Navigating Family Emergencies at Atomic with Flexible Scheduling

Article summary

I recently found myself in a situation where I needed to use an Atomic benefit that isn’t as well codified as some of the others (like vacation time). My wife—who was 31 weeks pregnant at the time—was in a car accident and had to spend a week in the hospital.

When you’re in my position and need to be in the hospital for a week to take care of your significant other, what do you do?

Three Concerns

  1. My first concern, of course, was for the health and safety of my family. My wife was never in mortal danger (if she had not been pregnant, a hospital stay would not have been warranted), but she was in a great amount of discomfort and distress, and I needed to be there to comfort her. Atomic supported this by backing me up when I had to miss time from work. Before I could ask, a managing partner told me explicitly, “Do not worry about coming in to work until your family is completely healthy.”
  2. My second concern was for lost income. At Atomic, we are paid for the hours we work, and we track all of our hours. I don’t get paid to hang out in the hospital unless I’m the one getting medical treatment (which would be sick time). So if I spend a week in the hospital, I lose half a paycheck, which is important because hospital stays don’t come cheap.
  3. My third concern was for my vacation time—something I prefer to spend in a non-stressful way to avoid burn-out and have fun with my family. Who wants to burn their vacation enjoying the view out of a hospital window?

Three Choices

I had three options on how to deal with the lost time, but before I lay them out, let me elaborate on Atomic’s expectations for how much employees should work:

  • The expectation for full-time employees is 40 hours each week, on average. Sick time, vacation time, billable work, and non-billable work all contribute to this figure.
  • This information is only gathered as an average over a quarter. So if you take personal time (unpaid) for a day and make it up over the course of the next month, good job! You’re complying with the required number of hours.

With that in mind, here were my options for dealing with the lost time and using Atomic’s flexible schedule benefit:

  1. I could punch Personal Time and make it up over the course of a quarter. This is the Atomic Flexible Schedule benefit. A week is a lot of time to make up over a quarter, but it might be preferable to spending vacation days.
  2. I could punch vacation time if I needed some income. This isn’t great for concern #3, but it handles concerns #1 and #2 quite nicely. If I wanted more time for vacation, I could work 30 minutes extra each day for a quarter, and boom! I’d have about four days of vacation.
  3. I could work from the hospital. Easier said than done, because being in the hospital with your significant other is stressful in ways that you cannot anticipate, even when things are stable and safe. However, it is nice to be able to whip out your laptop when you have an idea for the project you’re working on, and bill an hour or two. And since we structure our teams and projects so that we can work remotely and asynchronously, it’s very doable. This option is great for concerns #2 and #3, but it doesn’t jive as well with concern #1, speaking from experience.

In the end, I used a combination of all three choices to make up the lost time. I worked as much as I could while my wife was in the hospital, punched vacation time to meet my income needs after that, and then punched personal time in order to conserve my vacation.

Although I didn’t love my time in the hospital, I did appreciate how Atomic’s policies and managing partners handled the situation. I felt like Atomic cared about my family before they cared about me doing billable work. At the end of the day, that’s what makes a company a great place to work.


  • Christopher Dwyer says:

    That would be one of the times I am be glad to be a salaried employee. My company offers flexible hours and unlimited* vacation/sick time, so that when something like this happens, you can focus on helping your loved one, not worrying about how you are going to make ends meet or working the correct number of hours.

    *Some restrictions may apply, please use responsibly.

    • Matt Behrens says:

      That would indeed be ideal, but unlimited PTO policies are regrettably rare. I worked several salaried jobs before joining Atomic, and there was always a limit. Even worse, with one of those jobs, there was no flexible option at all if life’s happenings meant you needed to be absent during the work week.

      • Christopher Dwyer says:

        As Luke said below, this is the kind of thing that doesn’t reflect well on Atomic Object to someone on the outside. It’s my opinion that a company needs not just to have satisfying work, which I have no doubt that AO has — it was one of the main things that drew me toward the company when I was nearing graduation from university, but also it must do everything within its power to avoid placing unnecessary stresses on the employees.

        Development can be mentally and emotionally taxing. I want a company that knows that I will give them my all, but sometimes I need them to help me. I feel like being an hourly wage employee makes this kind of relationship between the employer and employee impossible. Disclaimer: I know some companies abuse salaried employees by making them work 60+ hour work weeks.

        I’ve had times at Plex where I worked my normal 40 hour work week, but then I volunteered for after hours work, just because I enjoyed the work and the people I worked with. I’ve also had times at Plex where I needed time off of work to pull myself together, such as earlier this year when my best friend since elementary school took his own life. We all live complicated lives, and we need companies that are empathetic to that.

  • Luke Baker says:

    I would urge Atomic Object to rethink their policies around this sort of situation or give themselves some leeway to make exceptions to their policies. For me, a software developer in west Michigan with a family, this story does not reflect well on Atomic Object.

    The managing partner tells Drew to “not worry about coming in to work until your family is completely healthy”, and yet this blog post catalogs the worries that Drew had and calculations that he needed to make regarding his job. I suspect the key part in the quote is that Drew didn’t have to physically come into the office, but it is striking to me because it is so close to what the managing partner should have been able to say: “Do not worry about work until your family is completely healthy” (and actually have the policies in place so that Drew doesn’t have to worry about his work responsibilities or fear loss of pay during this time).

    One way to add more flexibility in situations like this would be to allow employees to take sick time while their spouses or children are sick or receiving medical treatment. Another option for this particular situation, would be to add in some flexibility to your paid parental leave, where it could be used prior to birth. It is not uncommon for women to require bed rest or additional medical treatment at the end of their pregnancies. While it’d be a shame to lose out on that time with the newborn, it would be helpful for the parents to have that option. Alternatively, making an exception for these sorts of situations seems entirely reasonable.

    • Drew Hoover Drew Hoover says:

      Hi Luke,
      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I can see how you could infer ‘you don’t need to be in the office, but you still need to work‘ from the quote, but that is not what the Managing Partner was saying. The ‘coming in’ part is just an awkward turn of phrase for working, not a qualifier for what I shouldn’t worry about (and I can attest to not worrying about it during the hospital stay).

      Also, this blog post may present my thought process as though it was happening in real time, but it definitely wasn’t. I didn’t account for my time until after my wife was home.

      Edit: I should add that the MP also told me not to worry about making my 40hrs/week average during this quarter due to the exceptional circumstances.

      • Luke Baker says:

        Thanks for taking the time to respond and shedding some new light on this, Drew. Being given an exception on the quarterly expectations sounds like the right thing to do in this situation, which is nice to see. I still think there’s room for additional flexibility in situations like these, but not as much as my first read lead me to believe.

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