there any chance you could renegotiate her contract?

You don't have to threaten her with firing. Just give her the option of a contract with more flexible hours at the cost of a small pay cut... aiming for a sweet spot that is as small as possible (to avoid harming her ability to raise her family) while large enough to prevent others from feeling jealous.

If you want (this is optional), you could then even entice her to stick to more regular hours by correlating her bonuses to that. It'll be a positive reward instead of a negative punishment.

And when people start being inquisitive, now you can get the message across that she's no longer bending the rules (but make sure to let her know this before the renegotiation, so she understands your side of the situation in case she gets questions herself):

No, her contract has changed a bit, so her hours might be slightly shifted from now on.
We decided in her particular situation it makes sense to renegotiate a modified contract and compensation to better accommodate her constraints.
Please consider these changes permanent moving forward, and if any related issues come up, just reach out to me and I will handle them. Thanks.


Here is the question you need to ask yourself:

Does one good worker produce more than all others combined?

Because if that worker does not, regardless of circumstances, making special rules for this person will only serve to annoy the rest of the staff. They will gossip and they will say:

Why does this one get to come in late/leave early/call out sick without coverage/etc IT'S NOT FAIR

and they'd be right.

Now, you can stop the gossip and complaining, through fiat, but that will just mask the problem not help it or stop it. In fact, it will make the underlying problem worse.

There are plenty of us who have circumstances that make it hard and get up every day, show up on time and do our jobs without complaint even when we have all but crushed by what is going on in our private lives. We all need to compensate and do whatever we need to do to adjust, whether that is arranging child care, or elder care, or taking chemo treatments during lunch hours, taking time off for medical or personal leave.

You can work with this person to assure attendance and timeliness, but ultimately it's this person's responsibility regardless of reason.

When someone gets something for nothing, someone else gets nothing for something and this is why the rest of your employees are getting angry.

If you give a pass to someone who is frequently late, but does his or her job well, what do you give to the person who shows up every day, on time, and gets his or her job done well?

If you do not address this with your tardy employee or compensate the others in some fashion to adjust for the fact that you're accommodating the tardy one, the situation will worsen, morale will plummet, and you will start to see good, dedicated people leave.

The problem is not the gossip, the problem is the fact that you have two sets of rules: one for this employee, one for the others

If you don't change that, you continue down a very bad road, as you will likely have other managers, or worse, THEIR managers coming over to have a talk with you over the disruption it's causing to the company.

  • 4
    Double standards will always demoralize, and ultimately rip a team apart. Her manipulative/dismissive attitude is also very worrying. Probably best to replace her.
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 20:07
  • 5
    "What seems to be the issue lately is other departments" - the team mates don't seem to have a problem or be jealous. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 21:26
  • 1
    @KateGregory Still, it causes disharmony in the company. Weaponizing difficulties is not good for business. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 22:14
  • 8
    @DonThermidor_LobsterMobster Neither is giving every gossipy nitwit a heckler's veto. I have been, and kind of still am, in a similar situation at my employer (high performers being given working hour flexibility, nitwits from other departments complaining about their schedules), and am not remotely annoyed at the people on my team, but am extremely put off by the gossipy nitwits not being told to kindly STFU and worry about doing their jobs. If my employer starts replacing high performing folks to satiate the whiny nitwits, they'll need to fill my position in short order, too. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 5:55
  • 1
    “She arrives after me and leaves earlier. It’s not fair!” “ She gets more work done than you. Any more questions?”
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 2, 2019 at 9:32

An alternative you might have is to juggle compensation and job titles. If the employee is unable to commit to 40-hour work weeks, it is reasonable to offer her a reduced salary in exchange for working fewer hours. If you feel her contribution to the team is such that she should be compensated more, then depending on what the compensation structure is like you can either give her a "higher" job title with a correspondingly higher base salary (that is then reduced based on fewer hours worked), or you can give appropriate bonuses to make up any shortfall between salary and output.

This allows you to be reasonably fair to everyone, while also giving you a tool to answer rumours with, if it is common knowledge within the team/department that the employee works fewer hours but gets paid less.

  • 2
    Seems unlikely. If he's not able to do anything about flexible hours and remote work, I don't think he'll be able to do anything about salary, title or working hour requirements. Not to mention... when was the last time you took a pay cut or demotion to keep a job? The standard solution is for the knowledge worker to just get a new job. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 6:27
  • @HopelessN00b It does seem unlikely the OP is in a position to do anything about salary, but should be able to push back on the people that are. I have actually seen people (one of my co-workers did this) take a pay cut to work fewer hours, for family reasons. It can be worthwhile if you believe that finding a new job that is equally accomodating will be difficult, or if you just like the job and want to stay there. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 14:47
  • 1
    Not to mention... when was the last time you took a pay cut or demotion to keep a job? Moving from full-time to part-time work after having kids is fairly common.
    – BSMP
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 22:43
  • @BSMP-Fairly common in "Two Parent Households". Usually part-time workers don't get the same benefits, including health insurance, as full-time employees. Thus, in a single parent household moving to part-time is not a viable option.
    – Dunk
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 18:16

From your question:

  • She completes her work by getting work done
  • People talk about her schedule, but nothing in your post indicates that her schedule interferes with her own work

What seems to be the issue lately is other departments who either just notice it and mention something or need something from her directly. They will come over to me and say, "Hey where's X, I haven't seen her today...is she in?" and many others who just like to gossip. I don't like the gossip but I also don't like how her attendance reflects on my department. At the same time she gets stuff done...

Which actually matters? Does the schedule matter? Or does the work matter? In what way does the schedule affect you directly? If you're on a team where your work's team holds up no other team's work, then there is no issue and you need to be more assertive with other teams. You've worked out an arrangement with her and the other teams need to get over themselves. This seems to be the case since you said that she gets her work done.

Is she's holding up other team's work because your team is a linchpin that ties various team'w work together, you're going to have to be more realistic about your situation because you're disrespecting other teams. Are other people on other teams staying late because she's coming in late and this is annoying them? If so, this may be a point of contention and may cause complaints - they have every right to complain here and if you have multiple people on your team, you have other solutions. If these are the issues:

  • Can you have other members on your team come in early (and leave early) to be a point of contact for people who need help? This means people on your team solve those issue instead of this one team member, who needs to come in late.
  • Since kids are her top priority, you need to reduce her "linchpinness" in the company because this will ALWAYS be a source of contention if her schedule is inconsistent. If 10 people have to wait on her because she's out for her kids, if no one else can step in, see the nightmare this creates for others? Imagine being on a release call two extra hours while waiting on someone when it's 1AM. You're the manager - you have to consider others' feelings here, not just hers. Being a manager means knowing who on your team will be around and dependable in these situations. She's directly told you already that kids are her TOP priority.
  • Defer to others on the team when people ask if she's around, especially if they constantly ask for her. This means they have different schedules; respect this. Find the person on your team who's early (there's always 1 or 2).
  • In the future, use these concerns in interviews. If you're on a team that holds up other teams, you need to find people who can be there at all times. Imagine a customer support team that is never around because they're all out with their kids. This is a nightmare for everyone in the company and it will reflect on you as the manager. Balancing work life is fine, but it also must be respectful of others in the company.

The only problem I see with this employee is what you wrote about giving her feedback

She is also the type who doesn't take disciplining very well.

Which no one addressed. If this is ONLY based on your feedback on schedule, she has a point. If this is her general attitude, this is a problem. All people must be willing to take feedback and discipline; if she's done a poor job with something in the past and she responded poorly to your feedback, this may be a problem. But you didn't put any context to this other than her responding negatively to your inconsistency with her schedule when you admit she does her job, but you personally don't like her schedule.

If she is difficult to give feedback IN GENERAL, I would proceed carefully. Situations like this end very poorly.


Work morale demands that people don't get measured with two yardsticks regarding things like being on time.

You are satisfied with the output she does for her money and she made clear that she isn't able to put in the time that she is contracted to put in.

So the solution is to offer her a contract with times she can meet with the same salary. That allows her to be on-time (possibly with some sort of flex time where she can make up for time lost on one day) while at the same time you get the same results for the same pay and getting rid of the office talk. You'll probably get asked by others whether they can work reduced hours as well: of course you can consider counter-offering according to the value you expect getting from them.


I also don't like how her attendance reflects on my department. At the same time she gets stuff done

I side with those suggesting you to put things in perspective and prioritize accordingly. The matter has nothing to do with parenting, but with productivity and pragmatism.

Based on your description, I gather that the woman's strict compliance with her (hours) schedule is not essential for the job she performs. Since you seem concerned about how the situation "reflects" on your department, consider this:

Let's assume that you strongly depend on a software (implemented by some vendor) in order to perform your job. If the software is reliable and meets your expectations,

  1. Do you really care whether or not the vendor's programmer often showed up late at work?
  2. Would knowing of that employee's habit to show up late lower your concept of that vendor or of the software at issue?
  3. How many reliable products do we use on a daily basis without barely wondering whether that vendor's best employees ever got to work on time?

Except for certain types of jobs, the mentality of employees' obligation to be in office from 8 to 5 is rigid, outdated, and short-sighted.

I once had a manager who used to come to work 3 or 3.5 hours earlier than I (in part, because he chose 7:00AM as his start time without need to do so). Once he "had issues" with my showing up late (really, the only complaint he could have about me), I started noticing how unproductive he was, as he kept complaining of headaches instead of getting his work done. Ironically, I was oftentimes the only person available when users reported system issues, as everyone else in my department was out for lunch or taking a day off.


So you like the work she does (even if she does it in 7 hours a day and not 8), and you don't like people gossiping ("She was late today! Again! ).

You know her personal situation, so you know she won't be able to be in the office the same hours as everyone else, so threatening ("Be here on time or you get fired") won't change that.

It's your decision whether she is contributing in a positive way so you want her to work there, or not. Whether people are gossiping shouldn't affect your decision. But if you keep her, then you need to make the gossiping stop. By telling the gossipers (in the most polite way possible) to keep their mouth shut and work instead wasting their time gossiping, especially if they are so busy caring for other people's business that they do less work in eight hours than this woman does in seven.


You've made the mistake of making this situation far too personal. Your workplace has rules in place about when to show up to work, and those need to be followed. Co-workers have noticed, and if something doesn't change soon morale is going to drop. Some amends have been made to help her, but it's time to get strict and give her an ultimatum. I think Neo's boss from The Matrix have the words you need to use,

Either you choose to be at your desk, on time, from this day forward, or you choose to find another job.

  • 3
    @JonH, Being habitually late to me indicates a personal problem that only the employee can fix. Either she stays up too late, sleeps in, etc, there is some personal reason she can't get to work on time. For whatever reason, she doesn't take her arrival time seriously, and needs a firm reminder that it is VERY important for her to get to work on time. Sometimes a good, firm, kick-in-the-butt is all you need to get results. You've tried being nice, that didn't seem to work. Now it's time to be firm.
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 18:34
  • 10
    "that it is VERY important for her to get to work on time" - No. Just plain no. It's important for her to be available when she needs to communicate, be it with customers or other employees, and this MIGHT mean being on time is very imporatant, if she's in customer service. But what creates value for the company is getting your work done, not sitting at your desk for a certain amount of hours. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 18:48
  • 6
    @raterus I would prefer to have a employee that does weird times and work less hours per week but get the job done than someone that is on the workplace on a given arbitrary time but doesn't add me any value to my business.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 19:52
  • 4
    @raterus - are you a single parent of two small children? Stuff happens.
    – JazzmanJim
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 20:03
  • 8
    Either you choose to be at your desk, on time, from this day forward, or you choose to find another job. Sure, but the problem is that people... well, do that exact thing. And then you're left with a company full of employees whose primary work-related skill is punctuality/attendance, while all the productive people are working for your competitors. Not saying you're necessarily wrong here, and that may be the route the business goes, but it's not a smart policy to prioritize punctuality over productivity. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 6:01

There are very few excuses, outside of statutes of law, that would warrant exceptional expectations or exceptional freedom. Being a single parent is not one of them.

I know that sounds heartless, but I don't mean it to be. If anything, this matter is pretty close to my heart, for my mother was a single parent that had to support three children. And my mother didn't have the greatest education to pick a single, stable 8:00 to 5:00 job.

I don't mean to imply that you should let this employee go. If you can make things work to your satisfaction (including your concern about inter-departmental needs) without treating her exceptionally from the other people reporting to you, no problem. Most of the other answers have already touched upon this aspect.

However, I want to add this remark for you to keep in mind: if you do eventually have to ask her to start coming in at an earlier time, just try not to feel like you're the bad person here. You're not doing her any favors in the long run---where she may have to deal with more stringent hours and a more stringent supervisor---in a future job by relaxing these requirements on her. She needs to be aware that these are normal, everyday requirements of most jobs out there. She currently has the benefit of having an understanding supervisor that is more than willing to work with her. However, the way she reacts when concerns are brought to her and the way she arrives much later than the time she agreed to with HR signals to me that she's not aware of the luxury she currently has.

Your employee seems to think that these two different capacities---being a good employee and being a good parent---are independent. But they are not. She needs a decent job to support her children. A decent job is a necessity. Not a guarantee. The least she can do is take the concerns of her understanding supervisor seriously when they are brought to her.

  • I see a couple of points here that seem to either contradict or overlook points in the question. "being a good employee and being a good parent" OP stated that the person in question is a good employee, so it sounds like the employee is doing both. 2nd, I don't recall OP ever suggesting that the person did not take the supervisor's concerns seriously: responding with a concrete fact, such as "I have to deal with my children", is very serious, and it is concerning that so many people here are not taking her seriously and trying to ignore reality (or what she claims is reality).
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 15:51
  • @Aaron It is an employee's responsibility to keep personal life and work life separated (barring emergencies). To some employers, not being able to separate these realms would deem the employee "not good" regardless of quality of work. The OP remarked "she doesn't take discipling very well... and ends up trying to ignore me" which translates pretty well to "doesn't take supervisor's concerns seriously". You parenthetical is what drives the important issue here: it shouldn't be the burden of the employer to guess the reality of their employees' lives and how they differ from other employees.
    – user25103
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 8:40

You want to know "How do you get her to understand"? I'll bet she already understands quite clearly. Nothing you do or say will get her to "understand" even more clearly.

From your description, she seems like a good worker, so I'll bet she is already doing the best she can. The problem is that because of her particular circumstances "she can't conform to your desired expectations." It doesn't matter if you have 10 other single-parents who don't have the same problem. Every person's situation is different.

What it really boils down to is that it is highly unlikely that you'll be able to both change the worker's timeliness and keep the worker over the long-term. Thus, if you want to keep the worker over the long-term then it isn't a question of you changing the worker's way of seeing things, it is a question of how do you change your way of seeing things? On the bright side, this issue 'should' start to be less and less of an issue as the worker's kids get older.


Your biggest problem is other people are waiting for reports. Once you address this issue the gossip will probably go away after awhile.

Other people have covered the "other" solutions I am going to take a different stand.

Unless you are going to add on-site company day care she is pretty much stuck between a rock and hard place.

You really have to sit down and examine the problem. It seems that the only people who have a problem is from other departments.

I believe the best solution is to shift the work around between your existing employees. She will have to help with other people reports, and they will help with their reports. It maybe enough to re-shuffle her priorities. Joe needs report X by 9am so finish that report the night before and do task Y after this report is complete.

However, if you want to deal with the gossip that has many possibilities.

  1. You can create cover for her, "I have her on another task until 10am, please schedule your meeting or etc between 10am and 2pm."

  2. Identify exactly what these other people need from her, and get a deadline from them. Re-arrange her work load so the people get the answer they need on time. Arrange the workload so she gets you the information they need the night before, and hand them the information. Maybe you can arrange job sharing, another employee spends 20mins helping her to meet deadline X, and then she helps them meet their deadline.

  3. Tell anyone who comes over and asks for her work to call you before coming over. Then you tell them "I will have her call you back when time permits."

Is the information the other people want/need ready, and she just hasn't emailed to them yet? How much work is needed to complete the task?

  1. If someone inquires "where is she?" then you reply "the deadline for X is ##/##/#### at ##:##am/pm return to your department and I will make sure you have it before then."

She is giving good value for money with her current hours so nothing needs to be changed in terms of the trade between you.

But she needs to be in on fixed times.

Could you offer her a new job as part-time with the same salary where she must be in and does extra hours when and if needed to keep up with her workload? When people ask where she is you can reply that she is a part-time worker and her hours are between x and y.


If you worked for my company, I'd fire you for not effectively managing the employee I entrusted you with. It's my money and my resources and my corporate culture you're squandering with your pitiful insecurities, not yours. I'd also seriously review the competencies of the manager who hired you: B players bring in C players and you are definitely exhibiting C player thought processes.

Then, I'd hire a manager who would either coach and grow the employee as an asset, or release her to take care of her priorities as she sees fit.

Businesses are not charities. Unlike people, who don't often know their purpose in life, businesses exist solely to meet the demands of the market they serve. If the market isn't being served by your business, competently, expeditiously and affordably, another business will be glad to step in.

  • 2
    The questioner is looking for a way to keep a good employee while addressing her difficulties. He should be commended for doing this.
    – Ben Mz
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 21:26
  • You may own the money and resources in a complay but you share the culture with the employees and even the customers.
    – Ben Mz
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 21:27

I'm in the same position as single-mother X: two days a week I leave the office at 15:00 to go get my kids.

They will come over to me and say, "Hey where's X, I haven't seen her today...is she in?"

Do what my manager did: take responsibility. "X is currently out, what would you like me to tell her when she arrives?"

  • 1
    The problem with this answer is that X is not out with his blessing. She has his blessing to come in 8:30am, but she arrived 40 minutes later than that.
    – DaveG
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 18:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .