Flextime: It Sets Such A Bad Example!

A friend of mine recently accepted a job in academic administration. He is extremely excited about the job and eager to do good things in his position. He is also a dedicated father and truly shares equal parenting responsibilities with his spouse. His spouse is in a career that is less time-flexible than academia is - or could be.

At my friend's prior job, he generally started his workday a little later than the norm, in order to care for the kids until departure for school. He worked from home very early in the morning, was accessible by cell and email, and came into the workplace after seeing the kids off.

What do you think happened when he told his new boss in academia about this situation?

New Boss said "sorry, you have to be here at 8 a.m. to 'set a good example' for the faculty and grad students.


One of the major perks of academia is being able to have a more flexible schedule, and faculty and grad students certainly take advantage of this. There is generally a different expectation of administrators than faculty. For some reason, people seem to think administrators need to be there at set hours all the time. I generally ignored this expectation when I was in academic administration. This got some fellow administrators who didn't like the idea of more women in engineering to complain to the dean about me that I was "never in my office" and "never available" - which was patently untrue. Maybe in the past before all our fancy technology like email and phones and such, it was important to put in the requisite face time. But there is no reason an administrator can't effectively work from home for some few hours during the week. It's just tradition that says and thinks otherwise.

Nobody seems to think the ungodly amount of time administrators spend out of their offices in endless useless meetings is any problem, but ask to spend a few hours working from home and the whole university threatens to collapse because of your anarchy.

Why, why, why are people so afraid of flexible hours?

New Boss thought that my friend should just palm off the childcare duties on some woman - either his wife or a nanny.

Giving men shit about childcare duties is not just harmful to the particular guy and/or his family. It impedes any sort of progress at all. If we can't legitimate, in the workplace, a man's need/desire to make some adjustments in the traditional schedule in order to care for his children, then we will never be able to decouple being female from "responsible for all aspects of childcare". New Boss should be deeply ashamed of being such a retrograde defender of the patriarchy. Hire a nanny, indeed. Because we absolutely don't want to make the workplace in any way hospitable to those with children, unless they are rich enough to pay someone to make sure their children don't intrude in any way on other peoples' belief about how the workplace should function.

I should mention here that New Boss is a single woman with no children. It's especially depressing to see women doing the work of the oppressors. People without children have got to wake up to the fact that children exist, they need caring for, and we should be grateful to the folks who do this important societal work for us.

It's terribly ironic to find academia less accommodating of my friend's schedule than his prior job in a industry-like setting. This sort of inflexibility for administrators keeps women - who still have most of the responsibility for childcare - from advancing, and prevents men who want to be involved parents from being able to be true, equal partners in their marriage.

Some suggestions my friend has gotten:

  • Just tell New Boss what time you will be showing up as a fait accompli.
  • Ask New Boss what exactly is the "bad example" you would be setting with flexible hours. What does she fear? That faculty are slacking off? Once you know what she's worried about, you can counteract with an explanation of how your strategies, though different from her corporatized understanding of academia, will be effective and motivating for faculty.
  • Suggest to New Boss that "setting a good example" includes acknowledging that people have commitments outside work and that figuring out ways to accommodate this aspect of reality benefits everyone.

I volunteered to puke on New Boss's shoes, but while gratifying, this may be less effective than the above suggestions.

What advice would YOU give to my friend?

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I suggest you go with the puking. The only time my profs are here at 8 am is if they have to teach at 8:30-- ones with and without kids. Sometimes if a grant is coming due, theyre here from 6 am to 9 pm for a week. *shrug* I mean, hes an adult. Not a friggen lab tech that you need to keep tabs on to make sure they arent slacking off.


Commence puking. New Boss comment was condescending and inappropriate.

They're really setting a bad example for those that will eventually leave academia with advanced degrees and set the rules for those that follow.

I'm surprised at that in academia. It wouldn't surprise me in a lot of corporate office environments.

Back when I worked at IBM research, there were managers who tried to insist that people be in their offices at certain hours - but it was an extremely easy matter to shut them up; research doesn't have fixed hours, and the higher lever managers were generally very willing to squash that sort of bullshit, and make sure that the researcher who reported it wasn't penalized.

Where I am now, at Google, people keep whatever hours they want, and no one cares - so long as they get their work done, where and when they get it done is treated as no one else's business. I get in around 9:30am, and I'm usually the first person from my group in the office. No one else shows up until around 10:30 or so. Then I leave at 5 sharp to catch my train home to make dinner for my kids. Then after the kids are in bed, I usually do some more work. That's pretty normal for people with kids around here - men and women. And no one would dream of complaining.

I think your friend has a case worthy of a look by the HR department.

The assumption here is that strict hours, and specific hours, are "normal" and flexibility is exceptional, but that is simply not the case. Your friend should conform to normal expectations which, in his line of work, is not "8:00 AM to serve as an example" ... that is highly idiosyncratic. A decent HR department would handle this with a phone call or two and a brief meeting. That is what they are there for.

Let me guess; New Boss is one of those people who are biologically tuned to be an early riser. Such people often feel like it is a virtue to get up before the sun is all the way over the horizon. They think that if you are in bed later than they are that you must have been up to something immoral or at least unproductive.

If it was me, I would to drop to 30 hours a week, come in at 9, leave at 3:30...and again, never do any type of over time or be willing to move his schedule to accomodate boss' needs. I imagine the cut in pay would about equal hiring a nanny. If he's getting his work done in that amount of time, it's not like they can do much.

@ERV- now now, don't be snarky at the wrong person! I know some lab techs that are a lot more responsible than some deans.
@OriGuy- I know exactly the sort of person you mean. *glares menacingly*

I'm really torn on this one. As a grad student, I can tell you it *is* encouraging to see the ocassional faculty member who thinks that the higher you are in the system, the harder you should work. At the same time though, I can tell you that an administrator who takes all their responsibilities seriously (especially interpersonal responsibilites such as taking care of kids) is about a million times more inspiring than a sanctimonious early-riser compulsive workaholic.

My advice- go to the faculty. Go to the students. See what they say. *Prove* you're more accessible and approachable than anyone who has ever done the job before. See what kind of example they want set.

Of course, if they could use a nanny (and they are getting more than ample enjoyable family time), he could always just ask for a raise to get one. Always give them an opportunity to solve the problem for you.

What a very timely post, Zuska. I am about to take on a similar battle at my workplace, a large research laboratory. Official company rules permit us to follow the 9/80 schedule or business month schedule (work 9 days out of 10 in a two-week period, off every other Friday; or work 40 x [number of weeks in the "business month"] hours in the business month period, respectively), with manager approval.

My boss is cool with it, but his boss is not, because his boss (�berboss) would like, yell at him or something. What if headquarters inflicted some sort of "fire drill" on us on Friday afternoon, due by COB? Then he'd be in trouble because half of everybody would be on their day off. Never mind that this has never happened in my time working there.

Anyhow, I have an appointment with my HR person to discuss this, because it's ridiculous that despite the fact that it's a legitimate schedule, we're not permitted to take it, even though for the type of work I do there is really no scheduled time that you have to be there. I mean, sure, if I were a security guard, I can understand I would need to have a set schedule. I do have meetings, but you know, we're all big kids, we can arrange our schedule to accommodate the meetings, the work, and the life outside of work. Part of the reason I went to school for so long was so that I could have a fabulous job that allowed me to control my own schedule, and instead here I am being babysat.

My boss sneaks people on to the business month schedule when they have a kid, and then "forgets" to take them off. If we were planning on reproducing anytime soon or if I felt like lying to my boss about my reproductive plans, then maybe that would work but ultimately I have decided that I need to get this schedule opened up for everyone, even the childless. I am talking to my HR representative but if I have to, I will talk to �berboss, and I will do exactly what you're talking about in bullet #2, and be sure to point out the truth of #3 as well. It's the hard road but I think it's the only way this boss will ever change his mind and free things up for everyone, not just me.

All of this was just a long-winded and convoluted way of saying I sympathize with your friend and I think that #2 and #3 will be the most beneficial in the long term.

By Anonymous for … (not verified) on 12 May 2008 #permalink

Yeah.. you're friend is pretty much screwed. This isn't a battle about ACTUAL work, it's a battle about PERCEPTIONS of work. Which is why he's screwed. If I were him, I would try to start work even earlier, and then leave for the day early enough to take care of the kids after school. Then his wife would basically need to swap duties with him.

I had a similar experience working on flex-time, being grossly underpaid, and then being perpetually put in the position where I could not leave early / have my day off / etc and thus was working 44h+ when I MEDICALLY could not handle more than about 25h, which is what I was being paid for!! Guess what.. finally had to quit the job. There is no winning this crap.

My big advice to you all: anyone who thinks / knows that they need part time, flex-time, or anythign remotely unconventional, make sure you negotiate it way way in advance and in writing. Be sure to ask the uncomfortable questions. Even if they 'ok' it in advance doesn't mean they plan on seeing it through. Better to have your offer withdrawn, then to start on a job that you get fired from or have to walk away from, leaving you in a messy situation with trying to get the next job in terms of references.

By beentheredonethat (not verified) on 12 May 2008 #permalink

What time does school start for the kids? I always had to be at school by 8, and my college professor dad walked me there when I was very young. The kids around here now must catch a bus by 7:15 at the latest.

I'm all for fighting for this one. I quit my last job over child care issues when they changed my shift to 6AM. Impossible for a single mom, but my employer didn't care.

Our professional staff are unionized. Before I became department chair, I got a copy of the union contract and read it. The first meeting I had with my staff (all female) their first request was for compensatory time. I responded, "Your union contract specifically disallows compensatory time. My concern is that the department function in an efficient manner serving its faculty and students. If you have to come late or leave early, just keep that in mind. When I come in on Saturday and Sunday, if I find you at your desk, I will assume you are working on personal, not department, matters, whatever the case may be."

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 12 May 2008 #permalink


Contrary to some thoughts I've had on previous posts (I've been reading your blog for about four months) I have to say that this was a great post and I agree with just about everything said. Unfortunately, I don't have the experience required to make recommendations for this situation, but I wish the person luck and think this started a very good discussion.

By Thomas M. (not verified) on 12 May 2008 #permalink


Just found your blog today and I'm liking it a lot thanks and keep it up!

anyway my recommendation: ask the New boss if She'll look after the kids.. after all she did say to find "some woman"

I hope your friend gets it sorted soon - talking to HR will probably help

What is he getting paid to do: accomplish a task, or perform a service? If it's a task, he could do it any time, day or night. If it's a service, he very well may be required to man a post. If it's a combination of both, he could comprimise by being required to be in office during certain hours, and chose the rest of his hours for himself.

My job is such that I can set my own hours, unless there is a certain window of time that needs covered for answering phones and the like. Flexible scheduling has done much to improve my quality of life, and I don't know how I could do without it.

I recall being told during an interview that the job demanded 8 to 5 hours and I blurted out "only that much, that would be great compared to what I do now." I didn't get that job.

By SuzyQueue (not verified) on 13 May 2008 #permalink

Can he get some hard data to back him up? How many phone calls come in between 8 and 9:30? How many students actually come by with questions during that time? How many faculty are there at that time? If it's like most colleges, the day is skewed later just by virtue of the class schedule (another good place to go for data - how many classes are there that early in the day?). If no one is there, it's a huge waste of salaried hours for him to be sitting alone "setting an example" and then leaving 8 hours later when everyone else is still around. If he can make a case that there are a lot more people looking for him between 4 and 6 than between 8 and 10, that's a very good reason to hold later hours in office.

Hmmm....good discussion. I remember that in England as they moved to an industrial economy, the factory clock was the only authority allowed. Workers were fined if they had a pocket watch that might allow them to mark time for their own interests.

Clearly, all hours of the day are not created equal. If those hours of your friend's time are more valuable, then they should be compensated at a higher rate. If he has the additional responsibility to "set an example", I think a 30% premium over regular pay scale would be reasonable.

Ugh. I have been lucky enough to have (mostly) bosses that understand that life does not operate on a 9-5 schedule. I suspect that this may be a no-win situation for your friend.

Also, love the categories on this post!

....Fortunately, the universities I have worked for/dealt with have offered me a far more reasonable attitude. THIS is just appalling. Gah. Stupid, stupid New Boss.

The second and third suggestions you post above sound like the best approach. But is there any update on this? What has happened, so far?

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 07 Jun 2008 #permalink

Thank you all for your very thoughtful and detailed comments and suggestions, to Zuska for posting this, and to Luna for asking for an update.

First things first, to Miss Celliana #11, our school district starts at 9 am so I really can't make it to the lab/office until 9:20-9:30 regardless of whether my wife can help out. Hence, I have simply come in at 9:30 and have only had to work out coming in at 8:30 during one month on the new job. But I am e-mail and smartphone accessible beginning at 5:45-6:00 am for pressing issues.

Having delved into the subject with NewBoss since Zuska posted this, there seem to be two major issues at hand that are in turn compounded by two other issues. One is that of work perception - not to her but to other departments nearby. It seems there is substantial jealously, for lack of a better word, and even outright resentment that the faculty in my new dept benefit from having their operating budget as a line item separate from the general fund of the university. Additionally, unique attributes of the faculty and market forces have required that disproportionately high salaries be offered for their successful recruitment. Hence, NewBoss wants no excuse from other depts to say that we are anointed ones.

Second, unfortunately, is her apparent mistrust of faculty and their independence, an attitude that I abhor and hope to counter by my presence here. I have heard statements that faculty use "working from home" or child responsibilities as "an excuse." Frankly, if one cannot trust the faculty one has hired to work hard and be self-motivated, the problem does not lie with the faculty. This perception that faculty are only working when they are seen in the workplace is out of touch, as many of you have noted, and typically generational (although I know some 60+-year-old chairs who actually use e-mail, pagers, videoconferencing and, God forbid, write from home.

This issue is compounded by most of the faculty having small children while NewBoss is without young ones. To be honest, when I was a childless young turk, I didn't quite understand the frantic pace and struggle for work-life balance fought by my colleagues with children. Hence, my life now is more like that of my fellow faculty colleagues and less like that of NewBoss.

Perhaps a fourth compounding issue was alluded to in #3 by Mark - NewBoss came from a corporate environment, not from a long academic career. While she has many valuable leadership strengths, there are some behaviors that are counterproductive in academia.

Larry #18, I actually do receive a 25% additional stipend for my admin duties. So, I can't really complain there.

In the past, I had a chair who had extremely high standards yet respected faculty autonomy and work/life balance. I plan to emulate the qualities of that mentor in serving as a fair but demanding advocate of my fellow faculty while ensuring that they have the support to realize their career goals and serve our students with the highest quality educational experience possible. There are explicit guidelines for promotion and tenure and it is up to each individual faculty member to decide whether they wish to expend the effort to achieve those standards. I will gladly assist any of my colleagues who wish to meet this prescription for promotion and tenure while also helping others find more suitable scientific environments should they find this setting too demanding (as I have done for former grad students who did not wish to follow in my academic footsteps). My goal and mission is to help everyone achieve what they personally consider to be success.

I'll keep everyone posted on how this develops if Zuska doesn't mind me taking up her bandwidth. Heck, maybe I should even start a blog.

By Zuska's friend (not verified) on 10 Jun 2008 #permalink

Hog away, my friend, I'm sure we'll all be glad to hear updates from you! Hey, I highly recommend blogging. :)

...It seems there is substantial jealously, for lack of a better word, and even outright resentment that the faculty in my new dept benefit from having their operating budget as a line item separate from the general fund of the university.
Ah, university politics. (Said, if you can't tell, in a tone which positively drips loathing.)

Thanks for the update and explanations, Zuska's Friend. Do keep us posted, please; it's an important issue.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 12 Jun 2008 #permalink

*cough* ... I seem to have had a problem with an unclosed italics tag, there. Sorry.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 12 Jun 2008 #permalink

MOAR updates!

If you made another post about it, it would be great to have it linked here - I'm reading through old stuff by clicking on tags, and I didn't see an update.

By Katherine (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink