Note to readers: This year I’m launching a new series based on questions I frequently hear about managing millennials — those ongoing management challenges that can really hinder workplace relationships.
Each month I’ll tackle a question and provide some advice for managers and millennials (and millennial managers!). I hope the advice I share is helpful for all generations.
Have a question you’ve been dying to ask? Shoot me an email and I will try to cover it in a future edition!
This month’s millennial management question: What’s up with the “loose” hours my millennial employee keeps?
Advice for Managers: How to Communicate About Work Hours
If you’re struggling to understand or manage your Gen Y employees’ seemingly erratic or flexible work hours, the first thing you should do is (no surprise here!) talk to them about it. Believe it or not, I’ve learned over the years that what seems perfectly obvious to a Gen Xer or Boomer, like what time to arrive at and leave work, is a mystery (or a matter of opinion) to a millennial – and vice versa.
So while you might assume that everyone instinctively knows what “office hours” are, you might have to spell out acceptable in-office and at-home work hours for your employees. This is especially true today, because so many of us work on our devices from anywhere and everyone at all hours of the day and night. Here are some points to cover:
- Clarify what “being at your desk” actually entails. Lots of younger workers might show up at 8:30 and stow their bag, then head out to grab Starbucks. If you think the coffee run should take place before they arrive, let them know that “starting time” is when they should be at their desk, ready to work.
- Explain why the hours exist. There’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries, but it also helps when you are able to explain why you start and end each day at a certain time. If you work on a trading floor, it’s pretty obvious. But in an office, you might want to explain that clients start calling at a certain time; or, if time zones play havoc with your hours, explain that you need to be in early on the West Coast to work with New York clients who have been working for hours. You should also be honest if you are just someone who values face time. Your sales staff might assume they can head out after they’ve made their calls for the day, but if you like to check in at five minutes to 5 to see who is still there, make that clear. And explain why it’s important to you.
- Respect work/life blend. While office hours can be critical in many workplace situations, remember that some of your employees might be taking calls and corresponding with customers from the comfort of their couch at 8 p.m. Talk to your employees about what is expected “off-hours,” and make sure that you are acknowledging those hours if they are plentiful. (Or, set boundaries about when and how employees should stay connected after normal working hours. In a much-discussed move to limit around-the-clock work, France introduced a “right to disconnect” measure requiring employers to rethink after-hours email.)
- Consider being flexible when possible. In some situations, perhaps your expectations about office hours aren’t as important as you originally thought. If you know your employees are checking email and engaging with clients online after hours, do they really need to be in the office? I’m not saying you have to offer complete freedom, but it’s worth reconsidering your expectations. A little bit of flexibility might win you a lot of employee loyalty.
Advice for Millennials: Why Office Hours Matter
“Office hours” might seem old-fashioned, but it wasn’t that long ago when the workplace norm was to always arrive before the boss came and leave after him or her. No matter where you work, it’s important to know what arrival and departure times are expected by your higher-ups and to respect them. Beyond just following the rules, here’s why coming in early and sticking around later is still a smart practice, even if it’s not required.
- It can propel your career. Getting to work on time isn’t just about following the rules. It’s a strategic choice to advance your career. Team players are available when they are most needed, and often the best opportunities to shine happen before 9 and after 5. If you’re the one available in a crisis — jumping in to re-do a presentation or pulling together a last-minute sales report — it can be a break-out career moment. Because you were there when you were needed, you will be top-of-mind as the go-to gal or guy, which can create opportunities that wouldn’t materialize if you were sneaking out early to SoulCycle.
- You can make your boss look good. It might seem silly, but face time isn’t dead. If your boss’ boss roams the halls at 5:30 looking for people at their desks, realize that it reflects badly on your immediate boss if you’re out of there already. When you shine, you make your boss shine — and that’s always a good thing.
Readers, what’s your best advice for communicating acceptable office hours to your staff? What have you learned about the benefits of keeping regular working hours? Please share your advice in the comments below!
Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.