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

A reader writes:

Is it okay 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’ve been at my job 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. When they’ve happened, I survived just fine, but I don’t want to make a habit out of it. My job will always come after my family. 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 okay to come in at 9 and leave at 5?

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 177 comments… read them below }

  1. TotesMaGoats*

    I’ve got to have a similar convo with my boss today. I’m exempt and while business hours are 8:45-5pm, there is no real reason for me to be here till 5pm everyday. I’ve always got email and on top of that I’m here by 8 or 8:15 every morning. My hiring got bungled because the manager was the classic absent-minded professor. I never even got a call with the job offer. I got an email with the letter attached. I noticed the hours of operation listed but figured exempt meant I could probably have some wiggle room. I brought it up on my first day and got the impression that it maybe wasn’t an option.

    But I figure it can’t hurt. I’ve been here almost 6 months. Had several successes in that time frame and I think proven myself. And really I just want to be able to leave between 4:30 and 4:45 when meetings, events or workload allows. In OldJob, I could walk out the door at 4:30 and was home 20 minutes later. I was going to the gym everyday. Now, it’s out the door a little before 5pm and an hour later getting home. Traffic sucks. It’s killing my family time and is the only thing about my position that I don’t enjoy.

    Added to that my boss is in a completely different building and if I see her more than once a week, it’s unusual. I realize I could be doing this most days but ethically I just can’t do it. Fingers crossed folks.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      Just a quick update that no one will probably see. I did have that conversation with my boss yesterday and she was fine with my leaving earlier since I get in so much earlier AND I’m producing. So, huzzah!

  2. Ad Astra*

    My favorite thing about my current job is that it’s actually ok to leave right at 5. I’m happy to stay late to finish something, but it’s rare that I need to do that because our deadlines are so long-term. By 5:30, this place is a ghost town.

    My first job out of college was hourly, so it was always fine to leave pretty much as soon as I was done with my work.

    In my second job, I always felt guilty if I took a lunch break, and I always felt like I needed a reason to leave after less than 8.5 hours of work. I was constantly missing my favorite class at the gym because the only justified reason to leave the office was “I have an appointment” or “I need to pick up my kid.” It was worse when I switched to early mornings, because I looked like a slacker leaving at 4:30, even though I’d been there since 7.

    1. Jennifer*

      Oh, we are straight up told to leave at 5 because NO OVERTIME. Heck, a coworker of mine got griped at for showing up to work early and sending e-mails before her official start time.

    2. the_scientist*

      My office is also a ghost town by 5:30. Actually, I’d say most of the office leaves before 5 p.m., but they also start before 9 and most people here work through lunch as well. I’m happy to stay late (and have done so, in addition to working at home in the evenings/on weekends) when work requires it, but I don’t want to be in an environment where “when work requires it” is every single day. I do genuinely enjoy my job, and all signs point to me being good at it- I’m passionate about the work I do, consistently go above and beyond what is required, and make a point of staying on top of the literature and seeking opportunities for learning and professional development- many on my own time. So while I’d hardly call myself a slacker, I do pretty jealously guard my evenings and weekends. It’s important to me to have that physical and mental space from my job to do the other things that are important to me. And sometimes that mental space makes for the best ideas; I’ve had lots of great ideas away from my desk, doing something completely not related to work.

  3. TootsNYC*

    I often stay later. Just, I don’t know, because. And some days, there is stuff that arrives late and has to be dealt with.

    I have one direct report who leaves promptly. Every day. Unless, actually, there is osmething that really, really needs to be done.
    Oh, and he volunteers to work on the occasional Saturday; or he assumed that -he- would not get the bonus day-off because it fell on a day that one of “his” projects (we all work on it; he just spearheads it) was going to have a ton of work.

    My boss mentioned to me that she didn’t think he was pulling her weight. You should have seen me leap to correct her! I told her that I actually -value- that he leaves on time when it’s not necessary to stay late. (And I’ve told him this as well)
    I pointed out all the times when he’s come through because it’s truly needed.

    That’s been my biggest worry–that because *I* stay a little later, lots of other people (my boss, my subordinates, other onlookers) will assume that’s the standard to meet.
    It’s not.

    1. Kyrielle*

      You are awesome. So is your direct report, and thank you for recognizing that. :)

      I love the office I’m presently in. I get in about 7:30-8:00 each morning, and some people are here (and have been for an hour or so, I suspect – but I don’t work closely with them and I don’t really have to worry about it). One of my coworkers often gets in between 11-12…except on days with a 10 am meeting, then he’s in at 9:45. But he also is still working at 9 pm, and I usually leave about 4-4:30.

      It all works out. (Our jobs allow us to interleave this way and still work together well – there’s no “rear in seat” need most days. Heck, our manager is remote and the meeting is teleconferenced, he _could_ just dial in to it, but that would go against office norms a bit and he doesn’t do it.)

    2. neverjaunty*

      Agreed, you ARE awesome, and thank you for sticking up against a dumb boss with the attitude of “I don’t have a freaking clue what he actually does, but I can extrapolate from what time I notice him leaving.”

    3. TootsNYC*

      He provides a really important push-back against “priority creep”–he keeps me honest. In my field, late-nights are common–heck, they actually NEED to happen for us at certain points. But it’s important to draw boundaries.

      i think that’s what happened to me very early in my career–I wasn’t good at drawing boundaries; I had bosses who didn’t do it, and wouldn’t allow me to draw a line and leave.

      So I try to make sure that happens for the people who work for me, even if I’m not very good at doing it for myself.

  4. Luna*

    I have this problem too. We have flexible working hours and I tend to get in work for around 7.30 (sometimes a bit later depending on traffic) and leave around 4pm. Which I’m perfectly entitled to do as long as I’ve done my 7.5 hours. The unspoken expectation is, however, that we’re all going to stay till 6pm or later. Um, no? I have commitments and health issues that mean I can’t work until 6pm or later. Two days a month I am expected to stay late to make a final quality check on something so fine, I will stay, but otherwise I’m out at 4pm. Work your contract hours and no more, unless the Overtime Fairy comes knocking.

  5. BRR*

    I’m kind of in the same situation in my new job. Only it’s because we all have different schedules and mine is the earliest plus I get in early. Since everybody stays until 5:30 or 6:00 due to their start times I feel super awkward leaving at 5:00. I’m going to ask my manager about it today to double check I’m good though just to be safe.

    1. I am now a llama*

      Off topic but congratulations on your new job! I probably missed you announcing it but I remember you mentioning your difficult situation previously and am happy for you that you found a new opportunity :)

  6. Bend & Snap*

    I have this issue too, and since I’m a single payment constrained by daycare, I have no wiggle room. luckily I have an understanding team and I do log on after the baby is in bed whenever needed.

    1. Ad Astra*

      Sometimes I get overwhelmed when my husband’s not around to help me with the dog. Single parents are like superheroes when it comes to time management.

      1. Green*

        I’d just note that whatever the standard is (flexibility to leave early or everyone must stay late) should apply to both parents and non-parents.

        1. Karen*

          Absolutely! People without kids are not office slaves. And when flexible schedules are allowed for some workers and not others it just breeds resentment within the organization.

    2. Anon.*

      Day care leaves absolutely NO wiggle room. None. Get there after 6pm and it’s $10 per minute; do it three times and they throw your family out. I will work from home in the evening if there is something critical that needs to be done but when I’m out, I’m OUT. My bus will not wait for me and neither will my child’s care.

  7. JuniorMinion*

    I hate FaceTime with a burning passion after 5 years in investment banking (FaceTime at 10 pm is truly terrible…) now on the corporate side there is still FaceTime, but it’s much more understanding when my boss is going to need me available and working. I’m in a role where I interface a lot with senior executives and need to be available to them – I would have zero career growth prospects if I left at five every single day (which is our stated office hours). I will say though, that I walked in with my eyes open to this fact and its reflected in my compensation. I think this is important – the jobs where people leave exactly on the dot in my office are compensated commensurately – if the extra hour / flexibility / what have you is more important then they have made the right choice for them, but I think it’s difficult in a competitive career path / industry to have your cake and eat it too.

  8. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    So I always interpreted it to mean that 9 was when I started working and 5 was when I stopped working. So at 5 I will stop working and put things away. So no, I don’t leave right at 5 (though usually it’s >10 minutes after 5). I’ve noticed my salaried coworkers often stay in the office later but that’s as much about waiting for the on-campus event that starts at 530 as it is about still doing work. Since I’m not authorized for overtime I can’t justify staying to work late.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I handle it like this…I am usually out by 5:05 when I can be and my company is pretty strict about No Overtime. Unfortunately, I am one of only two people approved for unlimited overtime and I often feel like it’s expected of me to stay even if I don’t need to do so.

      1. xarcady*

        Try viewing the approval for unlimited overtime not as a subtle pressure to work more, but as a sign of trust from the powers that be that you will not abuse overtime. They trust you to work extra hours only when necessary.

        Kind of like my uncle who is the only person at his company with an unlimited expense account. They’ve told him they trust him not to charge anything other than what he really needs to charge. It’s a huge compliment to your work ethic.

        That way, there’s no pressure to stay late every day.

  9. Jerzy*

    Many people in my office don’t come in until after 9, and so stay later than 5. One person has a deal worked out where she comes in at 7:30 and leaves at 3:30/4. I get in at 8:30, often work through my lunch, and leave at 5 on the nose. because I need to get my son from day care.

    I’ll stay late or do work at home in the evening or on weekends if necessary, but I don’t have the option of letting my son just chill at day care, putting off his dinner time and bed time, not to mention my few precious hours with him, due to work. Only a true emergency, or something planned well in advance, would keep me from leaving at 5. And I don’t feel embarrassed or guilty. There are many days where I finish everything I needed to do, and everything I can do, well before 5, but I wait for the clock to tell me to leave.

  10. Elizabeth West*

    Our company is very flexible and there are people who work after regular hours. There is always someone coming and going. My commute is short, but I have to drive through an industrial area and then to the other side of town, and traffic can be a huge stressor. I’ve been coming in 8:30-4:30 (and not taking a lunch) to avoid the worst of the traffic though I stay later when I’m trying to finish something or something comes in. I talked it over with my boss, who is in another state, and she is okay with it. Obviously, if this stopped working for some reason, I’d change it. But very little comes in before or after those times that needs immediate attention.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you’re outside the U.S. or using an ad blocker, Inc. may ask you to register in order to read more than one article there. That’s because they otherwise aren’t able to earn any revenue from those page views, which they’re of course dependent on.

      1. Holly*

        I’ll disable my ad blocker. I wonder if this is retroactive.. like, I read an article from there a week ago, so that’s the one I get before I need a log in.

      2. Jerzy*

        I’m in the U.S. and not using an ad blocker, but I’m still getting that message, at least in Chrome. If I open the link using IE, there’s no issue. Maybe I just need to clear my cache?

  11. AyBeeCee*

    One of the things I like about my work place is the ability to have a flexible schedule. Some employees work 10-7, some work 7:30-4:30, some people only do a 30 minute lunch, some people don’t take lunch breaks (they’re salaried) so they can leave earlier even though in their position they can’t start their day earlier, etc. The fact that it’s so common makes it easy for everyone else to go with the flow. “Oh, Sue is already gone for the day so she won’t see my email – I bet her response will be waiting in my inbox when I come in tomorrow morning, since she’ll see it first thing when she gets in an hour before me.”

    My boss specified that my position just needs coverage between certain hours and it’s up to everyone who works in my position to make sure that coverage is met. We work it out among ourselves and everyone is happy. We’ve even already started discussing holiday plans since someone wanted to start booking plane tickets.

  12. J.B.*

    I think it depends a lot on what role you are in and whether you are meeting targets generally. For myself, having a baby meant I was utterly exhausted for a while and had some major schedule juggling to work out. But I continued to meet my job targets and am ok with that. It also made sense to stay in the same role and not really stretch. Now that my kids are growing up a little its time to focus on building skills again to hopefully eventually grow.

  13. Beezus*

    I have some work that I do best uninterrupted, but the nature of my job involves frequent interruptions, so I have a tendency to stay late to wrap up things that require focus after most people have gone. I don’t think that makes me a better or more dedicated employee than anyone else and it doesn’t seem to give me an advantage, except that I don’t drop the ball on the tasks that require focus.

    Most of my coworkers work pretty close to 8 hours a day and only work overtime when there’s a clear need for it. I don’t mind that and I don’t think it’s held against them.

    I’ve seen people decline to stay late to work on a significant issue, citing hair appointments or their gym schedule – I take a dim view of that. There’s nothing wrong with having other priorities, but if I have an emergency and you’re telling me your highlights are more important – and go out of the way to tell me it’s for your highlights, rather than just a vague prior committment – that sends a pretty clear message where your priorities lie.

    I had an issue once that was a one-time thing, where I needed someone from another team available between 4:30 and 5 to help me with a dire problem – the team manager didn’t want to agree to it, but I could see on his face that he was going to do it anyway, until his direct report piped up and reminded him that he always goes to Crossfit at 4 and that he should really stick to his workout routine because being healthy is important…he was in great shape and missing a day at the gym would not hurt him and I will hold that against both of them until the day I die, lol.

    1. Mando Diao*

      Hair appointments are scheduled several weeks ahead of time, and specific classes at the gym necessarily occur on a schedule. I would encourage you to try to stop judging employees whose prior commitments existed well before a last-minute emergency occurred.

      1. Dawn*

        Prior commitments are prior commitments regardless of if they’re for daycare or medical care or self-care. Employees shouldn’t have to trot out exactly what their prior commitments are in order to have them judged “worthy” of excusing them from emergencies. Look at the discrimination that happens *all the time* with employees who have children vs those that don’t (and are told that their time isn’ as valuable because of it and of course they can work longer hours and weekends because they don’t have children to care for).

        When my job is stressful having scheduled de-stressing activities makes me a better employee. Going to the gym is a time to de-stress, as is practicing self-care by getting my hair done or meeting a friend for dinner or going home and drinking wine and binge-watching Netflix.

        If an employee is a slacker and never ever steps up to the plate that’s one thing, but if they have something already scheduled and are not letting a lack of proper planning cause an emergency on their part it’s a completely different thing.

        1. Cat*

          You’re not wrong, but not every emergency is a result of a lack of proper planning. In some jobs, things truly do come up at the last minute and truly are emergencies. If you’re not taking your share of those, even for very good reasons, it’s going to be a problem. (Though I think to the extent employees can leave and then return later or log in on-line, smart employers don’t penalize them for it.)

        2. neverjaunty*

          I’m with you on prior commitments, but you kind of lost me with “When my job is stressful having scheduled de-stressing activities makes me a better employee” – in essence what you just said is that if there’s an emergency situation, that has to take a back seat to optional leisure time. There’s a difference between commitments and optional activities, and a real work emergency is likely to take precedence over the latter (and sometimes the former).

          I mean, playing video games with my kids de-stresses me, but it wouldn’t occur to me to tell a co-worker “Sorry, I know you have a hair appointment that you scheduled three months ago and you’re going to have to lose a big deposit if you stay at work and miss it, but you know, I was kind of thinking I’d leave at 5 to go play Guild Wars 2 with my kids. It just de-stresses me and makes me a better employee, you know?”

          1. Kairi*

            +100000 for mentioning GW2! Although I would definitely wait to play if someone had a scheduled hair appointment.

            I’m actually taking a half day Friday for the heart of thorns release (scheduled in advance to ensure coverage at the office).

            1. neverjaunty*

              I had completely spaced on that until you just mentioned it! Although I actually can’t take the day off, because I have co-workers who have more important commitments. ;)

              1. Kairi*

                Pesky hair appointments ; )I’m just excited to find another AAM reader who plays GW2 as well.

                You probably won’t miss too much since the servers are going to have so many people on them!

      2. Betsy*

        I agree that some hair appointments at in-demand salons cannot easily be dropped day-of. You may not be able to reschedule for weeks, and the salon might charge you a fee.

        Th gym I’d say is generally less important, unless you’ve paid for the class in advance.

        If it’s a true emergency – and a one-time thing, not a recurring event – then I think it’s pretty clear that work comes before hair or gym. Not before day care pick-up, though!

        1. Dawn*

          “I think it’s pretty clear that work comes before hair or gym. Not before day care pick-up, though!”

          See this is the type of thinking that makes it clear that employees with children get preferential treatment over those who don’t. Not to turn this into a huge “people with kids vs people without kids” but if it’s *only ever* employees without kids or single employees that are forced to attend to emergencies then there’s a larger problem within the office dynamic that needs to be addressed.

          The gym is a touchy subject for me- I was a competitive powerlifter for 6 years and I *HAD* to train at least three days a week. Missing a day at the gym messed up my entire training schedule- one that had been written up months in advance and one that encompassed at least three months of time. That’s why I consider the gym to be a valid reason to leave.

          However honestly it seems like all of the discussion generated around “what to do in a true emergency” could be mitigated by having an emergency contingency plan that everyone in the department agrees to. Something like a “$%*# has hit the fan!” schedule that hopefully only gets pulled up once or twice a year- either people are on a rotating “on call” schedule or there’s comp time given for someone having to stay late in an emergency.

          1. Ham Sandwich*

            +1 to “See this is the type of thinking that makes it clear that employees with children get preferential treatment over those who don’t.”

          2. straws*

            I do think there’s a slight difference between gym/hair appt and daycare though, and that’s the daycare provider’s inconvenience. Not picking up a kid on time often means that someone else now has to stay late at their job too. I’m sure there are other situations like that without kids involved (pet sitting perhaps?), so I do agree that parents shouldn’t get preferential treatment. And, like you said, if you have a contingency plan in place then it won’t matter for the most part. I know I have to be involved in certain emergencies, and I know what I can/can’t do with my personal life to accommodate that. I also feel that if you’re a parent who would get upset by this type of thing, you need to self-select out. If part of your job is dealing with emergencies, and you can’t because X reason related to kids, then perhaps that isn’t the right job for you right now.

            1. anonanonanon*

              When I was looking at doggie daycare in the city, some of them are just as strict with pickup times as daycare for children. So, if I was late to pickup, I’d be charged an additional fee per minute and after a certain point, I’d be charged for overnight boarding, even if I picked the dog up that same day.

              1. Ad Astra*

                And if you’re dog is at home in his crate like mine is, working late can be a real inconvenience for the dog. I give about equal priority to any living creature that the employee is responsible for caring for, and then it comes down to what, exactly, that living creature needs right now and how badly it needs it.

                Of course, there’s a reason I never had a dog when I was routinely working late without any prior notice.

            2. UsedToDoSupport*

              Not really, your lifting crew has scheduled the time. Crossfitters and competitive lifters (like powerlifters – like ME) work in groups. And the people in those groups have schedules too.

              I think the bigger picture here is, if you are asking for an employee to stay late because of an emergency, and you’ve asked before at least once, as a manager you need to examine what constitutes an emergency and why you have so many of them.

              1. Rat Racer*

                I would just say that it is totally legitimate to value your exercise time over the demands of your job.

                But I would also say as a manager, if I ask an employee to stay late to help me with a deliverable, and she says “no I can’t, I have Crossfit, and it’s very important to me,” I would definitely think to myself that this employee is not a good fit for my team. (But I am speaking for my own team/department/industry)

            3. Goose*

              But if you cancel a hair appointment last minute, your stylist just lost out on money. The salon might be able to charge you a cancellation fee, but the stylist just lost a tip.

            4. Mando Diao*

              The thing is, either way someone else is inconvenienced. If you leave work to save your daycare provider the hassle, sometimes that means your coworkers have to stay late to cover for you. You’re picking and choosing who bears the brunt of the inconvenience, but you’re imposing on someone else no matter what, and your coworkers aren’t likely to respond well to that line of reasoning.

            5. snippet*

              It doesn’t matter WHAT you have in your personal life, be it children, pets, video games, cooking class or crocheting club. Any personal time is to be valued equally for all people!

              This is one of my biggest pet peeves about corporate america. Why does working late and on weekends make you a hero? I’m lucky to work for a company that values employees and their personal time.

              I am a parent of two young school-age children, but before I was a parent, I still needed to leave work on time due to my other obligations (I was a varsity sports coach). No matter what you have in your personal life, it’s important! I would never choose to work at a company that valued “butts in seats” over quality of work. I am so fortunate that I found a company like that!

              With that said, some people really like to work all the time, and be available after hours and weekends. Kudos to them! :)

          3. Ad Astra*

            I’m no competitive athlete, but I did start to resent my job when it began to interfere with my workouts. My health and happiness suffered a lot because “I need to do this in order to take care of myself” wasn’t as good a reason to leave as “My kid has a soccer game.”

            1. K.*

              Exactly. I work out at least five days a week (and I am thinking of starting to compete; I might do a triathlon in the spring), and it truly is important to my mental health as well as physical. I was so unhappy in my last job, it was particularly important for me to get some form of exercise every day because endorphins are real, and it was hard enough not to cry every day without that added high from exercise. (And sometimes endorphins weren’t enough and I’d still be in tears at night thinking about how I dreaded going in to work the next day.) When I’m happy, exercise makes me happier; when I’m upset, it keeps me sane. And that’s not even taking the tangible, physical health benefits into consideration.

            2. AcademiaNut*

              That’s a good point. If “I have a scheduled fitness class” isn’t a good enough reason to leave on time, then “my kid has a soccer game” isn’t either – both are optional recreational activities that have been paid for in advance, and if it’s a genuine emergency at work, both can be skipped. Being late for day care and cancelling a hair appointment at the last minute both inconvenience other people, and both cost the employee money out of pocket.

          4. Rat Racer*

            I think the problem is trying to generalize to every job. Some people work to live, some live to work, most of us are somewhere in between. We all have to juggle commitments and priorities according to our internal values of what matters most to us. If you are a semi-professional athlete, maybe the gym trumps work. If you’re in a highly competitive environment (I’m thinking law firm, but would also count my company in this category) and you’re determined to climb the ladder, you may decide to forego a Crossfit or favorite yoga class.

            That said, I think managers DO have a hierarchy of reasons to miss work or bail on working late, but it’s not a “parents trump all,” rule, it’s a “Health and Dependents” trump all. How dependents are defined will vary by manager. Personally, I would not have any issue with my direct reports leaving early to take a pet to the vet, but I know others who would. Similarly, I would never ask anyone on my team to miss a doctor’s appointment, but if we were in crunch, I would expect them to be flexible on missing one week of Crossfit.

          5. neverjaunty*

            “The gym is a touchy subject for me” – and children are a touchy subject for employees who wonder how on earth they move to this parallel dimension everybody talks about where parents get better treatment.

            1. Ms. Piggy*

              I would also like to move to this dimension! I’ve never worked anywhere that had lower standards or workloads for parents.

              I understand the original point that leaving to pick up a child is seen by employers as a more valid reason than getting to Zumba. But there are other non-parent reasons employers would find just as valid as childcare, like taking care of an elderly parent or attending classes to get your Masters.

            2. BananaPants*

              Selfishly, I’d like to move to this dimension. I work in an environment where parents don’t get this magical special treatment. Actually, that’s wrong – if you’re a dad and you leave at 4 to get to your kid’s basketball game, you’re perceived by senior management as being an involved and caring father. If you’re a mom and you leave at 4 to take your kid to a doctor’s appointment, you’re thought of as not being committed to your job and the company. It’s an awful double standard and I hate it.

              1. neverjaunty*

                THIS. It’s so eye-rolling when people rant about how ‘parents’ get special treatment, and what they really mean is ‘dads get to stroll off to the kid’s soccer game once in a while while moms get put on the Do Not Promote track’.

        2. Oryx*

          “Th gym I’d say is generally less important, unless you’ve paid for the class in advance.”

          Not when I’m training for a half-marathon it’s not.

          Also, your attitude that day care trumps work, but other non-parent activities don’t is part of a culture that prioritizes the needs of families and parents over those of us who don’t have children. But that doesn’t mean my non-work activities are any less important. If as a non-married childless employee I’m expected to cancel an appointment at the last minute because of a work thing, then parents should be expected to have some kind of backup plan in place to handle childcare needs for a last minute work thing.

          1. Rat Racer*

            Again, I don’t think it’s about Parents vs. Not Parents. I think it’s about people with commitments to take care of others – and that could be children, parents, pets.

            I’m always surprised at the vitriol over this topic. It seems like a no-brainer to me that an obligation to take care of people is in a different category than exercising or getting one’s hair cut – and I say this as a dedicated runner myself… who is quickly going to miss her running window by posting to AAM…gah!

            1. Ms. Piggy*

              Thank you. :)
              I’m guessing there are workplaces out there where parents are given better treatment – at least from the comments I read, I assume that must be why!

            2. Mando Diao*

              It’s because no one (hopefully) is forced into caring for someone else. You have kids because you WANT them. You get pets because you WANT them. People who want to do other things with their lives are treated as if their wants are lesser.

              1. Tara R.*

                This is… not at all true. People become primary caregivers out of obligation/lack of options all the time. Aunt Edna had a stroke and there’s no one else to take care of her, you’re unexpectedly and unwantedly pregnant and choose not to have an abortion, your parents die in a car crash and you’re suddenly guardian to your younger siblings…

            3. Eric*

              It’s about Objectively More Important vs. Important to Me. Something can be objectively more important (not being able to work late because you’re taking care of your spouse with cancer vs getting your hair cut) but both may FEEL equally as important to the person.

            4. Karen*

              Rat, I would question why the commitment to take care of others trumps the commitment to take care of yourself? I’m not picking on you here (and yes, i know my post is six months late to the party). But if I don’t take care of myself, who will?

          2. meh*

            Please. “Other non-parent activities” don’t involve basically helpless little humans.

            To be precise, day care often trumps work because if you’re sufficiently late, they will turn your child over to the police and file an abandoned child report.

            Does missing your “other activities” have such consequences? I didn’t think so.

    2. the_scientist*

      Sorry, but it takes 4-6 WEEKS to schedule an appointment at my hair salon (I book my next appointment at the end of the current appointment), so you better believe that if I’ve got a hair appointment scheduled, I’m leaving in time to make it to that appointment. Plus, most places in my city now have 24-hour cancellation policies. As in, if you cancel with less than 24 hours notice, you’re on the hook for the full cost of the appointment. I wouldn’t come out and say “sorry, getting my hair done” but I would say, “sorry, I have an appointment that I can’t cancel or reschedule”, and I wouldn’t feel the slightest bit guilty about it.

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Same and agreed! Nobody needs to know what my appointment is, an appointment is an appointment. I’ll do what I can if it’s a true emergency (log in from home after my hair appointment or come in early the next day) but there is no way I’m missing that appointment if it means I’m still stuck with the price (and roots!)

        1. the_scientist*

          And as others have alluded to, there’s a difference between a true emergency and an emergency caused by poor planning on someone else’s part. Either way, I’m still not cancelling the appointment if I’m on the hook for the costs, but if it’s a genuine emergency, I’ll happily log in at home or otherwise help out however I can.

          And regarding the gym thing, that’s tricky. Is a skipped workout the end of the world? Well, no, but ask anyone who’s trained for a competition, marathon, or triathlon/ironman, and they will tell you what a big deal one skipped workout is. Likewise, if I’ve lugged all my gym gear to the office so I can go to my favourite fitness class at the gym near the office, I’m going to be pretty cheesed if something comes up and I have to skip that class. A lot of people really struggle to carve out time in their busy lives for regular exercise, and it can be really, really aggravating (and derailing to fitness/weight loss efforts) if that time is frequently consumed by work… if you start getting annoyed at people for leaving to meet their gym time, you’re wading into the territory of “your reason is less valid than other people’s reasons” (and yes, you can’t leave a kid at daycare past pickup time, but you CAN go to a different fitness class). But then you’re heading down the road of preferential treatment for parents, so really, I think you just need to respect everyone’s free time. And if after-hours emergencies are a regular occurrence, then you need contingency plans.

          And not to place all responsibility on the employer, at a certain point people do need to self-select out of jobs that don’t fit with their lives. If protecting your free time is really important, maybe Big Law isn’t for you, for example.

          1. Ad Astra*

            In my case, it was never just one missed class at the gym. I hated skipping the gym to finish up work because I knew it wasn’t going to be the only time it happened that week. At a certain point, you just have to put your foot down.

          2. Faith*

            In my case even running an actual marathon did not get me out of work (on a Sunday). My [former] employer “graciously” allowed me to race, but I was expected to report back to work as soon as I was done.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            A lot of people really struggle to carve out time in their busy lives for regular exercise, and it can be really, really aggravating (and derailing to fitness/weight loss efforts) if that time is frequently consumed by work…..

            This–I HATE working out and unless I stick to a schedule, I often won’t do it. It needs to be done, however, because it doesn’t happen via everyday lifestyle–i.e., using public transport rather than driving or parking several blocks from work (which forces me to walk more and get more exercise). I have to actually go to the gym or go home and make myself walk around the neighborhood. After I left a relationship and moved from a farm to the city, I gained weight because I wasn’t spending an hour outside every night doing chores. I hadn’t realized until then how much actual physical work I was doing.

            If there were constant emergencies that made me stay late, I’d be questioning whether we have a better way of dealing with it, or whether it’s actually better to change my schedule so I’m available later.

      2. Maureen P.*

        Yah, but when you come in the next day looking fabulous, everyone will know what you were doing!! :)

    3. Ad Astra*

      Well, what constitutes an “emergency”? At my old jobs (in news), it was conceivable that something would come up that’s so important it would be worth canceling my hair appointment or gym session.

      At my current gig, nothing is so urgent that it needs to be handled RIGHT NOW, and any project that would require me to stay late would be something I knew about in advance. So I’d be pretty heated if my boss didn’t think taking care of important life stuff like haircuts and exercise was important enough to warrant leaving on time.

      But this illustrates my policy that vaguely describing your commitments is often the best way to go.

    4. Beezus*

      I was talking about my own workplace culture, so I’d expect other people’s workplaces to vary.

      One point I was trying to make is that I think how much effort you make to be flexible during a crunch period or an emergency seems to matter more, at least in my company, than whether you work late as a matter of routine.

      The other point was that – again, in my workplace – if you can’t be flexible, it’s best to communicate that in a way that stresses that you understand the urgency and would be flexible if you could, rather than making a big hairy point about not being flexible, fullstop. (I would be way less piqued about “Ohmigosh, I wish I could stay and help, but I have an appointment at 4 and if I reschedule I’ll have to wait a month” along with maybe “I’ll log in/check my email when I get home and see if you guys are still at it then” than I was about “Uh, no. I have a hair appointment at 4. *stinkeye* *doorslam*”)

      1. Rat Racer*

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – and without taking us down the thorny path of parents/non-parents! THANK YOU!

      2. myswtghst*

        I think this is an important point to make – it’s not necessarily about what your commitment is, but how you communicate about the commitment. We all have lives outside of work, and I don’t need to interrogate your reasons for not being available when there is a business need, but I do appreciate when people communicate effectively. Sometimes, simply saying you have a prior commitment, apologizing, and asking if there’s anything else you can do to help is plenty.

        The other thing that people tend to notice over time is if there’s a pattern. It’s one thing if you can’t help *this time*, it’s another if you are *never* able to stay late / come in early / help out. I try to be very understanding, but I’m on a team where it’s clearly explained before you join that there will be long hours and flexibility is imperative. We’re even pretty flexible about how you do it (come in on weekends, log in from home) and about leaving early when things are light, but we notice if you’re not doing your part when it’s really needed.

  14. S.I. Newhouse*

    I’ve been following AAM for six months and I’ve found it *phenomenally* useful. This is the first time, in all this time, that I actually disagree somewhat with Alison’s column.

    I’m taking the OP’s letter at face value — that she perceives that it *might* be a problem leaving right at 5, based on the way the working world is going, but nobody at her company has actually approached her about it. Assuming that is true, if I were the OP, I would not have any conversation with her boss unless her fear is based in some sort of fact. If not, by talking to her boss, I kind of feel like she might be poking a dragon and creating a problem that might not have existed in the boss’s mind, and that she has much more to lose than gain by having such a conversation.

    If she’s a star employee who can complete all her work without having to work any additional time, her leaving at 5 on the dot might very well *not* be a problem. Especially since she *does* work longer hours when it’s pressing, according to her letter.

    Of course, we don’t know the whole story and if she legitimately thinks a problem is brewing at her company, it may be better to head it off at the pass.

    1. LBK*

      I think it’s a rare manager who truly wouldn’t care until asked – it’s more likely that if they do care and they don’t tell you about it right away, they’re just going to build up frustration until it finally explodes and then what could’ve been a simple discussion becomes a serious performance issue. The only advantage of waiting is that you get to enjoy leaving at 5 for the time period before the blow up, but that doesn’t seem worth the potentially worse fall out.

    2. Mander*

      I agree. I’m not sure I’d bring it up unless I heard a snide comment about it. As long as you are working your scheduled hours and not cheating the company I don’t see why it should be a problem.

    3. FTW*

      However, the issue is that the OP is worried that it may be a problem and the uncertainty is stressing the OP out. It may turn out to be a problem but it may not, but right now it is both. A bit like Schrödinger’s cat.

      The only way for it to 100% not a a problem is to chat with the manager, however that is also the only way to make it a problem.

    4. Ad Astra*

      PR is one of those fields where the work is never really done, and it’s sometimes hard to measure someone’s productivity — so the “As long as she gets her work done” adage is a little less useful here than in other industries. Instead, culture is going to be a huge factor.

      If she’s doing PR for a nonprofit or a bank or a university, there’s a good chance that leaving at 5 is fine. If she’s with an agency, that might not fly. Hopefully, if her availability doesn’t match the culture she’s working in, she can find a new job where they’re on the same page. Obviously easier said than done.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I used to do communications for a nonprofit, and it was very much not a leave at 5 kind of job. It depends on the organization though. One that’s in the media a lot is going to have hours all over the place. One that’s more staid probably won’t.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Ah, that’s a good point. I’m sure the amount of media wrangling involved makes a huge difference from one position to another.

      2. PoisonIvy*

        Ex PR agency owner here, from entertainment industry. We used to flat out tell applicants that if they wanted to be out the door at 6pm, that this probably wasn’t the job (or field) for them.

        1. Andrea*

          Some jobs and industries are really not compatible with parenting. I’ve known a lot of people in jobs like that who don’t seem to realize this until after having kids, though. Folks who want to be parents need to think about that early in their careers, even if they don’t plan to have kids until much later. I’ve known far too many people who think that their years of long hours should mean that they get family-friendly hours after having kids, or who think that their job responsibilities would change to allow more flexibility. But sometimes that’s just not possible or realistic, and if that’s the case, it’s usually apparent in advance.

  15. TheLazyB (UK)*

    I do 8-4 (roughly). But I tend to leave a bit late. Fridays I finish at 3; I’ve done my hours for the week by then and line manager is happy but oh the catholic guilt!!

    I have a very tight schedule for childcare. It makes things so hard.

  16. Lunar*

    I wonder how many of us put this kind of pressure on ourselves when it isn’t really necessary. When I first started working at my job (which is also my first non-internship job), I felt like not until at least 5:30 (usually more like 6) would make me seem like a slacker. I think this was because I had always seen/heard about people staying much later in office and because my boss was always here until around 7 and sometimes remarks about how he was here until even later (like 8 or 9). On top of that, I lived within walking distance to work (sand my boss knew it) so I felt like it was easy to stay.
    I moved a few months ago and now I feel much better about leaving close to 5 in order to catch my bus. I have also learned more about what can wait until tomorrow, have built up a reputation as a hard worker, and no longer feel bad that my boss stays much later than me (he also comes in later and gets paid much more than I do) so I no longer think it is worth it to stay later just to prove that I am dedicated (an extra 15 minutes at the end of each day adds up!).

  17. Could be anyone*

    Leaving at the end of the normal work day isn’t in my mind shouldn’t be an issue but as Alison outlined in her answer office/company culture is a consideration. But if you are leaving right at 5pm (as in your going out the door then) stop. 5pm is when you leave your immediate work space not the building. Worked years ago with a woman who would walk out the door at exactly quitting time every day. It was noticed and commented on by the partners.

    1. Allison*

      Yup. At my first job the work day ended at exactly 5:30, and if your manager saw you starting to shut down or pack up at 5:29 they would usually give you a hard time. “Where do you think you’re going? We have a minute left!”

      1. Bonnie*

        This is so silly to me! We are all adults and someone micromanaging my time over 60 seconds makes me feel like I’m in grade school. I had a workplace that was like it and it felt so toxic. I’m always careful to ask about work day flexibility because of that, I hate feeling like I’m trapped at my desk because boss man is watching your every move.

        1. Allison*

          That’s what it felt like! It felt like the teacher telling us not to pack up until the bell rings.

        2. Allison*

          Although the bright side of stopping work at exactly 5:30 was that you weren’t expected to stay later, in fact it wasn’t allowed unless you had a manager’s permission. And if you were always staying later than that, even if it was just an additional 15 minutes or half an hour, people started to wonder if you weren’t being efficient with your time during the workday.

          On the other hand, every time they awarded someone “employee of the month,” they’d usually mention how they could always be found staying late and coming in on weekends to get the job done, so there was that.

    2. CMT*

      That seems so ridiculous to me. I’m done at 4:30. Sometimes I’ll wrap something up around 4:20/4:25-ish. There isn’t really anything I can start and be productive on in 10 minutes. (I usually just read the internet for 10 minutes, but nobody would scold like a first grader if I left 10 minutes early occasionally.)

  18. Allison*

    My schedule is super flexible, and I’m happy to work in an office where I can leave at 4:30 every day and no one ever gives me a hard time about it. If they did, I’d be happy to remind them that I’ve been there since 8 (often 7:45), I’m on top of my work, and I have no meeting to stick around for and no project that demands overtime right now. The traffic’s bad enough when I leave at 4:30 and I almost always have something going on in the evening I’m going home to shower and get ready for, so I really don’t have time to spare just to sit around at work and look busy for appearance’s sake.

    The only issue that arises is that sometimes I need to explain to people “look, I’m leaving at this time and I’m very busy tonight, so this will have to wait until tomorrow morning.” Some people seem to expect that once you get home, you re-open your laptop and check e-mails before dinner, after dinner, before bed, etc. and these days I rarely have an evening during the week where this is possible.

    1. Jerzy*

      Yeah, this is something I don’t get. If needed, I’ll work (from home) evenings and weekends. But I’m not going to be constantly be checking work emails. I recently had someone email me feedback on a document at 8:30 p.m. on a Friday and by 10 a.m. the following Monday was demanding a recognition that I received his email. Considering he was supposed to get me his feedback several days earlier, I was not super inclined to jump when he said jump.

      I only occasionally check my emails over the weekend and in the evenings, and that’s almost always when I am expecting something urgent. Otherwise, in order to be a productive and well-rested employee, I need to put work aside when I am not there and spend time by myself and with my friends and family. If I work all the time, I will burn out fast and be useless.

  19. eunice*

    I work in PR (in NYC) and with the “crises” and premieres and events that go on in a regular month, it would raise a huge red flag if you were putting in the bare minimum time requirements. It’s no surprise that half of the women who work in my department are middle-aged and childless. It’s just part of the job.

    There are certainly days where I can leave on time, but it is naive to think that you could advance in this industry if you don’t want to pitch in on after-hour events and/or after-hour emergencies.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Were I in her position, I’d be raising the idea of rotating on-call status for after-hours emergencies. So that we could all control our lives now and then.

    2. Bend & Snap*

      This is why I ended my PR agency career. They grind you down to a nub–I did it for 10 years in Boston.

      Now I’m in house and while my job isn’t exactly 9-5, there’s less travel, a more reasonable workload, waaaaay fewer demands on my time and nobody gets penalized for working a 40 hour workweek, or given a round of applause for working an 80-hour one. You do what’s needed to get the job done, and you do it because you own it and because you care, not because a client is breathing down your neck or an executive is looking at your P&L and finding it lacking.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Ew yeah, unfortunately with PR crises happen anytime and any day.
      Such was my lot this week. I put in 2 very long days over a media issue. Fortunately, this is not a regular occurrence.

  20. Mando Diao*

    If OP is leaving the office while there is still communal work to be done, she needs to speak to someone about it. Let’s be real: if she doesn’t proactively come forward, someone else will, and OP won’t come off well in that version of things. Imagine if someone wrote into AAM saying, “My coworker has suddenly started leaving before the rest of us, leaving the rest of us to complete the work, and I am positive that management has not okayed this.” People have definitely noticed, and many of them probably have kids too.

  21. Gene*

    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.

    Voluntary Mommy Track?

  22. T*

    I have always stayed late at my previous jobs and felt like it was expected. I was working a little late (maybe 6:30) at my current job and only the VP was still there. He walked past my desk and I thought I would get the usual kudos about being such a hard worker. Instead, he looked me right in the eyes and said “Are you that ineffective that you need to keep working after your co-workers leave”? I think I said something about wrapping something up while I was “on a roll” and then I never stayed late again unless there was an emergency or deadline. I was a little ticked at first but then realized that encounter was actually a good thing. I would consider it a huge negative to go back to working into the evening every day.

  23. Noah*

    I find it a bit fascinating how each office seems to have its own norms about this. One prior company I worked for was an in at 8am, work through lunch, and stay late. Another had flexible hours and each person decided when they would be in, we just had core hours from 11am-3pm that they wanted everyone in the office if possible. That meant you could work from 7am-3pm if you wanted, 11am-7pm, or anywhere in between.

    Current job is 9am-6pm with an hour for lunch. Pretty set schedule, but it is the first place I have ever worked with a true lunch hour, and I love it. Everyday there is usually a group going out if you want to join or you can basically do whatever you want for an hour. Everyone pretty much leaves at 6pm on the dot too and although we all have phones and laptops we are only expected to use them if there is real emergency that absolutely cannot wait.

  24. phedre*

    It really does depend on how much work you get done – I couldn’t care less if my staff come in late as long as their work is done and done well. If you’re a poor performer though, I’m not going to give you leeway.

    I frequently come in late or leave early, but that’s because 1) there are plenty of times I have late evening meetings (for example, today I have an evening meeting that will run until 9 so I didn’t come in until 9:45), and 2) I exceed all of my goals/targets. My boss has explicitly told me that she doesn’t care about my hours as long as my work is done (and she’s the kind of boss who means what she says). If I came in at 9:30 and left at 4pm every day I’d be in trouble though. But once in a while, who cares? Lord knows my workload over the next few months is high enough that I won’t be able to leave early even if I wanted to.

  25. dmk*

    One thing I would encourage younger women to think about is the expectations they set. When I started my current job, I knew I was going to be trying to get pregnant in the near future, so I immediately set the expectation that I was out of the office by 5:30. If I had more work to do, I planned to do it at home after dinner. With few exceptions (such as when we needed to get a filing out the door by 7 and I needed to be in the office to shepherd it through the finalizing process), I was always out the door by 5:30. No one ever came looking for me in the office after 5:30 (at least not after the first few weeks) — they always knew that if they needed me, they could email me or call me and I’d get the work done from home.

    Five years and two kids later, and that’s still the case. Everyone knows I’m out the door by 5 (it’s a little earlier now because of daycare), and everyone knows that if they need me, I’m around after my kids go to bed. There are times when I need to stay late for a call, but I usually try to arrange so I leave even earlier for those and take the call from home before I have to get my kids.

    The point is, set the expectation early so that when your circumstances change, no one sees it as a big change. For women, in particular, I think it’s really important to set those expectations early, otherwise people will blame what is perceived as sudden unavailability on motherhood — which is really just BS, but that is the world we live in.

    1. Kat M2*

      Not realistic for all career paths. Also, why only younger women? Why should we be the only ones considering family life?

      And does that mean I should set lower expectations for myself professionally, just because another person might occupy my uterus in the future?

      1. dmk*

        Fair point that young women are not the only employees who should consider family life. It’s probably good advice for anyone who thinks they might have a family later. And you’re also right that it’s not realistic for all career paths — if your job can ONLY be done on site, then this advice is probably not useful. But technology has made it possible for a lot of office workers to be able to do their jobs remotely.

        As for setting lower expectations, hardly! I’m a lawyer and I’m making partner this year.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Not to nitpick your word choice, but I so wish young men were given the same sorts of advice. Women who think they might want kids have that work/kids balance thing in the back of their minds from the time they enter the workforce. Men who think they might want kids don’t seem to think about it until the time comes to actually have children. When it’s still a hypothetical, women default to “How will I adjust my work life when I start a family?” and men default to “How will my family adjust to my work life?”

      2. J.B.*

        I think that dmk’s explanation is realistic, and she says to think about it – in some cases extra hours early on to get that experience/promotion/whatever is a good call. And gendered expectations do exist where new fathers might get a pass where new mothers don’t.

      3. LBK*

        I don’t think it’s about setting lower expectations, it’s about setting realistic expectations that maintain your work/life balance. I think dmk’s point was that by setting this expectation early on if you anticipate having family needs in the future, you don’t want people to be able to make the direct correlation between you having a baby and you suddenly no longer being able to work past 5. Unfair and gendered? Oh yes. Pragmatically useful to consider? Also yes.

        1. dmk*

          Do you mean that, by setting an expectation early on that I’d be out the door at 5:30, I was leaving before I left? Because I hope that’s not the impression I left! I work for a firm (and in an industry) where long hours are very common, but there is NO reason to work those hours in the office after business hours. I’m leaning in, but trying to do it in a way that respects my work/life balance.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      The mothering thing isn’t BS. You specifically say the reason you set the expectations you did is because you expected to be a mother. I think advice is sound to consider the expectations you set but in many industries you put in the hours when you are newer and you gain the seniority to leave the work to the underlings at night while you leave at 5:00/5:30.

      1. dmk*

        But I don’t work less now than I did then. I work MORE, in fact, because I’m more senior and have more responsibilities. But I didn’t want the fact that I HAD to leave by 5 (because of daycare) to create the impression that I was slacking because I had become a mother. So I set an expectation early that I left by 5:30 — and if more work needed to be done, I would do it from home.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          I think the comment I was going to make basically fits in here — in this day and age, answering email in the evening counts for a lot. Especially in my current job, where senior people have a lot of travel and you never know who’s in the office when, just responding to an email or two (not doing the work even, just saying you’ll get back to them tomorrow) creates the impression of someone who’s “always on,” in a way that is useful.

    3. anonanonanon*

      I think everyone should set those expectations, regardless of whether or not they plan to start a family at some point down the road. Family life isn’t the only reason to set expectations on time spent in the office.

      1. dmk*

        You know, you and Ad astra are both right. I mentor a lot of younger women in my field, and I often have this advice for them. But it’s good advice for everyone. I think a lot of people, in the early years of their career, go flat out, balls to the wall, working late, trying to get ahead. But it sets this expectation that you’re the guy that’s always in the office — which can create a perception issue when you stop wanting to be the guy that’s always in the office, even if you do the same amount of work. And it’s worth considering whether that’s an expectation you want to set from the start. As I noted above, I think you can lean in without always being in the office. But I think if you’re always in the office and then decide you don’t always want to be in the office, it can look like you’re leaning out even if you’re not.

  26. Dawn*

    At my last job my manager once said “Dawn, I notice that you’re always out the door at 6pm on the dot. I am concerned that you won’t be willing to stay if something came up.” I looked at her like she had two heads and was pissed for a week! At no time in the history of me working there had I *ever* indicated that I was not willing to stay or pull weight if she needed me to… she had just never asked or talked about it with me or brought up the possibility, just jumped to the conclusion that since I left at the time I was scheduled to leave every day then obviously I wouldn’t stay later if something came up.

    I absolutely leave when my 8 hours are up. It helps that my job now is for a company that is absolutely fine with that!

  27. Case of the Mondays*

    If you are in an industry where someone has to stay late to get the job done then you should make sure you take a fair share of that rotation, children or no children. If you are in a job where a crisis could make you stay late, you should have a back up plan for your out of work obligations (pets/kids, etc.). Such crisis should be rare and not a regular occurrence but you should be able to make it work if it happens. People who say “but I have nobody,” what’s your plan if you got in a car accident or had a heart attack? Someone would be picking up your kid or letting your dog out, right? Lastly, if you do have to stay late on occasion, try not to be visibly upset and miserable about it. It really puts off your coworkers.

    I’m in law and that is the advice I would give based on what I see around here. For legal assistants, they need to be able to stay late once in a blue moon. Maybe 4 times/year. But, there is one assistant that if she has to stay even 20 minutes late, she starts getting tears in her eyes about it. The office manager has even asked her if she has something going on where staying late is a hardship and she doesn’t, she just doesn’t enjoy working extra, even if she gets paid overtime. She’s an extreme example of course.

    Here, we will all cover for each other on vacation or if someone has a family emergency, etc. But we also have to take turns doing that extra work and re-arranging our lives (on rare occasion) to do it. I know when my husband travels, I need one or two people on call in case I get stuck at work and someone else has to give my cat an insulin shot. I don’t have family near by or friends so I occasionally have to pay a cat sitter to do it. It’s part of the “cost of admission” to my profession.

    1. Isobel*

      My brother’s friend’s mother died and his godmother looked after him till he graduated, but I don’t think she was alternative Childcare

  28. Doreen*

    I think it depends a little on what “leave right at five means”. Does it mean “leave as close to five as possible” or does it mean what some of my coworkers at a previous job did- stop doing any work at 4:30 so that they could pack up and use the restroom in time to be first on line at the timeclock. Where they inserted the card most of the way and waited for the click to push it the rest of the way down, because they literally did not want to be there one second late. I don’t think the second would go over well anywhere.

    1. baseballfan*

      This. I don’t think keeping to an 8 hour workday is wrong in any way, if it’s normal and accepted at the company. The concept of watching the clock so that one can leave after 8 hours and not a minute later, grates on me a little. What if you’re in the middle of something that will take 5 minutes to wrap up – you don’t stay till 5:05? It seems inevitable to me that to religiously keep to a strict leaving time, you often will actually stop working somewhat before that – which is not cool.

      1. T3k*

        Where I work, we don’t have a punch out, but I do watch the clock closely because, being non-exempt and very underpaid, my boss can’t afford to pay me overtime. So the way I go about it is that it means I’ll leave 5-15 mins. (however long I stayed) earlier the next day. But I’ll also add that it’s very rare for me to stay over my schedule.

  29. grasshopper*

    OldJob did have flex hours and even had a core-hours meeting policy that meant meetings could only be scheduled between 10am and 3pm in order to accommodate everyone’s flex hours. The reality was that people who did 7-3 or 8-4 got the side-eye for being perceived to leave early and those who did 10-6 got the side-eye for being perceived to arrive late. And there was pressure on everyone to work more, or at least be present in the office to make it look like you worked more!

    NewJob doesn’t have a flex hours policy, but has no problem with people working the hours that they want as long as we are doing our 40 hours, work gets done and are available for meetings as required, which sometimes does mean that meetings get scheduled for 9am or 4pm. The reality here is that no one bats an eye at leaving on-time, regardless of when that time is.

    It is all about the office culture. I will admit that there are more parents (moms and dads) at NewJob, which might be part of the reason why everyone knows that leaving on time is important (especially when some daycare centres charge $10 for every 5 minutes that you are late for pickup time!).

    1. Bonnie*

      Ah, Yes. The if I can’t see you, you must not be working perception. I work with one person who will come in before 5:30 am during her busiest times of the year to make sure she can leave at 3 pm to be with her children. I also work with a man who will work to 8 pm or 9 pm so that he can be with his children in the morning and doesn’t come in until 10 am. The fact is she is a morning person and he is a night person we are actually getting the most productive hours of the day from both of them. I think everyone would be better off if we were measuring outcomes instead of hours.

    2. BananaPants*

      Try $10 PER MINUTE. I haven’t been late for a daycare or after school care pickup in the 5 years we’ve had a child in daycare, and I don’t plan to ever be late. If a long-winded VP who knows I have a hard stop at 5 PM doesn’t like it, too damned bad.

  30. Carrie in Scotland*

    On rare – and I do mean rare – occasions I might come in early or shorten my lunch break. I am paid for 35 hours a week and that’s what I do. If my work isn’t or can’t be done in that time – you know what? it’ll wait til the next day or over the weekend. Fair enough if you have to leave work early and later on have to WFH to make up the hours as a way of flexi working. My 35 hours = 9-5pm and you bet that my office leaves at 5 pm (majority of people, full timers).

  31. Feline*

    It’s perception, unfortunately. There’s a spread of working hours here, and there are a remarkable number of cars already in the parking lot when I pull in at 6:50 in the morning. Those of us who are in at 7 are usually out at 4 (with lunch eaten at my desk, they’re getting OT out of me regardless) unless there are deadlines. But we have team members who wander in at 9:45 and certainly don’t stay until nearly 7 to compensate for it… yet they get recognized for the hard work they put in because it’s visible to the higher-ups who stay late. it’s kind of infuriating.

    In one all-hands meeting, a VP actually said, “You know, my office looks over the parking lot, and I can see all of you who leave at 4.” I bit back asking whether she was also watching who was here before 7am and worked through lunch. It’s useless when it’s a perception issue.

    For me, in our city where literally every highway is currently under heavy construction, I have to decide whether putting in the time in horrifying traffic so I can be more visible at work is better than putting in that extra time at the office getting things done. I have chosen to get things done. It will be interesting down the road to see whether the “getting things done” choice is actually detrimental to my career.

    1. CADMonkey007*

      I agree – all about perception! I admittedly save emails in my draft box to hit “send” later in the evening! Maybe that’s shady but the reality is most remote after hours work is unseen and therefore unnoticed.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Or be like George Castanza and just leave your car in the parking lot ’round the clock!

          Yes, that infuriates me too. Bosses often don’t roll in until 9 or later and just somehow ASSume that the people are leaving “early” at 4, even though they’ve put in a full day and more.

    2. DMented Kitty*

      This. I’m not a morning person, and I have to make the choice of either 1) wake up two hours early so I could factor in rush hour, arrive at 8AM and be cranky all day, or 2) wake up later and avoid rush hour traffic to arrive at 9:30AM without sacrificing sleep.

  32. SL*

    I think we should all be more concerned with results than hours worked. Hours worked is a terrible way to judge someone’s productivity.

    1. Sprocket*

      Yes, but. When I started as a salaried employee at my current employer (fresh out of a hedge fund and used to thinking of 14+ hour days as normal; fortunately, new empoyer was quick to say if it’s not the apocalypse, heck no! ), I first encountered a coworker who leaves on the dot every day and greatly resents a single second outside of normal times. I on average work an hour past my “9 hour day” and another 1-2 more in busy seasons where absolutely needed (e.g. tough project with a tight deadline). Said coworker was meant to be trained to be on my level/at least take some less meaty items off my plate but despite the best efforts of my manager and me (aka “how we got to where we are” tutoring — neither of us new to training others from ground up), is failing so hard at carrying his weight that my manager honestly doesn’t know what to do with him long term because his “skills” are evermore becoming obsolete through the automation that I build and the overall direction of my team (aka why I was hired). So he resents that I get more FaceTime and better projects, but he whines severely when asked on the very rare occasion to work < hour more than usual, can't do even the simplest things without handholding even after multiple walk-throughs and shadowing, and often even on a "punctual" day leaves open/unfinished items that I have to either address or choose to leave for him the next day, because he is incapable of covering for/supporting me and that falls instead to my boss, who hired me explicitly because he needed to disengage from such things to address bigger issues. So, basically, the guy who strives to leave on the dot provides at best marginal value and pisses a ton of people in and out of my team off because we're all the rest of us willing to put in an extra hour or two to get to that good place (especially during current period of Deliver This Awesome Thing Yesterday!!) when needed, versus watching the clock like it's a literal bomb.

      1. RobM*

        But surely the issue here is the quality of their work, not the time they leave? You surely wouldn’t be ok with them doing sub-par work if they stayed until the same time as you and still failed at it?

        Incidentally, if you _have_ to work at least an hour a day late every single day then you’re understaffed in my opinion.

  33. wannabefreelancer*

    Oh man, my first job out of college was the grind. I was making a measly salary, working 60 hours a week (non-exempt) and to top it all off – THE HORROR – promotions were based on who could stay the latest. We had a clocking in and out system were the execs could track. Seriously. Projects completed did not matter – “character” and “passion” mattered. It was silly.

    When I left that job and came to my current one, at 5:05 – the place is a ghost town. My boss won’t send emails past 5:30 unless it’s an absolute emergency. Everybody is very productive. It’s nice.

  34. The Other Dawn*

    I used to work for a self-described “workaholic.” (We later found out that he came in early and left very late, because he spent so much time surfing the Internet that he HAD to stay late to get work done.) At the time I was a one-woman department and was so busy that I came in at 7 am most days and didn’t leave until 7pm. Sometimes even 8 or 9pm. And, of course, my boss wouldn’t listen that I was overloaded, so he didn’t hire anyone to help me. Anyway, on the rare occasion when I would leave before 6pm, he would say, “Oh, working a half-day today?” He’d pretend like he was joking, but he wasn’t. FU, buddy. To this day, even though I’m the boss, I feel a pang of guilt, or like I’m getting away with something, when I leave at 5pm. Doesn’t matter if all my work is done or not. I still feel weird. And it’s TEN YEARS later.

    Bottom line, I don’t overly value face time when it comes to my team. I care more about whether the work gets done and that they’re here for meetings and other important things. Sure, I’ve got non-exempt employees that work core hours, but no big deal if they want to come in an hour early and leave 8 hours later. And as for my exempt person, I don’t track her time. She’s here when she needs to be here and is a really hard worker.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I worked for a A-hole like that too. I would be in-office every day by 8:15 or 8:30 and work until 5 or 6 with no lunch break.
      He would roll in at 10 or 11 and would be accusatory every time I left before 6pm. He would also call the office at 8:30 with some lame excuse for needing something, but I knew he was checking up.

  35. HRish Dude*

    Have you ever had the non-exempt job where it was frowned upon to leave at 5 even if you had your 8 hours in?

  36. SophiaB*

    I’d also check to make sure you’re not having an adverse affect on anyone else which is causing them to stay late. I have two developers on my team. One starts early and leaves bang on 1630hrs every day. No one has any issue with this because his work is done and if he needs work re-scheduling, he tells me at lunchtime.

    The other has decided that staying late will make him look better, but he’ll wait until 1730hrs and then wander over and dump another hour’s work on me in re-scheduling and issue resolution. So he’s out by 1800hrs and I’m still working. We can’t seem to get through to him that I don’t care if he stays late, I just need him to have some consideration and stop making others have to stay late!

    I’m not saying you’re doing this OP, I just wonder if you could structure your day so that leaving on time is just not an issue for anyone working with you.

  37. Cyberspace Dreamer*

    A person at OLDJOB was suspended for week without pay because he did not leave exactly at 5. Boss asked a fellow coworker if this person did not leave at 5 on a particular day which was confirmed. When he came back to work he was suspended for working unauthorized overtime.

    This was without precedent or warning

    That is one reason why OLDJOB is OLDJOB in my case


  38. Menacia*

    Work/life balance is very important to me, even though I do not have kids, and really don’t have any pressing things to do when I leave work except live my life. I happen to be a very productive person during the time I am at work, I often do not take lunch, but you know I will be heading toward the door at the end of my shift, even though I am non-exempt. I don’t necessarily have deadlines, and the work I can’t finish one day can be completed the next. I know personally I would not survive in an office where I was expected to stay until X time. The new Director of my department asked everyone about how much work they do after hours, as a way of “getting to know us”…I said, I rarely work after hours, no need for it, and did not change my schedule one bit. He needed to know, and he now does, how much work I do, and how well regarded I am by the company, so my hours are not a problem. Many of those I see working after hours and on the weekends are those people who are not well organized, don’t keep to a schedule, or wait until the last minute when pressure forces them to put in extra hours to finish a job.

  39. YourOwnPersonalCheeses*

    This post made me think of a character on a TV show (it may have been Arrested Development, but I’m not sure, it was a show I don’t actually watch). This character wanted an excuse to leave work right at 5, so his solution was a dog he had to let outside every day. Only, he didn’t actually get a dog, he just pretended he had one. He even kept a picture of a random dog in his wallet to show people! (BTW, if anyone knows what show this was from, I’m curious!)

      1. YourOwnPersonalCheeses*

        From the little I could figure out from poking around the internet, it looks like you’re right. Thanks!

  40. Lindrine*

    My office is pretty flexible and I work from home twice a week. Since my work is project based, getting those done matters more than face time. I”m usually in by 9:30 and out by 4:30, but I check my email before coming in and sometimes work on projects after hours at home for deadlines. As long as you work out expectations with your manager and keep a schedule that fits with exempt or non-exempt, that is what matters.

  41. Regina 2*

    I just want to know, for all of you who found these jobs with flexible hours, or a smaller window of core hours with flexibility on the ends, or where people actually leave at 5 — HOW DID YOU FIND THESE JOBS?!!?! And is it at all possible to assess without looking like a slacker in the interview? This is pretty much the highest priority for me, but I never know how to articulate it because I feel our culture is predicated on, “I will work earlier and later than any other candidate, so hire me.” I’ve been rejected by jobs for even asking about work/life balance, which I understand is bullet dodged, but it doesn’t seem like any employer wants to hear about it.

    I wouldn’t ask until second interview or potentially offer stage, but even then, how on earth can you assess this?

    1. Anony-maus*

      Talking with people who work there (who aren’t the interviewers) will clue you in to the work culture. Use your networks, including on LinkedIn, to find folks.

      1. Regina 2*

        I guess I would be a bit taken aback out if someone found me on LinkedIn and asked about working hours. I don’t know this person; not sure I would be as brutally honest as I would be with a friend.

        It just seems to me you never really know until you show up, and then it’s all sheer luck if you found a place that actually aligns with what you want.

  42. Jules*

    I have a question for international folks. Do you have the same problem as this internationally? Where people judge you by the hours you clock out?

    And for the rest of the commenters here, does the hours you spend at work matter. I ask because I work on a strict schedule and don’t spend additional hours unless my work requires it. I also know some who work late but has time all day to stand around and talk, drink coffee and network. I even know people who spend their late hours at work watching shows or surfing the net just to show that they are ‘working’ late.

    I agree with AAM, it depends on the company and team culture but why is it such a norm to think that people who leaves at 5 on the dot are slackers?

  43. Not A Nom de Plume really*

    From a sociological perspective, I find the whole thing of working late hours an interesting one, especially in the U.S. corporate culture where people often work 50-60 hour weeks – but get paid for 40. And if they work 40 hours (in some industries), they are considered “lazy” or “not-committed”.

    If you think about it, when you work for a company, they are paying you for your service. They state that you will work as many hours as required to get the job done, and they will pay you your salary and give you ‘X’ benefits. (I am, of course talking about exempt employees here – hourly employees get recompense per hour they work, and overtime for over 40 hours). The expectation here is that a “standard” amount of work will require 40 hours in a given week. It should be an exception that the work require more than 40 hours.

    If you work 50 hours a week as a “standard”, the business essentially is getting a free 25% bonus work. If you were buying something and got 25% extra every time you bought it, you would be very happy, wouldn’t you? But you really should not be upset if you get exactly what you pay for.

    But some businesses put the “standard” amount of work for an employee such that they have to work 50-60 hours in order to complete it in a given week. If you complain, or don’t finish it, it is considered that you are not a team player, or lazy. In addition, this is reinforced by peer pressure to meet the exceptional demands of the workplace as others show that they are “committed” to the company and try to out-do each other in how many hours they can put in at work.

    So if it comes down to it, with four employees who work a 50-hour week, a company can save paying the cost for another whole employee, so it is easy to see why a company would encourage this culture. However it doesn’t make it morally correct when that same company would object if any of their customers demanded that they get an additional 25% free for the agreed-upon price, or five units for the price of four.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Welcome to the Corpocracy that is America!
      If you’re unwilling to work 50-60 hours for the pay of 40 hours you’re un-American. Apparently we are so devalued, that our time should be now be free.

  44. R*

    One thing I think is important is to figure out if you are being evaluated on the work completed/produced or the time in the office. If you can use time really effectively and have results, it shouldn’t matter. I know I could tighten my schedule by cutting down on “Water-cooler” time. Also, I could probably answer a few emails at night very quickly and show my supervisor that while I may be out the door at 5pm – I might spend 30 minutes at home and answer any emails that may have come in after I left. Just so people see that you are going above and beyond in other ways.

  45. Dr. Johnny Fever*

    I have a diverse team, some childless, some with children, and some starting families. We all have the ability to telecommute or work from other buildings in town.

    Each individual is a strong performer, so I am very liberal with work from home. As long as they achieve results with quality and are available as needed, I’m good. We have a certain spread of hours we all must keep, otherwise, we make up our schedules. I work no longer than 9 hours a day and avoid nighttime work when I can so that my team isn’t compelled to follow a stressed example. I also work from home 2 days a week so people know they can take the time.

    I confess that I have allowed a great deal of flexibility for pregnant team members to work around appts and physical health. I allow flexibility for people who want family, who want to split shift between home and office, who have other injuries, or who just want to take a half day and see a spring training game. I’m not a pushover. I just figure we’re all adults, we know what to do, and I’m fortunate to have a like-minded team.

    Has this bitten me a few times? Yes. When that happens, I give fact-based feedback on reduced quality, availability – whatever the issue is and we work out an arrangement.

    Wanna know where I got these radical ideas? From reading this blog for the last 5 years.

  46. MissDisplaced*

    It really just depends on your field, workload and overall company culture.

    Even in offices where it is generally ok to leave at 5 (or whenever your quitting time is) if it’s during the busy season or middle of a big project, it could still be frowned upon. Where I work, we all know our busy season is August-September-October and it’s made clear to people to expect additional hours during these 3 months with no vacations being scheduled. It’s pretty fair, as long as this is communicated to employees. The rest of the year is much more lax.

  47. ChrisH*

    First, let’s establish that this generally applies to salaried exempt roles. Hourly employees aren’t incented to work harder than they need to, or faster, and all overtime would be paid.

    In my industry (IT) it is virtually impossible to get anything done during working hours. Working hours are spent in meetings collaborating, aka uplifting people who don’t understand how to do their jobs properly.

    The only time when I can find time to do my own work is after core working hours when everyone else’s needs have been met and they all go home.

    That being said, in my line of work, unless you are putting in 55-65 hours a week, you’re not getting anything done. This is especially true for junior and mid level personnel who are still improving skills and product knowledge.

    I used to have a boss who said that even as exempt salaried employees he didn’t want us putting in more than 40 hours a week. Boy do I miss those days.

    Fundamentally it comes down to your company culture. If your boss is not a micro manager and manages based upon realistic commitments based upon effort (time), then you can realistically set expectations that way. If you get your work done early and it’s in a ‘management-ready format’ that doesn’t require additional edits, then you should be able to reap the rewards of being efficient by knocking off a little early. As long as you establish a pattern of delivery excellence, no one should care.

    Bosses who are driven by the perception of accountability and performance via ‘presence’ that requires being available all the time should be avoided, and will never be ok with this. This is an insecurity in their part. They are generally not very good managers when they are not managing performance strategically, by objectives.

    I haven’t punched a clock in 30 years, but I have bosses that expect me to be at the office 8-5 daily. The reality is that’s just not possible when you introduce the topic of kids, extensive gridlock and commuting and orher conditions like kist businesses that you use as service providers only being open during those times (healthcare, for starters). So the net result is that 8-5 is an outdated practice unless you are in upper management or professional client-facing services.

    Balance requires negotiating terms with your boss AFTER you are hired. Don’t do this before as it’s considered a negative by most.

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