Boss Makes a Telecommuting Exception and Faces a Workplace Mutiny

Q: I recently made a difficult decision to allow someone to telecommute three days a week. Now I hear all my other employees are gossiping about this and grumbling “it’s not fair.” I’m the owner of this company! Wasn’t this my call to make?

A: Absolutely; it’s your biznass. But once you’ve made an exception to a rule, you need to convey that with clear, timely communication. Common sticking points are exceptions to rules around dress codes, lunch hours and flexible work schedules – sounds like you might have stepped in it on that last one.

For help in smoothing things over, I’ve asked Pam Chambers, a presentation coach based in Honolulu (, to weigh in. Her latest book is “Not This Again: Eighteen Challenges Hawaii’s Leaders Face and How to Rise Above Them.”

Chambers starts off by telling me a story about John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coach who took his team to 10 national championships in the 1960s and 1970s, and had a  “Pyramid of Success” motivational program.

“He had a rule that his players had to eat a certain amount of beef before games,” says Chambers. “One player comes up to him and tells him he’d become a vegetarian. Wooden decided, ‘There is a time to be firm and a time to be flexible and I’m going to be flexible.’

“He let the player skip the beef, telling him he’d monitor his on-court performance, which remained fine, by the way. ‘Flexibility is the key to stability’ became one of the phrases that Wooden was known for,” Chambers says. Wooden was a stickler, but when he made an exception, he made the whole team aware of it, and why he did it, and what the consequences would be.

If you’ve been faced with a decision and have, after reflection, decided there’s an opportunity to test out flexibility, great. Now you need to make your announcement. Otherwise, you risk looking like a pushover, Chambers warns. She advises business owners to bluntly say:  “I am making an exception. And here is what I will be looking for to see if this was a wise decision. I am monitoring the consequences.” After all, the rule is in place for a reason – probably a good reason.

“It’s all about the why behind the what,” says Chambers. Let’s say someone has a difficult situation and needs to work from home more often. If it’s not explained, it’s resented, it becomes fodder for gossip, Chambers notes, “instead of ‘Oh, what a compassionate boss who is responsive to
our needs.’ ”

When you discuss a rule exemption with an employee, make sure he or she knows that this rule-tweaking will become public knowledge

Chambers provides a sample script: “To maintain the integrity of the team, I will be making an announcement so there isn’t incorrect speculation about why this decision is being made.” If the employee is uncomfortable with the whole team knowing, you need to iron that out. Once you’re ready to make your proclamation, Chambers suggests, share the news both verbally and in writing. “Some people don’t read, and some don’t hear.” Ain’t that the truth.


Q: My co-worker – same level as me – sends me emails at all hours. And some are really rude. I think I’m going to talk to my boss, but do you think I’m being overly sensitive?

A: Ah, “email incivility.” I do think you should speak to your boss, because this workplace behavior isn’t just annoying. According to recent research, it can make you and your spouse both ill, and lead you to slack off at work to boot. The study was conducted by YoungAh Park, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations, and found that negative email can literally cause headaches and other physical and emotional responses, not just for workers, but also for their families – a spillover effect, as it were.

She also found that when employees receive a lot of rude email, they tend to withdraw from work. Examples include putting in less effort, ducking out early, taking loooong breaks and simply letting others do their work. “Work withdrawal is considered counterproductive to organizations, but this is a behavioral reaction to stress experiences as a way to self-preserve depleted energy and avoid any further job stress at work,” Park explains. YES. ALL CAPS EMAILS CAN DO THAT MUCH DAMAGE. Yikes.

Managers need to be role models when it comes to email behavior and should be responsive to complaints. From a companywide perspective, human resources can handle the topic. “Possible strategies include incorporating email etiquette into a code of conduct for their employees and business partners (vendors and suppliers, etc.) and educating their managers and employees about the issue,” Park says. Managers should pay especially close attention to virtual teams that use email as their primary communication channel.

Read a summary of Park’s paper at


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