is it okay to leave work right at 5 p.m.?

A reader writes:

Is it OK to leave the office right at 5 p.m.?

I feel silly for asking, but more and more I feel as though it’s frowned upon to come in right at 9 and leave right at 5. I am a 2008 graduate and have been working for about 4 years now. In the beginning, I was always early to work and never batted an eyelash if a project required me to stay late. Along the way, though, I got married and had a baby. Before my daughter was born, when it was just me and my husband, I never really watched the clock. Now that I have a family, I am out the door RIGHT at 5 p.m. There’s a lot to be done when you have a baby, and working late just isn’t an option most days. Plus, after spending a long day away from her, all I want to do is snuggle my little girl until bedtime. Is that a crime?

I understand that there are going to be days where I’ll have to stay late and be forced to tweak our normal family routine. In fact, they’ve already happened and we survived just fine, but I don’t want to make a habit out of it. My health is always my first priority, my family is always my second priority, and my job will always be my third priority. I worry about starting a new job with this mentality, especially because some PR firms seem to be uber competitive when it comes to who can stay the latest, who can come in the earliest, and who can use the least amount of vacation days.

So, I ask, is it OK to come in at 9 and leave at 5?

It depends on your particular field and your particular company. There are plenty of offices where this is normal, others where it might not be the norm but won’t be an issue, and others where it will indeed be an issue.

The best thing to do is to screen for compatibility in this area when you’re job-searching, and not to take a job where you’re going to be out of sync with an employer’s expectations on hours. But since you’re already in this job, talk to your boss about this. Say that your schedule has changed since you’ve had a baby and ask if it’s something that she perceives as an issue in your work.

This will lead you to one of the following likely outcomes:

1. Your boss will tell you it’s fine … and you will believe her because of the impressions you’ve formed by watching what others in your office do, how others react or don’t react to your hours, etc.

2. Your boss will tell you that it’s fine … but you won’t entirely believe her because of the impressions you’ve formed by watching what others in your office do, how others react or don’t react to your hours, and your manager’s own demeanor during this conversation.

3. Your boss will tell you that the job does often require longer hours to get ahead, and that if you’re not willing to put in those hours, it might impact future promotions, raises, your reputation, etc.

4. Your boss will be vague and unhelpful, leaving you to decide for yourself based on impressions you’ve formed by watching what others in your office do and how others react or don’t react to your hours.

Regardless of how this conversation goes, it’s good to bring this issue to the surface and talk about it, both because you’re wondering about it and because you’ve made a change from your former habits. Either of those are conditions that should generally trigger a conversation with your manager.

Now, if you conclude that your new schedule is indeed an issue or has the potential to become one, that doesn’t mean that you need to change your hours. It’s just a new piece of information for you to work with. You might decide that you’re okay with not being first on the list for promotions, for instance, or with being seen as less committed than others. (Or, more realistically, you might decide that you’re not fully okay with it, but that you’re willing to accept that as the trade-off for working better hours.) Or you might come to an agreement with your manager about how to fit more high-impact activities into the hours that you are at work, or you might explicitly agree that as long as the results you get are fantastic, your hours won’t be an issue. Or you might decide that this isn’t the right culture fit for you and so you’re going to look for an employer whose ideas about balancing work and non-work life are more in line with your own.

The basic idea is that you should gather information about the expectations around this specific job in this specific workplace culture, and then decide how you feel about it and whether you want to change anything in your life as a result.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 245 comments… read them below }

  1. Wilton Businessman*

    I agree, this is a fit issue. In some environments they don’t want you working past 5PM and that is OK. Most employers in this economy are trying to wring out more with less, so your perceived lack of effort will not help your future. If your work environment is such that the stars get the best projects and the slackers get the grunt work, you will have to decide if the trade-off of doing grunt work and stagnating is worth it.

    1. moss*

      What if some people just work faster than others? I have a real problem with the idea that “stars” work long hours and those who get their work done on time are “slackers.”

      1. moe*

        Because face-time/hours worked in the office isn’t just about sheer productivity, but work culture too. If it’s something they value, it’s something they value… and IME, you can’t really argue with the culture of a place. You either adapt or you move on.

      2. Wilton Businessman*

        If somebody gets their work done faster than others, then it is their duty to help the others to get their workload down or to help the others be more efficient (assuming we’re talking about some kind of office environment here). If you’re ducking out at 17:00 and Mary has a ton of work to get done then the team morale suffers as does the business.

        There is no I in team.

        1. Esra*

          As a fast worker, this can drives me nuts. I’ve received praise from most managers for being reliable, willing to help others out, etc, but I had one who had a super poor performer on the team and expected everyone else to pick up the slack. It’s not really reasonable to expect someone who gets their work done quickly to just pile on more and more work.

          It’s frustrating when you’re a very results-based person to wrap your head around the idea of face time being more or as important as getting the work done quickly and well.

          1. Anonymous*

            I can understand this frustration, but hopefully the super efficient worker is fairly compensated for completing more work.

          2. Wilton Businessman*

            It’s not your work or her work, it’s our work. Successful managers will recognize the disparity and either compensate you for it or make staff changes.

            1. Piper*

              I understand the idea of teamwork, but this just doesn’t always work. For example, if I’m a graphic designer and the web programmer isn’t able to get his work done on time, I’m of absolutely no use to him because I don’t know PHP and all of those other backend coding languages. This logic just doesn’t work in most offices where people are specialists, not generalists.

              I have been in the situation where a pile of direct mailers needed to be folded and stamped, and everyone from the director to the assistant was out there slapping stamps and folding and sealing the mailer to get it out in time. This is where there’s no “I” in team comes in.

              1. Esra*

                For example, if I’m a graphic designer and the web programmer isn’t able to get his work done on time, I’m of absolutely no use to him because I don’t know PHP and all of those other backend coding languages. This logic just doesn’t work in most offices where people are specialists, not generalists.

                This, eerily exactly this.

              2. Kelly O*

                Totally agree with Piper on this one. Teamwork and moving toward the same goals are one thing, but sometimes it is just not practical to expect others to throw in and get your work done.

                By the way, I see this happen in our AP department. We have someone who is clearly slower than the others, never seems to get her work done before close-out deadlines, and every month it seems like they’re all pitching in to help her get her work done. I’m still unclear on how that works, or how you can do this for an extended period of time without your own work being questioned, rather than just passing it out to others.

              3. Piper*

                Okay, this is ridiculous. I’m all about learning additional skills to be more versatile, but I am not learning every single skill of every single person in my office. Graphic design and web programming can be closely related so that example was an easy target for your logic.

                Here’s a better example: I’m a copywriter. The accountant is having issues completing work. Sorry, I’m not learning, nor will I ever learn to be an accountant. Ever. And really, I’d probably be terrible at it.

                There are times to help out and there are times you don’t. Everyone learning everyone else’s job across departments is crazy. It’s one thing to cross train within your department (or even outside of it if it’s a field that interests you or complements your field); it’s entirely another to expect people to be extreme generalists and do it all.

                And some people don’t want other people completing their work, even if they are behind. People are specialists for a reason. In the copywriting example- people are entrusted with the voice and brand of a company and no, not everyone with a computer is a writer. This is a field that takes training and natural skill, and some people will never, ever be able to do it well.

                This is not a realistic perspective across the board in all circumstances.

              4. Piper*

                Also want to add that that PHP programmer will just get more behind in his work if he’s training a graphic designer (by your statement of “getting paid” to learn). This assumes on-the-job training time, which will inevitably set the PHP programmer back more. Unless of course, the company pays to train the designer via some other method (classes, etc).

              5. Wilton Businessman*

                An accountant and a copywriter are on the same team? That is a strange structure you have.

              6. Piper*

                Seriously? We never specified it was specific to just teams. The implication was coworkers in general, unless you were being very rigid in your use of the term “teamwork.” But guess what – a graphic designer and a web programmer might not be on the same team either (I’ve worked in places where they were and where they weren’t).

              7. Wilton Businessman*

                Maybe it’s different at other places. In my organization, the team is responsible for the deliverable. If nine people are on time and one guy is late, we’re all late. We all know enough to cover certain aspects of the other members’ jobs. Even the managers get their hands dirty on a regular basis. That means if the web guy is backlogged, the DBA kicks in and gives him a hand. If the Senior guy gets the flu, the two junior guys jump in (although it usually costs me a Pizza party). Sure it takes them twice as long, but nobody is done until the last person is done.

                If it’s the same person late on every project, we make changes. I expect your best every day. I am blessed to have very dedicated, intelligent, and hard working people on my team that accomplish amazing things every day.

                I could care less about what the janitorial staff or the mail room is doing. I assume their manager expects the best from them every day as well.

              8. Piper*

                I’ve worked in tiny startups (which is where my “mailroom” reference came from)- literally every person who worked there was stamping and folding to meet a deadline. And we didn’t have janitor. Everyone had to clean their own dishes and empty the trash if they saw that it was full.

                But I’ve also worked on cross-departmental, global teams for Fortune 500s. We had programmers in India, search teams across the country, and a core team on site. We were not picking up other people’s core work; it just couldn’t be done that way with budgets (everyone was paid from a different bucket depending on their status and department).

                We did have instances during testing phases where everyone onsite would pitch in and help out with the testing. However, no one but the QA analyst on the project was allowed to actually verify and distribute the testing logs. That’s what her job was.

                It sounds like we’ve worked in very different kinds of teams. My experience has been working on teams with highly specialized individuals in fast-paced environments with nearly insane turnaround times. People pitched in where and when they could, but if someone was drowning doing their core work, well…there wasn’t anyone to bail them out because no one else had that specific expertise and no one was learning these complex skills in a two-week period (which was what our launch phases ran in).

          3. Just Me*

            I worked with a gal that always HAD to work….. oohhh SOOO many hours a day OT. ( we were salary ). She was flat out slow, too much of a perfectionist to the point where she got nothing done because she too busy checking and rechecking, over analyzing everything etc.

            Our job duties were the same and in my opinion ( for what it is worth ) there was no reason why each problem, each task, each issue had to be like she had never worked the issue before. Golly, NOW what do I do? This was after well over a year into the job.

            Did I have a problem helping her? No. You just do it. The negitive reprecussions for certain things not getting done greatly outweighed anything.

            But nor should it have been expected to conform to her lack of time management issues and then stay later.
            She actually wasn’t too bad about expecting people to stay but my point is, yes is is great to help and should be expected… but to a point. Managment needs to step in if the need to help and stay late is the result of a employees inability to work efficently.

        2. Vicki*

          But there is a “me”.
          And many articles to support the fact that (sports) teams do recognize individual positions.
          We’re not just interchangeable cogs in a big machines.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well managed employers will judge people based on what they achieve, not on how many hours they work. That said, it’s often true that you simply need to be present — for last-minute project changes, for meetings, to talk to clients, etc. And it’s also true that if you have two people with the same level of productivity per hour, the one who works more hours will obviously get more done.

        1. moe*

          That may be how you approach it, but I think it’s quite a stretch to say that “well-managed employers” in general shouldn’t focus on hours. Probably very industry-dependent as well.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Of course, it doesn’t apply to jobs that truly depend on you being physically present — like, say, a receptionist job or a job where you’re working with customers. But otherwise, managers should judge based on the results someone produces — what’s the impact they’re having, are they meeting/exceeding their goals, etc.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Because it makes the most sense to judge people by what they achieve. And you can end up really irritating your top performers if you send the message that you’re judging/rewarding them on hours worked rather than impact generated.

              2. Student*

                Just because a company values something doesn’t mean that it actually is valuable.

                As a bottom-level grunt, you sometimes don’t have the option to make a company change their ways – in that case, you are left with the choice of living with a mismatch in values or moving on. However, if you do have an opportunity to make a change in the company, and you can demonstrate to the managers that the change is in the company’s best interest, then pushing for change is the right thing to do.

                As an extreme example, I’ll mention that companies in the 1950s valued men much higher than women for nearly all jobs; some still do. Prior to the Civil Rights movement, there were numerous businesses that valued white men much higher than minorities, including refusing to take perfectly good money from black customers in exchange for store merchandise.

                Having a company culture of valuing face time more than productivity doesn’t really compare to these more extreme examples, but I hoped it might shake you into realizing that companies don’t always value things in their best interest. It’s just as nonsensical, though not nearly as offensive, to value face time over productivity in a non-customer-service job as it is for a lunch counter to refuse to sell sandwiches to black men.

              3. moe*

                It didn’t actually shake me into realizing anything. When has bringing in examples of blatant discrimination ever done anything except antagonize the person you’re discussing something with?

                Carry on.

        2. KayDay*

          “it’s often true that you simply need to be present — for last-minute project changes, for meetings, to talk to clients, etc.” OMG, this is so true. I had one coworker who was great at her individual responsibilities. She often like to work from home or “flexible” hours (e.g. 7 – 3; my office has fairly flexible hours as long as the work gets done), because, according to her, she got more done when people weren’t bothering her. And I’m sure she did. But, of course, I had trouble getting MY work done, because she wasn’t there to answer my questions, help with an “emergency” task, etc.

          1. BCW*

            Yeah, but its not fair for you to want her there for your needs. If you choose to work 9-5, you can’t really be angry that she is working a different set of hours thats not convenient for you. Now do these questions and emergencies happen often? If not, I’m sure she probably wouldn’t mind you calling her on occasion for something.

            1. KellyK*

              I agree with this. I think it’s really important to identify what people are actually responsible for and with what level of response time, especially if their hours don’t line up 100% with their coworkers’. (For example, is there a set of core hours where you’re supposed to be checking email? Is there just an expectation that you’ll follow up with any contacts from coworkers during the same business day?)

              It’s not necessarily realistic that everyone will get an answer to a question from any coworker as soon as they ask it. After all, if the coworker needs something from KayDay at 7 AM, she has to call or email and wait a couple hours.

              There’s a big difference between working from home and being completely available and working from home with your phone and email turned off (or closing your office door and doing the same thing). If people need things from you, and you’re not doing something that’s higher priority to the organization than the things they need, it’s probably not appropriate to go completely off the grid all day.

              1. KayDay*

                …a few things to answer your points. My office’s official hours are 9 – 6. That is what I was told I would work when I started and what is in the employee handbook. We do not have an official flex policy, it was just ad hoc. I don’t think I should be punished for working the official hours, instead of really early. It’s a very small office, and I was planning an event with my co-worker, so there was a lot of very necessary back and forth. We each had our parts, but they were related and we needed to collaborate. Also, I don’t mean to make a mountain out of a mole hill: the problem was an annoyance, but also not something that I lost too much sleep over. And the co-worker has since headed off to grad school, so there is no longer a problem.

                But I absolutely still think that it is very important to remember that even if co-workers have different responsibilities, they are still all part of the “team” of the organization and part of that job is to be available to assist your co-workers. (P.S. this applies differently at different types of organizations–at a 5 person office, everyone needs to be able to jump into help whenever possible; it would be different at a 500 person corporation.)

              2. KellyK*

                KayDay, this is in response to your response (I’ve hit the limit of indented replies apparently).

                If the official hours are 9-6, that’s different from having official flex hours that don’t fully mesh. I totally agree that being available for coworkers when needed is part of most jobs, and it should’ve been her responsibility to figure out how to collaborate with you despite the different hours/location. Thanks for clarifying with more info!

        3. Another Anon*

          I don’t think managers can really focus on both hours and results. If the objective is results, people aim to be efficient and get the job done. If the objective is hours, people aim to be inefficient so that what gets measured – a lot of hours – gets done. One or the other comes out number one in the mind of the manager and each contributor.

  2. Elizabeth*

    If it is a problem, you might also consider whether it would be possible for you to do a little more work later, when your baby is in bed. If your work can be done over computer, that’s a way to get some more work in without missing out on those evening hours with the baby.

    1. jmkenrick*

      This doesn’t work with a baby, but my Mom & my sisters have been known to have “homework hours” where they all sit at the kitchen table, share a snack, and my Mom does work while my sisters complete math or science homework.

  3. $.02*

    When I worked at an Accounting firm it’s expected to stay beyond regular 8 hours, as AAM said it depends on your field. I couldn’t plan weekend trips during weekends (Jan-Apr) season because it’s implied I might be called to work weekends. While I was not required to be there, it’s highly expected to be available

    1. KayDay*

      Are you able to leave early in the “off” season? I know a tax account, and she works long hours during the busy season in the spring, but in the summer, her office is *very* flexible about time off/leaving early.

      1. Natalie*

        We have a few CPA firm tenants that close their offices on Friday all summer, to make up for the unreasonably tax season hours.

      2. $.02*

        I worked at a small firm but the mid – large firms what they do is require (mandatory) you to put 55 regular hours a week during busy season then you work less hours during off-season like 30 hours/week but in the end it will balance out about 2,000 hours a year. Where I worked I was hourly and would get overtime every week I worked over 40 hours

        1. Tax Nerd*

          The 30 hour weeks were/are a myth. I spent ten years with the large accounting firms, and they expected 55 chargeable hours during busy season, if not 65, plus all the admin time (checking emails, staff meetings, etc.) on top of that. But you still had to work 40 hours minimum the rest of the year unless you were dipping into vacation time.

          Let’s just say that attrition is a large part of their business plan, and it works.

          1. Anonymous*

            TN. For smaller firms, some do have the split $.02 mentioned. I knew some that shut down every Friday for July and August. Partly to give everyone a break and use comp time, but also because it can be quite slow.
            but for the Big 4 or other large firms, I’d agree – don’t expect to be working 4 days a week.

  4. Elizabeth*

    When asking for a flex work schedule, raise, or anything extra, it seems to me that you put yourself in a better position to get what you want if you show that you are invaluable to the business. Maybe this is easier when you have been at the job a while since you would be able to demonstrate how much you have done for the company, and present your boss with a plan for how you will continue to do it. I guess when interviewing, being prepared to say what you can offer that nobody else has, how good you are at managing time, etc. And ask gently about the type of expectations in terms of hours and possibility to work from home. That said, I think it is becoming more and more normal for companies to accommodate working parents and offer flex time. So if it is a place that does not offer that, you really might not want to work there or in that type of industry anymore. And this will sound kind of silly, but you might get some inspiration from watching the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It.

  5. Kelly O*

    You know, it was kind of odd because this morning our HR person told us we had to start having our managers sign time sheets before turning them into her (upper management decided they wanted to do this, rather than have HR submit a file with all the employees in that department at once. Don’t ask me why…) Anyway, one of my buyers said “you have an hour of overtime, why?” Well, if I stay a little late here and there, it adds up over the course of two weeks. “Well, you need to get everything done in 40 hours.”

    I’ve been here two and a half years and that’s not ever been an issue that was raised. The company line is “get it done in 40 hours” but then when you walk out the door at 5:00, it’s “oh, are you leaving already?” or walking in at 8:00 gets you “feel free to come in whenever you feel like it.”

    I think the mixed messages are most confusing, especially for those of us who are hourly. (And I will say my salaried coworkers share in the frustration that the flexibility only works in the company’s favor – working late, early, nights, weekends, is fine, but when you need to take time to do something for yourself, there’s no comp.)

    It’s like anything else, figuring out the climate is best when everyone is honest about what they REALLY want. Some companies are good at that, some not so much.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      “Well, you need to get everything done in 40 hours.”

      My company used to be like this. Everything had to get done in 40 hours. If it didn’t, why not? And no, we aren’t hiring another person because we’re overloaded and there’s just too much for a reasonable person to do . I find this to be maddening.

      1. Kelly O*

        My favorite part is that they ask this after they pulled one of the other assistants and put her in AP. So there are two of us, supporting four buyers. We had been working toward a one buyer/one assistant model, and it was working rather well.

        So yeah, I have almost double the workload, but the same amount of hours. Because that makes sense.

        1. Sophie*

          This reminds me of my last job, I was working at university, and while exempt, they were very careful to ensure that we only worked 40 hours because they would have to credit extra time as comp time, and they didn’t want us taking off for ANYTHING during business hours. But then my director told all us minions in a staff meeting one day, “If you want to get ahead here, you have to come in early, work through lunch, and stay late.” Without receiving comp time. Uh, no. I left that place pretty quickly. For many, many reasons.

        2. Heather*

          If I have double the workload but can only work 40 hours/week and they refuse to hire more staff to help out then the amount of work that gets done is what can be done in 40 hours. It’s not my fault that it’s being improperly managed. And if they asked me why it wasn’t done that’s what I would say. It makes no sense to me that you have 60 hours of work (as an example) and they expect it to be done in 40.

      2. Long Time Admin*

        When I was young and stupid, I actually believed that, and almost worked myself into a nervous breakdown. Now I do the best I can (and I really am a good worker), and occasionally put in a little overtime.

        If a good worker is chronically snowed under with work, it suggests that there is more than one person can handle.

  6. moss*

    This is something you have to take charge of for yourself. Right now I am lucky to have a boss whose goal is for us to work 40 hour weeks, no more, and overtime is very rare.

    When I was first starting out, though, I had a job where everyone stayed until 6 or 7. It was a startup and staffed by single guys, and they would roll in around 9 or 10, maybe watch a movie during the day or play some LAN video game… in other words, not really working.

    I would leave at 4:30 on the dot every afternoon to pick up my son. They didn’t like it, but I didn’t like them either.

    My work is very measurable though (software) so it’s pretty obvious who is working and who isn’t even if there’s no “facetime.” In a softer field that needs more shmoozing, things might be different.

    Bottom line for me as for you, OP, my family is more important than my job. If you keep that as a priority you will eventually find a fit for yourself. For me, it’s not worth putting in 60 hour weeks. I can’t imagine how much I would have to get paid to make it worth it to me but I’d estimate WELL over double what I’m making now.

    I have a job where I don’t have to act like a striver, I just have to produce real results. People who stay late are normally just fooling around anyway, or don’t work very fast.

    1. Anonymous*

      “maybe watch a movie during the day or play some LAN video game… in other words, not really working.”

      I hated that. The people who “did the longer hours” at once place I worked regularly spent a quarter of the ‘proper’ working day away from their desks on non-work matters – usually at another colleagues desk near me.

      However if I took a personal call once during the day I got scowled at. If I didn’t stay two hours over – even when I’d finished what work I could do that day for the department – I got considered to be less dedicated.

      However I’ve done my work during the working day. I met my targets and exceeded most of them (and got asked just how I managed it so well – telling them “I don’t gossip or muck around” wouldn’t have sat well!). I didn’t need to stay until 6-7pm or come in on Saturday to get stuff done.

      1. Anonymous*

        I left a job because the office culture was that people were in the office for at least 14 hour days, but the actual work getting done was less than 8 hours a day. At first I enjoyed the casual atmosphere and the camraderie, but when my baby came and I had to shift my focus, it was infuriating that my coming in two hours earlier, working straight through the day, and leaving in time to get my child from daycare got me labeled as a “slacker” by the younger people who drifted in 30-45 minutes late, took copious breaks and 2 hour lunches, and then set the computers up to play networked games after the managers left for the day until close to midnight. Sure they were in the office for longer hours, but the point was they didn’t NEED to be, and they certainly weren’t working the whole time. The problem was that key members of the lower management were in on the whole party atmosphere (and basically stiffing the company for hours worked), so nothing on that end was going to change. And they didn’t like me popping out “early” (it was actually on time) because it brought up uncomfortable issues as to why they “needed” 30-40 hours of OT each week to get their work done. So even though I was working as hard if not harder than everyone else, I left that job with the reputation of being a “slacker”. It still makes me mad!

    2. Anonymous*

      Btw , I have no problem with people who do want to spread out their working day. I however have a horrible public transport commute to do and don’t feel the need to regularly step away from my desk during the working day. The issue is the appearance of dedication to the role.

    3. Henning Makholm*

      “My work is very measurable though (software)” — um, what?

      On the planet I’m from, software is widely known as being one of the most impossible areas to measure productivity in. Every metric I’ve seen proposed (number of commits? lines of code? comment-adjusted lines of code? lines of comments? bugs fixed? use cases implemented?) is either completely open to abuse, creates backwards incentives, rewards workers completely randomly, or some combination of the above.

      The best thing a manager can do is have some rough idea of his own how much time which tasks ought to take (approximately as one can never know how much time it actually takes without doing the work) and then compare that to how fast each developer seems to deliver in general. But that’s not measurement, that’s judgment.

      1. A Bug!*

        I read that comment as to mean moss’s employer makes use of particular software in the course of the job, and the use of that software makes it easy to see how much work a given employee is performing.

      2. moss*

        OK I said software because it’s a shorthand for what I actually do, which is write computer code to produce a specific output that is due at a specific time. I don’t want to get into the details of what my job is but I have very precise deadlines and measurable output.

        Trust me, I’m not talking about spending 15 years writing vaporware.

  7. Anonymous*

    Yes, I think it very much depends on fit. I will add that if your employer is OK with your hours, make sure other employees don’t see it as favoritism or special treatment because you have a baby.

    1. KellyK*

      I don’t think there’s any way to make sure of that, other than to try to make your value really clear to your coworkers (which could easily turn into tooting your own horn and being obnoxious).

      If you get any consideration of the fact that you have a kid (even just getting to leave right at 5 but making up for it with work in the evenings), some people will perceive favoritism.

      Not much you can do about it, although I like the ROWE tactic of redirecting the conversation to work rather than hours. (“Must be nice to leave right at 5 every day.” “Oh, was there something you needed from me before I go?”)

  8. The Other Dawn*

    I agree that it’s all about the company culture. If others regularly work past their scheduled times in order to get projects done or meet other deadlines, then working your straight 8 hours could be seen as not pitching in or pulling your weight. Have that talk with your manager. You’ll hopefully get a good sense as to the expectation regarding work hours.

    I used to be someone who would come in a 7:30 am and work until 8 or 9 pm, until I got so burned out I couldn’t do it anymore. I was truly overloaded and worked for a workaholic boss. I was basically told to suck it up, because my work load would never get any lighter and he wasn’t going to hire anyone else. When I started working “normal” hours (maybe 8 am to 6 pm, which is still more than scheduled), I was made to feel like a criminal and felt so guilty all the time, like I was sneaking out and shirking my duties. Finally, a different boss told me that I should work my scheduled hours. Unless it would cost the business money or penalize us in some other way, work could wait until tomorrow. It took me a long time to get that through my head. Even now, five years later, I still feel guilty when I leave at 5 pm…and I’m a manager!

  9. Taylor*


    I’m the one who posed this question.

    I work in Public Relations. I started at a non-profit, worked at firm, and then, we moved and I did PR for a University. I found the firm environment to be incredibly competitive, while the non-profit and University were incredibly family-oriented. People at the firm were always trying to send the first email of the morning (at 6 a.m.!?) and they were always making it known how late they stayed each evening.

    When people do things like that, my initial thought is “don’t you have a life? or a family!?” … and then, I begin to wonder about their time management skills if they need to stay late every, single evening … and continue to send me emails on the weekends.

    My husband and I recently relocated for a second and final time. I am currently looking for a new position. When interviewing, I always ask about the work environment and the work culture. I make it clear that I want a work/life balance, and so far, every potential boss assures me their employees lead very balanced lives. I just don’t want to get into a situation where I am the only one who leaves right at 5.

    Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell whether 9-5 really means 8:30-6 or if it truly means 9-5.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      When we interview people and they ask about hours, we tell them that there will be times when they will need to stay late in order to fix a problem or finish a project; however, those days are the exception rather than the rule. It also comes down to how well people work. Some people work quickly and efficiently so they tend to have a better balance. And others work slowly and inefficiently, or are just plain slackers, and those are the ones that seem to work really long hours and don’t have much of a work/life balance.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d caution you against assuming that people who work longer hours “don’t have a life” or don’t have a family, or have bad time management skills, just like you don’t want them to make assumptions about you based on your schedule.

      People’s priorities shift at different times in their lives. I’ve certainly had periods in my life where I was working really long hours because I wanted to be, not because I didn’t have a life. I loved my job and it didn’t feel like work — it felt like something I was thrilled to be doing. I was excited at the chance I had to make an impact on something I cared a lot about, and also about the chance to develop professionally. My personal life was just fine, and my time management skills are pretty stellar, thank you. But I felt great about focusing a ton of energy on work; my professional goals were a top priority at that time, so things didn’t feel out of balance to me; I was happy with my set-up. So please be careful about jumping to the conclusion that people who do work a lot of hours have something wrong.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I didn’t intend to imply that ALL people who work long hours have something wrong. I know that’s not the case; however, that’s been my experience in some places I’ve worked.

        My former boss worked from 8 am until at least 8 pm and called himself a workaholic, when what he actually did was surf the internet all day, delegate nearly 100% of his workload and fall asleep at his desk because he had a one hour+ commute each way and didn’t get home until almost 10 pm most nights. He wasn’t a workaholic, he just wasted a crap load of time.

        And I know that some people who leave work on time aren’t always working efficiently. They take shortcuts or push off their workload to someone else.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, I was referring to Taylor’s comment that “When people do things like that, my initial thought is “don’t you have a life? or a family!?” … and then, I begin to wonder about their time management skills if they need to stay late every, single evening … and continue to send me emails on the weekends.”

      2. Wilton Businessman*

        People that leave the office at 21:00 don’t give a crap about what people who leave the office at 17:00 on the dot think.

      3. Taylor*

        Oh, gosh. I didn’t mean to offend anyone! I was pulling some of those comments from a frustrated place – my experience with ONE particular public relations firm. I felt like it was a game – who could stay the latest, etc. There was literally a conversation between manager as to who used the least amount of vacation days that particular year. It blew my mind! So, yes. My initial thought was definitely, “What about your family!?” From working with them, I knew these individuals had children, wives, dogs, etc. and I wondered (although NONE of my business) how working late EVERY SINGLE NIGHT and NEVER using vacation time was impacting their family life.

        As I said in my initial question, when I was just starting out, I felt like I had a lot to prove (because I did!). I always wanted to be present – even if I had nothing to do.

        I suppose I’m just self conscious now because that’s not an option anymore. My daughter HAS to be picked up by a certain time, which means I HAVE to leave by a certain time. I guess I was just wondering if this would handicap me and based on the comments and your reply, the answer is – it depends on your work environment, but yeah, it probably will.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, my answer is that it depends on your work environment, period. But others here have weighed in to say that in a PR agency, it’s likely that it will.

    3. Anonymous*

      People at the firm were always trying to send the first email of the morning (at 6 a.m.!?)

      cron is your friend.

      1. Wilton Businessman*

        cron writes a log. Not much help if your boss founds out you cronned an entry at 06:12 every day that says “I’m In!”.

      2. JT*

        Or remote access. I’m no slacker, and pretty effective at work, but generally don’ t work long hours.

        That said, I’m often on work-related email briefly on the weekend, or early mornings. Though I don’t do it to give the impression I work a lot – it’s just that it’s easy to do when I have a free moment.

  10. Kelly O*

    What I love are the people who will acknowledge they don’t get things done during the day because of interruptions or meetings, and justify the staying late or weekend hours because “I can’t get a thing done with all these interruptions.”

    But then, while you’re trying to work, you can hear nothing but them talking about completely non-work related things on the phone, or laughing it up with other folks (who are also so “unbelievably busy” they can’t get work done during the day) and taking two hour lunches regularly.

    Although I will say I think there is something to the idea of having “standing only” meetings and limiting them to half an hour each. Our company’s meetings tend to drag on an on, with little agenda, and can turn into gripe sessions very quickly. If we had half our wasted meeting time, we could get a lot done. (Well, between that and arguing about whose way of doing something is the right way, but that’s mainly the adjacent department.)

      1. Anonymous*

        A word of caution – stand up meetings work great IF there is a defined topic. Otherwise, it’s an exercise in frustration. I find them useful when you have to bring many people in on a project that several people have developed – essentially, a you do this, here is the schedule.

    1. Another Anon*

      There are no bragging rights in saying, “I’m so efficient that I don’t need to stay late.” No one is impressed even if they ought to be. On the other hand, consider “I’ve been here since 6:00 am, even though I was here till after 11:00 last night! I worked most of last weekend, too, and I haven’t had a vacation in TWO YEARS!” That shouldn’t really impress anyone but it sure does. Martyrs rule in most work cultures.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        My former boss highly valued the martyr. When he left, it took me a VERY long time to get out of this mindset.

        We have someone who comes in about an hour later than everyone else and leaves around 5 pm, maybe a little earlier or later. A few employees were really annoyed by this because they work 8:30 am-5 pm everyday without variation. They couldn’t understand that not every position requires a strict schedule. And I think they felt that this person was getting away with something or “scamming the system” somehow. This person is really efficient and can get the work done in less time. She isn’t client-facing, so what’s the big deal if she works less than 40 hrs? She’s hourly anyway and only gets paid for the hours worked.

      2. Laura L*

        Ugh. The students at my college were like that. You got bragging rights for staying up late doing a paper at the last minute or pulling an all nighter to study for an exam and finish 2 other papers.

        When I would say that I’d never pulled an all-nighter, people would say, “oh, you’re so lucky” and go back to trying to one-up each other on how late they stayed up doing things.

            1. KellyK*

              Yikes! The controlled rest thing sounds like a valid idea (much better than having someone drift off while they’re flying), but it’s obviously got some *serious* problems–like not making sure someone is fully awake before they are back in front of the controls of an airplane!

    1. Liz T*

      It’s such a shame that it’s only considered a woman’s problem–don’t men want to spend time with their families?

    2. Anonymous*

      I was under the impression that it was more of a tech industry issue, not a female issue. The thought of a consistent 9-5 job in anything tech-related is almost a joke in this age.

  11. Anonymous*

    Want to throw in .02 about something I think everyone overlooked: this gal is in PR.

    PR is a very competitive arena and usually the first thing that gets cut when companies downsize. These jobs often pay peanuts and employers expect people to put in long hours. I think it’s fair to suggest you stay away from the agency life and steer toward the public/not-for-profit sector. When I worked at a not-for-profit, hours were 9a – 5p with an hour lunch. You’d get scolded for staying late. I went into the private field and my hours at about 9:20 – 6:30p but I’m more challenged and have more flexibility in working from home.

    You chose to start a family and not to work long hours and that’s your choice to make but depending on what kind of culture you end up with, this could impact your career. The person who’s willing to put in the long hours to get a project out the door is the one who gets the great bonus and raise. Truth be told, I don’t mind if people have a work life balance, but when someone leaves at 5:00p sharp everyday, I notice it and likely assume you spent the last 10 minutes watching the clock rather than finishing up the day.

    1. Bookworm*

      People work to live, not live to work.

      When I come to the end of my life, I want to remember the good times with family and friends, and not my time spent working for the man.

      1. Anonymous*

        But that’s you – and that’s fine. It doesn’t lessen the lives of others who are passionate about their career, and spend their time there. We don’t all feel as though we’re “working for the man”.

          1. Taylor*

            One of the issues I’m struggling with is that I want to work AND I want to have a family. I also LOVE working for a PR firm.

            I’d also like to add that I get paid more than peanuts. Every job I’ve ever had has paid me VERY well (even entry level). And honestly, I find that firms pay much higher, offer more incentive programs and competitive benefits.

            I don’t want to be penalized for having a family. I love working. I love my family. I want to be able to balance them both – and FOR ME, that balance comes from having a more rigid work schedule – knowing exactly when I’m going to arrive and when I’m going to leave.

            My family will ALWAYS be more important than my job, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want a job…

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              You’ve got to screen for an employer who is in sync with you on that. Many won’t be. Some will be — possibly not a PR agency, though, which is something you’ll need to be realistic about.

            2. Jamie*

              I don’t think anyone is saying you can’t have a family and a job.

              But imo the myth that you can have it all is just that – a myth. You can absolutely work a more rigid schedule, but there is no guarantee that it won’t impact your career in any way.

              When my kids were smaller I had a tighter schedule too – but I knew that came with being passed over for certain opportunities…because other people who didn’t have the same family constraints had more availability and face time. It was a conscious choice I made and I would happily make the same one again.

              Now that my kids are older my time balance has tilted toward work and my career trajectory shows that.

              I guess what I’m saying is we all have choices – whether we have kids or not doesn’t really matter except in this specific scenario – but we all choose how much time and energy we put toward our careers. We are free to make choices which work for our lives and employers are free to reward employees whose choices benefit the company. That isn’t unfair – there are seen and unseen consequences to everything.

              And it’s not a static situation. Throughout your career you’ll have ebbs and flows of the work-life balance thing and just need to make the choices best for your situation at the time.

              I personally don’t like the phrase work-life-balance because it seems to be used a lot by people who compartmentalize work from their life. My work is a big part of my life. Of course it will never be as important as my family in the sense of choosing one over another…but my family benefits from my work so I can’t untangle one from the other.

              I don’t think, imo, it’s a question of you being “penalized” for having a family. If that were the case they’d have fired you, or cut your pay. It’s a question of not being rewarded for having a family – which is what it would be if you had the exact same opportunities as your co-workers who have greater availability. There is a huge chasm between being penalized and not rewarded.

        1. beniboy*

          And that makes sense-you get utlity out of working so you work more than someone who gets utility out of something other than work. The problem comes in when people don’t recognize that because they enjoy work, they are actually getting a form of compensation above their salary: again, utility. The other person isn’t getting that and therefore shouldn’t be expected to work as much as you. I believe this culture we have that requires such devotion is unrealistic and unfair. All I require of my employees is that they show up when needed, work efficiently and proficiently, and meet deadlines. I couldn’t care less if this is their passion or breeding a workplace culture. I just want the work to get done, well and on time. I’ve never had a single employee quit except for retiring or to become a stay at home parent (but I also promote from within and I know a lot of places don’t).

    2. K.*

      Yeah, I agree – I’ve done the agency thing and the hours are long, period. I worked in a mid-sized NYC agency founded by a woman, with about 60% female employees. The hours were basically always on, and we had some international clients so if we had to be on a call with them, we were on it during THEIR business hours. I don’t know the culture of every agency ever, obviously, but in general, PR agencies are not known for respecting the work-life balance – the competitive angle is real, and more hours = the way you get ahead. (Which is why I don’t work at agencies anymore.)

    3. Natalie*

      “when someone leaves at 5:00p sharp everyday, I notice it and likely assume you spent the last 10 minutes watching the clock rather than finishing up the day.”

      Unless you are their supervisor, do you really need to know when your co-workers leave? Much less form assumptions about what they are doing at 4:50?

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m speaking from the point of view of her supervisor, since that’s the point of view that matters in this case (and yes, I’m a manager who notices when someone leaves at 5p sharp v. say, 5:10p).

        Frankly, yes teams do notice when someone leaves at 5:00p everyday in a culture of 50 hour workweeks. And agencies are 60+ hours a week at times.

        1. JT*

          5pm *sharp* in an office environment, at least for salaried employees, doesn’t look good. I’d argue it looks worse than leaving a little after that most days and then ducking out early once in a while. It implies an attention to the clock and not to work, even if total hours are the same.

          1. JT*

            Replying to myself – the exception is if you have a specific train/bus to catch, or child to pick up at daycare, or class to get to. In which case i think it would be wise let your co-workers no about this in some low-key way.

            1. KellyK*

              Probably that’s a good idea. Though, really, if they’re noticing exactly what time it is when *you* leave, what does that say about their focus on their own work?

              1. Jamie*

                I don’t think everyone who notices is doing it because they are being all Gladys Kravitz and spying on everyone. When you work somewhere for a while you get to know the rhythm of the place.

                I don’t track people’s time, thank goodness it isn’t part of my job because I couldn’t sustain the interest. But I know I need to email certain people early because they leave and such and such a time. It’s not a judgment, but you can’t help but notice.

        2. Natalie*

          Certainly, I would hope a supervisor would notice.

          But as far as a team goes, I don’t see how this is different than other situations we’ve discussed here where people monitor their co-workers and make judgments or hold grudges. If it isn’t directly affecting one’s work, it’s not really one’s business, and if it is directly affecting one’s work, bring it to the manager.

          I have been in a number of situations, including being the only non-exempt employee in an office, where I would hate to think my co-workers were silently seething because I never stayed late, when they actually knew nothing about my situation. It’s not fair nor does it make for an effective work environment.

        3. Anonymous*

          And sometimes leaving at 5pm sharp means getting ready to leave at 4:30 by going to the bathroom, watering the plants, etc.

      2. SG*

        I care about when my coworkers leave! I watched one coworker hand over a good sized responsibility – that takes up maybe 6 hours a week – that involves lots of paperwork and customer contact, follow up, and financials – to a coworker that already works 9-7 every day. I have no clue where she will find the time. It looks more logical on paper that she do that stuff, but makes no sense that the guy who gave it up somehow can do 9-5. When he is leaving at 4:58 or 5:00 on the dot we both look at eachother and shake our heads, everyday. We have no clue how things magically wind down at 4:58 every day when we are usually in the heat of heavy work at 5:00ish.

      3. Kelly O*

        This happened just yesterday in my office – no joke – around 4:50, the chatter started about what time did the time clock show. Then it went into what time everyone had on their computer, phone, watch, desk clock, etc. No one got up to actually see what time it was, mind you, but spent a good five minutes talking about it, until someone had a clock that hit 5:00, and then they were all out.

        I told my husband about it, and suggested if they were not all so bent on running out at 5:00 like their backsides were on fire, it wouldn’t matter that the time clock is often off by a few minutes, depending on how recently it was rebooted. (And yes, some days I am watching for 5:00, particularly if I need to get to the apartment office before 6:00, or the rare occasion I’ve scheduled something after work. But it’s not every day, or even every week.)

        And again, these are the same people who will complain about how far behind they are; those ten minutes could have gotten some filing done, a phone call made, a batch updated…

  12. Anonymous*

    I think that talking to your manager about it is a bad idea – you’re basically highlighting the fact that you’re a new mom with changed priorities and you’re not as committed to staying late anymore. After you have that conversation, your manager might always see you through the (incredibly unfair) lens of “less committed,” “mommy track,” etc. I think it makes a lot more sense to just be an efficient, confident worker and let your work speak for itself.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The manager has probably noticed the schedule change; it’s not like you’re going to hide it if you don’t bring it up. The professional and smart thing to do is talk about it directly.

    2. Wilton Businessman*

      No, the best way to deal with it is to bring it up to your manager. Just be prepared that the answer you get may not be the answer you want.

  13. Prairie Dog*

    Years ago I worked for an ad agency. There was one woman in particular who would constantly complain about having to work late. Of course, she spent most of her days wandering about the office, playing ping pong or just staring blankly into space. Frankly, she was horrible at managing herself and her time…but all management saw was someone burning the midnight oil.

    1. Anonymous*

      When I worked in an in-house creative department, there was someone just like that! She spent the day surfing the web, wandering the office, giggling with the vending machine guy, taking long lunches, etc. She ended up having to stay late a lot, which made the management think she was more committed to her work than everyone else. Thankfully, management soon figured out what was really going on!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s important to remember that Sandburg was well established as hugely valuable by the time she started doing this; it would be interesting to know what kind of hours she worked earlier in her career. Once you achieve a certain amount of success and a certain reputation, you have a lot more control over your hours, attire, etc., which you don’t always have before that.

      1. K.*

        And also if she promotes a corporate culture that encourages that others leave at 5:30 – if she hands down piles of work as she’s leaving, or only promotes the people who work 12 hours a day, the fact that she leaves at 5:30 is meaningless.

      2. Jamie*

        This. I hate when new people come in and resent that some people have different privileges when it comes to setting our own schedules etc.

        Nothing like a 40 hour a weeker snarking that I come and go as I please. Just because she isn’t privvy to all the work I do after hours and on weekends…let’s just say when she gets the before dawn tech calls and semi-frequent 16 hour days she can whine that I’m not at my desk at 8:00 everyday.

        Some people confuse rights with privileges…if you want the latter all you have to do is earn it.

  14. Anonymous*

    My company pays us by the hour, but we work on government contracts, so our labor costs are paid by the client, not the company. IOW, it’s no sweat off the company’s back if I put in extra hours.

    I’m one of the few who put in significant extra hours — I’m talking a 50 hour work week here. While, I don’t roll into the office until a bit later in the morning, I’m usually the last car in the parking lot at night.

    The brass pretty much let us keep our own hours, as long as we make meetings and get our work done. They really do treat us like adults.

    I work a lot of over time to pay down my student loans (I borrowed $80k for school, time to pay the piper) and to take some real serious vacations with my wife (my company gives me a month of vacation; I take it all at once, and my wife and I go somewhere really cool overseas every year.) My only thoughts about people who work fewer hours than me is, “Must be nice to not need any extra cash.”

    1. Thomas*

      I’m with Wilton Businessman; you’ve got a very sweet deal there. Most people are either salaried, so no over time, or are hourly and not allowed to work overtime. The one time I was allowed to work overtime, it was as a temp brought into to help a team clear through a massive backlog. Even with the overtime I was putting in, it was a pittance compared to what a regular employee was making, so the company didn’t mind the temps working all kinds of extra hours.

      1. Anonymous*

        5 weeks vacation + overtime is a very sweet deal. I only get straight pay for extra hours worked (no time and a half) but I get a respectable paycheck without it, so no complaints. (I’ll barely clear six figures on a 50 hour work week this year.) I have a very short commute to the office (10 minutes) so I consider my hours to be a good balance between extra cash and not spending excessive amounts of time at work.

    2. jmkenrick*

      I wouldn’t make that assumption. I enjoy my work and like extra pay (who doesn’t?) so I would probably do similar if I could, but my company only allows us a certain amount of overtime except in extreme circumstances My impression is that it’s very common for companies to restrict the amount of overtime you can work, so people putting in less hours than you might not be a refelction of their ambition or finances.

      1. Anonymous*

        My company would like it if more people cranked in more hours. Heck, every so often they send out an email encouraging it. Most people do their 40 and call it a week. They could easily work a 45 hour work week with zero complaint from the company. (Want a 12.5% pay increase? Work an extra hour every day.)

        But seriously, my assumption about not wanting some extra green had more to do with the fact that the company doesn’t care who does and who does not work the extra hours. Amongst ourselves, nobody else cares either. It’s a personal choice.

        I really like my job. Good pay, good vacation, no back stabbing office politics. Show up and leave on your own schedule, get your work done on time and everybody leaves you alone.

  15. mommy track*

    I really like reading the advice of AAM and while I think she is spot on on almost everything, I tend to disagree with pretty much all the advice she gives to women with young babies (I agree with her advice for this question, though).

    In other cases, much of AAM’s advice is exactly what I thought and would have said 2 years ago, before having my baby. Unfortunately most employers (in the US and UK) see the world through the same lens and there is a long way to go to understand the reality of work and family life demands that we are facing with dual income families. There is no longer one parent devoted to household matters which means that if the childcare closes at 5.30, you need to be there by 5.30. So you need to leave work at 5. This does not mean you are not 100% focused on work when you are in the office. The matter of the fact is that you need to leave at 5 and that is it. Unless the attitudes of the society change and having a family is normal, expected and not penalized in the office, having a baby does not equal brain damage and doing your work in ‘working hours’ does not equal slacking, then if you come in at 9 and leave at 5 will have people like the OP posting questions such as the OP posted.

    I am not from the US but I have lived and worked there so I have a brief encounter with the workplace expectations. I have also lived and worked in Europe in the Nordic countries and from that experience I can say that there are places/ societies that do not write you off just because you had a baby, and, even worse, decided to take a year off for maternity leave and actually be with the baby instead of doing volunteering or training. Plenty of women after that make it up the corporate ladder successfully and are not pigeonholed for life.

    I am currently working in a French organisation and this is a complete world in its own regarding the matter of combining work and family.

    1. Bookworm*

      I don’t have a child but I agree with everything you’ve said based on my co-workers at work that have basically said the same thing. In the U.S., if you don’t make it to the daycare before it closes, they charge you a ridiculous sum or call child services on you (this actually happened to a co-worker of mine in PA).

      1. Laura L*

        Yes! This is a real issue. I worked after camp care at a day camp one summer during college and parents were charged for being late. I think they were charged a certain amount for every 15 minutes they were late, but I don’t remember.

        On the flip side of that, while I was unemployed I started babysitting part-time for a family on my block with two working parents. Even though the mom’s employer was fairly family friendly, there were times when she had to ask me to pick up her son from day care because she couldn’t make it by the time the day care closed.

        I know it’s frustrating for parents, but day care workers need to be able to leave their jobs on time so they can return to their families (or school or whatever). So, there’s this domino effect. I don’t know what the solution is, though.

        1. K.*

          I don’t have kids, but I struck up a conversation on public transportation not long ago with a mom who was fretting about picking up her kids from day care (the trains were all fouled up so everything was taking forever and we were all complaining about it). She said they charge $10 for every MINUTE after closing time that the kid is there. If you’re an hour late, you have a $600 bill. I don’t know if that’s normal or not, but I was horrified.

          1. BCW*

            You know, its tough. I was a teacher for years, and below a certain grade, we wouldn’t let the kids walk home. If one of your students parents didn’t pick them up, then you more or less had to babysit the kids until their parents decided to come. The problem wasn’t the occasional late parents, it was the parents who were constantly late. In situations like that, I think charging is ok. I mean you are basically making someone else work longer, so why shouldn’t you have to pay them to do so?

          2. Laura L*

            I don’t think it’s unusual.

            Like I said, and like BCW said below, it’s a tough line to walk. If the day care has certain hours, they shouldn’t have to work extra all the time because parents are constantly late.

            But, it does make childcare very difficult for working parents. This is a big problem that I don’t know the answer to.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t have any expertise in this area, but I wonder if one solution wouldn’t be to have the daycare workers’ hours end at, say, 6:30 if parents are supposed to pick kids at by 6:00. In other words, allowing for the reality that most people need a buffer.

              1. Laura L*

                I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday. I think some places do this. I don’t exactly remember, but I’m pretty sure the day camp I worked at had staff leave after the deadline for parents to pick up there kids. Also, some staff had to stay until at least 6:45, so it was open until at least 6:30, if not later. It still doesn’t always work.

                One thing I liked about that job was that staff could leave at various times, as long as we only had a certain number of kids to look after. This rotated depending on the week so no one ever always left within the first 30 min (and lost pay) and no one ever had to always stay until the end.

        2. Liz T*

          I read somewhere that charging them for being late makes the situation worse. They think, “Oh, I can be late as long as I pay.” Guilt is a better motivator, apparently.

          (No pun intended.)

          1. Broke Philosopher*

            I think I read the same thing–it only gets worse, though, if they charge a small fee. I guess if you’re being charged $100s an hour you’ll come on time, and if you’re guilty you’ll come, but if you only have to pay like $10 or $20 you feel like you’re “paying” for lateness and so don’t have to make the effort. Pretty interesting!

            1. EngineerGirl*

              This was a discussion from “Freakonomics”. Worse, the bad behavior stayed even after the charging was removed.

    2. Anonymous*

      It honestly comes down to what the office expectations are. I work in a traditional office environment, where “9-5” is standard, but there’s a lot of flexibility. Some people come in at 7 or 8, some don’t come in until 10:30.

      I once was on a project with a kid who would work 6-2. I’d work 10-6. We could have anywhere from 2-4 hours working together, depending on when we took lunch breaks.

      It was nearly impossible to get anything done that required coordinating with him. I don’t care why you’re not in the office, if you’re “that guy” who makes it harder for everybody else to do their jobs, you’re a problem. (FWIW, I would have been happy if the kid would check his emails later in the evening.)

      1. Anonymous*

        Why is this person a kid? You seem to be belittling him simply because his schedule doesn’t jive well with your personal interests. Also, I think its a problem that you are assuming he works odd hours for any reason other than personal preference. People don’t go around trying to alienate themselves from their coworkers as you implied.

        1. Anonymous*

          He was a kid because he was 22 and straight out of college. He was a slacker and lazy in general.

      2. Rana*

        Arguably, from “the kid’s” perspective, you are just as much “that guy” when it comes to schedule coordination. He may well be thinking the same sorts of things about your late start. Just a thought…

        1. Anonymous*

          I’m well aware that I could be “that guy” but he was the one taking beatings in his annual reviews, not me. Reference my original post — we are a 9-5 office, mostly. 10-6 is a-ok, many people do it.

          But seriously. Exactly what would you say if one of your co-workers says, “I’m about to leave, I’m not accepting any new tasks for the day” when it’s *1:30pm* and you work in a traditional office setting?

          He took beatings in his reviews for his work habits in general, I didn’t. The trick to making alternative schedules work is to not be “that guy.” He was clearly that guy — took beatings in his reviews and ultimately ended up leaving the company.

          1. Rana*

            It seems to me that there are three issues being somewhat confused here (though I can appreciate how frustrating this situation must have been!):

            1) Your managers allow employees a wide range of flexibility in the hours that they arrive and leave from work.

            2) Two employees who need to collaborate have significantly different schedules.

            3) One of those two employees was not doing his work adequately.

            Basically, I can see being annoyed with the guy for being a poor worker, but that’s a separate issue from his leaving early. That’s something that’s management’s responsibility; he wouldn’t have been able to do it if they’d told him it wasn’t acceptable.

            That’s why I say that it could also be an issue on your end (the schedule incompatibility, that is, not the not-doing-his-work thing). It could be just as easily argued that the late-staying employee should come in earlier, as that the early-arriving employee should stay later.

            If the expectation is that everyone stays late, then don’t let people come in early. It’s unfair to penalize an employee for doing what their managers said was okay to do. For all that you say that it’s a traditional “9-5” environment, it’s not if coming in at 6, 7, or 8 is even possible – or 10, or 10:30. That’s a four hour range! No wonder there’s scheduling issues – but again, that’s not the employees’ fault, regardless of when they come in.

          2. BCW*

            Yeah, if he is a bad worker, thats a completely different issue than him not working a schedule thats to your liking. I get that you guys were supposed to collaborate, but maybe there needs to be less flexibility. Maybe anything more than 1 hour off of the “standard” is too much. However, if this is what the managers are saying is ok, its not fair to act like the other guy is doing something wrong by doing what he is allowed.

            1. Anonymous*

              Why are they completely separate issues? Good workers don’t let their alternative schedules become an issue for the rest of the office. Good workers protect their privilege to alternative schedules by not making them look like the issue. If they take on that appearance, bye-bye alternative schedules.

              1. Rana*

                They’re not “completely” separate issues, but they are worth separating out so you can see where the root of the problem is. You could have a co-worker doing a terrible job on the same schedule, and you could have a great co-worker who handles being on a different schedule gracefully. Assuming that people on different schedules are inherently worse to work with is lazy thinking.

              2. Anonymous*


                Reading my posts by now, it should be clear that the guy was a crappy worker, although I didn’t say it when I lead in. You should also have read my post where I said my office has start times all over the map. Nowhere did I say that these staggered times are the cause of many an office problem.

                What I called out was the crappy worker who also worked an alternative schedule. I’m not his manager, it’s not my job to separate out the underlying.

                Circling back to the OP’s question, I don’t care when you are in the office, as long as you get your work done. But if you need extra attention, and you won’t get it because you’re not in the office when “most” people are around, well, then you have a problem.

              3. Rana*

                I understand your situation. I’m not talking about it specifically. I’m talking about how, generically, you have to look at all of the factors.

                This was a discussion about whether it’s okay to leave work early. You said no, because the one guy you know who did leave early made your job difficult. But then you explain that it’s really because he was a crappy worker – which has nothing to do with what time he left or stayed. And now, you confirm that again, this isn’t about the leaving time, but the quality of the work being done.

                It sounds like you’re proving my point that these are separate issues, so I’m not sure why you’re acting as if we’re in disagreement here.

    3. Taylor*

      Thank you for this comment, Mommy Track! I love reading AAM’s advice and I’m so, so glad she took the time to answer my question, but I’m like you – I definitely don’t agree with a lot of the things she says when it comes to moms in the workplace.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Can I ask you both specifically which aspects you don’t agree with? I actually can’t recall writing much about parents in the workplace previously, so I’m genuinely curious.

        1. mommy track*

          Sure. In my comment I was referring to the advice you have given regarding the gap in the resume for example, due to being on maternity leave. I think your advice is nice – to do volunteering, training, etc., it is just that in a lot of cases it is not feasible (I do not want to get into the specifics of breastfeeding schedules here…) and it is very sad for me to read that a person like yourself would have that as a standard expectation while looking at CVs from people who have been on maternity leave.

          But then again, in my country the attitude is completely different: the maternity leave is 3 YEARS with 1.5 YEARS fully paid (up to a certain maximum, of course). But the company nevertheless has to keep your job or offer you a similar position after 3 years.

          I do not pretend at all that all these issues are not a matter of choices. I was home for 2 years with my child then I believe it is normal that I lag behind my peers who have spent these 2 years working. However, I was surprised to realise that for some reason my degrees and previous experience was discounted and the maternity leave was treated as ‘time off for no reason’ and as yourself, the recruiters were eager to know what I did in these 2 years. Being a stay at home mother somehow was not enough. (I must add that I am living and working now in another country than from where I am from)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh, I see. I think where we’re seeing it differently is that I’m trying to tell people what will work — which is very often differently from how things SHOULD be. Absolutely it’s frustrating and in some cases illogical that employers work this way — but I want to arm people with the advice that will help them get what they want, which is different from talking about how things should work differently. (That said, I do often talk about how things should work differently, but always in combination with what you need to do to address the realities you’re going to face.)

            There’s a difference between “tell me how things should be” and “tell me what will work in the climate I face.” I do mainly the latter, with a little of the former thrown in when I feel really prickly about something.

          2. Anonymous*

            As someone said in a comment above, there’s a huge difference between being punished for something and not being rewarded for it.

            You may feel that being a stay-at-home-mom is a full time job (and it is; I’m not disputing that). But why should you have exactly the same chances as someone who has been involuntarily unemployed for the same length of time, but who has used her time keeping her skills up-to-date with volunteer work and continuing education classes?

            You’re not being “punished” for deciding to take time off to raise a family; the other person is being rewarded for keeping her skills current.

            1. Laura L*

              The issue is more that the drawbacks of having kids fall disproportionately on women since men tend to not to be the parent who is primarily responsible for childcare. I find much more irritating that men don’t take on these responsibilities and, therefore, don’t experience the consequences to the extent women do, even though it’s their kid too.

              I want to have kids, but I’m starting to think that I won’t be able to if I want to pursue the other goals in my life (mainly, my career goals). I’d prefer not to make that choice, but I just don’t see the support structure there. I can’t assume that whoever I marry will be willing to take on primary childcare responsibilities the way many men do.

              I don’t care about people who don’t have or don’t want kids getting ahead in their careers. I do care that if I end up having kids, I will lose out in a way that most men with children won’t. THAT’S the issue.

              1. Jamie*

                But if it’s an issue it isn’t based on your gender, but rather your choices.

                Men with children who make the choices to prioritize the kid’s schedule and limit their work hours face the exact same career consequences as women…it could be argued that they may be even more severe for them as men haven’t historically made those choices.

                Yes, historically women have been the main caregiver to children. But that’s not true in every relationship and it doesn’t need to be that way, unless the couple chooses to do it that way.

                I work a good 15-20 hours a week more than my husband. When the kids were little I was home more – because I wanted to be. The sacrifices to my career at that time were freely given because it was more important to me to be home with the kids than climb the ladder. And my kids turned out pretty great, so no regrets.

                Now that I can I’m making up for lost time and really love being able to commit to work in a way I couldn’t have when they were small. *I* couldn’t have, because I didn’t want to. Plenty of women maintain their careers while having kids…because we all have choices now.

                I guess what bothers me is that you say you don’t see the support structure there. The onus to create a support structure for people to rear their children while working isn’t on a workplace or society. It’s on the the shoulders of the people who are having kids.

                We live in an era where women have choices about how we can live our lives – and in the grande scheme of things it’s relatively recent. But that doesn’t mean we can have everything without giving up something. The men you say wouldn’t lose out in the same way if they had kids…haven’t they been losing out for years by being less involved in their children’s lives because they were always working. Which they could do because a mom was at home – but while they didn’t give up career opportunities they sacrificed time with their families.

                No one, man or woman, can have it both ways.

              2. KellyK*

                The societal expectation is definitely that women will do most of the childcare. Men get penalized for child-related choices if and only if they limit their work hours because of their kids. Women seem to get penalized just for being women, on the assumption that we will at some point have kids and put them first. (There’s still a wage gap even if you control for kids.) Then women who actually have kids are penalized again, more so if they limit their work hours because of their kids.

                Yes, you can and should try to have kids with someone who will prioritize your career the way you do, and every choice has its costs. But things are still set up in such a way to favor men “having it all” and women having to make tougher choices and do more juggling.

          3. Andrea*

            My mom was a SAHM at a time when this was pretty unusual (my way of saying that I’m not so old, I guess). But she did a lot of volunteer work, and it was the kind of stuff that she did with us. She volunteered to run story time at the public library, for example, and we’d go together and do that every two weeks, starting when I was pretty young. She volunteered at the Y, too, and was on the board as well, and there was a day care there for us to go and play for a few hours here and there when she was volunteering. My point is that it can be done. You likely have some skills that can be of use to someone on a part-time basis. Sometimes people aren’t as creative about ways to find those, though, and it’s hard to do.

            An example from my own life: Years ago, my dog was very sick, and I was in grad school full time and teaching at night and didn’t have a lot of money. My vet’s receptionist had written all of the content for their website and all of their forms (electronic and otherwise). They were poorly written and badly designed. I showed the vet how much he needed a technical writer/editor to improve these written products. He agreed to barter his work for mine as long as I paid for my dog’s medicine and supplies. I revised all of his forms and his website and added content and other products for him, and he was thrilled (and still uses my products today). My dog got better, and I had volunteer work for my resume and more examples for my portfolio.

    4. BCW*

      I think the problem with that is people getting privileges just because they have a kid. Just because you have a kid and I don’t, I shouldn’t have to stay late to cover extra work. Nor should you get to leave early for every little thing. I’m compassionate and understand emergencies happen, and I’m fine with that. But because you have to take Billy to baseball practice or Suzy to ballet, I’m sorry, its not fair. Medical things excluded, your kids aren’t an excuse to not do the same amount of work.

      1. Anonymous*


        I have actually worked places where I have been told that I have to do extra work because I’m single and don’t have kids. Because apparently that equates to having no life.

      2. Jamie*

        I’ll add another +1. I have kids, I’ve been a working mom for some time when my kids were small.

        I refuse to treat people with kids any differently than people without. My childless co-workers right to their free time is just as precious as my right to go home and be with my kids.

        Although, if it were in my power (and it’s not) I would give special consideration to people with cats and/or dogs. Not because it’s fair – just because I tend to think they are better human beings. TIC – sort of.

        1. Andrea*

          FYI, many people who have chosen not to have kids prefer the term “childfree.” (I know I do.)

            1. Andrea*

              It really isn’t for me, but I do prefer the “free” term if given a choice. And I thought I’d point it out. If possible, I prefer that people not refer to me as “childless” because that term implies that I am without something that I ought to have/want–and that’s inaccurate. (Some people are childless, though, if they want kids and can’t have them, for example.)

              1. KellyK*

                Is there a neutral term that doesn’t make any assumptions about whether someone wants kids or not? I would’ve thought “childless” was that neutral term, but since it bothers people who are deliberately childfree, it must not be.

                With close friends, I usually know what their thoughts are on having children, but for acquaintances or coworkers, I usually just know whether they currently have children or not.

                I’ve usually seen “childfree” as implying permanence. Not just someone who has not chosen to have kids at this point in their lives, but who doesn’t want kids now or ever.

                (As someone who’s been married for over 6 years and only recently decided to have kids, I’m sure a lot of people assume that I’m either childfree or can’t have kids. Neither is true, at least, as far as I know.)

        2. Anonymous*

          Jamie – I had a boss one time give me crap because I left early to get my cats to the vet. He didn’t have a problem with my co-workers leaving early to get their kids to the doctor, though.

          While this certainly wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me at that job, it was pretty representative of management. This was also one of the places I was expected to pick up slack because I’m single and therefore have no life.

          1. Jamie*

            FWIW I would have be heartbroken if someone needed to get their cats to a vet and didn’t ask to leave early.

            They can’t drive themselves – and how would they pay? No pockets for credit cards.

            (I really hope it was a minor ailment or checkup or I’m going to feel like crap for being flippant.)

            Seriously – I’m glad you’re out of there and hope you found a workplace managed better.

            1. Anonymous*

              It was just for a checkup. But I’m pretty anal about getting my cats their annuals every year. Just because my kids have 4 legs and fur doesn’t make them any less my children.

              I found a workplace managed much better, but then was laid off and am now looking again. So I’m very happy I found this website.

              1. Jamie*

                And the beauty of it is you don’t have to send them to college and they always take your side when you complain to them. In many ways superior to human children.

        3. KellyK*

          +1 to your comment. Everybody has family commitments, whether those family commitments are kids, parents, spouses, friends (the family you get to pick), or family members with fur. Trying to decide whose life or whose commitments are more important than others’ is not a road you want to go down. (Though I wouldn’t gripe about people leaving early for non-emergency kid stuff unless you never leave early for anything that isn’t an emergency.)

          On the other hand, some commitments are more rigid than others. My dog will not explode if I get home 10 minutes later than usual, though she might if it’s an hour, so better for me to stay ten minutes late than the person who has a kid to pick up from daycare.

  16. Hannah*

    I think it depends on the signals you’re giving off while you prepare to leave. There are people in my office who I would never expect to find at their desk past 5pm, but I know could still catch them at 4:55 if I needed something quick. If it was going to take longer they could just pick it up in the morning. There are other people who are clearly mentally checked out before 5, and they’re just waiting for the clock to switch over. These people who get paranoid about staying late before it actually happens late just come off as unapproachable and difficult.

  17. AAM Fan*

    wow! so glad you did a post on this. Just recently, I ended my internship at a small non-profit. During my final review with my boss, one of her criticisms of me was that I only worked from 9-4:30 (my set, agreed upon hours) and didn’t often work overtime. I was positively floored because A) I’m a virtually unpaid intern ($400/month) and B) I was completing my expectation. It makes me sick that we live in a culture that glorifies over-working so much!

    1. Piper*

      Wait, what? They’re telling an intern that they should work more hours? Really? I can’t even imagine what they expect from full-time employees.

      1. AAM Fan*

        Yeah, it’s absurd. The non-profit has 15 staff members (7 of which are interns) and they rely HEAVILY on interns. They like to phrase it that we get more “opportunity” and “experience” when we work late and that it looks so “great” to our boss. Unfortunately, many interns buy into this and many did work about an hour over time every single day without compensation. It’s totally absurd and I refused to be taken advantage of like that! (Being an intern is already being taken advantage of!)

    2. Jamie*

      I thought the rules governing internships stipulate that it’s supposed to be for the benefit of the intern and not for the business? Does this apply only to unpaid internships?

      Because if it applies here, I can’t see why any employer would care about interns putting in additional unpaid OT unless they were benefiting from the interns work more than is allowable.

      I’m definitely not an expert on this though, so I may have misunderstood the rules.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s because those rules don’t apply to nonprofits (which are allowed to use volunteer labor). They also wouldn’t apply to paid internships anywhere, but it sounds like this is just a stipend (since it wouldn’t add up to minimum wage), which would mean it’s more akin to an unpaid internship in the eyes of the law.

        1. Jamie*

          Ah – that makes sense. I’ve had a couple of what we call “unofficial interns” in the past, where it wasn’t arranged through a school, and was basically a “come work here when you’re on break from college and we’ll expose you to more than a regular clerk so you can learn various aspects of the business – but we totally need the labor” thing.

          But as there is no credit and we paid approximately double minimum wage there was no conflict. I’ve never had to deal with a real internship – but it makes sense that the rules would be different for nonprofits because of the volunteer aspect.

  18. Suzanne*

    Work only until 5:30? I wish. I’ve just found out that I am expected to attend a mandatory work meeting in another state (7 hour drive) and I will only be paid for the time I am at the meeting, not the 14 hour drive time to get there and back. No overtime allowed, either. All this occurs in a less than 48 hr time frame, too, so I drive there meet and drive back. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
    So, yes, working past 5:30 is now the norm if you are asked to do so. I don’t doubt that in the future, we will pay companies for the privilege of working for them.

    1. Erin*

      Also, you can write off the gas and mileage on your taxes next year if you decide not to kick up a fuss with your employer. Look up the relevant info on the IRS website and make sure you keep a record in case you get audited! Gas receipts and a mileage book should do fine.

      1. Suzanne*

        I’m not the driver, so I keeping records for taxes won’t be a problem. I’m just bummed about giving (and I mean giving) practically an entire day of my life, with the added the danger of late night/tired driving, to my employer with no compensation other than I get to keep my job for now.

  19. Karen*

    If the OP is completing the same amount of work that her coworkers do even when they stay late, I see no problem – if the performance is good, hours shouldn’t matter as much.

    What I have an issue with is working parents who think that they are entitled to a lesser workload. If you are leaving early, you better be hauling butt (for lack of a better expression) while you are on the clock. I understand that having a child is a lot of work, but so is using your free time to pick up the slack for a parent.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m not sure I can go with this. I understand the sentiment – that it’s not fair for others to pick up slack when someone has a personal issue. However, we all go through these times. I think a good work environment is one where we all adapt to each other, and accept that there will be peaks and valleys with everyone. I am a workhorse, and typically take on more responsibilities because I can; I work quickly and have the ability. But last year when I went through the death of my beloved cat I checked out completely. I would just leave as needed. Nothing made me more committed to my coworkers than thinking back on the situation and realizing that no one complained. They picked up my slack. Regardless of children, parents, friends, etc, a good situation gives everyone the give and take they need.

      1. Karen*

        Anon, I totally see where you’re coming from – and I agree that coworkers should help each other through tough times. But in the case of a child, those “tough times” last 18 years, or however long the parent is responsible for the child’s living situation. Kind of a long time to expect a lighter load.

        1. J.B.*

          So, just curious when you say “parents” do you really mean “parents” or do you mean “mothers”? If you are trying to balance two careers one career will suffer, hence it is a good idea to find some employer or position where being mommytracked is ok. And that generally means sacrificing income or advancement opportunities, which is the choice you have to make when having kids. It is management’s job to make sure to balance the work as much as possible, and that those who are putting in extra are compensated somehow.

          The flip side: in my personal experience, some of those who judge the mom leaving early are the same ones running their mouths off and complaining how busy they are instead of just doing the work.

          Btw, the scheduling difficulties don’t last 18 years. Kids do get older and a bit more self sufficient.

          1. Karen*

            JB, when I say parents, I mean parents. Though yes – in our society, the person whose career suffers tends to be the mother. In my mind, that’s a choice. If a woman is bothered by her career being impeded by children, she needs to find a partner who is willing to take more time off to care for the children.

            The scheduling difficulties do last 18 years for some – they just shift from “I need to take care of the baby” to “I need to spend time with my kids after work.” And until kids can handle their own transportation (be it a car or even walking to the bus), the scheduling difficulties can be especially challenging.

      2. Jamie*

        Anon – I agree that people have times in life where they need a little slack. A family member in the hospital, and yes, the death of beloved pet. I would never resent that. But having a baby, much like agreeing to be a long-term caregiver for an ill relative – is more of a life change than a short term event. So the employee needs to work out how to meet work responsibilities, while juggling the added responsibilities at home. If an employer can accommodate things without detriment to the business, it’s certainly great – but it’s not always possible.

  20. Taylor*

    I am SHOCKED by the number of the people who think that working 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. is leaving early for the day.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you’re missing the point a bit — it depends on the specific workplace and the norms there. The idea is that you need to find a workplace that matches well with your own needs, because it’s hard/impossible to change a workplace culture on your own.

      1. Wilton Businessman*

        Exactly, “It depends”. 17:00 won’t cut it in my business, but I’m sure there are plenty of businesses out there where it will.

    2. Jamie*

      I’m actually surprised at those hours. Every place with which I’m familiar has a 9 hour day, assuming an hour for lunch. If it’s really 9-5, then unless no one takes lunch, ever, then it isn’t even an 8 hour workday.

      Speaking of being shocked – I was upthread when people talked about 50 hour weeks being a lot. I smiled wondering if I’m in the wrong industry – because in my world 50 replaced 40 for the average a loooong time ago. I don’t even get crabby until I hit 65 these days.

      1. Wilton Businessman*

        Ditto. 45 hours is mandatory, 50 is expected. Get me into the 60s and I start to go to 3/4 power.

      2. Kelly O*

        No kidding. I have to admit I am a wee bit jealous of those with 9-4 or 9-5 schedules. As it is now, to be at work at 8, we have to leave the house between 7:00 and 7:15, and I don’t expect to be home until 5:45 or 6:00, depending on traffic, if I don’t have to make other stops besides daycare. For the sake of clarity, I live 8 miles from my office.

        1. Jamie*

          Wow – and I thought my commute was brutal. It takes me that long and I’m 33 miles away.

          FWIW 9-4 would be part time, so would 9-5 if there is a lunch involved…so I’m sure those jobs are out there, but as full time? That might be largely apocryphal.

          I would really be okay being down to a manageable 50-55 where I could keep my head above water. That’s my goal.

          1. Laura L*

            I’m not sure. I think that 35+ can be considered full-time, which is what 9-4 or a 9-5 with lunch would be. I’ve worked at two places where 37.5 was considered full-time, so it varies.

            1. Jamie*

              That’s interesting – I’ve always thought that 40 hours was the delineation line between FT and PT. I could totally be wrong on this – maybe that’s just the norm in the places I’ve worked. My industry isn’t known for short or even normal hours – so my view maybe narrowed by my own experience.

              1. Laura L*

                This is a few years old, but this article says that the Bureau of Labor Standards generally uses 35 hours as the line between FT and PT. However, there is no legal definition and employers can label FT however they’d like.

    3. BCW*

      I am too. I typically work a basic 8 hour day or 40 hour week. On occasion I’ll need to stay late. On occasion I’ll stay early. But I do think that there is nothing wrong with that standard hour.

  21. Laura*

    I’ve been with my current company just over a year and in the interview they boasted about how family friendly they were, and blah blah blah. Well, they really AREN’T—sick days are “strongly discouraged” (and they are taking them away soon as well as slashing our vacation time because they feel they are *too generous*…it’s actually the lowest amount I’ve ever had at a company), and you get called a slacker if you leave before 6pm (even though most people work 8-5). If you don’t answer emails at nights and on weekends and wait until the next work day you’re seen as undedicated to the “mission”. I will answer urgent emails, but everything else can wait. I’ve even gotten phone calls while I’ve been out grocery shopping on Saturday’s because I hadn’t checked and responded to an email sent an hour ago.

    Well now I’m pregnant and due in November. Once this kid comes, I’d like to find another job where the company’s work cultural more fits mine. I’m a high performer, and can usually get my work done in an 8-5 shift. I don’t mind staying late occasionally or sometimes working on the weekends, but that should be a rarity–not an every week thing. How do you ask in a job interview whether or not it’s okay to leave at 5pm without seeming like you just don’t like to work? What questions can you ask about their culture to help you get a sense of the hours worked? I thought I had done my research when taking this job, and I either didn’t ask the proper questions or they mislead me.

  22. another manager*

    Yes, of course the OP should talk to her manager, esp. if she thinks her manager has noticed. Hopefully the talk will go well and she’ll have a supportive environment. Kids are small for only so long, after all.

    This whole topic though… ugh. When I took my job, my husband and I knew it would be intensive on evenings (I’m in a non-profit field with wonky hours). When he moved into a new position a few years later, he made it clear during the interview that he was the primary parent responsible for picking up kids. Meaning he had to leave at 4:30 to beat traffic and get home in time to pick them up from day care. He goes in at 7, travels for work every month or two, stays late or works from home on emergencies, but the normal daily thing is pretty rigid. He was really clear about that, esp. because of his field (we’re in the Detroit area and he’s in an auto-related business, which is full of old-school expectations so he knew it could be a big problem). But they said OK and he thought everything was cool.

    A week after starting his new position, his supervisor called him in and said “wait a minute, *how* many days a week do you pick up the kids?” He didn’t hear “I pick up the kids so I need to work 7-4:30” during the interview. Instead what he heard was “sometimes I leave to pick up the kids” and assumed that mom (me) was the daily picker-upper. We assume that’s because that was his own experience, or something, since hubby was pretty crystal about it. Seemed fine with it once he understood, but really didn’t get it at first.

    Thankfully it’s worked out. He’s still with the same company, gets good reviews, gets his work done. Neither of us have made any big career leaps in the past 5 years since having kids, which we understand is partly a consequence of not being able to be in the office all the time. We don’t regret it. And it’ll shift back the other way in the future, when the kids need us less. There can and should be an in-between place for all of us (even exempt employees) who, for whatever reason, can’t do 60 hour weeks. Sick parents, small kids, personal illness — there are lots of reasons an employee might need to get “rigid” about schedule for a period of time. Doesn’t mean you don’t want to work and do a good job. If the company you’re with doesn’t manage that well, then it’s a good signal that it’s time to move on. There are other places that DO handle it well, from big companies like my husband’s to small non-profits like mine. And at least around here, those are the places w/the competitive advantage these days.

    cough *Ford* cough

    1. EngineerGirl*

      My experience with Ford is that they’re fairly family friendly. My best friend is a VP there, and she regularly comes home at 5:30 pm. I was stunned at that. In my industry (aerospace), 50-60 hour work weeks are “normal”, and I have worked up to 120 hours in one week. When there is a crisis, there is a crisis! Whenever I head back to Detroit I feel like I’m on vacation – the pace is so much slower than Silicon Valley.

      Some jobs or industries are just that way. Make sure your expecatations match them.

  23. J.B.*

    “There can and should be an in-between place for all of us (even exempt employees) who, for whatever reason, can’t do 60 hour weeks. Sick parents, small kids, personal illness — there are lots of reasons an employee might need to get “rigid” about schedule for a period of time. Doesn’t mean you don’t want to work and do a good job. If the company you’re with doesn’t manage that well, then it’s a good signal that it’s time to move on. There are other places that DO handle it well, from big companies like my husband’s to small non-profits like mine. And at least around here, those are the places w/the competitive advantage these days.”

    +1 (times 50 bazillion)

  24. MaryTerry*

    Does anyone else think it’s ironic that there have been multiple comments about people not working hard during work hours which were most likely posted during work hours?

    1. Bookworm*

      I see what you mean, but not all professional positions are the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. standard. My business works around the clock, and our clients can send work in to us at anytime… thus my midnight to 8 a.m. workday.

      Technically, I should be asleep right now (not at work). ; )

      1. Wilton Businessman*

        and yet, here you are, between midnight and 8am commenting. ;)

        Quite frankly, I consider learning how to manage part of my education as someone who manages people. Therefore, it is entirely job related.

  25. Anon*

    I think that’s why so many women are now having kids later…you realize that you need to build the reputation and work the longer hours when you are young, so that by the time you want to have kids, you don’t need the promotions (because you are OK with where you are at) and are willing to postpone climbing the last few rungs for later.

    I listened to a woman nearing retirement who had gotten up quite a bit talking to a group of women and she basically said, I got where I got because I worked all the time and didn’t have a family and that there are tradeoffs. Yes, she was highly successful in her career, but she’s also not married and has no kids. While I was very impressed with her accomplishments, I can’t say I’d want to emulate her, but I fully understood what she was saying.

    I think AAM et al are right about finding the right culture and recognizing that you can work and have kids and be the one to pick them up, etc., but you likely can’t expect to be highly rewarded for it. Personally, I look at it as a way to stay fresh and stay on the ladder, even if you aren’t in climbing mode.

    And as for the whining about parents…just as parents can’t expect to be rewarded for picking their kids up from daycare, try to remember that you ARE being rewarded for staying late…you are making a choice too…

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      More union propaganda.

      Treating everybody the same is a waste of my resources. I worked for a well known state university for my first “real” job. They were strictly 9:00-17:00 with people lining up at the door at 17:00. OT was strictly prohibited due to budgets. So I got a second job doing the same thing I did at work. Made me a better worker at my “real” job because I got the knowledge I needed to succeed.

      I put in 40 hours by Thursday and I wouldn’t change a thing.

      1. Tax Nerd*

        WB, I can’t decide if you’re a troll or just stuck in the 80s.

        I’ve put in 40-hour weeks, and 100-hour weeks, but mostly something in-between. I was the most productive when it was less than 50. More time for clear-headed self-review, I could reach out to clients and offer them new things because I would have the time and mental capacity to deliver.

        I feel like the more sheer hours I work, the less productive I am.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          He’s not a troll; he’s a thoughtful and regular commenter who offers a perspective that’s valuable to hear, even if you disagree with it!

          1. BadMovieLover*

            Dismissing something right off the bat as “union propaganda” doesn’t strike me as a thoughtful thing to say.

        2. Wilton Businessman*

          Great, that’s you. I love what I do and put in a lot of time doing it. If that makes me an old-timer, then I can live with that.

      2. Jamie*

        I agree – treating everyone the same flies in the face of logic. There’s no empirical evidence that after 40 hours our Cinderella coaches turn back into pumpkins.

        I am sure every commenter on this post hits the wall at a different place on the hours worked spectrum. For the people who don’t feel they can be effective after 40 hours it’s crucial to find a workplace where that is the culture – because in many that isn’t the norm anymore (if it ever was).

        Personally, I think my approach to work is similar to Wilton Businessman, going by his comments here. I would be willing to bet if his employees are consistently putting in 40 by Thursday than he’s probably pretty flexible for the rare occasions where they need to leave a couple of hours early for an appointment or whatever.

        I could be wrong, maybe he demands 100+ hour work weeks and insists on only gruel and warm water for lunch – but most reasonable employers look at the big picture for the people putting in the time and effort day in and day out. I also pretty consistently have put in 40 by Thursday and I know if the office culture didn’t support that I would feel constrained, but I need the autonomy to adjust my schedule around my current workload. If it’s a light week and I can do 45 – that’s great. If I need to cut out early one day for an appointment, I don’t feel guilty because I’ve banked my required hours and a couple years worth of good will on the books besides.

        1. Wilton Businessman*

          There is a give and take with my group. I don’t “charge” them for doctor appointments, teacher’s conferences, picking up the mother-in-law at the airport, or any of the other things that come up in a normal life. But they also know that when they are on call and the pager goes off at 02:00, they are expected to triage the situation.

          I don’t “demand” anything over 45, but my people know what we as a team are resp0nsible for. I make sure they are engaged in their work and that it’s interesting for them. I don’t have to ask them to work late, they are responsible professionals.

          And I pay for lunch every day.

  26. Elizabeth West*

    Working hourly positions, this tends to be less of a problem, I would think. In my experience, employers don’t want their hourly employees to stay late because they don’t want to pay overtime. If you’re exempt, then yeah, it may come up. But those jobs seem to have more flexible schedules.

  27. Dan*

    Wilton@ I am happy that I don’t work in your” team”. Listen it is not about the hour you put in to the work it is about getting the job done. I’m european and when working in europe your work 37 hours a week, unlimited sicks (within reason, and medical note), 9 months paid in full maternity, and 6 weeks paid vacation (does not inc. stat holidays). And you know what we are not lazy and slackers we actually get all the job done and much more than that. I don’t mind staying late or help team members acomplish a project, but reality is that I have worked now int he US for 10 years and many people stay longer hours as doing absolutely nothing. Work should be accomplished in a 8 hour work day. If time after time you can’t finish the job, perhaps you are not good enough. To many people in the US procrastinate during the 8 hour works day…

  28. Scott*

    If you are paid by the hour, you MUST receive overtime pay for any hours worked more than 8 in a day. My boss was making us all work until 7, 8, 9 p.m., but docking us if we came in even 5 minutes late in the morning. We reported him to the State labor board and got hefty checks for back overtime.

  29. Ed*

    If my time clock at work is 3 minutes late compared to real time can my employer get in trouble?

  30. stevenap*

    If you want to achieve and be international level you work late some nights. If you want to invent the next face book you work late some nights. If you want a nice car, home and vacations you work late. If you have pride in yourself you might work late some nights
    this is the international age of global workforce. You do what it takes to get the job done right. If you worry about when you hae to leave then you are a small time player just trying to live and get by.
    You are not going to get an award for staying late. But you will drive home with satisfaction that you make the difference. You made thinsg better than when you arrived. You set new bench marks.
    you get to go home early whwn you do great things

    1. ew0054*

      I used to think this way, and am happy for you if you still find this motivation. This is actually why I started my own company so that I can keep this motivation for myself.

      The only satisfaction I get in staying late is that I made more money for my boss who doesn’t share so he can get a nicer car or bigger house.

    2. work-to-live*

      If you want to achieve and be international level you work late some nights. If you want to invent the next face book you work late some nights. If you want a nice car, home and vacations you work late. If you have pride in yourself you might work late some nights
      this is the international age of global workforce. You do what it takes to get the job done right. If you worry about when you hae to leave then you are a small time player just trying to live and get by.
      You are not going to get an award for staying late. But you will drive home with satisfaction that you make the difference. You made thinsg better than when you arrived. You set new bench marks.
      you get to go home early whwn you do great things

      Here is a token for the clue bus:

      1) If you have to stay late to accomplish things, then you’re not efficient enough.
      2) Extra effort is not properly appreciated in many places. Sometimes throwing your weekends and late nights away on projects only gets you two slices of pizza as a ‘thank you’, which you have to eat in a conference room on your lunch time.
      3) Not all rewards are granted by merit. Social capital counts a whole lot, if not the most .

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “1) If you have to stay late to accomplish things, then you’re not efficient enough.”

        Or your workload is simply larger than someone could get done in a 40-hour work week, which is far from uncommon.

        1. ew0054*

          Most likely this is the case. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I feel employers are continually pushing the envelope on how much they can squeeze employees to work longer and harder for less.

          There is a time and a place for this. I understand in a bad economy we need to cut back. I have a friend who works in a large (<500 people) office and he said most of the layoffs have been dead wood – the people who hide in their cubicles and do next to nothing. I see no justification for keeping such people on while others bear the burden of keeping the company afloat.

          But it is not fair on the other hand to shift all of the workload to existing employees, and expect them to just suck it up with no additional form of compensation.

          As a salaried employee, I understand I am paid for what I am responsible to get done. So I regularly work between 8.5 and 10 hours per day, and Saturdays if really needed.

          But after a couple of months it turned into EVERY Saturday. I put up with it for a few months during a major project but when the workload died down, they still expected me to work Saturdays. And we all know that even if I come in for a half-day it invariably turns into another full day.

          Well I told them I could continue working Saturdays no problem but only for a 20% increase, which I felt is fair being they are asking me for 20% more working time. You know what? I am now back to working M-F again with normal hours.

          The morale here is that people need to stop being so afraid of the authorities. If you are legitimately doing an honest, full-day's work they will realize you are the one making them a lot more money without them having to do the work. So if you push back a little they will give in.

  31. LongTimeReader*

    Argh… just jumping onto this post late now… A colleague of mine has been doing something similar since having a baby. But worse, she doesn’t stick to her hours; she’s been gradually cutting back on her hours. Instead of coming in on time in the morning, she’s been constantly coming in 1 hour later than she should be, and yet leaving on time ON THE DOT. Even more, there was a massive project once and the Project Manager even asked why she’s refusing to help out and do some over time on the project. Well, simple answer, she has a baby to look after…is that good enough!? It’s certainly unfair on the rest of the team, who’s had to work extra long hours and do over time, while she gets to come in late and leave on time and not have to work anything extra at all.

    What’s the etiquette on a situation like this??

    1. ew0054*

      There is someone where I work who does the same. This person does not have family, but comes in sporadically late. From 4:00-4:45 she rushes to finish everything, then starts shutting things down and cleaning up and bolts out at 4:55. It looks very bad, and higher-ups are always making comments.

      She claims its traffic why she is late and has to rush out early. Well that is part of life when you take a job nowhere near public transportation you have to adapt and deal with it.

  32. ew0054*

    Some people are simply faster than others, and will see 5 p.m. as an impending deadline and finish their daily routine. I see such people as motivated to get the task done. It is never fair that more effective people should bear the burden of slower members. I see no faster way to build resentment among the group than assigning good employees to pick up the slack. If you cannot run with the pack, you are either in the wrong company or the wrong career.

    I had managed a team where I set the hours strictly from 8:00-4:30. I would much rather have people who consistently finish the day’s work at a set time, than someone who habitually runs late. If I see someone staying hours past quitting time consistently, I see this person as either trying to suck up, or as disorganized as ask myself “what was he doing all day?”

  33. ew0054*

    I am revisiting this topic after starting a new job several months ago, and have the following to report:

    As a salaried employee (with no overtime benefits) I have been leaving after exactly eight hours. This is not cheating the company – they pay me for 8 hours, I give them 8.

    But of course, I have been getting flack for it. However, as soon as I squeeze out an extra hour here and there, it fixes everything.

    Now yesterday is the third time I did this experiment at this company. After staying late just one day and making like I don’t mind, the higher ups are pleased again.

    Mind you, I have been coming in before 5 a.m. because quiet time is when I get my most work done.

    This is the third salaried job I have held within 4 years and nothing has changed. I hope sharing this experience can be of help to anyone.

    Conclusion: They don’t care about the early morning at all. They care less about what you get done and more about how late you stay.

  34. Mike*

    Quite frankly i see long hours culture sickening. We are all slaves to the system but gratifying it is just ridiculous. In Germany they work the least hours and they are the most efficient and have the most done. Really work takes most of your life there’s no reason to defend it. If I finish my work earlier without hanging on fb or having chats in the kitchen. I see no reason to work for free when I can spend my time with family etc. Life is too short.

    1. ew0054*

      Agreed. I say judge me on input, not output. Not everyone’s peak hours of the day lie between 9-5.

      Personally, no matter how little sleep I get the night before, I always get a surge of energy around 6pm that lasts through the night if I am working on a project. So I am dragging thru the day at work and building a side business at home in the evenings.

      I do not condone goofing off at work on company time. I would fire someone for that. But I wouldn’t care if a salaried employee of mine came in late, left early, as long as their stuff was done correctly when I needed it, was not rushed, etc. Should be no issue.

  35. Gus*

    I used to have to work in graphics/marketing until 11pm every single day and still be back the next morning at 9 for my 9-5. I did this for about 10 months with no gratitude and so I found another job. Today I never stay past my scheduled time to go home and have been perfectly fine for the last 12 years in my career. Don’t do it – it can kill you. I don’t care what job it is – it is not worth it. Whether you put in the time or not they will kick you out when they feel like it anyway.

    1. ew0054*

      I have been in a similar situation. One job, 12 hour days was the norm. Try to cut back to 10 hours they say you’re lazy, slacking, etc. They figured because they paid salary I could never leave.

      Got a new job after that. Busted hump, the boss loved me. As soon as the project ended he was looking to fire me.

      Now at yet another job and I am still on salary. So now I decided that even though I may be limiting my upward potential at this place, I am not going to get screwed again. So after 8-8.5 hours I leave. Nobody makes a deal of it because I have been doing it since day one.

      Unfortunately, that’s what today’s culture of disloyalty has resulted in.

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