how do I know when it’s okay to leave work for the day?

A reader writes:

 How do salaried jobs work?

I’m early in my career and until now have been paid hourly. While part of being hourly sucks, it’s also nice because you know exactly how many hours you have to be there and how long you have to take lunch. But I’m currently job searching and the potential options are all salaried.

There’s so much I don’t know about being salaried! How do you know when it’s okay to leave work for the day? How do you know it’s okay to take time off? Do you always eat lunch at your desk? Are you expected to answer email at 9 pm? How does this all work?!

You can read my answer to this letter at Vice today. Head over there to read it.

{ 185 comments… read them below }

  1. Sharon*

    Alison’s comments at Vice are perfect, as usual.

    That said, I had a 20 year career as a salaried employee and for most of those, especially after the introduction of Blackberries and smartphones, the expectation is that people are available 24/7, including during PTO (exception is if someone is on FMLA or disability leave). All but the most entry level people are expected to stay late most nights and it is highly frowned upon to leave at 5 on the dot or only work an 8 hour day.

    I’ve never worked in an office where people take a lunch break. At most, people will leave the office to pick something up to eat at their desks, but more common is to bring lunch or have it delivered.

    Most companies will also hold it against employees that use all of their vacation time each year, even if that time does not roll over.

    All of the above has been my experience working at four different companies – public and private – in a variety of industries (auto, airline, pharma and real estate). YMMV!

    1. TheSockMonkey*

      This isn’t true at all where I work and hasn’t been anyplace I’ve worked. I think it depends on the company and industry

      1. Mpls*

        It can also really depend on your role/job within a company as well, especially in a large company with lots of different functions.

        Ultimately the key is to understand what the norms practiced by the people you work most closely with

        1. Mama Bear*

          Good point to look at folks at your level. What a manager does may not be the expectation for the rank and file.

          I’ve usually had a reasonable job re: work hours, lunch breaks and PTO. If it’s not awful to be contacted during PTO, I’ll mention that. Otherwise I’ll say I’m not available and stick to it.

          Also find out about telework. Sometimes you can do it and sometimes you can’t or maybe it’s only by special request. Don’t assume that one!

          I suggest that OP keep to a general schedule. When can people expect to find you (and where)? Don’t make people guess too much with your schedule.

          1. Working Mom*

            Yes – this varies widely by company and industry. I’ve had salaried jobs where the expectation was that I generally worked 40 hours/week and worked more when the job required it. But at the same time – if 3pm on a Friday rolled around and I was caught up – I was empowered to go ahead and take off early. With the caveat to remain casually connected in case something came up that needed to be addressed same-day. (Casually connected means I’m periodically checking my email on my phone – maybe every 30 minutes, and answering any work calls that come to my cell. But I could be running errands during this time.) My manager in that job clearly communicated to me that I was NOT expected to check email in evenings/weekends – unless there was a specific project (rare) that truly required me to do so.

            Now, I’ve also had salaried jobs where I was quite literally expected to be connected and available nearly 24/7. I’d get emails from my boss at 11pm on weeknights, phone calls during my lunch hour were to be answered promptly, etc. This was the culture of this particular company – and to a lesser extent, the industry.

          2. Senor Montoya*

            Right. Even if everyone says, “Oh it;s flexible, come and go as you please as long as your work gets done!”, don’t do that until you are SURE, and until you have worked there long enough to be a known quantity. You are going to learn a lot just by being at the workplace and interacting w your coworkers.

            1. selena81*

              Exactly: what people say and what they do may not align, and in that case you better copy whatever your coworkers are doing.
              Better to be seen as the new hire that is trying a bit too hard in the beginning than to get a reputation as the person who dashes out the door while everyone else takes another half-hour to finish up.

            2. Anonymoose*

              I’m a young-ish (4 years in) attorney. My firm’s model is “we don’t care how many vacations you take/where you work as long as you meet your billables.” It has come in handy on certain occasions (aka when my cat was sick), but realistically, it means I never stopped working. At minimum (aka around Christmas when everything slows down) I am still checking my email every hour.

      2. Sparrow*

        Same. And it’s something I feel out before accepting a job, too, because it’s important to me to not end up in a job that would expect this kind of encroachment into my actual life.

        1. Leisel*

          Exactly. Working at a place like that sounds like it would drain your soul. Available during PTO? No thanks!

      3. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah, my mileage definitely varied as well, and I’ve worked in education, law, insurance, transportation, and now software/tech. I’ve always taken hour (and sometimes hour and a half) lunches in all of these areas unless I had meetings or some pressing deadline – then I’d take a half hour lunch at my desk.

        I’ve also never been expected to be reachable on my time off, and I currently have a company issued iPhone where I could theoretically check my emails and Teams messages while away – I don’t, and no one contacts me unless there’s an emergency (which has only happened once in the nine months I’ve been with this company).

        Finally, the only places where I haven’t worked 40-45 hours a week at the most were when I was in law and insurance, and the latter only saw me working 60 hour weeks after two years of being there and moving into a front line property claims adjusting role during hurricane season.

      4. ThatGirl*

        Same, and I would never want to work a job that expected that of me. It sounds miserable. I’ve worked at a job where I occasionally checked my email if something hot was happening, or worked an extra hour or two at home if we were in the middle of a hot deadline, but never all the time.

        1. KRM*

          Exactly. In fundraising times, I’ll check my email more often when I’m home and try to answer any questions as the higher ups make presentation slide decks and might have questions. But outside of those times? Nobody expects me to respond after I go home. My boss might think of something at 9PM and message it to me, but he in no way expects a response until I get in the next day!

        2. Nessun*

          I’ve been with the same company for 17 years, and I only recently (last year) started accessing my email on my phone. I’d have no access at home otherwise. My boss knows I have access to email on my phone, but he also knows that I don’t look at it unless I’m traveling or otherwise off my laptop during regular work hours. The ONE time he’s tried to reach me outside of business hours, he texted me – because it was an urgent issue and he knew he’d never get me by email. He has no expectation he’ll reach me by email outside business hours because I’ve made it clear that my time is my own if I’m not in the office, and he respects that.

      5. Liz*

        Agreed. When i came to my present company (20 years ago, yikes!) i was salaried for the first time in my career. We have flex time; and as long as you’re here within the core hours its fine. That being said, some managers give a lot more leeway and flexibility than others. I’ve been very lucky in that none of mine watch the clock, so to speak, and have let me adjust my hours over the years as my commute has changed, to avoid traffic, let me leave for an appt, and then go home and log back in to make sure stuff that needs to get done, gets done.

        I’m lucky too in that I never really have to work OT; nights or weekends. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to do that, but most of the time an 8 hour day is sufficient to get done what I need to get done. if I had a higher level job? Maybe a bit more on nights and weekends but even my bosses and those above me don’t really work all that much more than a standard day. not excessively anyway.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I’ve had to have this amount of on-call availability as an hourly employee and no, I wasn’t paid for any of that time. I’m not bitter or anything.

      1. Office Grunt*

        I knew I needed a foot out the door at one job when I was taking my mandatory week of vacation. I’d informed everyone (maybe 25 employees, and I touched everything) that I was going to be staffing an immersive camp aimed at rising 7-12th graders, and I still got a handful of calls about things I left explicit instructions for.

        I had no work cell/laptop (and would have balked in the extreme had I a sniff of this coming down the pipe), so having to do things from memory was awkward. After the call I took on an activity bus on the way to dinner, I warned the younger staffers about being ready for this sort of thing (the other older staffers were teachers, and the younger staffers were in college or about to start.

    3. Frank Doyle*

      Whoa, yeah, YMMV indeed. I’m a civil engineer and haven’t had those experiences at all. We were only really available outside of “business hours” if we had a night meeting.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Same, and I’m in software/tech with a global company, so sometimes have to have midnight calls – even then, I flex my time so I start the next day at noon and end at 6pm my time.

        1. Ealasaid*

          Software/tech can vary SO MUCH. I’ve had managers where they only let me work from home once a week and I was to be grateful for that one day (and was made fun of when I later tried to negotiate more. Yes, I am bitter), and managers who literally do not care where I am as long as I’m getting my stuff done.

          My first long-term gig, most folks drifted in around 9-10, took an hour+ lunch, and left around 4 unless they were on a deadline. As long as you got things done and made it to meetings, nobody cared.

          My next gig, I was only allowed to have workday schedule boundaries because I was hourly and they didn’t want to pay overtime.

          I ask about working from home and office hours in interviews, especially if I get to talk to non-managers. I ask about culture in general, too (most interviewers are surprised I have questions and like talking about themselves, so I ask what they like about the company, what the best perk is, etc). That tells me a lot, but first days can be a surprise! I always ask my manager when they want me in, and don’t try to adjust the hours until I’ve been there for a while and have a feel for what’s okay.

    4. Michelle*

      Work 8+ hours every single day, work during PTO and never taking a lunch break? Yikes, Sharon. Our salaried managers take lunch away from their desks (actually, we all do. We are not allowed to eat at our desks, but we can have drinks), we do not call during PTO unless is extremely important/emergency and most leave before 5 or earlier if they have to work or have worked longer than normal hours. Only Directors are expected to answer after-hours emails.

      1. pegster*

        Yeah, I’d have to chime in and say Sharon’s experiences have not been mine in any of the places I’ve worked. Thankfully. There have been companies where co-workers bragged about not taking all their PTO, but I’ve always taken mine and never had any pushback. In my experience, if you get your work done, you can take your lunch, take your PTO, and no one will raise an eyebrow. If your work load doesn’t let you do those things, well, that’s another problem.

    5. BethDH*

      My career is shorter than yours but has also involved multiple industries (academia, non-patient-facing healthcare, tech) and geographic locations and I have never had jobs where this is the case! I might be lucky (or good at screening for sane bosses?) but I hope most jobs aren’t like that!
      My colleagues check email occasionally while out of the office but only respond if it’s truly urgent (happens maybe once a month) or if it’s something easy to answer quickly like accepting a meeting request. They often do eat at their desks, especially if the weather is bad, but not every day and many don’t work during this time.

    6. merp*

      Just commenting so the OP doesn’t read this and freak out! This also has not been my experience at all, in several salaried jobs in a couple of different industries. Obviously this does happen but certainly not everywhere. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but it’s always been fine to take a lunch, to take the vacation time I’ve accrued, and to leave at a reasonable time at the end of the day.

      In fact, in my current job (state gov), I have actively been reminded to take my breaks, and would absolutely be spoken to more seriously about skipping lunch or working extra hours every evening. We work from 8 to 5 and that is it. But even in less rigid places, it has been fine to call it a day and go home.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        When I worked in law, my firm made all full time employees and temps take hour lunch breaks unless we were on mandatory overtime that week – then you were allowed to only take a half hour. But you were never allowed to work during lunch, and if they caught you (they monitored our computers and email accounts), you’d be written up.

          1. CL Cox*

            If I had to guess, it was the non-exempts, because most law firms are sticklers for following employment laws. You have to be away from your desk during breaks and lunches, it’s that whole “appearance of impropriety” thing – even if I’m eating at my desk and not doing work, someone could walk by and think I’m working and the firm could get in trouble because someone thought I worked more than 40 hours that week.

          2. Diahann Carroll*

            I believe it was also exempt employees, but don’t quote me on that – it was a long time ago, and the details on that are kind of fuzzy. I just remember that everyone from the attorneys down were treated like children and overworked, then discarded. Highly dysfunctional place.

            1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

              Boy, this resonates. I worked at a biglaw firm in DC in the early 90s. That place was ridiculous! “Treated like children and overworked, then discarded” is the perfect description. The experience did make for some great stories (which may not sound believable to those who have never worked in that environment). I bet you have some too!

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                Oh, I have stories for days.

                * They blocked everything on the internet on all computers except for our intranet site and whatever was linked there and only allowed usage of the full internet (except for personal email accounts) between 11-2pm, which was the typical lunch block. This meant that if paralegals had legal questions they needed immediate answers to while drafting a complaint or motion for summary/default judgment, they either had to ask an attorney (which wasn’t always possible as the latter had ridiculous billable hour requirements and, therefore, hardly answered questions same day) or go and look it up in a book in our small law library. Some of these questions could have been solved with a 20 minute search of LexusNexus or Black’s Law Dictionary, but instead took hours.

                * We were not allowed to step foot in the lobby of our building outside of our lunch hour once we clocked in for the day, even though our lobby had a coffee shop and restaurant that we desperately needed during mandatory OT weeks – if we did and got caught, we’d get written up.

                * We were understaffed in all areas and had thousands of foreclosure and bankruptcy cases going on at a time (not an exaggeration, either), so the attorney manager gave the attorneys a directive to not read any of the documents we paralegals put in front of them – they needed to just sign where we put the Sign Here stickers and move on since nobody had time for review.

                And that’s the mild stuff.

      2. Alienor*

        Same here – there have been times as a salaried employee when I’ve worked through lunch, put in 60-hour weeks (mostly by taking work home with me rather than staying late in the office) and answered emails at night and on weekends, but in general it’s been a temporary situation related to a big project or taking on some of a departed employee’s workload, not a companywide expectation. People go out to eat and take vacations as a matter of course, and it’s pretty empty around here after 5, sometimes after 4 on Fridays.

    7. Two Dog Night*

      Wow, my experience has been vastly different. I’ve worked in technical positions in the software industry and in consulting.
      – I’ve generally always worked at least 40 hours a week, sometimes a lot more than that, depending on the job and the season. In my current position I usually end up with 43-45 hours, but some weeks I do manage under 40…. and a few weeks last fall were over 60, which pretty much sucked. The older I get, the less willing I am to do that for long.
      – I’ve never worked for a company where I’ve had trouble taking all my vacation, as long as I’ve scheduled it sensibly, and I’ve never felt penalized for doing that. My husband, who’s in the oil industry, has over 5 weeks this year (it’s his 25th anniversary there), and he’s planning on using all of it. He even gets a bonus for taking two weeks at a time. No, really… we can’t believe it either.
      – I’ve never worked in an office where everyone ate at their desks. Certainly some people did, especially during crunch times, but I’ve always found it possible to get away. At my last full-time office job–I’ve been WFH for a while–I used to take a 90-minute lunch so I could exercise/shower/eat, and it wasn’t a problem; I just stayed later to make up for it. Now at lunch I walk the dogs, eat, and sometimes run errands–it’s rare that I’m away from my desk for less than 45 minutes.
      – My positions have always had flexible start/end times, but that really does vary by company and position.

      So, yeah, it varies wildly by company, but IME what Sharon is describing is far from universal.

    8. Angela*

      I know my workplace experience isn’t as comprehensive, but none of those things have been present at the companies I’ve worked for.

      There are always some people working past 5, sometimes very late, but mainly in manager, VP, or executive types of roles. But they’re getting the big bucks to stay 9+ hours a day, plus whatever other benefits they get in the form of lunches and perks.

      Offices I’ve been at tend to clear out pretty well after 5. A lot of roles, unless they are a manager or executive level, may not even have work email on their phones. Your personal number might only be used for texting immediate / attendance related things, and only to your boss. Not for getting calls at 8pm about something you need to do.

      The idea behind vacation days that don’t roll-over is to encourage employees to take them- they’re spending time away from work to recharge, spend time with family and friends, or taking paid sick days to feel better without getting co-workers sick. It’s the expectations at most companies that people will use whatever non-rollover PTO before the end of the year. (That’s why, depending on the industry, many offices have spotty attendance for the second half of December.) It’s just the expectation, no strings attached.

      Echoing what was said- YMMV, and it can vary a great deal depending on industry, job role, and company. But I want to emphasize that it’s more of the norm for people to, generally, stick to an 8 hour schedule, take lunch breaks (with coworkers or otherwise) and enjoy time away from the office to detach from work.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Oooh yes, I have a text thread going with my boss. It’s a whole bunch of “Hey just giving you a heads up that I’m stuck in traffic and will be an hour late coming in – everything is OK!” and “OK thanks for letting me know.” (We have a culture where it’s noticed if you’re really late, but mainly because people are concerned something is wrong.)

      2. Alexander Graham Yell*

        On the PTO that doesn’t roll over – my current company is the first I’ve ever worked for like that, and when I didn’t have anything on the books for my remaining PTO balance by Halloween, my manager brought it up in my weekly one on one to make sure I was planning on using it. She even brought a calendar of all of my major deliverables that were due to find good times to use it if I wasn’t going to burn it all at Christmas. I was really, really skeptical of what it would be like to not be able to bank days, but it’s great when it’s used as intended.

        1. Kat in VA*

          Our PTO is one bucket of 25 days a year, use it or lose it. I didn’t use six days of it in 2019. When I griped about it to my boss (partly because of my overdeveloped sense of work ethic, partly because taking time off is really, really difficult for me to do fully and I end up WFH anyway, why burn a PTO day?), BossMan told me to make it up sometime during this year and just “keep it off the books”. So for that I am grateful.

          But it’s also counterbalanced by people who can and do come to me for stuff to get done during actual on-the-calendar PTO days accompanied by an OOO autoreply – and yes, BossMan has been guilty of this himself – as well as the evening hours, weekend hours, holiday hours, and so forth. (One memorable Christmas Eve, when our office was officially closed, the FSO and I spent half the day going round and round with a government POC trying to get a site visit run through for the 26th.)

          I’m salaried and average 50-60 hours a week by my reckoning…sometimes more. I keep telling myself I’m going to keep track (I actually have O365 Outlook open in another tab right now, and it’s nearly 10PM) but I’m afraid if I do, I might actually see how much I’m working and get resentful.

          However, this scenario is also balanced by me unplugging my laptop and saying WELP THAT’S IT, I’M DONE at 2:45PM on a Thursday because I am, indeed, done for the moment (only to login later at home, but that’s a different discussion). Or come to work late on a Tuesday because I went to a Caps v. Kings hockey game on Monday night and didn’t roll in until oh-dark-thirty.

          My company believes we’re all adults and treats us as such, and while I do my best to be around when BossMan is in the office as he’s, uh, a high maintenance F2F kinda guy, I also have the option to split early for a sick kid or a migraine or a WELP DONE kind of day.

      3. CL Cox*

        But managers and executives are exempt (salaried) employees, which is specifically what OP is asking about. I think in most places, exempt employees are more likely to work longer hours, simply because they don’t have to clock in and out and they don’t have to be paid overtime, so employers are less likely to police their time. There is an expectation that exempt employees use “comp time” – take off earlier one day if they’ve been working later, but I don’t think that it tends to balance out as much as employers and the government like to pretend to themselves it does.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          But managers and executives are exempt (salaried) employees, which is specifically what OP is asking about.

          Not necessarily – unless I missed it, OP didn’t say she was moving into a management position, just that she’s newly salaried. You can be a salaried employee without managing anyone or being an executive (I am and have been for the last six years). That’s why the comment was that OP shouldn’t necessarily copy what management does because the expectations for her individual contributor role, if that’s in fact what she is, will be slightly different.

    9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We’re known as slow pace, so we do leave for lunch but we also have hourly folks who have scheduled downtime and breaks involved, so that helps a lot. I’m the only person that eats at their desk but it’s because I have disordered eating and regularly cannot eat in a public space do to it’s effects. I find the “eat at your desk” and keep working mentality much more for the fast-pace “work every single moment, more work is coming at every second” places, which are very popular of course and I’d assume your 4 are very much fast paced! Manufacturing can be but only one of the places I’ve been in has been that breakneck speed.

    10. Autumnheart*

      I work, or have worked, for two large banks, two manufacturers, a major retailer, and several start-ups, and none of the above applied to any of those companies.

      8-hour day: Normal. Usually including the lunch hour, so more like a 7-hour day

      24/7 availability: Not normal. My current employer has specific projects where we might be expected to work late or be on call, and if so, there’s a rota for it and a decision tree on when someone should call the on-call person.

      Take a break at lunchtime: Varied and typically left up to individual preference. Some workplaces had a culture where it was common to go out for lunch, others we just did our own thing. Current employer, we usually go fetch lunch together and then bring it back to our desks.

      Politics around PTO: Both the banks had crazy amounts of PTO that everyone did use. Other jobs provided less PTO, but you weren’t considered a slacker for using what you were given. Current job encourages everyone to use PTO, and just started a benefit where you can buy up to 40 additional hours.

      My current employer is definitely the busiest and most high-pressure organization of all the ones I’ve worked at, but we still have very much of an 8-5 culture. Definitely a “work smarter, not harder” kind of place.

    11. Third or Nothing!*

      Echoing all the comments about my experience being different. I’ve worked at my current company for 8 years now. I don’t have work email on my phone, I work from 7:30 AM – 4:30 PM and very rarely have to stay late, I eat lunch at my desk only because I spend my lunch hour running or lifting weights, I use up every bit of my 5 weeks of PTO, and my boss just says “ok” when I let him know I’ll need to leave early to make a doctor’s appointment or if something unexpectedly comes up with my daughter at daycare.

    12. Amykins*

      In my 15 year career as a salaried employee, working at four different companies during that time (ranging from a huge Fortune 500 company to a university to small-to-medium sized digital agencies), this has absolutely not been my experience at any of the companies I’ve worked at. While the occasional late night during crunch time is a given, and while some people will respond to emails late, and while plenty of people do choose to eat at their desks, and some don’t use all their vacation, it was definitely not frowned upon for people to work their 40 hours most of the time, take actual lunch breaks (whether they did so at their desks or not), wait for the morning to respond to all but the most urgent messages (in which case people would usually be called, not expected to check their email), and use most or all of their vacation time.

      I think a lot depends on the industry you’re in, the company culture you seek out, and the bosses you end up with. I’ve deliberately sought places with a genuine emphasis on work/life balance, and I’ve always taken my PTO liberally, taken lunches etc and have had no problems advancing in my career this way because I’ve worked for people and companies that have valued the work that I’m doing.

    13. snuggly doob*

      YMMV for sure. I work for an organization that has a generous PTO policy and at our last all staff, the HR person was basically begging people to make sure they use their days.

      I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such negative experiences. In my 22 year career, the only time I had such a terrible work/life balance was in the years after Blackberries came out and the c-suite expected an immediate reply at all hours (pharma industry). I am now at the vice president level and that is neither expected of me, nor do I expect it from my practice area (advertising industry).

    14. Sharon*

      Everyone, thanks for chiming in. I am somewhat surprised / heartened to see that my experience isn’t the norm. I guess I just have a knack for picking demanding workplaces!

      1. Giant Squid*

        Hmm, perhaps you’re a major people pleaser? There are a lot of bosses who will “joke” about working weekends, being available on vacation, etc. There are bosses who will sigh if you take the last bit of your PTO, or who will send a slightly annoyed email if you’re not available.

        All of that’s okay. I think bosses should actively encourage good work/life balance, but if they don’t, I think it’s fine to do things that they don’t like.

        I don’t want to project or discount your experiences–I’m just trying to relate them to people I know. Everyone I know who works 60+ hour weeks, cancels vacations, etc. are people who are hypersensitive to any social state other than perfect harmony. If the boss sighs at them taking a 2 week vacation, they’re “not allowed to”.

        If you do good work, you can be promoted, get raises, etc. in spite of occasionally creating more work for your boss.

        There are definitely exceptions, but at most places, you won’t get fired or majorly penalized for “only” working 40 hours. Personally, being well rested and having a balanced lifestyle helps me be more prepared to respond to emergencies or high-priority work. Factoring that in, I think refusing to work 45/50/60/80 hours on the regular like some of my colleagues has helped me overall rather than hurt.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It will always depend on the lens that you’re looking through at any time and what you’ve seen.

          And there is a big possibility that you gravitate towards abusive workplaces, much like some people gravitate towards abusive people. It’s really not in their head, these people/work places are abusive.

          So my main idea here is that Sharon has been abused her career and has internalized this as the norm, more so than she’s just a people pleaser who doesn’t realize you can say no.

          She said one boss locked people out at 8:35am and made them go home…that’s not in her head! I have seen people get fired for taking PTO “too much” despite having it in their bank. I have seen people removed from projects because of their “lack of effort” aka only putting in their 40hours. I have learned that this isnt’ normal or healthy because I haven’t been submerged in toxicity my entire career like many have! Others aren’t so lucky as us.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Yup, to all of this. Sharon’s experience seems to be in a string of dysfunctional environments. I worked in two early in my career and thought it was normal and that everyone went through it – until I talked to friends and was told, no, this isn’t normal and they convinced me they’d never experienced it themselves.

          2. Giant Squid*

            Woah! The door locking is absolutely insane. The last thing I want to do is victim blame, I have just seen experiences like Sharon described in environments that aren’t *super* dysfunctional.

            Perhaps it’s location specific, or perhaps role specific? I’ve heard marketing for example is very “demanding”.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I don’t think that you’re victim blaming at all, just so you know!

              Just putting a bit of a perspective to it because I know it’s absolutely mind blowing to those who haven’t witnessed it. I have those “battle” stories that my colleagues now all look at me with those wide saucer eyes like “Wait…that’s real life”.

              But I completely understand your POV as well. I have had to “de-program” people from places like Sharon. Who are very skittish and worried. I even told our CEO to take his PTO and set an example.

              It reminds me of that story earlier about the boss who made people tape their mouths shut. How the OP is just kind of taken back by it and isn’t outraged like the rest of us. Or how they see their coworkers as being “okay” with it as well!

              Like Alison says, most managers are reasonable and will talk with you but again, you have to know your manager since some are simply awful at their job and being human in general.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                I have had to “de-program” people from places like Sharon. Who are very skittish and worried.

                This was me at my first functional workplace. Evil Law Firm had twisted my thinking so much, I asked my manager if I could go to Starbucks to get a coffee one afternoon – she looked at me like I had three heads and said, “Why in the world would you ask to go get coffee? Go and get your drink – I don’t care.” I asked because my prior workplace (ELF) would not allow us to so much as step into our lobby, let alone go outside, after clocking back in from lunch. If you did, you’d be written up.

            2. Emily S*

              Marketing is an interesting case. If you’re in print marketing, there are rarely demands outside of regular business hours. But if you’re in the digital space, what it boils down to is that being more available is a competitive advantage. In a lot of workplaces, it may not be required that employees work long hours, and it might not really penalize workers who don’t pull long hours, but a bigger share of the merit raises and promotions and reputational benefits will accrue to the people putting in longer hours. Sometimes it’s because they’re seen as having this great work ethic, but sometimes it’s more of a practical matter – because they were working when a major event happened, they were able to get an immediate response out before our competitors and it would perform really well because of that speed.

              How much better compensated the long-hours-workers get really does vary by workplace, but the only place where I haven’t seen it at least to some extent was with an employer that was *very* emphatic about work-life balance and was constantly reminding managers not to overwork their employees (we formally had a 35-hour workweek, with the assumption you’d take an hour lunch every day and be at the office for 40 hours), so the culture there was just very different. Folks tended to show more deference and admiration to people who successfully completed long-term projects that required them to diligently work their regular 35 hours until it was done than to people who were always available. Folks tended to suspect that people who were always available without it being explicitly required in their job description had “poor time management skills” and were goofing off too much during the day to get their work done, rather than assuming they must be going above and beyond with their long hours.

    15. Fikly*

      I am salaried. I work 5 9 hours shifts a week, and am expected to take 30 minutes for lunch, and 30 minutes for break within those 9 hours, at a time of my choosing.

      I am not expected to work outside of my shifts outside of emergencies, and those are rare.

      Your experience of 4 companies in 4 industries is anecdotal at best.

    16. Lady Blerd*

      Add me to the list of those who do not experience this. If anything you are expect to take all of your accrued PTO by your contract anniversary comes around or have a plan on how you will use it. So YMMV indeed.

    17. Asmodeus-ish*

      My current workplace VERY is similar to Sharon’s – would say location is also relevant. I work longer hours in the same industry in NYC than I did in the Midwest.

      That being said, I appreciate that this question is even being asked! We have some entry-level salaried folks who haven’t observed the company culture/asked these questions/been explicitly told, and it seems to cause some agita on all ends. I also think (unfortunately) companies/managers are sometimes reluctant to lay out something like, “you CAN take a full 60 minute lunch away from your desk, but we would really rather you didn’t,” or “your day ends at 5pm but everyone will notice if you consistently leave at 5pm.” That’s where the observation part comes in.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Agreed re: location — in NYC, my “9-5” nonprofit jobs were always at least 9-6 by expectation, but that’s not true of jobs I’ve had in other places. (I’m not going to lie, at one job I always “snuck out” at 5:45, because otherwise my boss would hand me a pile of crap at 5:55 that was not urgent except in her mind.)

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          at one job I always “snuck out” at 5:45, because otherwise my boss would hand me a pile of crap at 5:55 that was not urgent except in her mind

          I had a business analyst at one job who kept doing that. Not even a boss, we were peers!! She wrote the requirements and handled any interactions with the business for the projects I was on. I’d send her a daily update at the end of a day, and she would always reply with “oh great, can you also do X, Y and Z before you leave, the VP needs it by 8AM tomorrow” where there was no mention of X, Y, or Z, the VP, or the 8AM deadline before. So, after getting stuck at work till 9 and 10 pm a few times, what I started doing was, I’d type up my daily status update, pack my things, put my coat on, hit Send on the update email, and immediately shut the computer down and leave. Didn’t have to do this for long, because she lost her job a few months later. (No idea why. Tried her antics with the wrong person, maybe?)

          1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

            Quite possibly someone refused to take on one of these last-minute faux emergencies and she finally had to take the consequences of not doing her job.

      2. merp*

        I don’t know how reasonable this opinion is, but I do kind of feel like it’s unfair for new staff if a) no one is willing to spell out that if you leave at 5, it will be noticed and b) still punish in some way (maybe longterm, maybe not obvious) them for doing so. If that’s the culture, that you will answer emails at 9pm or that you won’t actually take all the vacation that’s given or that taking a lunch hour will make someone leave you out of projects for not being dedicated enough, the least these companies can do is be honest about it instead of punishing new staff for not implicitly knowing.

        Observation is important but I’m not sure all of this would be obvious to someone, like how much vacation time people were taking.

      3. Allypopx*

        Yep! I’ve definitely worked places like Sharon is describing and it does sometimes feel like a city thing (Boston, not NYC, but still quite urban with a lot going on). The fact that my current workplace isn’t like that feels more like a perk than a norm in my area.

    18. LCH*

      sounds like a terrible work environment. run far away from this culture!

      all of my salaried low to mid-level positions have had regular hours (9-5 or 9-6). possibly my bosses (dept heads, directors, etc.) have worked longer hours. i’ve always had a definite lunch break that i could probably take whenever, but i enjoy eating around noon. i’m don’t work with clients so no issue taking time off. my industry (libraries/universities/museums) are pretty chill about PTO in general except for positions that deal directly with library patrons and need coverage. i’m not expected to check email outside of work hours.

      the one time i did have horrible PTO issues while salaried was as a law firm admin asst.

    19. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Adding my 2 cents as well for poor OP:

      In 11 years (across 5 companies and 4 industries) I have never had a company use me taking my PTO against me (heck, last night I just showed my grandboss the super remote place my friend and I are thinking of traveling this year and she asked me to give her tips if we end up going because it looks cool), require me to eat at my desk, or stay late every night.

      I have had jobs that, while salaried, looked down on people leaving before their “shift” ended – if you came in at 8, leaving before 5 more than very, very rarely would get you the stink eye. But I’ve also had jobs (like my current one) where if you didn’t have anything to do and it was 4, go ahead and leave – but that worked because if we have a deadline and we have to be in the office until 11, then we have a deadline and have to be in the office until 11.

      The plural of “anecdote” isn’t “data” – for me or for Sharon. But I think by reading all the comments here and taking the extremes with a grain of salt you’ll be able to find a few good rules to help, OP.

    20. Richard Hershberger*

      Paralegal here. Even back when I worked for Terrible Boss I didn’t have anything like this. While he was a terrible boss in many ways, this was not one of them.

    21. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “I had a 20 year career as a salaried employee and for most of those, especially after the introduction of Blackberries and smartphones, the expectation is that people are available 24/7, ”

      Not true where I work.

      “Most companies will also hold it against employees that use all of their vacation time each year, even if that time does not roll over. ”

      Where is your source of that this is the case at most companies? Or do you mean your four companies?

      Two Dog Night describes my situation: ” I’ve never worked in an office where everyone ate at their desks. Certainly some people did, especially during crunch times, but I’ve always found it possible to get away. At my last full-time office job–I’ve been WFH for a while–I used to take a 90-minute lunch so I could exercise/shower/eat, and it wasn’t a problem; I just stayed later to make up for it.”

    22. Quickbeam*

      I’m in my 5oth year as a full time worker. I’ve never had a single salaried job where I could leave 10 minutes early at my own discretion. Always have to ask and get permission. I can’t wait to retire!

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I do it about once a month. I also stay late much more often. I’m salaried, and it balances out. If I don’t have any last minute meetings, I just let people know I’m leaving. Where I work I’m assumed to be an adult capable of handling my own schedule and work my hours.

    23. Pescadero*

      When I worked in the computer chip industry –

      No one worked 8 hour days. I worked less than anyone else I knew and worked 45-50 during slow times, and 65+ during crunch times.
      You were largely expected to be available 24/7 unless using PTO.

      The others didn’t apply… and every job I’ve had since leaving that industry has not been that way.

    24. Artemesia*

      Not just good advice about hours but about everything. Your job the first couple months is to shut up and pay attention basically, especially if new to the work force. You are friendly and cooperative and participate appropriately in meetings of course, but lots of observing and little making suggestions and observations. You want to figure out the informal power structure — who really has influence, who is ‘poison’ (that person will often try to befriend newcomers), where are rules rigid and where are the norms different from the ‘rules.’ And for coming and going and lunch you act conservatively trying to ‘be like everyone else’ until you get a good sense of the parameters. Save the ‘bright ideas’ until you have been there long enough to know why they do things the way they do and understand how things work and then when you do make suggestions for change you are less likely to be met with ‘we tried that 6 mos ago and it was a disaster.’

    25. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Wow, no, that’s definitely not common, and some of these statements reflect workplace norms I’ve never heard of (23 years/6 companies in the US, IT, different industries but mainly insurance and manufacturing. Additionally one of my sons worked at a Silicon Valley tech startup for a bit in the mid-2010s, and it wasn’t like that at his workplace, either.)

      Most companies will also hold it against employees that use all of their vacation time each year, even if that time does not roll over.

      Never ever heard of this. This sounds awful.

      I’ve never worked in an office where people take a lunch break. At most, people will leave the office to pick something up to eat at their desks, but more common is to bring lunch or have it delivered.

      My current workplace is the first I’ve ever worked where this is more or less accurate. Everywhere else, people just went out for lunch and tried not to be gone longer than an hour.

      the expectation is that people are available 24/7, including during PTO (exception is if someone is on FMLA or disability leave).

      Yes and no. Meaning, you have to be accessible and, if there’s an emergency, someone should be able to get hold of you. But most places I’ve worked, there’s rarely an emergency. If someone is on vacation, the team will exhaust all other ways of finding coverage and resolving the issue before they call that person as a last resort. (Only happened a handful of times in my experience.) This might be different for the leadership, which I’m not.

      Granted, if your job description says you’re on call 24/7, then you are on call 24/7. I had one job like that so far, where I was tier 2 on-call support with three people on rotation. But that was explicitly specified in the job requirements, and the company provided the phone/pager/Blackberry.

      All but the most entry level people are expected to stay late most nights and it is highly frowned upon to leave at 5 on the dot or only work an 8 hour day.

      Something I keep hearing of, but have very rarely seen. My son, too, surprised me by saying “the parking lot empties at 5.” I thought that the Silicon Valley tech people had cots in their offices so they wouldn’t need to go home at night, and that they were at their desks 24/7, but nope.

      Only company I’ve heard of that tried enforcing long hours (they wanted 60-hour weeks) went out of business in a pretty spectacular way a year later. The leadership (a group of 25-year-old recent college grads who’d gotten their rich parents to invest in their new business) was incompetent and hadn’t planned well; the mandatory long hours for the rank and file were their last attempt to meet the deliverables that couldn’t have been met. Everywhere else, it’s been occasional extra hours on an as-needed basis.

    26. Senor Montoya*

      That REALLY depends on where you work, and I would not say that this is true in most companies.

    27. DataQueen*

      A lot of people are weighing in to say this is NOT their experience, but i want to weigh in and say that it IS mine. Across 3 companies, for profit and non profit, at all my levels, from entry level to my current very senior management role. BUT, i like my job. I like the company. I like making money for the company. And i like putting in my best effort to accomplish that. It’s personally, professionally, and financially rewarding. And if you’re into that, none of what’s mentioned above is a negative. I don’t think i’d want to work somewhere that everyone went home at 5:01 and there were no emails to read at night. I like to be challenged and work with other very driven people. But that’s me. If it’s not for you, ask about the culture during your interview process and make sure you self select out of companies that are more fast paced.

      1. TechWorker*

        Note that not having to answer emails during the evening doesnt then imply a company is ‘slow paced’ – doing things last minute and at all hours because ‘everything is urgent’ is often *not* the quickest way to get stuff done because it means people burn out and make mistakes. YMMV.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          doing things last minute and at all hours because ‘everything is urgent’ is often *not* the quickest way to get stuff done because it means people burn out and make mistakes. YMMV.

          ^This. I once had to explain it to a manager at an OldJob that he should probably send people home at midnight. It was late Sunday night and we’d all been called into the office at one pm for an emergency. Cannot even remember what we did there for 11 hours to fix it, but midnight rolls around and the manager is standing in front of the exit and no one is leaving. So I told him it was probably time to let everyone go home. He was like “you can go if you’re tired” and I was like “no, what I am saying is everyone’s been here since 1pm and now is when they are all so tired and sleepy and anxious about how they’ll go back to work tomorrow, that they’ll start making mistakes and breaking stuff.” I think it went over his head. He was very much a butt-in-chair type. Thankfully, not my direct supervisor, I wouldn’t have lasted a week under him.

      2. Avasarala*

        Sounds like you’re drinking the Kool-Aid. Nothing wrong with loving to work, but working more hours doesn’t always correlate to the work being challenging, people being driven, the work being fast-paced. You can work those hours and also spend hours wasting time and fixing mistakes made from burned out workers. You can also have a slow pace and emails at all hours because of time zones across the world. You can have a fast-paced rapidly-changing environment that also allows you to unplug because it’s properly staffed.

      3. Oaktree*

        It’s fine that you like working in a culture like this, but it’s a bit silly to imply that people who don’t like reading emails at night aren’t driven and don’t want to be challenged. Actually, it’s more than silly, it’s insulting.

    28. Curmudgeon in California*

      I’ve worked for dysfunctional companies like that. Even in the high tech industry, where I’ve worked for nine companies in the last twenty plus years, it varies a lot. The companies that expect you to stay late, be always available, frown on using your actual PTO, and discourage you from taking lunch? Had the highest turnover and the highest burnout. I also wondered how they made money, because they often made other boneheaded decision or were penny wise, pound foolish.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Only way I can see myself working like that is if *I* owned the business and it was my well-loved idea that I really wanted to succeed. And even then, I’d know that I could not hold my employees to those same standards.

        For most of us, work is the place where we get the money from to support our families and our hobbies. If we never see our families and cannot have any hobbies because we are always at work, then what’s the point.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Disclaimer to the above: if we literally need this job to survive and there’s no other to be found, if this all-consuming job is the only way for me and my dependents to have food on our table and a roof over our heads then yes, in this case I will also work all the hours, second-guess my management on how much of my PTO they want me to take, etc. But this and the one above about being the owner are the only two exceptions I can think of.

    29. Data Lady*

      OP, please note that this is only one person’s experience!! I am a salaried data analyst working in biotech for the past 10 years:

      I work 40-50 hour weeks.

      I eat lunch at my desk by choice; nobody would bat an eye if I took a full hour away from the office during lunch. Sometimes I don’t even work during lunch, I just surf the web.

      Occasionally I will work at home in the evenings, but only if it’s an an urgent project.

      My boss likes to send me emails in the evening, but she has made it clear that there is no pressure to respond. That’s just her favorite time to go through her inbox. If I’m bored and just hanging out on the couch watching TV, I’ll respond, but otherwise I leave it until the morning.

      It’s NOT frowned upon to use PTO in my office. We have a system where only a certain number of accrued days will roll over into the next year, so if people are over that limit near the end of the year then they will start taking time off for no reason other than to maximize that benefit.

      Finally, we absolutely do no work while on vacation.

    30. Me*

      I think Most is a dangerous word. Your experience is a valuable example, but unless you’ve worked at most places you really cant’ speak to what most companies do.

    31. Enginear*

      Have worked at a number of places and industries as an engineer and have never experienced this. Thank god.

    32. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Wow, that’s awful that those companies held it against employees if they took all of their vacation time. I fell lucky that most of my bosses and companies that I’ve worked for consider PTO part of an employee’s compensation and they respect the right to take it.

      There have been outliers, though. Like the one boss who acted chilly towards me in our 0ne-on-one the week I returned from vacation, and then blurted out that I seemed M.I.A. while I was out on PTO. I let her know that I checked my phone for messages and email and that there was nothing pressing. I also reminded her that it had been a holiday week and many clients, etc. were out on PTO as well. Glad I don’t work for her anymore.

      Also in the outliers, not PTO related but holiday related, was a company where part of my role was to create weekly TPS reports (let’s just call them TPS reports). At the end of each month, I had to create daily TPS reports. There was a purpose for this, which was fine. But then they expected me to do one on Christmas. It was then that I decided to start looking.

    33. Sharon*

      Sharon, checking back in! I feel compelled to update that five years ago, I drastically re-booted my work life balance. My boss had left the company for a different job, and I asked his boss if I could go from being a full-time salaried employee to an hourly contractor. While I no longer get benefits, I do get paid a handsome hourly wage – more than triple the amount that my annual salary worked out to on an hourly (40 hour a week) basis!

      I work mostly from home and my contract states that I am only obligated to work on specific projects. Anything else I can say no to, although the few times they have asked, I have said yes (see above, re: handsome hourly wage!). I haven’t finished my taxes for 2019 yet, but I worked 400 hours total in 2018. I am lucky in that I have some other sources of passive income, so the income from 400 hours was more than enough for me.

      I wanted to add this update because part of the reason why I was able to negotiate such a good deal was because I had already established myself as a trustworthy, reliable, diligent worker. I had a LONG track record of being available, of putting company business ahead of my personal life and just being generally responsible. The trade off for the long hours was definitely worth it in my case!

  2. amp2140*

    Totally understand the feeling. A ton of that comes from having a good relationship with your boss and open communication.

    I was really strict about my hours when I first started, and the first time I asked my remote boss if I could work from home, he said “You never have to ask me that again. If I don’t hear anything from your customers, I don’t care where you sit. I’m clearly getting my value out of your time.” As I happily type this from home :)

    1. Sally*

      I have had a similar experience with my new-ish job. I asked my manager on three separate occasions (with several months in between) if it was REALLY okay for me to manage my own time: come in whenever, leave whenever, go to appointments when I need to, etc. Based on her reaction (basically she was surprised I was even concerned about it and didn’t even notice when I was or wasn’t in the office), it was (finally) clear to me that I really can manage my own time as long as my work gets done. And in my case, too, my manager has said several times that she is very happy with my work. So I finally calmed down and focused on my work. It is such a relief – and so much easier – when stopped feeling guilty that I was, for example, coming in later and leaving later. That just works best for me, and it doesn’t make me a slacker (even though I still need to remind myself of this periodically).

  3. Rockin Takin*

    I work in production so we don’t have flex in our time, we have to show up before/at the start of shift, because that is what is expected of our hourly staff.
    I used to always work through lunch but now I just give myself that break.
    One thing that’s nice about salary is if I only need an hour or two off for a Dr. Appt or something, I generally don’t need PTO.
    Also at my last job my boss was big on giving us Comp time for any overtime we worked, since we didn’t get paid for that time.
    Here I do get frustrated when I have to work a Saturday and I get nothing for it, while the hourly folks rake in money off weekend overtime.

  4. Uhdrea*

    My career has largely been in academia, which can be its own kind of beast. But in general, I would say that observing how people actually work is going to get you better info than taking what you’re told at face value.

    That being said, keep in mind that norms can vary wildly within an institution, depending on any given manager. I’ve worked places where one boss wants everyone in their seat by nine but another’s fine with people coming in between nine and ten, so long as they’re not late to meetings.

    If you end up developing a good rapport with a coworker, they’ll likely be a good resource to help you navigate some of these things. We’ve all been brand new at some point, and in my experience most people are going to be perfectly happy to help you adapt to norms.

    1. Sharon*

      I once had a job that started at 8:30. Our manager would lock the door at 8:35 and if you were late, you had to go home and take a day off without pay or use PTO if you had it.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        OMG, you’ve worked for weird tyrants. That sounds like some Call Center of Doom BS.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Demanding job is a nice way to put it…but I hope you know that’s not normal or a healthy workplace.

            I too work a demanding job but nobody is getting locked out of work, that’s spiteful stuff! We only send staff home if it’s an on going problem as actual punishment of unpaid time off.

            1. Alton*

              It seems really counterproductive, too, because it means an entire day’s worth of productivity lost instead of what could have been only ten minutes. And it theoretically penalizes a reliable employee who gets caught in traffic unexpectedly the same as someone who’s chronically late due to poor time management.

          2. Parenthetically*

            That’s not “demanding” and I genuinely think you should stop framing it that way, even in your own mind! “Demanding” would be setting high or even difficult expectations for results, not locking employees out over a matter of five minutes. It’s stupid, petty, bean-counting, and tyrannical. The boss who does this is on a power trip and shouldn’t be managing ANYONE because s/he doesn’t understand good management AT ALL. A workplace that allows this is throwing away every employee who can find a different environment.

      2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

        Good lord I can’t imagine how a place like that would deal with “There was a police incident on the Lexington Line, all 4, 5, and 6 trains are suspended.” It took me two and a half hours to get into work that day.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Sigh. Unfortunately from my own experience with tyrants [thank God in the past], they just often don’t hire people without their own transportation or fire them all the same, under that “whatever, thems the rules be here or get out” policy. And traffic isn’t even an excuse that’s accepted [we’ve even had posts about that, if traffic/transportation is a reasonable excuse and how often, etc].

          Yes, it’s gross. No I don’t subscribe to it, it’s from years where I had no standing to change a thing. But it’s a thing that’s very real and makes my head hurt. I’ve never not driven but I have family who doesn’t for various reasons, yes they’ve been penalized for it over the years.

          Such high turnover…and so much complaining about how you can’t find “good workers no more”, barf.

          1. Alton*

            One weird thing to me about that is that often, traffic issues will affect cars as well as public transportation. Driving can give you more flexibility to take a detour away from heavy traffic sometimes, but not always. When my bus is delayed, cars are usually backed up, too.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              It’s only from a personal POV of course but it’s very rare around here at least to have incidents like that. And if there are, it’s backing everyone up so people will be stuck together and find that out when letting people know what’s happening.

              But I also don’t come from an area with great public transit and most people avoid it at all times possible. So anyone who relies on it, is expected to show up on the early bus, even if it’s the one that shows up 30 minutes early instead of the one that may be there at 8:05 instead of 8am.

        2. LCH*

          ha, or during a transit strike. my law firm workplace tried enforcing ridiculous attendance rules during one and had to back down because no one could achieve it. so any partner who had a car (not many!) started carpooling the rest of us. this was before uber/lyft.

      3. F.M.*

        I changed my entire schedule around one semester to avoid taking a class with a professor who used that rule; I’d like to say that means I would never tolerate it in the workplace, but it realistically would depend on how desperate I was for the money and/or health insurance.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        That sounds… productive. How much work was not getting done because she was locking people out at 8:35?

      5. Salsa Your Face*

        I know of a Fortune 500 company that (at one point in time–not sure if it’s still active) offered a bonus to people for each day they were on time. The only way to still get the bonus if you weren’t at your desk was if you had an offsite client meeting. People there invented a LOT of last minute offsite client breakfast meetings.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          My first job was in my home country (not US), at a manufacturing plant that had strict hours. Start time was 8:00, if you came in at 8:01, your manager got a call and had to talk to you about your tardiness. There was no reason for the strict hours, no conveyor belt, no customers waiting for us at 8:00, just a normal office job. Very few people had cars and most of us walked the 30-40 minutes to work. Everyone came in running at 8:00, took some time to relax (because a lot of people literally ran to make the time), did our hair, did our makeup, had tea, did a bit of work, went to lunch, did a bit more work, had tea again, and were out the door at 5:00, because that felt like it was only fair after coming in at 8:00. Hardly any work was being done. But everyone came through that door at 8:00 like the good employees we were. I’m distrustful of strict hours (unless required by the nature of the business) ever since.

          1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

            My work (govt office job) is exactly like that. Sometimes there isn’t enough work and we (non-US) are all on salary, but still have to do exactly X hours a week. Quite often people stay late to ‘make up their hours’ without having actual work to do. But you have to.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Ah those old incentives. They still have a lot of the “Don’t miss any days and we’ll give you a bonus” ones lingering out there. Which I loath because this one is to combat tardiness but that one is to combat use of vacation/sick time.

      6. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have to admit, if I had that happen to me, I would seriously reconsider going back at all!

        I live in an area with craptastic and unpredictable traffic where leaving at the same time every day would vary arrival time by half an hour or more. Lock the door at 8:35? I’d probably have been gone in the first month.

      7. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        That is horrible! Completely weird and unacceptable. I hope you’re at a good company with a good boss now!

  5. Anonys*

    I’m working in my first full-time job and the work schedule system is based on “trust” (as they call it here, not in the US), so I am expected to manage my own time, “choose” when I come in, and go. Basically very similar to being slaried exempt in the US. There are also core working hours during which we are expected to be present and during which meetings, etc happen. Where I live, your weekly hours are still defined in your contract (40 for me). In practice, I know people here, including me, often work more than that.

    When I started out, a family member advised me to track my own hours in an excel sheet, and I’ve found it helpful to know how much time I’m actually spending at work, and then I also feel I’m justified in leaving earlier or coming in later some days. I still check in with my boss if I want to leave more than an hour earlier, because my work requires a lot of collaboration. I do feel like it’s all very complicated sometimes and I worry about optics (I would like to come in earlier than most of my team, but I’m worried that if I then also leave earlier, it will look like I’m not working as much)

  6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It varies so much, it gives me a pit in my stomach reading this post in general.

    We require salaried folks to be here 40hrs a week, they get comp time so in some cases, they can indeed leave early but they need to have comp time or use PTO/Sick leave if they’re out of it. It’s not okay to just come and go, you still have to let those who support you [and are hourly] know what’s going on, you can’t just up and disappear. Nobody checks calendars, so you have to make a point of saying “I’m ducking out for a bit, I’ll be back/I won’t be back.”

    Previous company required us to be there during standard business hours AND until work was completed. Resulting in a certain somebody being chained to the place for 60 hours a week,being available on weekends and evenings, etc. I had to alert them when I was leaving for an appointment and then they’d dock it from my PTO if it was available. No comp time there, they glossed over the extra 20 hours a week as just part of my job “getting done” [as they kept expanding said job].

  7. LunaMei*

    Re: lunch – some people assume they can leave early if they work through their lunch, and they don’t clear it with their bosses first. Don’t make the assumption – ask! Some bosses are fine with this, some are not. My boss typically expects us to be here until our “finish” time regardless of what we do with lunch, however he is understanding that things pop up that we need to take care of during working hours. He just wants us to notify him – so he doesn’t come around to my desk at 4pm and wonder where I am or if I’m okay. But he’s totally fine with, “Hey I need to leave at 4 today for an appt/a kid thing/etc, so I’m working through lunch.”

    1. Mel_05*

      Yeah, my boss (and really all previous bosses) will always approve working through lunch to leave early for an appointment, but he does want to be asked.

  8. Clawfoot*

    When I first started my current job, I was given a work cell for the first time ever. It actually really worried me, because I wondered if it meant I had to be “on-call” or responsive to outside-of-work-hours emails, texts, or calls. I sat on it for a few days, not really knowing what it meant, until I just up and asked my manager what the expectation was. Am I expected to answer phone calls at 10pm on a Tuesday night? Check email over the weekend?

    She assured me that it was a tool, not a tether. It was mostly to make it easier for me to be reached or to call in to conference calls during work hours if I was working from home.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yeah, my company phone is mainly for when I’m traveling so I don’t have to take out my laptop while waiting for my flight if I want to answer emails. Also in case of emergency while traveling – I’ll be able to call my manager or grandboss immediately if something comes up and I need assistance.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Our company phones are the same, with the added benefit of having international calling enabled so if we’re traveling on a project we’re always reachable. If you’re not and nobody from an international team has a really urgent deadline, you can safely put it on silent when you get home and leave it in another room until morning.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          I really need to check to see if mine has international calling enabled. I haven’t had to travel overseas (yet), but it may come up this year, and I don’t want to get a nasty surprise at the airport, lol.

  9. ThatGirl*

    It really does depend on the job, the company and the industry. I’ve worked in marketing-adjacent fields for ~12 years and my last workplace was a large wholesaler. We had occasional busy periods where some extra work at home was appreciated or requested, and in general we were expected to work at least 40 hours in a given week, but we had flexibility as to how we did that — including starting very early, coming in on the later side, working from home regularly, leaving early one day but making it up the next, etc.

    At my current company (CPG), there is a little flexibility but most people start between 7 and 8:30 and leave 8.5 – 9 hrs later. Almost everyone takes 30-60 minutes for lunch and there’s very little work from home or late nights expected.

    1. Creed Bratton*

      OP, a lot of your questions will be answered once you get the job, but for the time being have you considered talking to a mentor in your field? I understand your apprehension while you’re still searching but since so much is field dependent – someone with experience might be able to help you calibrate what to expect. What it’s normally like vs when they crunch time is (and how realistic your availability should be). That way, going into interviews you’ll be more prepared to ask questions and recognize any toxic jobs.

      Even though each company or location will be different, hearing what’s normal in Accounting vs Hospitality vs IT might calm your fears :)

  10. Allypopx*

    I’ve experienced a mix. Right now my job is definitely a “we’re here standard business hours but we don’t hold you to that too severely” place. I work mainly 8-4, sometimes later, occasional weekend stuff. I can work from home, I can duck out for appointments. I eat lunch at my desk because I like to, I’m more of a grazer, but I certainly could have a formal lunch hour if I wanted. My last job definitely valued butts in seats and while I had some flexibility, that flexibility was more preached than practiced.

    You’ll get the hang of it, OP! It can definitely be daunting at first, but just be observant and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  11. BethDH*

    One thing that I had to get used to was that the patterns of norms were more complex than just “be here 9-5.” At my current job, for example, there’s a big meeting once a month in the early afternoon, and I’ve found that my boss often has last minute requests that day so I avoid going out for lunch or scheduling doctor appointments then. It’s not that I can’t go out to lunch or schedule appointments, it’s just that I need to pay attention to the flow of work overall and not just what the official hours are. This kind of self-driven anticipation of business needs has been the biggest difference for me between hourly and salaried schedules.

    1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      +1000 to this – and this attention to office dynamics also differentiates high performers from low performers, IME. High performers will notice this dynamic and proactively adjust for future, low performers will consistently be MIA getting lunch or something right before the big meeting. It’s great as a manager when you have the kind of employees you can count on to see issues and adjust, rather than the kind to whom you need to give explicit direction about everything.

    2. Alton*

      I think that’s a good point. I’m non-exempt, and my hours are pretty fixed and I’m not supposed to skip lunch, but I still pay attention to the flow of work and make a point to be flexible about things like when I take a break. If I’m going to schedule something like a hair appointment on my lunch break, I try to do it on a day that’s probably going to be more quiet or routine.

  12. EGA*

    For office hours: My company offers reasonable flex time (You must work core hours, but can come in earlier, leave earlier, type of thing). I have always been pretty strict about working as close to 40 hours/week as possible. But I will stay 1-2 hours late if necessary (usually only 1-3 times per month). My supervisor is similar, though other teams often work closer to 9-11 hour days regularly. I also always eat at my desk so I can just be in the office 8 hours each day.

    PTO: My company policy is that for a week or more of PTO you need to request at least two weeks in advance whenever possible, and as far in advance as possible any other time. Most supervisors at my company are really flexible, especially if it is just 1 day.

    Always being available: This varies at my office, but generally, especially when taking extended paid time off, people consider themselves completely offline. They may tell their supervisor/whoever is covering them how to reach them if there is a true emergency.

  13. Lyudie*

    Ask about sick time as well. Sometimes it is a separate bucket from your vacation time, and managers have different preferences on how to notify them…some want a text or a phone call, others are fine with a quick email etc. You might also need to put in a PTO request after being out sick (my company requires an Oracle request for any time off, probably because it’s all in one bucket).

    Also, find out if there is any time-tracking you need to do…I have mostly worked in cost centers and profit centers, and so we have to submit timesheets every week so our time can be charged to the right people.

  14. TechWorker*

    Alisons advice is excellent as always – but I would place more weight on what your manager says than what you observe from others around you! There are factors that affect this that you can’t see, eg you might have coworkers that leave early but then work from home in the evenings – which is great if it suits the role but if you’re not working directly with them you might miss that they’re actually dialling in to work rather than just leaving early most days. Ditto if you see people working really late – it *could* be thats a general expectation/requirement, or it could be they’re just on a super busy project and you are not expected at all to pull the same hours.

    1. sometimeswhy*

      ^^^
      I have folks on flexible schedules and folks on modified schedules and folks with formal accommodations. Observation would be great to get a feel for how rigid or relaxed it is in general (v.v. relaxed) but I still give new team members explicit instruction on general expectation + allowable variations + how to negotiate those variations.

      But Ginger doesn’t work Fridays! >> Ginger works a 4/10.
      But Nutmeg takes a long lunch every day! >> Meg’s work day starts two hours before everyone else.
      But Mace is never here on Thursday mornings >> Mace negotiated the schedule adjustment and, yes, is never here on Thursday mornings.

      Even so I have had to deal with someone trying to stack Thyme leaves early so I should be able leave when Thyme leaves+ Rosemary comes in late so I should be able to come in Rosemary comes in+ Sage takes a long lunch so I should be able to take the same duration lunch without taking schedule adjustment + PTO use into account which would ultimately have them working like 3.5 hours. It is shocking how difficult that can be to explain to adults.

        1. sometimeswhy*

          Quite. And it’s always the ones who aren’t performing who are trying to shave time off oat the beginning, the end, and both sides of the middle and complaining that the others who negotiate their hours and use their flexibility/compensation package conscientiously aren’t here on Thursday mornings (or whatever.) It’s a little tiring.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        In my first job as a graduate I was told we had flexible working hours. I didn’t realise one my colleagues was part time and that’s why he typically started so late until my manager told me… Definitely the wrong person to model my understanding of “reasonable start times” on! (I was OK about working 11-7 instead of 9-5 so still doing my full hours but I hadn’t been given a “please get here by” time and therefore didn’t realise that wasn’t OK.)

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          See, if I had my druthers, I’d work 1 pm to 9 or 10 pm. But my workplace has “core hours” of 10 to 4. To get there at 10 takes me over an hour in traffic, and an hour and a half to get home. (They moved us 6 miles farther away from my house last year, my commute is now along the worst corridor in the area. Grrr.) I only get to WFH two days a week. So I literally waste a full workday equivalent in traffic in just three days on site.

          Flexible, but (inflexible rules) burns my jets some days. IMO, people shouldn’t claim “flexible” when they mean “just a little variation is allowed”. But that’s me.

    2. Parenthetically*

      Yeah, and I don’t think it’s too late for OP to ask explicitly either! Even if it’s been a month or two, I don’t think a reasonable manager would be put off by OP coming to say, “Hey, I’m realizing that, as someone who’s only ever been in hourly jobs, I’m having a hard time figuring out the norms around when people come and go in salaried positions! Can you give me a sense of how people manage their time as far as when they come to work and when they leave, and lunch breaks, and anything else it might not be obvious to me to know?”

  15. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

    I had to remind my boss, the owner of the company, that just because our clients have his cell phone number and text him after hours doesn’t mean he HAS to answer those texts. We’re in residential construction, so it can feel very personal to our clients since we’re building them a place to live. Some after hours communication might be okay, since that’s when our clients aren’t at work and have time to reach out. However, we shouldn’t be made to feel guilty if we’re not texting our clients back after 6:30 or 7:00pm, and ESPECIALLY if we don’t answer a weekend text until Monday.

    Boundaries are healthy. Breaks are healthy. VACATION is healthy.

  16. Lynca*

    I have set hours even as a salaried employee. I know plenty of people with flexible schedules in the private sector where they don’t have a traditional 9-5 schedule. Also not all salaried jobs have you trapped at a desk. I actually spend a lot of time out of the office going to different places for work purposes.

    And definitely ask during on-boarding if they have an employee handbook. Honestly all the places I’ve worked that have had one, it really helped to understand the basic requirements like core working hours, leave, etc. Doesn’t always help you with culture. You really do have to feel out the “what’s normal” as you go along and expect that there will just be some learning involved. The only thing I’d recommend is being proactive in asking questions.

    1. Clisby*

      Yes, OP definitely should ask about the policy/handbook. Before my long stretch of working 100% remotely before retiring, I worked about 9 years in-office for the same employer. The first week I was there, part of the orientation material I got was the written policy: Arrive between 7 and 9 a.m. Take at least 30 minutes, but up to 90 minutes for lunch. Outside of lunch, work 8 hours. In my department, there was variation among managers as far as extra flexibility was concerned – for example, I never had to commit to a particular daily schedule, while some people did – but those core features were the same for everyone. Everybody was entitled to an hour and a half lunch if they wanted it – that wasn’t up to some manager’s whim, or subject to what co-workers *thought* was enough time for lunch.

  17. Agile Phalanges*

    What Alison said–it varies a ton. My last job, I was salaried, and my job was super flexible but also more demanding than my current job. I could leave for a few hours in the middle of the day for a doctor’s appointment, but I had stuff that had to be done by certain deadlines, so it might mean I’d be working until 10:00 p.m. to get things done. However, I also had the flexibility to work from home or in the office, and while I needed to check e-mails all weekend, it wasn’t super onerous, and also meant that I could keep on top of things while off, as well.

    On the other hand, I’m salary at my current job, too, but it’s a tiny office and we’re open from 8 to 5. We stagger our lunches so we can be open to the public that entire time, so I coordinate with my co-worker, and usually take a full hour (or am gone for close to that, then eat at my desk after bringing food back, if I have other errands to do or whatever). None of my job can be done from home, I don’t have connectivity to e-mail when I’m not in the office, etc., so in this job, being salaried just means that if I take an hour or two off for a doctor’s appointment, I don’t deduct it or have to “make it up,” but if I stay an hour or three late one evening to finish something up (which is rare), I don’t get paid extra. Mostly, though, I work exactly 8-5. It’s kinda nice.

  18. Veryanon*

    I’ve had varied experiences at different workplaces.
    I’ve been in a salaried role at various companies for 20+ years. Some places had set hours, and I only stayed late/came in early if I had a special project or something time-sensitive. Other places expected me to be available pretty much 24/7, even when I was on vacation. That…was not ideal. One manager hated it that I would eat lunch away from my desk – I’d go to the little break room for 15-20 minutes to eat my lunch. That was more a control thing for her, though, as most people who worked there did the same.
    I still remember one manager who made a practice of calling me at 7 in the morning frequently to ask me something that could have waited until I got to the office. It was never something that was so urgent that she needed the answer right. that. minute. She *knew* I had small children and was in the throes of getting them ready for the day, but just didn’t care. I didn’t stay long at that job.
    My current role is awesome – my manager tells us often that we are not expected to check in after hours/on weekends/on vacation unless there is truly something going on that can’t wait. I do usually eat at my desk, but this is a personal preference as I often have conference calls in the middle of the day (I’m on the East Coast working with a lot of people on the West Coast).
    TL;DR – it varies.

  19. interrobang*

    Adding another vote for the mostly 40-hour government job. I work for a state agency. Most people are in the office 8:30-5 or so, and may or may not do some work at home that evening, depending on deadlines. Some have modified schedules and work 10 AM-7 PM. Some take a full hour for lunch (including me). Some eat at their desks and poke at work projects over lunch. There is absolutely no expectation that we’re checking email outside of work hours. I personally will do a couple hours of work on a weekend if I’m super excited about a project or had to take a sick day that week and need to get something done. We are all expected to be in the office during the “core hours” of 9-4 unless there’s a specific reason that we’re not, but you can flex time reasonably. The only real question is whether you’re getting your work done.

    We’re all encouraged to take our vacation time (which only ranges from 10-15 days a year unless you’ve been there a while). We’re all strongly discouraged from coming in while sick. We don’t get paid as much as the private sector, but it’s enough to live on and the work/life balance is fabulous.

    All of that is to say…this 100% depends on the culture of the workplace.

  20. hbc*

    I would also keep in mind that there’s nuance beyond what you see. You will probably have to match your trainer’s schedule or a “normal” one for the group when you’re new. The hour lunches at my current place drove me nuts at first, but I matched them just to maximize my time when other people are around. One I had three months under my belt, I felt free to shift my lunch shorter and my departure earlier. You can’t be the person coming in at 6:30 and going home at 3:00 off the bat.

    And even in a workplace that’s very flexible, it’s a bad look to maximize all that flexibility. It’s nearly impossible to have an odd schedule (by choice) and not be reachable at all during everyone’s normal business hours, or to come in at 10:00 and take an hour lunch when everyone else eats at their desk.

  21. blink14*

    My current and previous jobs (at totally different places and industries) are both salaried with set hours of 8:30 to 4:30 pm and an hour lunch break. Taking your lunch break was a requirement at my old job. At my current job, many people just at their desk, especially the higher level staff, but I always make a point to take my lunch break. I will occasionally cut it short if I need to leave early/come in late or have to go to an event, but generally speaking I take a full hour lunch break each day.

    I very rarely come in early or leave late – there has been on occasional last minute deadline or project where I’ve stayed a bit late or checked email from home, but I stick to my hours. At my level, which is above entry level but below a director, I frankly don’t get paid enough to work a ton of hours and be tied to my email 24/7. I also have chronic health issues that would make it virtually impossible to work a lot of overtime, I would burn out within a few weeks.

    MOST important: Set expectations from the start about being reachable after hours, working long hours, etc. Do this by your routine – don’t check email after you leave for the day (unless its a requirement of the job), try to stick to your set hours, etc. Read the workplace environment – are people staying crazy hours because they have actual work to do or because it’s expected? Are they checking email and making calls after work hours because it’s really necessary? In many cases, neither are really necessary on a daily basis, but that kind of behavior can create a vicious cycle where someone who is always available suddenly decides to have more work/life balance, and people panic because they can’t reach them after hours, they aren’t sitting at their desk for extended hours, etc. This is the best time to develop salaried job habits.

  22. Jennifer*

    I love this letter – it takes me way way back to my first “real” job. I also give the letter-writer for asking really good questions. I want to hug her and say “you got this, girl! You’re gonna be great at your salaried job!” :-) <3

  23. Jaybeetee*

    I’ve worked *many* jobs, from fast food as a teenager to archival work today. Of course, different places had different norms, and I got to the point where I would ask when starting somewhere new if I wasn’t sure about something (not so much “So can I come late/leave early?” More like “So how long are lunch breaks usually, and what do people do?”)

    In terms of coming late or leaving early, err on the side of caution until you know your specific workplace. Most places I’ve worked as a salaried employee haven’t been sticklers about time – but other places can be, so you don’t want to play a guessing game. If you befriend a colleague or two, asking them might be better than asking your boss, if you’re not sure.

    I have personally never needed to be reachable outside of work, save for rare emergencies. I don’t even have my current work email on my phone. On the rare occasions my boss has needed to reach me outside of work, she’s used my personal email. If you need to be reachable outside of work, you’ll know soon enough, as you’ll need the info to connect your work email to your devices.

    PTO attitudes are improving, but can vary. Typically you don’t want to take more than a week at a time unless it’s an exceptional circumstance. You also generally don’t want to burn 100% of your leave, just because it’s wise to keep a cushion if you suddenly need time off for something. But good workplaces don’t begrudge people taking leave they have banked.

    You’ll now have paid sick leave. *Most* places will start side-eyeing you if you call in too often. Once every couple months, unless you really need to take more. At one point I was under a lot of stress, and calling out about once a month. I was never in trouble for it, but I knew it didn’t look good.

  24. Retail not Retail*

    My manager is salaried and he’ll leave early in the afternoon for appointments or grandkid stuff. When it comes to a full day, he either uses PTO or does what we do – works one of the 2 days he has off (he needs sunday off so he works friday – next week i’m working sunday and monday to have tues and weds off).

    He may leave early BUT he also comes in a little bit earlier than we do (20 minutes) and just the fact that he’s suffering through a 6am start time makes a big difference.

  25. schnauzerfan*

    Salaried Librarian here. We are open 7 days a week and most days we’re open 14 hours or so. We are rigid about no overtime for hourly employees. Our campus is quite flexible for salaried people (faculty and admin types) We are expected to average 40 hours a week. We are not permitted to use leave for an absence of less than 8 hours. So if you have an appointment or family emergency, just make sure you have coverage and go. If you want a whole day off request it and use sick leave or annual leave whichever is appropriate. Take your lunch or eat at your desk, whatever works. Take 30 minutes or 2 hours as long as people know when to expect you back. On the other hand, if someone calls out on short notice, it’s going to be one of the salaried folks who stay to keep the library running, and you’ll need to do your share. You may be expected to come in on the weekend for special programs, etc. I check our ILL system on the weekend to see if there’s anything urgent I can take care of from home, usually takes just a few minutes, but I don’t worry about my email when I’m out as general questions go to an all staff box, and whoever is working should deal with anything urgent. It would be noticed if you were working only 30 hours on an ongoing basis, but no one said a word when I left an hour early everyday for 6 weeks for medical reasons… just figured I was making up for short lunches and weekend work. (my boss did know I was going for treatment)

    1. Cruciatus*

      I work at an academic library as a staff member. Two of us staff members are hourly-ish (that is, we get paid the same every month, but are expected to work 8 hours a day with lunch in there somewhere I am here 9 hours a day). My boss is salary but is still staff and is here 8 hours a day and has a lunch. However, there are some hard feelings because the librarians (who are supervised by the director, not my supervisor), come in around 8:30, leave at 4:30 and don’t take lunch (well, they do, but they count it as their working hours). I did the math and I work about a month more a year than they do based on just the extra hour I’m here a day! And staff are the ones who are expected to be on call for library stuff–because it just doesn’t occur to the librarians that they can open a library too! They aren’t monsters, I really like them all, but definitely some rankism there and they are just a little thoughtless sometimes about things like that.

    2. Oaktree*

      I assume you’re public- but you should really specify. Not doing so contributes to the erroneous perception among people not in the field that public (or academic) librarians are the only kind, and this has not-insignificant impacts on those of us working in special libraries (especially in corporate, where we often have a PR problem- “we’re spending how much on librarians? What do they do anyway?”). Just wanted to say that.

  26. Special Agent Michael Scarn*

    Ugh I feel this! Two years ago I started my first “real” job out of college and assumed I had to stay until 5 every day (even though I was getting in at 8). It took several of my co-workers kindly nudging me to hit the road at 4 before I finally felt comfortable leaving before 5 :)

  27. Allison*

    When I was salaried, I made an effort to get to the office when the day officially started (8:30AM) and leave around five when the day officially ended. I did learn that at times, it’s a good idea to check in with your boss before heading out, to a) make sure they know you’re done for the day and b) make sure they don’t have some last-minute thing for you to do. Otherwise you get a panicked project manager at your cubicle Monday morning asking you why you “ignored” a request from the VP that came through at 5:11PM on Friday, and you’re like “sorry, I’d already left for the day, but I’m working on it now.” That was fun.

    I’m not gonna tell you you need to be the first one in and the last one out, that’s good in practice but if you work on a big team with one early bird and one night owl you might never have time to yourself! Instead, try to be *one of* the first people there if you can, and leave around the same time most people leave. Don’t start packing up at 5 while everyone else is still plugging away.

    As for late-night emails, it’s fine to ask your manager whether they expect emails to be answered immediately, even at weird hours, or if they’re fine with those emails waiting until the following morning (or Monday) to be dealt with.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      “Don’t start packing up at 5 while everyone else is still plugging away.”

      This is a great short-hand way of saying be sensitive to social cues and be aware you’re a member of a team. (Even if you work alone, you’re still a member of the “team” that is the business.)

  28. Coffee Owlccountant*

    OP, it’s really common to ask these kinds of questions in your interview process, too! Especially if anything about the interview process sets off your spidey senses that maybe this organization doesn’t have great work-life balance or is over-the-top rigid on things like punctuality and butts-in-seats. Some people really don’t mind that kind of rigidity, either. A good exercise for you looking forward to salary jobs is to be really honest with yourself about what you can and can’t live with and stick to it, even if it means walking away from a job that might otherwise be attractive. It’s way better to know going in with your eyes open than to be unhappily surprised.

    Also, just like Alison said, there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all answer to your questions, they are all entirely dependent on the industry, the organization, and frequently, your individual boss.

  29. Oh No She Di'int*

    I would also add one piece of advice from experience: Do not assume your manager is an all-knowing, all-seeing wizard who’s in conscious control of every aspect of your experience. If something isn’t working for you regarding your schedule, workload, lunch breaks, etc. raise the issue explicitly with your manager so that a solution can be worked out. It’s possible that they truly don’t know it’s a problem.

    As a more mature manager myself, I’ve gotten a bit better about heading off problems before they arise, but I’m still occasionally blindsided by an employee who is suddenly fed up with working on weekends when I had no idea they were working weekends! (Most of my staff work on projects with nebulous time expectations–think writing or design–where it’s not possible to know by looking at something whether it took 2 hours or 2 days to accomplish it.)

    As in most cases, this all depends on the industry and the specific work environment. YMMV.

  30. Bookworm1858*

    When I was promoted to a salaried from an hourly position last year, I confirmed with my boss that the general expectation was for me to still have a roughly 40-hour work week pending projects and that has worked great! I also have not been asked to add a work phone to my possessions so I’m off the hook there. So much variety in cultures and will definitely depend on where you end up – good luck!

  31. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    As a salaried employee, my org expects 40 hours out of me. I don’t have to clock in or out, but my time card defaults to 8 hours per day, M-F. I normally do roughly 7-3:30 (allowing for a 30 minute lunch, though I usually eat at my desk while working), but I’ve done 2am-10:30am in the past for a week, I’ve done an hour late here and an hour early there, nobody fusses if I take a long lunch for an appointment. We can only take PTO in increments of a full or half day, so anything less than about 3 hours, I give my boss a heads-up and flex it.

    For me, mine is not a job where I ever finish all the work; there’s always something else I can do. So literally finishing my work at 1pm on a Friday and cutting out early isn’t a thing. But simultaneously, having to work *beyond* my normal schedule also isn’t a thing very often, because the work will always be there, so there’s not usually any reason I can’t stop at my normal time tonight and pick up again in the morning.

  32. somebody blonde*

    I personally care a lot about my ability to leave work at work, so I always get this stuff nailed down when I’m interviewing. I ask “Is this the kind of job that stays at the office, or do people tend to do homework in the evenings?” And I also ask how often people work overtime. Those 2 questions are usually enough to gauge if it’s the right kind of place for me, but if I got vague answers, I’d probably dig in more on things like cross-training and coverage to see if they can handle my workload when I take PTO.

    1. 1234*

      Do they ever give you the side-eye or look at you strangely when you ask about people taking work home with them? I feel like some places would read that as “This person seems lazy!”

      Meanwhile, I’m right there with you in wanting work to stay at work.

      1. another Hero*

        Eh, if they give you side-eye, you know you don’t want to work for them, though? If they think not wanting to take work home is a bad kind of laziness, rather than a reasonable way of being a human?

  33. Me*

    Something that confuses some of the newer employees has been as a new employee you do not have the same flexibility as an employee who has been here for much longer. Make sure that you aren’t expecting the same flexibility as the new guy as the person who’s been there a decade and work is proven.

  34. Always Learning*

    I supervise a team of 5 exempt employees, many of whom used to be hourly in their previous roles. One challenge I face is with people who feel that their hours don’t matter “as long as their work gets done”, but my company is large and corporate, does not allow telecommuting, and values presenteeism. As you can imagine, it means I have to watch full-grown adults like a preschool teacher and document their comings and goings, which is not fun.

    I also have a couple of team members who will come in late or leave early for an occasional doctor’s appointment, which is fine on its own. But, the company policy states they are responsible for making up that time somewhere else so their work hours still total an average of 40. However, they cite stringent personal schedules and childcare responsibilities, so those “make-up” hours never really happen. They will also claim that because they worked the “majority” of the day (say, 5 out of 8), that it’s OK simply because they’re exempt.

    I do not enjoy being a middle manager with such stringent policies to enforce. Sometimes I wish everyone was hourly so it would be cut and dry for time, OT, etc.

  35. Delta Delta*

    I’ve got a great toxic boss story about this! In fact, when it happened, I thought I’d save this for the right time in the AAM comment section. Now feels like that time!

    Small law firm (6-8 lawyers). Boss hired Associate, who was fresh out of school and not admitted to practice yet. On Associate’s *first day* Boss was very busy and had other attorneys show Associate what to do, get oriented, etc. It was summertime, so daylight hours went quite late. The office technically closed at 4:30. Around 5:30 on Associate’s first day (so, still very light outside), Boss was storming around, looking for Associate. Couldn’t find them. This turned into a rage that Associate was “gone already.” There was a lot of “how dare they” and “this is unbelievable” sort of ranting. At one point I believe Boss said, “when it’s your first couple years in a law firm you never leave when the sun is up” (not true for the garbage pay we were making at that place). Boss also said he would “dock their pay” for leaving at 5:30. Finally someone pointed out that a) it was an hour past closing, b) Associate had actually left around 5:15, c) nobody told them they couldn’t leave so when Associate said to someone else who was leaving, “think I can leave?” and the person said yes, it seemed fine.

    I don’t work there anymore. Neither does Associate.

  36. Heidi*

    Hi OP. If you are wary of asking when you are allowed to leave, you can ask the opposite – is there a time that you’re expected to be out of the building? I started a job once and didn’t know that we were supposed to let the security desk know if we were staying late, and they locked the gate outside our building and I couldn’t get out. Luckily, I found a phone number at the security desk and someone came to let me out. But apparently the area isn’t that safe at night, so they won’t let us stay in the building unless there’s a guard.

    1. James*

      While not on the same scale as that, I’ve stayed at the office well past closing (think 8 or 9 pm), and the third-shift cleaning staff came through. They were disconcerted to see someone else there–friendly enough about it, but it was pretty clear that I was interrupting their work flow. It was a gentle reminder that I needed to go home.

      I was also once buzzed by a C130 doing a bombing training flight. We were at a field office on a military base, and were standing around chatting after work, well after dark, with a car’s headlights on. The planes has been doing practice runs all day, which isn’t terribly unusual. This one, though, decided to investigate why there were lights. It got a bit close for comfort, at least for us civilians!

      At a certain point, you realize the universe is telling you “GO HOME!” :D

  37. blink14*

    Another anecdote from a short term temp job I took before getting a permanent job. I filled in for an office manager at a financial firm who was on vacation, and it seemed like most of the people never left their offices, let alone the actual building to go home. My hours were 9-5, and all of the employees with the exception of an HR person were in before the sun was up and left far after I did.

    The major perk there was high end catered lunches everyday from local restaurants. And what killed me is that NONE of the female staff, with the exception of me and the HR person, ate the lunch. Those women lived in yogurt and not much else. There was so much left over every day that the HR person practically begged me to take some home every night, so I ended up with free lunch and dinner every day during that assignment.

    Biggest thing I learned from this job, besides even more appreciation for free, delicious food? I had absolutely no desire to work at a finance firm, and avoided applying to admin jobs at places like that.

    1. 1234*

      I feel like overall, finance as a whole has a reputation for long, soul-sucking hours in exchange for a higher salary. I’m sure there’s some truth to that reputation.

      1. blink14*

        Oh definitely. My father has been in finance for a long time, and he always says if he had the chance to go back, he’d choose a different path – maybe still finance but in a different industry.

  38. 1234*

    I had an INTERNSHIP at a small business where “leaving early” meant leaving at 7PM. I think I got there at 8 or 9AM and the owner’s assistant was there an hour before me. As an intern who was paid $30/day, I remember working long days and not being able to leave until 8PM or so. EVERYONE kept long hours because the owner was one of those “passionate about the business” types. How did I know I could leave? Her or her assistant would say something like “You can head out for the day.”

    Next up, I had an hourly 9-5 job (but similar jobs in the industry were salaried) but we were expected to work past 5PM if we had reports to get out to clients etc. We didn’t have to ask for overtime because we had a digital time sheet where we “clocked in” and “clocked out.” This company were owned by deeply religious people who needed to do “religious things” on certain days of the week during business hour but nobody in my department followed that religion so my team and managers had to stay past the time the “religious people” (good portion of the company) left for the day.

    Then, I had one of those “work hard play hard” jobs where the hours were long. One time, I didn’t leave until 10PM and then went back by 9AM the next morning. This job was entry-mid level and paid $35K about half a decade ago. Of course, I knew the industry kept long hours but no way did I expect for my boss to be emailing or texting me on a Saturday afternoon going “Did you get to the Y task yet?” “Ok, what about Z task?” It was only one boss who did that and none of those things were emergencies. Of course, they used the phrase “work hard play hard” in the interview but I didn’t pick up on that. Let that be a lesson for anyone else :)

    Now, I’m at a great “please leave, it’s 5PM, that can wait until tomorrow” place and they actually mean it. It’s the best environment out of the ones I’ve described. The workload is manageable, sane, and while I don’t use a lot of flex time, I’m sure that taking off on a Tuesday morning for a doctor’s appointment is not a big deal. However, because of the great work-life balance, those of us who are at a more lower level are expected “butts in seats until 5PM regardless of workload.” No dipping out at 3PM unless there is an emergency like impending snowstorm etc.

  39. Jenn*

    Insurance/Account Executive-15 years in the industry.
    With smartphones and email on the go, yes I am expected to do some level of monitoring what comes in after hours or when on PTO. It’s the nature of client management.

    My current company is very lax with start and stop times for salaried individuals but have an expectation that you will do the majority of your work during core hours and monitor emails if you know you have a situation you need to stay on top of.

    I think if you’re in client management, there’s no real set times but there is the expectation of maintaining some level of visibility during certain times of the year.
    My prior company was butts in seats from 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m and lord help you if you walked out any earlier that 4:30 and came in later than 8 a.m. There also was an expectation that “vacation is just work with a better view.” No wonder I was out for 6 months for mental health…

  40. Tau*

    This is a very timely post, as I am currently in the process of figuring out whether I can get away with leaving early on Fridays in my new job. It doesn’t seem common in my team, but I’m also the first one in by a decent margin, and I’m in Germany where we have stricter maximum overtime regulations anyway…

    Man, there are times I really miss my timesheet and core hours. I used to always adjust my schedule and lunch break so I could leave at three on Friday, knowing nobody in the company would say a word against it. The whole “flexibility! we trust you to manage your hours!” thing is not all it’s cracked up to be.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      Talk to your manager? It sounds like it should be fine so long as he knows you’re doing your hours (and possibly that if there’s an emergency you’re happy to stay later but may need to adjust your hours the following week to stay within the EU working regulations if that’s allowed (my working week is only 35 hours so well within, I’m not sure if we can adjust across weeks officially)?

  41. Enginear*

    2nd the observing of other colleagues and see when they come in and leave. Then match that. At my workplace, they’re super flexible if you need to take off to a doctor’s appointment or get your car serviced etc. As long as we are honest and put in our 40 hours a week we’re good. I usually take short lunches or work an hour or two longer each day to make up for my time.

  42. theelephantintheroom*

    It’s also OK to ask your manager if you can have different hours. Like most of my co-workers like to come in at 10 and leave at 6.

    I prefer to avoid traffic at all costs AND have uninterrupted time to work (which friendly coworkers can thwart). So I arranged with my manager to come in early and leave early. By the time my coworkers arrive, I’m caffeinated, I’ve gotten a lot off my plate, and I can handle the conversations that are bound to happen. And then I get to leave before traffic picks up, which is amazing.

    It’s perfectly fine to have these conversations with your manager, understanding that the answer might be, “No.” Doesn’t hurt to try!

  43. Mel_05*

    You can figure some of it out by observation, but often you’re just going to have to ask.

    My office has the weirdest expectations and they’re different than the rest of the company so I just had to ask them to spell it out. It’s actually a nice set up once you know what’s up, but it’s not a thing anyone would assume on their own.

  44. AthenaC*

    I think this question is a good reminder for those in supervisory / management positions: people don’t know your expectations if you don’t tell them.

    If people normally get to disconnect after 5:30ish, but during crunch time you need to be responsive until 10:00 pm – then tell them that explicitly. Most people who have worked for me are only too happy to do what needs to be done … provided I tell them that and they also see me working alongside them.

  45. Oaktree*

    I’m a salaried employee and my stated hours are 8-4. To ensure coverage, two of the four other [job title]s in my department are 9-5 and 10-6. We tend to stagger our lunches, too- each of us always takes a full hour unless there’s something pressing- and two of us go from 12-1, two go from 1-2, and one from 2-3. I’ve stayed late and come in early, but I’ve never stayed more than 5 or come in earlier than 7, and never on the same day. I leave at 4 pm or when my work is done, whichever comes second. My supervisor is really not a butts-in-seats person, but I’ve worked for so many bosses who are (and before this job, only in shift work) which has left me with a bit of a “they have to see me at my desk or they’ll think I’m slacking!!” mentality. In reality, it’s not that big of a deal; my train was delayed by a half hour the other day and my boss didn’t ask me to shorten my lunch or stay late.

    But all this is contingent on the organization, and on the department within the organization. There are no hard and fast rules. Ask about it in an interview, but don’t be surprised if you get one answer from HR in the first interview and another answer from the person who you’ll report to directly in the second interview.

  46. Stargirl156*

    Most of this is very helpful. My only question would be if your salary CAN they mandate that u work set number of hrs. I always thought that salary worked in the businesses favor especially during peak times. I’m management in retail and told I must work 50 hrs but can’t really find it in any of our handbooks.

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