my employee insists at leaving at 5 on the dot — and is missing deadlines

A reader writes:

I manage a large team. Most of the team members are hard working, dedicated, and open to putting in extra hours when it’s occasionally needed to compete tasks.

However, I have one employee, Lisa, who leaves at 5 p.m. on the dot regardless of whether or not the job is competed. The entire team is on salary, so it’s not about the hours but about the work.

I constantly hear “I’m so busy,” yet she never stays late to catch up or complete the work. I’m constantly pushing back deadlines because the work doesn’t get done. I look up at 5 p.m. and she’s gone. Sometimes I wish I could just tell her to put in a few more hours to catch up and get the work done.

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  •  My whole team brings their spouses on business trips
  • Running into a candidate we rejected

{ 385 comments… read them below }

  1. Caroline*

    I think Lisa is doing well to maintain healthy boundaries and a work/life balance! If people are often expected to work over their hours to get the job done, then perhaps there is too much work and not enough staff to do it.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Right? This was my first thought as well. If the LW is “constantly” hearing that Lisa is busy and “constantly” pushing back deadlines, then this sounds like by the LW’s own admission the volume of work cannot regularly be completed in the time frame expected and she needs to look at workload.

      I know this is an older letter so I hope the same LW would have a different attitude now based on all the changes that have happened in the workplace in the last two years, but I hate the (implied) idea that Lisa doesn’t work hard or isn’t dedicated just because she sets boundaries for herself at work.

      1. Doing the best we can*

        Likewise, I’d like to know more about the deadlines. It’s possible most of the teams don’t have to work late much and only do so when absolutely necessary, and that Lisa is missing too many deadlines. It’s possible the issue is Lisa doesn’t view the deadlines as firm deadlines if they have been moved back so frequently. That might be totally independent of her needing to work more hours.

    2. Xavier Desmond*

      Agreed. This attitude of you need to stay late to finish your work is going to affect anyone with caring responsibilities too. The knock on effect leads to more negative outcomes for women at work (women are more likely to be carers).

      1. Doing the best we can*

        I was surprised there wasn’t more said about addressing the missed deadlines rather than working late. Maybe there could be other solutions rather than just not leaving at 5 pm.

      2. Green great dragon*

        Yeh, she could have a reason she can’t be flexible about leaving times – childcare is the obvious but not the only one. Does she ever leave early, or does she do exactly 9 to 5 every day? Was it made clear to her when she took the job that she would be expected to stay late when things were busy?

        Of course it may mean this job compatible with her other responsibilities. But ‘you need to be able to stay late with no notice’ coming out of the blue is a *lot*. I’d want to start with more of a discussion about the problem. If she can stay late, that’s one conversation. If she can’t, are there other options (come in early, wfh) and would she be open to this? Ultimately, would you be willing to lose her over this?

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          There does need to be some kind of conversation, and I think it’s overdue on both sides. I think Lisa needs to make it clear with work if she has a hard stop, and OP needs to set expectations. The problem is neither of them is initiating that communication, in which case it’s really on OP to do so.

        2. Yorick*

          It does sound like there is notice to staying late, though – she has deadlines that she’s not meeting, and that might mean she needs to plan to stay late the day of or day before a deadline.

          We don’t know that this is a workload issue – if she’s often turning things in one or two days late, it may be easily fixed by staying a little late here and there.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            It could be what I think of as a cascade issue, where being late once meant pushing back the next project, making that late, which pushed back the next project, making that late … so the actual amount of extra time it would take to fix is only 2-3 hours total but it’s had an ongoing disproportionate impact. And if those 2-3 hours could be fit in, the effect would stop, at least until the next more-than-40-hours time crunch came along.

            I had that happen once — with schoolwork, not paid work — and it can be frustrating to be in that kind of loop.

            But even more if it turned out she had some responsibility where she couldn’t sit down for those extra hours no matter how much she wants.

            AND we really can’t tell from the letter if it is a cascade or it the boss is just piling on too much work.

    3. Jean*

      If it’s an every day thing, then sure. But it’s not unreasonable to be expected to stay later for time-sensitive things that come up.

      Having said that, I’d be interested to know more background on this. Did Lisa historically have to stay later a lot to finish things because of the team being shorthanded, and then decide she didn’t want to do that anymore? Is she newer to the team, and just not clued in properly to the culture/expectations yet? In any case, a direct conversation is called for here, if for no other reason than to make the expectation – not that Lisa will have her butt in her seat until X time, but that missing deadlines is not acceptable and has to stop – crystal clear going forward.

    4. Rayray*

      I agree. I am for the most part willing to pull a little extra time when needed, but I simply can’t do it every day. I need time to unwind and also tend to personal needs. I honestly am all for cutting the 40 hour work week back because it’s a lot. In fact, if I could get more sleep each night, have time for exercise, errands, socializing etc I might be able to work a more productive six hours than what I could get done in 8.

      Other things to consider, people often rely on public transportation, want to get ahead of heavy rush hour traffic, need to relieve a babysitter, etc so it may not be feasible to frequently have days you need to work longer without warning:

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I agree with Allision that this needs to go both ways though. The more flexible a company is with me, the more I’m willing to work late or come in early. If they are a hard ass about going to a doctors appointment in the middle of the day or make me take PTO because I need to get off an hour early because my kid threw up at daycare, hell yes I am leaving on the dot every day. If they are gonna nickel and dime me over hours I’m gonna nickle and dime them right back, I’m just playing the game they set up by their own rules.

        1. Jean*

          THIS. In a previous (hourly) position, I was always subjected to passive aggressive admonishments about leaving right at 5 every day, by the SAME PEOPLE who regularly lectured my team about being super careful not to get any unapproved overtime. It’s stuff like that that kills people’s morale and makes them despise their management. Yes, I’m watching the clock at the end of the day. Like you asked us to. Deal with it. (To be fair, I also rarely if ever got behind on my work, and never missed a deadline.)

          1. Lyngend (Canada)*

            As an hourly employee I’ve faced a lot of pressure to work off the clock due to not getting my work done. By my managers. Even when the company policy (and law) was, you have to get paid for working.
            Like companies and managers will make up excuses like “that’s the equivalent of commuting” (spending 30 minutes every day to load programs) or “that’s not working, it’s being observant” (spending 5-10 minutes checking everything out before my shift starts)
            Sadly I’ve had to decide that sometimes having a steady income means not standing up for yourself. (because I know my current employer would fire me for fighting to get paid for the unpaid work. And wfh jobs aren’t common in my area for my skill set)

        2. TW1968*

          Right with you! I’ve heard so many stories about people being told (salaried position) “you need to stay late to finish this important (but of course it’s not really *that* important) .” Then the next week you need to (or can) leave a bit early either due to light workload that day or other responsibilities and THEN it’s all “OOH you need to take PTO for that hour you took off early!” Do you WANT to kill loyalty? Because THAT’S how you kill loyalty.

          I also wonder if this boss is abusing her salaried employees. Why not just pay them hourly and then see if “Lisa” will stay later then?

        3. JM60*

          I agree, but want to add that even when employers are also flexible with their employees, it’s often not equal. For instance, occasionally staying an extra couple hours until 7pm during busier times isn’t seen as unusual for salaried employees in many sectors. On the other hand, leaving for the day just as early, 3pm instead of 5pm, would typically not be considered okay for those same jobs during times in which there’s less work. What the employees are likely to instead get in exchange is being able to leave about a half hour early (when their workload is lower), plus being able to go to dentist/doctor appointments without having their pay deducted.

          Also, employers control staffing levels and workload. So even if the employer allows employees to leave early if they finished their work, the employer can make it such that the workload of most employees bottoms out around 40 hours of work per week during the less busy times of the year, and exceeds 40 hours per week other times of the year. As of 2014, the average full-time employee in the US worked 47 hours a week. That sounds like the “flexibility” is really working against employees on the whole.

        4. just some guy*

          It always puzzles me that “hey, we’re short on budget this month so we’re going to withhold $100 of your salary” would be rightly seen as an outrageous business practice, but “hey, we’re short on time this month so we’re going to need you to work $100 worth of uncompensated hours” is just a normal acceptable thing in so many places.

          Last time I worked on a weekend, I had two layers of management telling me “are you sure? You don’t need to do that, this is our problem not your problem” and that attitude is exactly why I was willing to volunteer. They respected my time, they weren’t taking unpaid labour for granted, and they’d shown me flexibility in the past, so I was happy to help out for a genuine emergency.

      2. Gatomon*

        Exactly, I can’t do it every day either. I max out around 44 hours in a week and average 41. A 44 hour week means I’m exhausted for the next week and I’ve spent my weekend just trying to recover. Most of my extra hours come from working late nights past 11 p.m. on tasks that simply can’t be done during the daytime, so every time that happens my sleep schedule is disrupted.

        I feel like exemption is supposed to be for those business needs that need to be addressed outside normal business hours, but don’t occur often enough to justify having a second or third shift all the time. I am fine with sacrificing my evening when it’s needed, but I feel like the routine pieces of my job should be able to be completed within my routine hours. If you need me to work late to fix the critical bug in the software program or do a system update, I’ll do it. That’s why I make the big bucks. If you need me to work late every day to complete my TPS reports, there’s a problem.

    5. whimbrel*

      I agree, and I have to wonder if this is as ‘occasional’ as the LW thinks it is. Speaking as a salaried person, working overtime on an occasional deadline (like, say, every few months to finish up quarterly reports, or on the final push to release a large project) is fine with me. But if this is happening to LW’s staff often enough that a 40h work week is not enough time to complete the workload, something is awry.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        Lots of workplaces expect salaried employees to put in more than 40 hours a week, routinely. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, especially if it’s a LOT more than 40, but it’s a thing. Retail, biglaw, nonprofits, academia, etc all tend to expect more like >50 hours a week.

        I think LW needs to dig deeper into how much work her report is responsible for compared to her peers, and how efficient she is. It could well be that she has taken on more responsibilities than her coworkers. Or, maybe is one of those people that complain about how busy they are all day when their day mostly consists of complaining about how busy they are.

        I remember working with someone who complained endlessly about how busy she was, and it turned out her sole accomplishment one morning was putting addresses on about a dozen envelopes. Things like this may bias me, but IME those that complain most about their busyness are rarely the ones getting the most accomplished.

        1. Please release me, let me go*

          I work in a salaried position where I easily work 60 hrs a week. I also leave right at 5 as I have to make childcare pick-up. I start work early, I generally work through lunch and I complete tasks after bedtime routine. It is really common that people absolutely have to leave at 5. It is also common that people leaving at 5 may actually be putting in more time than those that stay until 7 (but came in at 9, took lunch, stopped to go to the gym, chatted with their friends, hopped on ask a manager… ). Just looking at the clock when someone leaves is not a good metric of productivity, work ethic or dedication. It punishes people who are care givers and feeds into the idea that just number of hours in the office is somehow laudable. Now, if there is a time management issue here that is causing missed deadlines, that is another issue.

        2. Lysine*

          not gonna lie I have this bias as well. The people who I know who were the loudest about how busy they were, are usually not nearly as busy as the people who don’t have time to even lodge that complaint.

        3. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I rarely work(ed) a 40-hour week as a salaried manager or individual contributor, and it has everything to do with my function – corporate recruiting. Like other high-touch, time-sensitive functions, an 8 am to 5 pm day often isn’t long enough, no matter how well staffed we are. It wasn’t and still isn’t unusual for me and my team to put in 50 hours minimum to stay on top of things, even with contract recruiters and sourcers to help with our workloads. I usually put in time over the weekend, too: cleaning out my Outlook inbox, work-related training, and administrivia. But I don’t expect my team to do that, ever.

          Before mandating that Lisa stay late, I hope OP finds out why she keeps to a schedule. Like so many have said, Lisa may have family obligations she can’t ignore – and she shouldn’t!

          In my experience, when people miss deadlines it’s often due to workload imbalance, which is OP’s problem to resolve. It’s also often due to poor time management on the employee’s part, which means OP should coach in time management while at work, or retraining on certain skills or functions so Lisa can be more efficient.

          But flatly requiring ‘Stay late!’ isn’t going to do anything except make Lisa look for a new job.

        4. The Other Dawn*

          I agree. LW needs to dig deeper to figure out why the employee is missing deadlines.

          I also agree that those who complain the loudest about being busy are usually the ones accomplishing much less than others in the same role. I have someone now who is salary-exempt and she puts in 40 hours, but she’s always asking for deadlines to be moved (sometimes possible, not always), has the most errors in a job comparable to others in the department AND she’s senior in that position, and constantly complains that the workload is too much, while her workload is actually the same as those junior to her. We’re now managing her VERY closely and she will likely be on a PIP soon if things don’t improve.

          I’m salary-exempt and I’m paid to get my job done. I average about 45-48 hours a week and I’m usually logged out by 4pm, because I log in/get to the office about 6:30 am. Thankfully my boss doesn’t care when I work, as long as I get the job done. I just choose to come in early and leave early.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            Yes, this. I was very happy to work 9 am to 6 pm, when most of the office was 7:30 to 4:30 (and some dawn patrollers had even earlier hours, but *that* was ok because of the corporate culture). But people still looked at me funny when I came in at 9 and took lunch at 1 instead of noon. Sigh.

      2. Meep*

        I used to work 50-60 hour weeks and it got me nowhere. Partially because EVERYTHING was a Code Red emergency. Partially because my boss was an unethical P.O.S. who told me not to record those hours or it would just get me more work. In actuality, she was an unethical P.O.S. who was using it to show why I didn’t deserve a raise. It was once I put down my boundaries and worked only 40 hours a week did it become clear to everyone there was a problem with overworking employees. In fact, I was getting more work done because I wasn’t suffering from burnout and disenchantment.

        OP needs to consider what atmosphere they are promoting by expecting Lisa not to stay until 5:01 PM and if there is actually a NEED to.

        1. London Calling*

          I’ve also done the overtime and the weekends. My reward was being canned after twelve years. There has to be a VERY compelling reason (like, being paid hourly) for me to do overtime. And when I was paid hourly I did the overtime if there was a compelling work reason for it. Salaried? not so much.

          1. Meep*

            Ouch. That is cruel.

            My P.O.S. boss did try to get me fired at the start of the health crisis to cover up the fact she wasn’t working, but that failed and I did finally get my first raise after three years. It just took having a good manager who valued me. Now I am making 2x what I would be making under her. All the more reason not to break your back for nothing, I suppose.

            1. London Calling*

              It wasn’t actually that bad. I was burning out with the job and looking for other things, and their redundancy packages were renowned for generosity – think a month for every year worked. Little straws in the wind convinced me that I was the one in the firing line, so once I worked out that I’d get a year’s salary tax free I sat back and waited, then took the better part of a year off. And radcially re-aligned any expectations I’d previously naively held about employer to employee loyalty.

        2. Karia*

          Yep. When I was younger I was in a similar situation, and it was solely because the company wanted to save money, by ‘running lean’. I now work regular hours, from home, for *far* more money and almost no stress. This sort of environment is often a choice.

          1. Meep*

            For me, it was a start-up and the owner is a workaholic, so it is definitely cultural. But I have noticed people do better work when they aren’t stressed about being fired while working 60+ hour weeks. Who would’ve thunk!

            1. London Calling*

              I don’t know how people physically manage 50-60 hour weeks on a regular basis. I had one job where I did them for a few weeks and it was punishing.

              1. Karia*

                I agree. I ‘managed’ it by sacrificing my health and social life, in ways I’m still recovering from. It wasn’t remotely worth it. I genuinely do not understand how people work 60 hour weeks and manage to commute, eat real food, exercise, sleep, or have any life outside of work. Unless they have a SAHP or 24/7 personal assistant, I don’t get it.

              2. The Other Dawn*

                I, too, worked for a startup and routinely did 60 hours a week. I would say at the time it was fine, mainly because I was very eager to learn and move my way up the corporate ladder. Plus, I was in my 20s at the time and very driven. It paid off for me in the form of promotions and great raises, and being the go-to person for pretty much everything, whether it was my department or not.

                Now that I’m 47? Nope, fuck that. I’m a department manager; however, I’m very happy these days to just go in/sign on, do my job, and leave/sign off. I average about 45-48 hours and I’m typically good at not bringing my work home anymore, though I do spend some time lately thinking about employee issues going on or ways to do things more efficiently. All that said, I’m actively working on moving out of management and into being an indivual contributor, AND moving into a completely different subject matter area on top of that. Thankfully I have a boss that is extremely supportive of education and also making sure people are in the right job for them, even if it means losing someone to another department.

        3. Frankly!*

          This is exactly right for me also. 50-60 hour weeks got me a 1 percent raise. I started leaving at 5 and frankly, coming in later. Constant promotions after that. Nobody likes to hear the truth, but staying late gets you nothing except stress.

    6. Susan1*

      I agree and I’m surprised by this answer. It makes me wonder if this staff has more work than the others do. Also if staff are being asked to work late they should also be advised they can use lieu time for another time to leave early

    7. Hard working parent*

      Does Lisa have care-giving responsibilities? I work long hours and take work home with me at night. However, I have to leave at 5 pm on the dot (like lots of people) as I have a “hard stop” last pick-up time for day care. Some people really have to go at 5 and that is not an unreasonable time to leave the office. it is not like she is leaving at 4 every day.

      1. Another hardworking parent*

        Also a parent, and I was surprised that Allison didn’t address this in her response. Many people do have a hard stop to the workday for any number of reasons, the most common if which would be daycare. this doesn’t mean missing deadlines, people can finish work at home or come in early, but insisting that people must stay late without considering their reasons for leaving at a specific time is unfair.

        1. Hard working parent*

          Exactly! You have to meet deadlines (work through lunch, come in early, work in the evening at home) but lots of people absolutely have to leave right at 5.

          1. Green great dragon*

            I agree about the hard stop. And I’d argue you don’t have to meet deadlines at all costs – a few ‘at desk’ lunches, extra hours whatever may be OK for most people, but no employer has the right to make their deadlines top priority for their employees’ lives beyond their standard hours.

        2. The Original K.*

          Not a parent but I agree. The penalty for late day care pickup is severe (which I also get; it has to hurt so people don’t abuse it). $10 for every minute late and your kid not being allowed back the following day are two such penalties I’ve heard from the parents in my life who have young kids.

            1. lost academic*

              That is truly something I have never heard of. My experience primarily from policies I’ve read and observations is that the facility just kicks you out and they make it clear that they will.

            2. pancakes*

              That’s nuts. CPS or local prosecutor or someone should come down hard on people trying to pester them / misuse resources that way.

              1. Anonynony*

                My experience with licensed facilities, as both a member of a preschool board and a daycare user, is that it is absolutely the case that contacting the authorities is part of the (DCFS-approved) late pickup policy. I think my current daycare’s policy is to call police or CPS at 1 hour late; before that, you’re just racking up extra charges by the minute. It makes sense in that daycare providers also need to be able to leave work for the day and may have their own responsibilities, but can’t abandon the children. So police or CPS are really the only option at that point.

              2. pancakes*

                I can understand if people are an hour late; at that point it’s a serious question of where are that child’s parents. I would hope that doesn’t happen often though! I have a relative who runs a licensed daycare with his wife and now I’m curious how they handle it.

              3. New Jack Karyn*

                What would you do if the day care has been closed for an hour, and the parents are no call/no show to pick up their child?

        3. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

          I had to explain to my childless coworker why I had to leave exactly at 4:30 every day to make it to daycare on time. She shrugged and said when she had kids the day care would just have to deal with her being late all the time. Hahahaha. Yeah they’ll charge you $X per minute late and then eventually they’ll drop you as a client.

          1. The Original K.*

            “The day care would just have to deal with her being late all the time.” Bless her heart. They do not, will not, and should not. (People who are chronically late and assume everyone around them should just deal with it are a huge pet peeve of mine.)

          2. pancakes*

            I think that’s what happened with Andrea in the French version of Call My Agent. She ended up sneaking the baby into the daycare after they tried to fire her. Funny on TV but not so much in real life!

          3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            Most of us childfree folks aren’t as ignorant as your colleague, thankfully.

            1. starfox*

              Sounds like that person wasn’t childfree, just had grown children and I guess “back in her day” the daycare would just keep taking care of the kids without penalty.

              1. The Original K.*

                “When she had kids the day care would just have to deal with her being late all the time” sounds like a future prediction to me, not a “back in my day” remembrance. It sounds like the colleague didn’t have kids, intended to, and assumed day care workers would just sit around indefinitely waiting for her to show up.

      2. Rayray*

        Even if 4 was her stop time, as long as she puts in the hours she agreed too, she shouldn’t be expected to stay late all the time.

        I say that as someone who has worked in offices with flexible start times so I like to work early and get out of work early. I had one office where latecomers frequently made me stay later because they didn’t get stuff done that I had to work on before I left. And it’s not like I randomly surprised them that I wanted to leave at 3:30-4:00, it was my typical schedule.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Lisa needs to negotiate that, then, instead of breezing out and then holding up the work train.

        1. Astrid*

          “breezing out”? I don’t get that impression. There are many times in my life where I had a hard stop at a certain time due to family obligations (day care) and I never “breezed out”.

          1. Frankly!*

            I love how 5 pm is seen as “breezing out”. Perspective is everything! I know employees who you will never see past 4:01 pm deadlines or not.

      4. Twill*

        This was my first immediate thought! Those days are long behind me, but when I had kids at daycare (who had been dropped off before I even got to the office), I had to be out the door at 5 to get through traffic and hopefully get the kids by 5:30 – 5:45, to get to my house by 6:15 – 6:30, to get to the kitchen to get dinner started and clock in for my ‘second job’ aka domestic engineer! And yes I do/did have a spouse and yes they were handling the circus just like I was, but the bottom line was this – I have been at the office from 8am to 5pm with maybe a 30 minute lunch – I need to leave now. I have worked Saturdays when needed, and definitely done plenty of OT – but that was with pre-planning and arrangements I had to make in order to stay after 5.
        I realize this may not be the situation at all – but just the manger’s tone of ” I look up at 5 and they are gone” really rubbed me the wrong way! A LOT of us have a LOT of plates spinning on poles – we are doing the best we can!

      5. mf*

        Yes. Public transit can create similar issues.

        I once commuted via train (Metra in Chicago), and if I left at 4:57, I would make the train home. If I walked out of the office 3 minutes later, I would inevitably miss the train and have to wait a whole hour to catch the next one.

        1. Nynaeve*

          Even by car, this can be an issue. My commute in a large-ish city used to take me past 3 schools with dropoff lines AND the one Interstate on and off ramp actually inside the city limits. If I left by 7:15 in the morning, it was a 15 minute commute. If I left anytime after 7:15, I arrive at 9 at the earliest. At around 9AM, it went back to being a 15 minute commute. So I had a choice. Most days, I was there at 7:30, well before anyone else (the other early birds were mostly 8AM starters), but my boss also knew not to worry about me until after 9:30 because of the traffic. My spouse knew the same about the afternoon commute. If I could manage to leave before 4, 15 minutes to get home, leave at 4:30 and I might be home by 6.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            Hooboy if I leave the office after 5:10 I may as well stay until 6 because the traffic is genuinely apocalyptic near my office from like 5:15-5:45.

        2. Karia*

          Yep. And personal safety was a huge issue. The walk to the station, and the train itself became less safe after 7pm, 6pm in winter, and if I got back to my town after 7-8, I’d have to pay for a cab rather than walking.

    8. sofar*

      Agreed! Lisa strikes me as the reasonable one here.

      The letter doesn’t say, but what time is Lisa starting in the morning? If she’s rolling in at 10:30, or taking 2-hour lunches and then leaving at 5 on the dot, that’s one thing. But if she’s starting when everyone else is … LW as manager needs to do something about what seems to be a regularly unreasonable workload. This “everyone works all the time to get everything done because we’re salaried” is a disorganized way of handling things.

      I’ve had employees who need to be out the door right at 5 to pick up their kids. I helped them manage their workloads to ensure they weren’t in unnecessary meetings during the day and could get the most out of that 8-5. During our busy season (approx one month of the year), we figure it out WELL in advance to make sure people have the ability to physically leave when they need to, understanding they might need to work a bit from home in the a.m. or at night.

    9. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yes, I’m surprised Alison’s answer starts with “tell her to stay late” and doesn’t get to “assess whether her workload is excessive” until later.

      From the tone of the opening, I was expecting to read that Lisa has lengthy water cooler chats, or volunteers for the coffee run too often, or something else that would be an obvious bar to getting work done in normal hours.

      I don’t consider a workplace where everyone *routinely* works late to be adequately staffed. It’s also prohibitive for anyone with caring responsibilities, particularly if the demand isn’t predictable.

      1. kiki*

        It would be interesting to know how often later evenings are expected and how long they go. Does LW mean Lisa should work until 5:15 to finish a task she’s in the middle of? Does LW mean Lisa should sometimes stay until 7 or 8 in advance of deadlines? How often are there pressing deadlines where folks are being expected to work late to get things done? Quarterly? Monthly? Are there ever slow days when Lisa can leave at 4pm?

        I feel like the expectation that everyone works late has been normalized in some fields for a long time (finance, law, etc.) and then spread to a lot of others post-recession. I think a lot of workers are pushing back on that. It’s just not sustainable or necessary for a lot of work. Or if it is “necessary,” it’s because management has purposefully decided to understaff because they can get away with it and save money because folks are working unpaid overtime to get everything done. I don’t know the exact situation with LW and Lisa, but my instinct was to applaud Lisa for maintaining firm boundaries.

        1. Alice*

          Yep- finance here and was regularly expected to stay until 7, then it became 8…it wasn’t until I worked past midnight a couple times that I finally snapped and I wish I’d set these type of boundaries earlier. There was zero flexibility when I needed to leave at 4.45 for an appointment. I’ve moved to a new role where output is valued over “time in seat” and my manager routinely reviews workload and hours. They’ve even sent me home early a few times and no one is expected to stay past 530. Pandemic has massively shifted expectations and job opportunities – Alison’s answer seems out of touch.

      2. sofar*

        +1 on the not-adequately staffed point. In workplaces where “everyone works late as often as necessary,” things get absolutely chaotic if someone is sick or has an emergency. If people are working a reasonable workday, it’s totally doable to temporarily divvy up the workload of someone who’s out. If everyone is already working constant overtime AND someone’s suddenly out, it becomes a disaster.

        1. kiki*

          Yes, I’ve been having to explain this to management at my company. They think we currently have the *perfect* amount of staff to get everything done. That’s true if everything goes exactly as planned and nobody needs time off. It’s a pandemic. And summer. And travel has opened up and folks have backlogs of vacations to take. But instead, we’ll barely squeeze through on the exact amount of employees needed because the employees are conscientious and will work untracked overtime. And management will learn zero lessons

          1. BurnOutCandidate*

            So true. We’re slightly understaffed to get the work done, and the last six weeks, with a maternity leave, two illnesses (one COVID), and a vacation in the department mine works with has made getting my team’s work done on time a challenge bordering on a nightmare. One person’s out, and the whole mechanism seizes up.

          2. Fikly*

            I had this conversation at my last job when we were creating a new position and were talking about how many people we would need to hire for it. Note, this was a reasonably coverage based position, as there were daily deadlines for the things they would be producing.

            I was having conversations with multiple people in management, and yet I was the only one who raised my hand and said, with the number of people you are proposing, we will be staffed to cover our needs precisely, as long as no one ever gets sick or takes vacation, and we have unlimited PTO and sick days (and a culture of using them), does no one else see the issue here?

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              In my country the minimum PTO offering is 5.6 weeks plus sick, so “full” capacity is actually about 85% per person across the year. Planning a department at 90%+ is asking for a crisis.

            2. BurnOutCandidate*

              You’re describing why I didn’t take a vacation between March 2010 and April 2019 — daily deadlines, depth of one (me). I could sometimes take an occasional vacation day, depending on how work developed, and even then one time I did another manager threw a fit because she expected me to be available that day. I should have quit, then and there, but I’ve been completely unable to find a job.

    10. Dona Florinda*

      Yeah, I kind of disagree with Alison on this one. I think OP should address the deadline issues, not the “she never works past 5” thing. Maybe Lisa has to pick up her kid from childcare or something.

    11. Meow*

      Yep, I understand that salaried positions in the US are tricky because management is allowed to expect unpaid overtime, but “leave right at 5 and consistently communicate to management that your workload is too high” is the textbook advice given to people who complain they are being forced to work too much unpaid overtime.

      1. Generic Name*

        Exactly. I feel like this question is the flip side of questions from employees who have too heavy a workload for 1 person to complete in a reasonable timeframe. The advice tends to be: stop working overtime and let balls drop to make it management’s problem. Here we have a manager with a problem with balls getting dropped and the answer is to push back on the employee? I’m sorry to say I think Alison’s response misses the mark. The manager should first evaluate the employee’s workload to make sure it’s reasonable to complete in a 40 hour week with an occasional extra hour or two here and there.

      2. Anonyer*

        This. It also reminded me of my first job out of college, where a well-respected small firm attorney who advertised salaried 8-5 jobs had salaried-not-eligible-for-overtime paralegals making $25,000/year with no raises or bonuses, being expected to come in early at 7:30 AM, literally never eat lunch because it was a waste of time, and stay until 6:30 PM just in case the attorney had questions. And then complained when everyone’s billables didn’t reflect 10-11 hours of billable work a day. The salary and hours ended up paying about $8.70/hour. I was one of those paralegals and had been earning $10.75/hour in retail with overtime and set hours and really wish I’d (never taken the job)…er, really wish I’d set boundaries and followed that textbook advice when being forced to work too much unpaid overtime.

        Set hours are set hours, IMO. If the employee isn’t reasonably completing their work within their reasonable set hours, that’s a performance problem. If the employee is reasonably completing their work within their reasonable set hours and cannot complete all assigned work, that’s an organization/management problem, not an employee problem.

    12. Snow Globe*

      I think it’s the combination of deadlines needing to be pushed back AND employee leaving at 5 on the dot every single day. If you are exempt then I’d assume working a little more than 40 hours per week, at least occasionally. If you have an employee that won’t work a minute past 5 even when they are late on a deadline, that should be addressed. Maybe if the works an extra half hour once per week, she’d get her work done. (A good gauge would be whether other employees are working 41 hours per week or 50 hours per week, and how the workloads compare.)

    13. Velawciraptor*

      Exactly what I came here to wonder.

      Also, is she appropriately classed as exempt? Because people often aren’t. Which makes her maintenance of appropriate boundaries even more important.

      This seems more like a staffing problem than a Lisa problem. This site usually does better at recognizing when that’s happening.

    14. anonymous73*

      Not necessarily. I think we need to know WHY she isn’t finishing her work. Is it because of the reason you stated, or is it because she’s slow/needs more training/spends more time socializing than doing her work? Work/life balance isn’t just about putting in your 40 hours and leaving. It’s about occasionally leaving early if you have something to attend, and also working a few extra hours when you have a big project to finish.

    15. Artemesia*

      Or maybe Lisa is not a very productive worker. Few salaried jobs are 9 to 5 always.

    16. Phoenix Wright*

      This is what I thought too. If employees often have to work extra hours to complete their tasks, maybe those deadlines aren’t realistic after all.

      1. Hired Hacker*

        Honestly, Lisa sounds awesome for holding boundaries and trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Is she going to be paid for her overtime? Because if she isn’t, she is right as hell to be out of the door at 5:00 PM!

    17. Green Goose*

      As someone who is salaried with a kid, this one irked me a bit. I cringe thinking that some of my coworkers feel like I’m not as dedicated as them when I need to leave work at a specific time. My husband does morning drop off so that I can log on before 9am, but I need to do pick up and the daycare closes at 5pm.
      I definitely think the missing deadlines aspect of it should be addressed but the leaving at 5pm shouldn’t be wrapped into it.

      1. pancakes*

        I’m one of the coworkers without kids who generally doesn’t have to be so strict about leaving on the dot. The people I’ve worked with who do seem to be conscientious like you are, logging on in the morning or whatnot to put in some time then if needed. I don’t think of them as less dedicated for that. If anything, people with less wiggle room in their schedule often seem more organized as a result.

        It’s kind of surprising that people have such strong feelings about Lisa being in the right or wrong here, because there isn’t much to go on in terms of when she gets in, what’s been communicated in terms of expectations by both sides, etc.

        1. Lizzie*

          I agree; there’s not a lot of info provided. It may be that she comes in, works hard all day, and has set her boundary to leave at 5. OR, she may be someone who faffs around all day, doing more socializing than work, which is why she is always behind, and still leaves at 5, for whatever reason she does.

    18. Beth*

      It’s hard to say without seeing the details of the situation. I’ve known people who set really firm boundaries like this in reaction to being super overworked–Lisa could easily be that, and in that case I’d praise her and tell OP to reevaluate their team’s workload. I’ve also known people who are in the break room every 20 minutes for a gossip session about how busy they are and then are out the door the moment the clock hits five even though they’ve only done a few hours of actual work time–in which case I’d go more the route Alison has here, and tell OP to put their foot down with Lisa and treat this like a performance issue.

      I want more information on this one. Are most people able to get their full workload done in a close-to-8-hour day most days, or is overtime the norm in this workplace? Is Lisa known for being a slacker, or is she a really high performer who’s burning out? Does everyone treat these deadlines as flexible and it only stands out with Lisa because OP is already frustrated with the leave-at-5-on-the-dot habit, or is Lisa really out of sync with team and company culture on this? How do people with responsibilities like childcare usually handle looming deadlines–does the workplace have accommodations to e.g. let people leave at 5 consistently but maybe work from home a bit in the evening when needed, or do they just expect that none of their employees will be caregivers (which is going to have a disproportionate effect on women)?

    19. TG*

      I agree – I’m sorry but when I was younger and had to be in the office I left at 5 because I had my responsibilities at home.
      To me it sounds like the level of work or the estimates need to be more realistic because you shouldn’t have people working late to get work done. Just my opinion but I salute her for leaving on time!

    20. tamarack and fireweed*

      There are a lot of fine lines here. It may be she is! If “people sometimes stay until the work is done, even beyond 5 pm” means that most employees means in practice that most employees work 60-70h weeks, then yay, Lisa. However, if it means “we have a pretty relaxed office with a very reasonable workload, and people are free to take downtime throughout normal work hours, and do actually do this, but are expected to meet deadlines, and Lisa *is* taking advantage of slack, but then also leaves on the dot, then there’s an issue.

      I personally very much enjoy the freedom I have in academia or in the tech industry – I never have to take sick leave for a routine doctor’s appointment for example, and can come in whenever I like. Often I come in at 10 and leave between 6 and 7 pm. So yeah, I accept that the downside on not having to be full-steam ahead at 8 am is that I can also not switch everything off at 5 pm.

      Another line would be: If leaving on the dot is important to Lisa – as it is to many, with childcare, school, and sometimes hobby schedules being fixed – *could* she accomplish her work within core hours with better organization? If not, then again yay Lisa. But if yes, then it’s reasonable to hold her to the expectations at hand, barring reasons to give her an extra break (which could exist too of course, but it didn’t sound like it).

      So the conversation I’d have first – before saying thing like ” sometimes we all have to stay after 5 pm” – is about her workload in general and how she manages her workday.

    21. LittleMarshmallow*

      I mean… I’m a stay late and get caught up person, but I was like you go girl! Set those boundaries. To LW: if your team is frequently having to stay late to meet deadlines then your company and you as a manager are NOT doing your job of appropriate resource management. If your whole team has to always stay late you need to hire more people or reduce workload ESPECIALLY when your employees are salaried. I just sat in a meeting today where we as a big group clearly laid out that we are at least 4 FTE’s worth of time short to complete the work we have coming up. That’s 160 hours worth of work per week. We only have about 6 people that can realistically do this work already but for math let’s say the less skilled can help too and we have 10, oh but a couple of them do have hard stops due to childcare responsibilities so maybe 8… that’s 20 extra hours per week per able bodied employee that is already working 40 hours a week. So you think we should all have to just work 60 hour weeks for an indefinite amount of time because you can’t resource manage?

      And I say this with frustration in my tone because yes… that is basically what they want (even though they won’t come out and say we work 60 hour weeks now). They have no intention of reducing or prioritizing the workload and no intention of hiring more staff so when I see comments like this from managers where the whole team is putting in extra hours (except for one “problem” person) I have a hard time believing this isn’t a management issue more than an employee work ethic issue… oh and I do work 60 hour weeks frequently and am basically miserable half the time. I don’t recommend it to others and need to figure out how to set better boundaries myself.

  2. Not a Real Giraffe*

    My boss in a previous job had to have this conversation with me. I had joined her team from a company where the culture was to leave promptly at 5pm and if the work wasn’t done, well, so be it. It took a single, two-second, matter-of-fact conversation consisting of, “I expect that you will stay late to finish work that’s on deadline” for me to adjust. Here’s hoping LW had the same success!

    1. kiki*

      I feel like sometimes folks get very used to their type of work culture and forget that there are many cultures around work. Staying late to finish up is really normal in some places and industries, but it’s not the norm everywhere. Not talking about expectations leads to resentment. It’s possible Lisa didn’t realize everyone else was staying late to finish things up. It’s possible her last workplace was a strict 9-5 type of arrangement. Maybe her last job was hourly. It’s also possible LW will talk to Lisa and she’ll look for a different job with a more exact 40-hour work week. You won’t know until the discussion is had.

      1. Rayray*

        And on the flip side of this, I think some people get so used to their own work culture that they forget that newer employees may have different norms they are used to. I feel like every job I have ever had, there’s been just little things that I wasn’t accustomed to or didn’t know about and no one told me about them simply because everyone else was so used to these things that it didn’t even occur to them that they’d need to be straightforward and tell someone directly about it.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I hate that this is so hard to as about in interviews without sounding lazy. I’ve worked at the ‘we are chill and everyone generally leaves around 5, it’s fine if you go early when you need to’ places and the ‘the boss will think you are a lazy pos if you leave right at five, wait until he’s not looking to leave’ places and I would way rather work in a chill, laid back, we trust each other because we are all adults kind of place. It’s just so hard to feel that out.

        1. Karia*

          In my last job hunt I was extremely blunt about my work / life balance requirements, and had to stop using external recruiters because they just kept lying to me. It was the longest job search I’ve ever conducted, but this is also the first job I’ve had in years where I’m not permanently stressed out and ill.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I did this once when I was new (it was an hourly job but we got overtime) and when it occurred to me in the middle of the night that I’d blown out and left my coworkers to clean up I was so mortified I almost had a panic attack. I apologized profusely to everyone the next day and very definitely never did it again.

      I’m hourly at a completely different job now and I’m not generally allowed to get overtime but I occasionally shift my hours if they need me to stay later, but it’s very rare that I have to do that.

    3. starfox*

      I interviewed for a company once, and the guy interviewing me said, “You can leave at 5 if you want, but I usually stay until 8 most nights.”

      I did not take that job!

  3. Ari*

    I’m actually a little surprised at the answer – maybe this is where my head space is as the parent of a toddler but my immediate thought is that anyone who needs to be out the door at the same time on the dot every day needs to make their daycare pickup. Obviously ideally the employee would communicate that to the manager, but it doesn’t sound like they’re aware that the manager has a problem with them leaving on time.

    1. Kassie*

      Daycare pickup was my first thought too. And I wonder if the employee IS putting in extra time, like coming in early, working over a lunch, etc. Just because I have to leave at a certain time every day doesn’t mean I’m not putting in extra time. I often bring my computer home and work once my kid is in bed.

    2. EPLawyer*

      that’s where I went. Considering what daycares charge for late pickup (and I don’t blame them because they want to go home from work too), being late even once can wreak havoc on the budget.

      Now should she tell her boss this? Yes. Is she really busy or is she “busy” and not really getting anything done? Could she spend less time chatting with coworkers so she can get her work done? Maybe, don’t know if that’s a problem.

      But it sounds like a conversation about deadlines and expectations is needed for both of them.

    3. Miss Betty*

      Or relies on public transportation. I’ve been in that position a few times over the years. Mostly it was ok, but there was at least one workplace where, if I didn’t leave on the dot, it would be an hour until the next bus (but please leave the building when you check out). In the winter that would leave me walking from my end bus stop to my apartment in the dark in a slightly sketchy – mostly abandoned at that hour – stretch of road.

      1. Karia*

        Yep. When you’re reliant on public transport, the difference between daylight and not, a train or a replacement bus, whether some of your fellow passengers are drunk / dangerous or not – that can be a matter of an extra hour.

      2. TimeToRide*

        In a previous job, there were two buses a day in the morning and two buses a day in the evening. If I missed the second evening bus, my only option was to take a $30 cab ride down the highway to the next nearest transit station. I finally told my boss that I was willing to take work home, but that if it was necessary for me to physically be in the office later than the second bus, it was also going to be necessary for her to drive me to the secondary transit point.

          1. TimeToRide*

            Or that–but this was the pre-Uber days, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to have to wait 2-3 hours for a cab to arrive after calling for one.

    4. Karia*

      My first thought was a long commute. I had a boss who would grouch like this, but my choice was between making my carpool on time or a two hour train ride plus walk. I got in early, I met my deadlines (I guess unlike Lisa), but even if I hadn’t been, that job was not worth getting home at 8.30 instead of 5.30.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I’m the parent of college students, and daycare pickup was my first thought.

      OP, I’d distinguish “she needs to flex her hours so the work gets done on deadline” and “from 5 to 6 is the only time she can do this.”

      1. No_woman_an_island*

        I have childcare pickup obligations as well, so while you can’t have me at 5pm, I’m the one opening the office at 7 or 7:30.

    6. Snow Globe*

      It’s seems likely, but if that was me, if I knew a deadline was looming, I’d at least have a conversation with the boss to explain why I need to leave at that time so we could discuss options. I can’t imagine blithely walking out the door without acknowledging the issue.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, this. It’s fine if she needs to leave at a certain time but she needs to say so instead of leaving and then leaving everyone else hanging because her part of the work isn’t done.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        As a parent who does daycare pickup, +1 to this. There have absolutely been times when I was working on something pressing, knew I was the only pickup option that day, and let my boss know I had to leave at 5 to do pickup but would be back online as soon as I could to finish up.

      3. TG*

        After reading more comments and after Making an initial that was more general I did want to note that she could have daycare pickup. Also I had a coworker who would constantly tease me that I worked ““ bankers hours because I had a child… Fast forward 10 years and he had two children and apologize to me for all the comments he had made because he realized exactly why I was leaving every day because now he was in the same boat with young kids and daycare pick up

    7. TheRain'sSmallHands*

      Daycare pickup was my first thought as well, but I also suspect that if the OP knew they had kids, daycare pickup would have been mentioned. And when I had little ones, I left promptly at 4:00 (I arrived at 7 – my husband had drop off duties and I had pickup duties – he dropped them off at 8 and worked 9 – 6 (or later – he had the “bigger” job) and I would arrive at work at 7 and be at daycare by 5 for pickup.) But I also ate at my desk when necessary, had meetings with Europe at 6am from home (and then moved my commute a little later) at with Asia after the kids went to bed, did some evening email, spent a few Saturdays in the office, etc. And once in a while had my mother pick up the kids because we had something going on. Not often – I had a very much slightly over 40 regular job (and by slightly over 40 I mean you could get most of it done by skipping a lunch or two a week).

      And there are other reasons – I worked downtown for a bit and had to catch a commuter bus. They don’t run to my end of town except every half hour – so staying past 5 on the dot at that job meant that I’d miss the 5:10 bus and have to catch the 5:40 bus.

      But I suspect that with this person its less “5 on the dot” and more “counts minutes – lunch is exactly an hour (or even maybe a touch more), arrives at their desk right on time, etc. and gives the attitude of ‘you aren’t getting a minute more than 40 out of me.'” Which isn’t appropriate for a salaried job.

    8. North Wind*

      Daycare pickup was my first thought as well. I wouldn’t focus the conversation on the need to stay past 5 specifically, but rather the need to sometimes work extra hours to meet a deadline. Maybe that means she prefers to come in earlier or log in from home if possible later in the evening after dinner or on the weekend or whatever.

    9. anonymous73*

      I couldn’t read Alison’s response (pay wall…not complaining!), but it sounds to me like both the OP and Lisa are not communicating with each other and a simple chat would resolve the problem. If Lisa is constantly missing deadlines, instead of extending them, find out WHY they’re being missed. If she needs more training address that. If you’re understaffed, that’s a management problem.

      In my first job out of college, I had a long commute. So if I got in early, I would leave early. I worked my 8 hours, but would leave before 5 if I got there before 8:30. My manager had a chat with me and let me know that I couldn’t do that. Problem solved.

    10. e271828*

      Daycare pickup, or a train/bus. I have had so many jobs where leaving three minutes later could add an hour to my commute.

    11. Mm*

      Yea. I leave at 4:55 exactly every day to make daycare pickup. I will get back online afterwards sometimes.

    12. Gerry Keay*

      Yeah, I think the “leaving exactly at 5” is a red herring. The actual issue here is unacceptable missed deadlines, which can honestly be addressed without mentioning when exactly she leaves each day!

  4. Mozza*

    One thing I noticed is that the lw doesn’t mention the start of the day— is the employee coming in early but still drowning?

    1. Person from the Resume*


      The LW only talks about staying late. If Lisa can’t finish everything before she has to leave at 5, is it an option for her to come in an finish before the normal start of her work day?

      I think it is a problem. A salaried job is not usually strict on only working 8 hours a day. If Lisa is very strict about only working 8 hours, she’s out of touch with this office culture and needs to get feedback that missing deadlines is not acceptable. But I don’t know that only solution is for her to stay late. Come in early or work through lunch. Whatever needs to be done to meet deadlines.

      I do wonder, though, if she’s always as busy as she says she is. Is that a proactive excuse for missing deadlines, being a slow worker, or a lazy worker? Did she fall behind and just never catch up because she never works a bit extra? It’s worth it for the LW to look further than just “she never stays late.” Why does she need to work extra and does it have to be at the end of the day?

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        I also wonder does Lisa come in early but OP doesn’t see this. And I’m questioning how much time past 5 is everyone doing.

        Rules around salaried workers can vary. The salaried people I work with mostly come in a little before 8 and leave at 4:30. There is occasionally something that happens after hours, such as an event or something. But then those people who have to go to the event flex their time either that same day or later in the week. The only ones I see specifically working later on a consistent basis is the director and assistant director. But those roles are different than most.

        However I have worked in places where all salaried people stayed past 6 (after coming in at 8) and doing that consistently because they had too many projects to manage.

        So OP I think you really need to take a look at everyone’s plate, especially Lisa. Is everyone staying late once or twice a week or is it more occasional, like once a month. And do you offer flexibility so that those people who work later can maybe come in later when it isn’t so busy.

    1. Avi*

      Same. This is the first time I have completely disagreed with Alison, and I’m a long-time daily reader of this site.

      1. Country Peach*

        Yeah, same. If regularly leaving on time is a massive problem in meeting deadlines either:
        1. It’s a performance problem that should be addressed in that context
        2. It’s a management problem that needs to be addressed with more staffing, realistic deadlines, more training, etc…

        I’ve spent nearly my entire career working jobs that demanded constant overtime in order to meet deadlines and the affect on my mental and physical health has really snowballed. I am done putting in overtime on the regular because of poor management.

      2. Avril Ludgateau*

        I’ve disagreed with Alison on a few choice occasions, and while I understand she is reposting answers from years ago, this is certainly one where I would have expected her to revisit the advice and perspective she gave. About the only part I agree with is the part where she suggests the LW needs to examine people’s workloads, if this is a regularly troublesome occurrence.

        I only started reading about 2016ish? But I’ve gone through the archives quite a ways, and I’ve noticed a shift in attitude of this blog to becoming more labor-friendly and even (status-quo-)management-critical over the years. This answer is in stark contrast to, perhaps predates, that trend.

  5. grubsinmygarden*

    Does Lisa start work at the same time as the rest of the team? It often seems like the people who stay late get more glory than the people who come in early.

    1. goducks*

      Yes. I had a CEO who strolled in at about 10 each day, and then stayed until 6. He absolutely noticed the folks who left earlier than him, even though all of them had been there since at least 8 am, and in many cases they were people who worked closely with the production floor which started at 6am, so they started somewhere between 6 and 8am.

      1. Generic Name*

        I had a boss who would razz me about getting in at 9. I left work at 6 or 6:30 while he left by 3. He bragged to me about how much work he got done in the mornings. I felt bad until a coworker told me that boss usually got to the office like 5 minutes before I did. That guy was such a jerk.

      2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

        I had a boss like this too. Well, he was the owner.
        He would regularly stroll in at 10 or 11 am because he liked his morning workouts and he made calls. He would then take a nice 30-45 minute sit down lunch around noon. He would stay until 7pm or so. Fine.

        I would be at the office just before 8am, ate lunch at my desk while working, and wanted to leave by 6pm every day. He was getting 9 hours out of me and SOMEHOW that still wasn’t enough and I was a “clockwatcher” who only wanted to do the bare minimum. Right. He even used to call the office at like 8:05 or 8:10 to see if I picked up the phone.

    2. No_woman_an_island*

      Omg, yes. I’m the first one in, sometimes by almost 2 hrs, but people wonder why I leave 30 mins before them.

    3. Workerbee*

      Yes! And along with the idiotic confusion over different schedules, I’ve found that people consider it leaving early if you’re leaving on time.

      My schedule has long been starting work an hour before most of my colleagues. My go-to response to any snarky “Must be nice to leave early!” or “Why are you leaving early?” was a loudly announced variant of “Why were you in late?”

      1. Karia*

        Yep. I had a boss who got in *two hours* after I did – who gave me the side eye every time I left at 5.30. It apparently didn’t matter that I started a full hour earlier than I was contracted to, every single day.

    4. starfox*

      Ha, I have the opposite problem at work. My hours are 9 to 5, my coworker’s are 8 to 4 because she has to pick up her kid from the babysitter. My boss doesn’t usually get in until 9:45/10:00.

      I never minded at all that my coworker left an hour before me, until I came early one day and realized she doesn’t actually get there until 8:45.

      I don’t care anymore because I negotiated a “hybrid schedule” where I work 9 to 2 in the office and then work from home until 5:00. But I was a bit resentful at first when I realized we were getting paid for the same hours and I was working almost an hour longer.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        This may be side thread, but Are you sure your coworker gets in at 8:45 every day and that this was just one time that she was late. Or maybe she had worked with your boss to come in late that day because of an appointment.

  6. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    If it works better for her life, she could also come in early to get things finished on time. Or she could discuss her workload and priorities with her supervisor and make sure the important deliverables get done first.

  7. MegPie*

    It would be nice to know if this person has child care obligations they need to leave for. If that’s the case, it would be nice to offer solutions other than “stay late.” Like, log back in in the evening and finish up, or come in early.

    1. JustEm*

      My immediate thought was child care. In my case my daycare drop off is 730 and pickup is 530, so accounting for travel time I cannot work outside of 8a-5pm on site at work. There is a $3/minute charge for late pickup.

    2. CoveredinBees*

      Yup. Especially now when daycares are short staffed, they have to reduce the hours they’re open to stay within required ratios. Or they use public transit that has a limited schedule. Maybe she just really gets exhausted, overwhelmed, etc and needs to get out. Maybe get exercise or some lovely lovely peace and quiet. I worked at a job where staying late was expected regularly, so I did despite my brain just being fried. If they’d accepted people leaving their desk to take a walk or taking work home, I could have been more productive with actual work. Instead, they got their fake productivity.

      There are ways to deal with either of these scenarios or whatever reason she might need to leave at a specified time. My husband has to leave work at a specific time due to a combination of commuter rail times and childcare. He works 9-4 and then picks up work again in the evenings on days when he has to commute. I know this doesn’t work for every job but he’s actually more productive because he has dedicated time to actually do his work, rather than being in meetings or “a quick chat”.

    3. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      I agree, but as a childfree person, it’s also nice when we get some flexibility, especially after having to cover for our parent coworkers the entire pandemic.

      1. starfox*

        YES all these comments are like, well, if Jane has kids, then that’s why she has to leave by a certain time.

        I say, let’s normalize people who don’t have kids not having to work more than people who do! We still have responsibilities, even if we chose not to have kids.

  8. no dogs on the moon*

    lw doesn’t seem otherwise unhappy with lisa’s work, just that… she isn’t there later to do more of it sooner. if everyone is having to stay late at various times, and lisa is consistently needing more time than the 9-5 she (and clearly the job, since she’s allowed to only work those hours) agreed to at hiring, that sounds like a workload issue and not a lisa issue to me. i hope lisa inspires others to feel comfortable setting their own boundaries!

    1. anonymous73*

      While the OP is focused on the wrong thing, it’s also wrong to assume that Lisa is missing deadlines because she has too much work to do. The first thing to do is figure out why she’s missing deadlines. The second thing to do is find out if there’s a reason Lisa needs to leave at 5. Communication seems to be the biggest issue in this situation.

    2. BigHairNoHeart*

      “lw doesn’t seem otherwise unhappy with lisa’s work” I read this differently! Lisa is missing deadlines, that’s a pretty valid reason to be unhappy with someone’s work.

    3. The OTHER Other*

      LW says Lisa is missing deadlines, that would make me unhappy with someone’s work.

  9. kiki*

    For LW 1, I would add in the option of coming in early to finish things or picking up work again later in the evening, if those are options. Lisa may have a hard stop at 5pm for a variety of reasons and it’s better to emphasize “sometimes things take more than 40 hours a week” rather than “I want to see you in the office at 6:00pm.”

    1. Yvette*

      If it is a daycare issue coming in early may not be an option either. Most daycare facilities have a limit on how early a child can be dropped off.

  10. Former Retail Lifer*

    Does she have to stay late, though? My counterparts in my company often work a couple of hours late. I come in an hour or two early when it’s crunch time and I’ll work while eating lunch just to ensure I can leave at 6:00. She needs to meet her deadlines, but there should be some other options other than staying late.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Such as . . . ?

      She’s not meeting her deadlines. So far, staying until her work is done is the most obvious solution unless Lisa suggests something else.

      1. Rayray*

        Or maybe hiring more staff or redistributing responsibilities so that they are manageable in the agreed upon work hours.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          I find it really bizarre that people are jumping to this so quickly on this letter! Yes, sometimes people miss deadlines because they’re overworked but also, a lot people just aren’t good with deadlines, don’t understand how their late work impacts others, or don’t know how to prioritize! Feels like a lot of people are projecting their own experiences with burnout and missing deadlines onto the letter in a way that’s probably not helpful for the LW, since many people can’t just wave a wand and create a budget for new positions!

  11. Been there*

    I was also wondering if perhaps Lisa has to pick up a child or something. Or maybe she takes the bus and has to catch it at a certain time. Or there’s just too much work for her. Try talking to her and asking her about it. Not sure what the line of work is, but are the deadlines that tight and non-negotiable?

    1. Zephy*

      are the deadlines that tight and non-negotiable?

      Apparently not, if LW can keep pushing them back…

    2. PlainJane*

      That’s what I was thinking. Either that or setting work/life boundaries, but if it’s explicitly an issue of leaving at the same time every day, I’d guess it’s because it’s something pressing that needs to be done then. (Work/life boundaries are great, but do allow some flexibility when it’s really necessary. Picking up the kiddo at daycare does not.) So, I were LW, I’d probably ask why rather than automatically assume, and maybe work out a way to finish projects from home if the employee needs to be there.

  12. Erin*

    From a European perspective, #1 really sounds like you need to hire more people. For example, if you have five people on your team and say everyone only stayed late once a week, their overtime hours might add up to a part-time position. Consistent overtime across the board means the company is doing something wrong. US work culture is disturbing.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      It really is. I moved to the US from the Netherlands and was made to feel like I was a huge slacker and entirely out of my mind when I expected to work my work hours and then leave. To have enough staffing to cover all the work we did. I didn’t want to pack my breakfast to eat at my desk in case there was a train delay and I got to my desk at 9:02 instead of 9:00. I didn’t want to mold my entire life around my employer, when they offered no such concern about me. Granted I moved to NYC (an especially intense (and messed up) work culture) but I felt like down was up. I’m glad things are starting to change.

    2. Green great dragon*

      For what it’s worth, from a UK perspective there are certainly companies and government orgs which expect regular overtime. Especially in jobs where you never get to the end of the things that should be done.

    3. doreen*

      I’m not going to say consistent overtime never means the company is doing something wrong – but it doesn’t always, and adding a part-time position doesn’t always help. Let’s take the five person team you used as an example. If each person is staying late once a week for 4 hours, that’s 20 hours a week – and you’ll probably be able to find someone to work 20 hours/wk even if it has to be 4 hours a day , 5 days a week. On the other hand, if each person is staying one hour late once a week , you are probably not going to find anyone willing to work 5 hours a week.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        This is true. And sometimes it depends on the time of year. I used to work someplace where January through may were our busiest times, but especially in March. It was usually all hands on deck. Thankfully we had structured time (customer based) so we didn’t have to do over time. But I know people who do taxes and such and they are always super busy in April with mandatory overtime.

      2. AnonThisTime*

        Type of job also matters. Even in the absence of other reasons not to do it, it would be all but impossible to find, say, an atomic physicist who is willing to work a 20-hour-a-week job and 5 hours/week is never going to happen. It’s hard enough to find people for the full-time positions.

    4. Karia*

      I’ve had jobs in the UK that we’re like this but most people recognised them as unpleasant and toxic. I’ve had to delete a few composed replies because I want to adhere to site rules, but I’ve found quite a few threads on this letter upsetting and offensive.

    5. Karia*

      I think the big difference is that many American commenters seem to be saying “Maybe she has a good *excuse* to leave at 5”, whereas as a European my attitude would be “Yeah, like… that her contracted hours are 8.30-5.”

      1. RowanUK*

        This! I’m also in the UK, and you bet I log out as soon as my day is supposed to end.

        I will, and have, worked late but my employer is very flexible in return. If they need me to be on a late client call, they ask if I can make it and are always appreciative about me working late.

        My sister works for an international brand (and at a higher level than me) and will often work 70hr weeks – evenings, weekends etc. But her pay reflects her responsibility and she insists that she thrives on working like that.

        imo, OPs business needed more staff if everyone regularly worked past their allotted hours.

  13. Jenga*

    Maybe there’s a personal reason she has to leave every day at the end of the work day? I mean, every job comes with extra hours here or there, but if you’re going to get annoyed with an employee for leaving at 5 every day when the shift ends at 5, and that’s not enough time to do the job, maybe you need to hire more staff.

    1. DataSci*

      There are lots of reasons someone might need to leave precisely on time. Maybe she has to pick a kid up from school or daycare, or catch a form of public transit that only runs every half hour. Is there a way Lisa can work extra hours occasionally that aren’t “stay late”? Come in early, or WFH in the evening after any kids are asleep? Work through lunch, if she isn’t already?

  14. Turingtested*

    LW 1: It seems simple but there’s actually a lot going on. Is the workload such that most people can accomplish their tasks in a solid 40 hours per week, or is it more? How far behind is she?

    Why does she leave at 5? Can she come in early rather than stay late?

    Does she have a time management problem? Is she inefficient?

    1. Antilles*

      Yeah, there’s a lot of potential answers here depending on context questions not addressed. Just off the top of my head:
      -How punctual is she on her arrival times? If she’s being ultra-firm on departing at 5:00 but rolling in at 9:15ish, then the answer might be that the flexibility (or lack thereof) should go both ways.
      -Is it a once every few months thing where she could stay an extra few minutes to keep a major client happy? Then the correct answer very well might be “look, sometimes the world explodes and we need you to help put out a fire”.
      -Does everybody else gets their work done on deadline at 5 and only very occasionally needs to stay late? Then the answer is a much bigger discussion about workload or possibly her ability to perform tasks in a reasonable timeframe.
      -Does everybody have to work extra hours? Then issue is your workload/staffing not being adequate and the answer is that the department manager OP needs to reallocate resources or commitments.
      Without more context, it’s hard to tell really where the answer should be here.

    2. Construction newbie*

      If the workload is more than can be done in 40 hours, Lisa is not the problem.

      1. Turingtested*

        That’s what I’m driving at. Is it the company or Lisa? That’s not clear.

  15. River*

    The one question I had in my mind while reading this is….but why does she leave promptly at 5pm? Once you find out then maybe make an assessment as to how to go about this situation.

    1. Fabulous*

      Right, I need to leave promptly by 5pm for daycare pickup. Staying late doesn’t work for me. I might be able to come back to my desk later at night, but I need to be out the door no later than 5.

  16. Workfromhome*

    I think the key is not Lisa leaves at 5 without her work finished but why isn’t Lisa’s work fished at 5?

    Is she coming in late so doesn’t have enough time to finish.
    Are there other people holding up her work…I cant finish the TPS report until Joe compiles the numbers and since he didn’t have them by 5 nothing I can do till tomorrow?
    Is there so much work that there is always going to be someth8ng unfinished and its a matter of prioritizing what needs o be done.
    Are the deadlines unreasonable or unclear.

    I do not think the first step is to say “sometimes I need you to stay after 5 to get things done. The first step is to find out what it takes to e things done on time. Are thee changes that can be made to the process or by Lisa to get them done? Leaving at 5 may not be the problem but taking a 3 hour lunch might be. If Joe cant get the numbers until 6 then maybe she needs to come in 2 hours late one day and work till 7 to accommodate that.
    Totally agree about it being 2 sided. I remember I used to be willing to work extra or even on weekends to get things done in my old jib. Until they kept cancelling my vacation days last minute and stopped giving us COL increases. Then it was every extra hour I work is simply reducing my per hour rate of pay. 5 pm and I’m done

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*


      I see “Lisa leaves at 5 p.m.”. I’ve re-read the letter more than once and I see no starting time. I see nothing about “why”, and I have too many questions as to “well, why does she leave at 5 p.m. and why is that the source of the issue here?” because it almost seems like it is.

      I’ve been in a department that STARTED at 6 a.m. and left at 3:30 p.m. – with a one hour lunch that was sacred and off-site – with other departments dubbing us lazy though we were in three hours before they, though they left at 5 p.m. (Our hours aligned with our trade specialty.) Our boss and grandboss understood we were working the hours necessary and gave zero effs to the others’ comments, especially given that we worked an additional 1.5 hours per day more than they did.

      I’ve been in charge of daycare pickup with a really steep late fee and a spouse working such a sporadic location schedule that no really, I can’t just ask him to grab the kids with no notice.

      I’ve been left waiting on everyone else to finish their work so that I can finish my work, only to have them turn things that I need in at the actual deadline instead of the deadline that my boss gave them in order to allow me to do my work, then everyone get cranky that I cannot slam out three hours work of work in 59 seconds.

      I’ve done the work of three full-time positions and mentally broke myself.

      I’ve been nickeled and dimed as a salaried professional for a half hour early for a doctor’s appointment, so know what, you’re getting NOTHING EXTRA from me, peace out.

      The solution may not be “just stay late”.

  17. Hard working parent*

    I think the response is way off here. If this person has child care pick-up duties, they could be doing all sorts of other things to meet deadlines (working through lunch, also coming in right on time, etc.). Some people really have to leave right at the end of the workday. This is not an unreasonable expectation. For deadlines, let them bring a computer home and continue on in the evening. Asking people to stay on any given day because “the work is not done” is completely unreasonable for working parents. A planned, specific, infrequent case where alternative care can be arranged may to acceptable. This expectation of “stay until it is done” on employees punishes good workers who are care givers or just have reasonable boundaries. I usually 100% agree with responses, but I thought this one was tone deaf to the reality of people’s lives.

  18. ThinkQuicker*

    I’m really surprised by Alison’s answer to this one. I would have thought the first step would be to talk to Lisa and establish why she needs to be so prompt in leaving – not just jump straight to demanding she stay late. I really dislike the assumption that because you’re salaried you should routinely work extra hours. As other people have said above jobs should be able to be completed in core hours. If they can’t that’s a resourcing issue. The solution can’t simply be to expect someone to work excess hours. That’s how you court employee burnout and a lacklustre workforce.

  19. The Bimmer Guy*

    I would be curious to hear about how often this happens? Is the rest of the team constantly staying behind to finish up tasks? If so, it’s possible the workload is too much and there needs to be an increase in headcount or a decrease in responsibility.

    If it’s Lisa, specifically, it’s possible she’s being inefficient throughout the day. Have you noticed her browsing shopping websites online throughout the day, or taking lots of breaks?

  20. M*

    I wish the advice had been just to do what needs to be done to meet deadlines. Adding the words “stay late” to this makes me prickle as a parent of young children because no, not everyone can just “stay late” without advance notice. The conversation should be more open ended, and allow for employee-driven solutions like coming in early the next day, letting the employee take work home to do in the evenings, or fixing other bottlenecks in the workflow. But in functional workplaces, it should be possible for deadlines to be met while also not making anyone’s daycare have to call CPS if a kid isn’t picked up on time.

    1. Karia*

      Not just parents. Anyone with pets, volunteer commitments, elderly relatives, a long commute, an exercise routine, regular therapy.

      I ruined my health trying to balance these things with random, frequent and mandatory overtime in my twenties. And until recently – I got myself a WFH job at a company that values MH – I’d resigned myself to not having much of a life outside of work. It’s not fair or acceptable.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Nod. Not everyone is built to go go go. Work is important but life is too

      2. Rayray*

        Agree. As a single person, my needs to relax and unwind are just as valid as anyone else’s. I just have not chosen to add children to my list of responsibilities so I get even more “me” time. That is my natural reward for my chosen lifestyle.

        1. Karia*

          The underlying thread of “it’s ok if she has a child,” is deeply uncomfortable to me.

          1. Mouse*

            I’m also super curious about what these comments would look like if the name was changed to Liam, and think it would be a really interesting social experiment to do so if Alison ever reposts this letter again! I suspect “but what if he has children!” would not be such a common response.

            1. Karia*

              I think it would be really interesting. I suspect that almost nobody would mention daycare, and that more admiration would be expressed about his ‘boundaries’ / ‘firm nature’ / ‘prioritisation of family and what really matters’ etc.

              Instead of ‘boundaries’ being used as a pejorative.

          2. DataSci*

            I’m not seeing that thread, but I have a kid and am reading with that lens. What I’m seeing is a thread of “there may be an external reason like childcare or transit why she has a hard stop at 5, what about other ways she can put in the needed time that aren’t staying late?”

            1. Karia*

              The thread / implication is that having a child is a socially acceptable reason to leave on time, but if she were child free by choice, or infertile, then it is unacceptable for her to prioritise her life or health over her job.

              The idea that motherhood is the only ‘acceptable’ thing to prioritise over work is extremely problematic, on multiple levels.

              1. kiki*

                My read on the situation was that a lot of commenters are parents, so the possibility of Lisa needing to get to daycare was at the top of their mind as a potential reason, not that anyone believes parenting is the only acceptable reason she needed to get away by 5pm each day. I saw some mentions of transit too, and that was my first instinct as somebody who pre-pandemic relied on a bus with limited availability. I haven’t seen anyone say that parenthood would be the only justification, just that it is one.

                1. Doc in a Box*

                  I think the problem is that everyone’s “first thought” seems to have been childcare. That is unlikely to be the case if Lisa were Liam, as noted above.

  21. Persephone Mulberry*

    The boss has tunnel vision. Lisa is failing to manage her workload and deadlines, and the boss has decided that the clock is the problem instead of opening a dialogue to find out what the actual root of the issue is.

    1. Construction newbie*

      Is she, though?
      I don’t see the OP saying anything about Lisa not managing her workload and deadlines, just that Lisa feels constantly busy. That can happen from a workload that is not realistic. That can happen from deadlines that are not realistic. And OP even says they have pushed back deadlines. So they CAN do that when needed. But they push so hard it’s a “problem” when an employee doesn’t stay to work into the evening?
      Hell no.
      It’s entirely possible (and I’d say more likely) that the BOSS is failing to be realistic about workload and deadlines, and has decided that the clock is the problem instead of being willing to look at the actual root cause of the issue.
      Employees get to have lives outside of work. And if that means they have to leave at 5 on the dot to pick up their kids at daycare by 6, or go to their Jazzercise class or **whatever they want to do after work hours** they get to do that. Period.

    2. Not that other person you didn't like*

      This. Everyone (including the LW and Alison) seem to be focusing on the “leaving at 5” part rather than the “missing deadlines” part.

  22. Clydesdales and Coconuts*

    LW clearly has no concept of worklife balance, and no respect for her employees personal lives outside of work! My forst thought reading it is that Loda probably has to pick uo a child at daycare by a certain time- There is no indication as to what type of industry this is in, if it is a public service position, if Lisa takes her legally entitled breaks and lunch, or what time she starts work in the morning. I find the answer a bit surprising and tone deaf – considering all the changes in the workforce the last couple of years. My expectation in Lisa’s case would be a supervisor that can better plan and delegate work load or hire enough staff to cover the work!

    1. Gerry Keay*

      There is absolutely nothing “clear” about LW’s perspective or personal beliefs, like, at all. We’ve got, what? 75 words of their thoughts? How is that enough to know whether or not LW respects her employees personal lives?

  23. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Call me cynical but “I’m so busy” is sometimes an odd way to say “I don’t like this work,” “I’m not very organized and because of that, this work feels daunting!” or “Look at me! I’m busy!”

    I had a coworker once go on about her volume of emails. Turns out they were non-work related and from stores.

    I had another one complain she was so busy. To everyone. Complain less and maybe the work gets done and you’ll feel differently about it. Because when I’m really busy, I don’t have time to complain about it until the work day is done! LOL

    And at my first office job ever, I was witness to a woman had the art of looking busy down pat. Everyone believed her job was huge! When she left and someone took over, it was not huge and so much was left undone.

    If she really is so busy, though, a good manager would look over the work and see if the volume is appropriate for the role and time allotted to it. I work at a job where the work hours and home life boundaries are very firm for administrative staff…but I’ve worked longer to meet a deadline and got the overtime on the rare occasion. Or I’ve come in early, which is sometimes easier to do than stay late with some public transit, to finish what I could not do the by end of day the day before.

    There’s a lot missing from this letter.

    1. Karia*

      It’s also often a way to say “I’m so busy,” and leave out the obvious subtext that you’re so busy because your workload is punishing and unrealistic.

  24. Morgan*

    Spending a whole week away from my family AND being expected to spend all my downtime networking sounds like a nightmare. Is there anyone who actually enjoys that?

    For LW1, I think 40 hours a week is already excessive. Times are changing.

  25. FearNot*

    RE: 3#, I recently ran into a candidate we rejected who lives in my neighborhood. I also couldn’t remember where I knew her from, and when she let me know she was a rejected candidate she was so mad! I interview constantly and honestly don’t have a great memory for faces, and felt like a huge jerk. And now I see her constantly walking her dogs and she scowls every time. Ugh.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Did you (or your HR department) ghost her? I’m still angry at a few companies for ghosting me, not for rejecting me.

  26. Brandon*

    Lisa’s manager just needs to have a conversation and understand what is going on. There are times when we need people to stay late. Imagine if the payroll department said, “Well deadline is tomorrow but it’s 5pm so everyone will just get paid late”. There has to be some ownership and accountability for one’s work. That said it’s likely somewhere in the middle where Lisa has a need to leave at 5pm and the manager just needs to understand that and come up with some adequate solutions for flexibility.

  27. Sophia*

    #2 Spouses:
    I think the suggestion of employee-only required dinners is a good one. But keep in mind that a lot of people are introverts and too much of this leads to loss of productivity, burn-out and resentment.

    As an introvert, I absolutely hate socializing with coworkers during a work trip beyond a once or twice required dinner. It completely drains me and I end of with no decompression time.

    Beyond that, my employer has no right to control my spouse’s actions. I would be pretty ticked at any policy that explicitly stated my spouse couldn’t travel (assuming no additional costs are incurred).

    1. pancakes*

      A policy of not paying the extra fees for spouses to rent a car together rather than coworkers sharing one, for example, isn’t controlling their actions. It’s setting limits on what the employer will or will not cover. It’s very standard for companies to have policies around that sort of thing. People are usually free to make alternate arrangements out of their own pocket.

      I don’t know why you think “a lot of people are introverts.” I haven’t ever encountered those silly personality tests in my school or work life, and didn’t know so many people had until I started reading this site. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that so many people made to go through that process bought into it. It’s pseudoscientific claptrap.

      1. DragoCucina*

        Right, not paying for spouses is not unreasonable. Quadrupling transportation expenses because of mileage is unreasonable. At old job if the cost of flying, mileage, or rental car were all about the same we gave people an option. But, if they chose to drive alone (or with their spouse) when everyone else was riding in the rental car, they had to pay for it out of their own pocket. We were providing transportation. Opting out of that transportation meant the employee had to pay the cost.

        Similarly we once had a national conference 2,000 miles away. We offered to pay for airfare. If someone opted to drive and build a vacation around the trip we reimbursed them the plane ticket cost. Not mileage back and forth.

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        I don’t know what “silly personality tests” you are referring to? Most people realize that they are introverted or extraverted based on whether they gain energy from being around other people, or lose energy from being around other people. And saying “a lot of people” is not the same as saying “most people”.

        The concepts of introverted/extraverted are not pseudoscientific and they are not claptrap.

    2. Kitten*

      Thank you. And I hate large group van rides to conferences. I did it one time as an adult, and it was so uncomfortable. It was a seven hour drive. I happened to have my period and to not have control over bathroom stops or to be able to stop and eat outside of the van. It was nauseating. This boss is looking for a reason to complain. Mileage reimbursement, really?

  28. Former Radio Guy*

    For #3, I’m on the opposite end as someone who is regular contact with and good friends with several people who have interviewed me for jobs I didn’t get. It’s never been awkward for me in that these were jobs that I had an interest in but where I realized my weaknesses or inexperience in certain aspects of the job meant that I never felt like a shoo-in to get them and I haven’t held any animosity towards them for not landing the job. We’ve also never really discussed the job interview after the job was filled in my interactions with these friends. In one case, I was asked to be a member on a political committee that my friend, an elected official, was tasked to select representatives for. In another, I’m a regular performer at a music venue he owns (the job interview was for something else). Assuming the job applicant didn’t get the job because you simply hired a better or more qualified candidate, I think the awkwardness of the situation is going to be dictated by the attitude of the applicant and whether their expectations during and after the interview process were reasonable or not.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Yes, my experience is similar. I’m quite good professional friends with folks who didn’t hire me. It’d feel weird and un-useful not to be — who knows, they might hire me in future, or me them!

  29. Lobsterman*

    I mean, obviously, fire her and distribute her work among the peons who are ok with working late to cover for management’s failure to plan.

  30. Vox Experientia*

    boundaries are appropriate. but for any company, workloads vary. and it’s a lot to expect that companies will staff up fully for their very maximum top 1% busiest times. that leaves them paying for all that unneeded staffing for the rest of the 99% of the year. some overtime is reasonable. the question is how much? i’d say more than an average of 1-2 hours a week over the course of a year is unreasonable if not compensated, but that’s just my opinion. but it needs to be fairly distributed. if you’ve got one person not contributing equally (as in this case), it should be reflected in their compensation. the people who are willing to put in the extra time should be compensated extra for it. unfortunately when this happens, it impacts salary comparisons between different groups (i know this will make people mad, but men average 41 hours a week vs women at 36.3, and i think it’s reasonable for this to be reflected in pay).

      1. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

        So it does look like there was a data summary put together and those were the averages, but I think that includes part time workers. However, here’s the link to the actual data and if I’m reading it correctly, comparing only full time workers it’s 43 hours to 41 hours.
        Although, I don’t really agree that someone’s work should be solely evaluated on the butt in the seat principle. And that’s not getting into the myriad of societal problems of women generally being the default parent when children get sick or need someone at school or just for school and activity pickup.

    1. Karia*

      Well, I disagree with you, and I imagine most AAM will, because what you’re saying is unsubstantiated and would constitute discrimination on the basis of sex – which is illegal, at least in the UK.

      Not to mention that hours worked aren’t the only (or best) barometer of contribution.

      1. Vox Experientia*

        it’s not discrimination to pay people per hours worked, with people working more hours being paid more. and it’s not discrimination to point out on average certain groups work more hours than others. and it’s important to remember these are just averages – many women work significantly longer hours than this average, and many men work significantly fewer. but the fact that on average men tend to work longer hours is pretty much indisputable. you can argue the reasons – you can say men don’t contribute as much time to child rearing is a pretty obvious reason. but the reality is that men work on average more hours. that’s not the only way to measure contribution – absolutely. but frankly in every hourly position that’s exactly how they measure it to pay you.

        1. Karia*

          This is a discussion about salaried workers. And it has been proven in multiple tribunal cases that paying women less, because you assume they will work less hours or less hard, is 100% discrimination.

          1. Vox Experientia*

            of course you shouldn’t assume they will or make hiring decisions based on an assumption. but when they do work less hours… nothing wrong wrong with paying people who work more hours more money/opportunities for advancement/promotion/ etc. you just can’t do it because they’re a protected class. nobody is saying you should pay women less before the fact, that’s obviously wrong. it’s also wrong to pay two people the same if one person is producing more and working longer hours.

            1. BubbleTea*

              I work fewer hours than some of my colleagues and I am more productive than them. Should I be paid more? We’re doing the same job and I just do extra projects in my downtime.

    2. Emily*

      Depending on the field, it sometimes is reflected in pay in the form of both bonuses and promotion opportunities. But as an employer, it’s incumbent upon you to communicate this to applicants. And also, you may not want to tie those things to time working, as opposed to output– it’s a choice, and you will attract/lose certain types of employees depending on the choice you make.

  31. I should really pick a name*

    I would say focus on the work not getting done, not the hours.
    The solution may not be staying late. Maybe it’s coming in early, maybe there’s are some efficiency improvements to be made, maybe it means doing a bit of work at done.

  32. Falling Diphthong*

    #2: You don’t cite any clear and evident large costs to this, such as other company divisions make tons of important contacts at these things and your team doesn’t. (The cost of mileage is getting a side-eye from me, cause that’s really not going to be a significant percentage in the scheme of things.) I would be very hesitant to take away something people value because you have this mental image of how much better it will be if people who like doing it this way do it your way instead.

    I would not be at all surprised if you let this ride, and in a few years a good chunk of those opting in opted back out because their outside commitments/options/etc changed, in the usual course of life. And then you could test the theory about how much better it is not to have spouses along, but without blood on your hands.

    A valued perk has arisen naturally in the wild. Even if you didn’t intend it, it might be wise to let it remain. These are, after all, people valuable enough to the company that you’re willing to pay to send them to these things every 6 months. (If you take it away, I would fully expect it to get laden with some “the company doesn’t care about us any more, it’s all butts visible in seats” symbolism. Even if you were aiming for “spouses are such an annoying distraction,” people may not sign on to that meaning.)

    1. Purple Cat*

      Glad to see I’m not the only one that side-eyed the mileage complaint.
      I REALLY dislike not having “control” over my own car. And I’m a introvert that finds conventions challenging in general. Now pile on that I’m expected to carpool with co-workers there and back increasing my “on” time, and just NO. Travelling for work is a burden, give these people some perks. Now, if there are evening networking events that the team is skipping – then name that concern specifically. “You are expected to attend X and Y. Z is also preferred” or “Discuss amongst the team, but the company must be represented at X, Y, Z”

      1. Kitten*

        Same! Same! Same! Ugh. Reliving my forced nightmare of a shared seven hour van ride led me to write an incoherent response above.

  33. LC*

    Please keep in mind that some employees may have fixed out of work commitments (ex: a young child that needs to be picked up) that can make it hard to simply stay late on short notice. It might be helpful if you allow other strategies for catching-up (ex: working from home later at night).

    1. Meep*

      Even if they don’t have children or non-work commitments, no one should be working over 40 hours a week.

  34. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Going hourly could be a solution. Lisa might be less tight-fisted with her time if she were selling it instead of donating it. It might also help with any costs that her staying late might incur.

    1. Ari*

      I think “tight-fisted with her time” is a really unkind way of describing the situation. A lot of people in the thread have listed very legitimate reasons why someone might need to leave work at a certain time.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Fair enough. I’m having a hard time finding a kind way of putting it, though.

        1. Karia*

          You can’t find a ‘kind way’ of referring to someone who works their contracted hours? Ok.

          1. Filosofickle*

            I wonder if your phrase “contracted hours” points at some of the disconnect in how commenters perceive the situation — IMO that doesn’t fit if you are not hourly and not working under a contract! Or that’s how it has been in my workplaces at least, where there have been no standardized / set hours and the guidance was generally that full time meant “get the job done” not “be on the clock exactly 9-5”.

            Personally I avoid working 40 hours if at all possible, I’m not a fan of working more and hope we shift the system :)

            1. Karia*

              I think it’s a difference between Europe and America, and industries! In the UK, most salaried workers have contracts, and we’re legally barred from working more than 58 hours, although in practice some / many workers waive that. That said, like in the USA, many industries are known for having long hours regardless.

              And even though my comments paint me as a socialist, leftist, worker’s rights advocate, (which I am), I’m actually a fairly downtrodden worker by certain UK standards.

              I’ve had my mother (non profit) call and be horrified that I’m working at 7pm. My father (very senior civil servant) has told me I’m a mug for not demanding time in lieu. Most of my friends work far fewer hours than I do.

              I’m an outlier for the UK, and I still think this is quite odd.

        2. Purple Cat*

          I thought you were picking up that LW felt Lisa was “tight-fisted with her hours” not that it’s your perspective. While I understand LW perspective, it’s 2o22, I’m Team Lisa. If the work can’t be done in a standard work-week, there’s too much work – OR the employee is not properly trained/skilled for the job. The assumption that a salaried employee works a MINIMUM of 40 hours every week, and flexes ADDITIONAL time (all the time) has to start changing.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      You can’t just change a salaried job to hourly – there are requirements for both, and I think having multiple people in the same job, some salaried, some hourly, is not only a bad idea, it’s not allowed legally.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I moved within a company from an office with fixed hours, to an office with flexi hours on the clock. A standard working week was 35 hours, and a working day could be between 4 and 14 hours (IIRC, I never stayed that late but I know the door was locked at some point!).

      I can tell you that people were far more likely to stay late in the flexi office, because they knew they’d get every minute of it back, whereas in the “these 7.5 hours” office you would get no grace to come in late if you’d stayed behind the night before.

      I’m not sure that LW would be able to switch Lisa between salaried and hourly, but they should certainly look at whether their “40 hours salaried” works out as “minimum 40 hours, more typically 45-55” or “annual average is 41”, as in some cases this would be revealing.

      1. Scarletb*

        Similar experience here. I’m paid for (and my annual leave accrues on) about 38 hours pw, but we have flexi time and a culture of using it, so if I stay late on Tuesday, no one cares if I take a long lunch on Wednesday, or show up late on Tuesday, or leave early on Friday, or all three if it was a really late one, as long as things get done when needed.

        If we’re in the crunch-time of a project there is often a longer stretch where we work long hours as a team, but in those periods we’re expected to a) let our manager know in advance, b) track that extra time, and c) take time-off-in-lieu in a later period when the peak’s gone – and this occurs at most once a year. This thing where people only ever expect extra time, and never make allowances for people getting that time *back* is kind of awful and not a great way to get the best from people.

        Here the deadlines seem like so much more of a relevant concern than the clock-out time.

  35. DG*

    In my experience, the number of hours spend in the office is only loosely correlated with someone’s productivity. I’ve worked with extremely efficient people who can finish most of their work in a few hours a day, procrastinators who put stuff off to the last minute, people who spend a lot of the day socializing and need to make up their work after hours, etc.

    I think a first step is to see what controllable factors are keeping Lisa from finishing her work between 9 and 5. Is she pulled into a lot of unnecessary meetings? Is she spending too much time on small tasks that should only take a few minutes? Is she prioritizing the wrong things? Is she being interrupted a lot during the day?

    It’s possible the answer to all those questions is “no” and she just needs to work more, but that doesn’t feel like the first course of action.

  36. Nanani*

    For #2 – a perk only for married people (or partnered people? LW2 uses “spouses” though) is kind of iffy too. Are your single colleagues expected to do more work because the married people are off with their spouses?
    That’s another point to consider.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I would expect the ask was “Can another adult–someone who can entertain themselves–come along and share my hotel room in Conference City?” A spouse is the most common one, but it could be a parent, good friend, roommate, etc.

      I’m surprised that there are this many people with a spouse able to take advantage of it (no conflicting work or childcare), and would expect it to fade off to occasional if OP just does nothing.

    2. pancakes*

      It is a point to consider, but when the work is networking at a conference, it’s probably more of a benefit to them to have more time for that vs. going off with their partner. I realize not everyone likes or wants to network in settings like that, but at the companies where it’s routine, there are definitely benefits to participating in terms of career growth. Looking for a way around those opportunities isn’t always going to make sense.

  37. Delta Delta*

    I’m a little surprised there’s no consideration of possible daycare issues. There are often hard out times at daycares and if you go over you get charged. We don’t know if she’s got this or not, but it’s pretty common and certainly not unheard of.

  38. Jane*

    When I worked in-house, we had a paralegal who would never work more than 40 hours in the week even when overtime was requested of him. The reasons he gave were always “my nephew’s softball game” or “going to the beach” or something like that. He was eventually written up and formally reprimanded for it because we either wanted 1-2 hours extra of him every couple of weeks, OR for him to finish an assignment within 40 hours, neither of which he would accomplish. Coming in early to finish things was also a foreign concept, as he found traffic to be most favorable at a particular time and didn’t want to drive in and out during rush and refused to get up early to finish things, OR to take home his laptop and do them at home.

    The final straw was that he needed to wait for a courier after hours, and send out a signed letter from the CEO along with a confidential settlement agreement and a settlement check of half a million dollars. He said he couldn’t wait the 20 minutes it was going to take the courier, because it was his brother’s 33rd birthday dinner at Applebee’s.

    1. Generic Name*

      So he didn’t want to work more than 40 hours a week. Maybe he wasn’t a fit for the culture at your particular workplace, but I don’t think he (or anyone who has boundaries) deserved derision.

      1. Jane*

        For your edification, working in the legal field and the aerospace industry and going over 40 hours is an expected part of our lives. In his case, he was told that emergencies occasionally came up, that he would be expected to pitch in for a couple of hours if they did, and that he would be paid an overtime rate when they happened. He also came from a background in litigation, in which he worked many times the amount of overtime that we asked of him. So yes, he absolutely deserved both the derision and the write-up that he got.

        1. len*

          The fact that it’s an issue across the entire industry does not mean he deserves derision (!), at least to those of us outside these particular bubbles. Yeesh.

          1. Jane*

            I honestly don’t know what to tell you if you think that being given that much notice of a job requirement and then refusing to fulfill it is fine. You might as well be a nurse who shows up at a new hospital and then complains about all the sick people and blood.

        2. DrSalty*

          Yeah I can’t get over the people in this thread who are act like asking someone to work occasionally over 40 hours a week is tantamount to abuse. Working late (or early, or on weekends, or whatever) occasionally to meet deadlines is absolutely standard for some industries and a requirement of the role, in many cases.

          1. I AM a Lawyer*

            I’m with you, especially for employees exempt from overtime. It’s been rather eye-opening, though I don’t agree that no one should ever worm more than 40 hours a week.

            1. Nynaeve*

              It’s not that we think that no one should ever work more than 40 hours a week. It’s that we are sick of being told by our bosses/HR/CEOs that because we are salary there is no limit on their use of our time and no reciprocation. The salary relationship is supposed to go both ways. It’s not, and was never meant to be, a situation where your minimum number of hours for the week is 40 and then you work extra to cover. It should be an average of 40 hours a week, and on days and weeks where work is slow, or you just finished a big project and everyone needs a couple days to catch their breath, or you work in industries where the work is very seasonal, when it’s slow you’re supposed to be able to work LESS. But, in practice, this is almost never the case.

              I have been threatened, multiple times at different companies, as a salaried worker, with my pay being docked because I didn’t bill a full 40 hours in a week. That’s not supposed to be the way that it works. I’m supposed to be able to work essentially as-needed, not have a minimum number of hours that needs to be met. Like many, many, people here have stated, if you’re going to watch my hours so closely, than so am I. If you want me to occasionally work over, take work home, come in on a Saturday, etc. Then, occasionally, I’m leaving at noon every day for a week because I’m caught up and there are no deadlines. It goes both ways.

          2. Gerry Keay*

            Really strange lack of nuance in this entire comments thread!! I get the sense a lot of people are carrying a lot of burnout and fatigue and are projecting their anger at their own management teams onto this letter — that’s the only way I can make sense of the comments.

            1. MeepMeep02*

              Well, can you blame us? I had that realization early on in my career. First ever job out of grad school. I was an engineer in Silicon Valley and felt very very important. My boss asked me to stay late to run some tests, and asked a technician to stay with me to help me. We were there until 2am. Only one of us got paid for that time, and it sure as hell wasn’t me. And did I get to go home early at any point after that, to make up for the time I lost? What do you think?

              At a fancy law-firm job much later in my career, I also felt really really important with my fancy salary. Then I actually figured out my hourly rate by dividing my fancy salary by the number of hours I actually worked. Turns out I could have made better money walking dogs.

              I absolutely refuse to work a salaried job these days. I work part-time hours, self-employed, and get paid for every hour I work. And when I’m done working, I actually am done.

          3. Gyne*

            Seriously. When my surgery runs over the allotted time because it is extra difficult or something unexpected happens, I can’t just pack up and come back the next morning to finish the case.

        3. Nynaeve*

          Maybe he decided to downgrade to Paralegal specifically so that he didn’t have to work those outrageous hours any longer? Seriously, it’s nigh impossible to be the person in a toxic over-working culture like you describe who sticks to their guns and enforces these types of boundaries on their time. But, SOMEONE has to start doing it, in every industry, or nothing will ever change. Our US work ethic is completely broken, and it’s systemic. Yes, in the legal profession everyone has to work long hours to prevent the overwhelming backlog in most areas of the justice system from getting even worse, and upping staffing levels appropriately costs both time and money. But it’s time and money that NEEDS to be spent. And sooner rather than later. Maybe if the CEO needed a confidential statement and exorbitant cheque picked up he should have waited for the courier himself. Or, had better time management and planning skills so that no one needed to wait after hours for a courier at all. Maybe.

          The culture you describe is toxic. And more people in it need to gain and then enforce some boundaries on their personal time. Without risking their livelihood to do so.

        4. New Jack Karyn*

          I don’t need edification, thanks. No one deserves derision for wanting a work-life balance.

  39. KatieP*

    I’m at my free article limit at Inc, so I didn’t get to read Alison’s reply. :(

    I salute Lisa for maintaining boundaries! I’m absolutely worthless after about 45 hours in a week. It’d take me 50 hours the following week to accomplish what I could have done in 40 had I not worked over, and it just snowballs from there.

    If the rest of the team is working late on a regular basis, it sounds like you’ve got a workload problem – that your workload is more than your staff is capable of handling in a 40-hour week. That means you’re either understaffed, or there’s an efficiency issue somewhere.

    The only way either of those are Lisa’s problem to fix is if she’s the one with the efficiency issue.

    My recommendation would be to resolve any efficiency issues (employees or processes), deal with any staffing issues, and/or re-set deadline expectations.

  40. Pyjamas*

    Agree with many other commentators that Lisa has a practical reason for leaving at 5. Additionally if this weren’t an old letter, I’d expect a very surprised update stating that Lisa left for a new job, partly bc the manager is oblivious to the possibility of daycare pickup, public transit, etc but mostly because he never bothered to ask.

  41. PRGal*

    LW1 sounds like my industry, public relations. I am charmed by how many in the comments here are applauding Lisa for her work/life balance because I would LOVE to hold the line and leave at 5 every day. And I even have a four-month-old! But my company implemented a 45-hour workweek and we have billable targets to meet. Heck, two jobs ago, you were looked down on for leaving before 6! Leaving at 5 daily isn’t an option, deadlines have to be met and clients need to be kept happy. Although we’re given a lot of flexibility otherwise, there are certain industries where it’s the norm – and fully expected – that you’ll work past the standard 5 p.m. close of business. I sure wish things would change, but that’s just not the case.

    1. Generic Name*

      It can only change if people (like Lisa) assert their boundaries and refuse to work unreasonable hours.

      1. PRGal*

        I mean, sorta. You’d get fired if you were entirely inflexible about it. It’s less Lisa needing to assert her boundaries (although that is important) and more that leadership need to lead the charge on the company culture.

        1. Nynaeve*

          The only way they’re going to change is if the keep losing good people over things they can control and change.

      2. Gerry Keay*

        No, it can only change through organization and unionization, not individual people taking actions that put their own livelihoods at risk.

    2. Princess Scrivener*

      I work in HR and there’s no way I’m leaving at 5 mid-crisis. It’s got nothing to do with workload or my efficiency, it’s got everything to do with timing of said crises.

      1. PRGal*

        No, I completely understand that. You don’t leave fellow team members in the lurch on a crisis – unless, as others have said, you have care commitments or some other such thing with a hard stop. That’s where flexibility is key. I just wish it wasn’t a daily expectation to always work past the official end time in my industry. I want to be done with my day and see my baby for longer than an hour or so before bedtime.

      2. kiki*

        For sure. I’m a software engineer and there are times I log in at midnight to fix things. There are plenty of days I stay working until 7 to fix a bug that’s affecting a client. I don’t begrudge having to do that because my flexibility is returned by the company. If I take on a midnight emergency, I don’t come into the office until 10 or 11 the next day. When a doctor’s appointment means I get into the office at 9:30 instead of 9, I’m not expected to take PTO. When I get all my allocated work done in a sprint, I log off early on Fridays and don’t take it as PTO.
        I think the issue commenters are calling out is that it seems like the expectation might be that Lisa should stay late to do her work often due to unreasonable and/or arbitrary deadlines, not due to urgent situations happening after five. At a certain point, if everyone has to stay late to get their work done quite often, there’s probably a staffing issue, not a Lisa issue. It’s hard to know what’s going on without details, but I feel like a lot of workers have been trapped at work by needless butts-in-seats mentalities and are reacting to that.

    3. DEJ*

      I used to work in PR for sports, and it’s the same thing that certain people need to be kept happy and a 40 hour workweek is just not going to happen because of the nature of the job. I will acknowledge that a ton of people have left the sports profession in all of this because the expectations are just getting out of control, but just as someone gets burned out there is someone with bright eyes and the pretty dream of working in sports ready to take their place and often at a lower salary. Like you said, I really wish things would change, but that’s just not the case.

  42. I AM a Lawyer*

    On #3, I’m not clear – is this employee exempt or salaried? Would it be paid overtime for her to work more or is she an exempt employee who can flex hours and occasionally needs to work a little more than 8 hours a day to complete projects? (They are probably rhetorical questions, as I doubt there will be clarification.) It sounds like that doesn’t make a difference for most commenters, but I think it would for me.

    1. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

      I had the same question since exempt is different than salaried.

  43. hmmm*

    I can see both sides of this. Personally I think Lisa should be expected to occasionally work some overtime. I also know what it’s like to have an outside personal commitment that needs a hard stop at 5. I get both sides. My question to OP when interviewing Lisa (I’m not saying this to be snarky or point fingers) do you/ HR go over what “occasional overtime” is? Did Lisa bring up an outside commitment she could not rearrange? Does Lisa have permission to work on certain things from home? I’m not blaming anyone, but to me these are things both parties should be bringing up before a job offer is accepted.

    1. Karia*

      I agree it needs to be clear before the job is accepted. In a recent job hunt I withdrew from several jobs that would have required regular overtime, and I was glad they were honest about that requirement. The most frustrating thing is when companies talk a good game about work / life balance then you find the job is literally impossible in the allotted hours.

    2. Danish*

      Agree about the interview. I once interviewed for a job that WAS clear, I thought, about “frequent” overtime requirements, when things were important, which I understood and agreed to–I understand powering through for a deadline!

      But it turned out that “frequent overtime” meant “you will be here until 7pm every day because all routine tasks are classed as “important” and also you will be publicly shamed if you arrive later than 9am and don’t call me to let me know, and I will need you on weekends and holidays too”.

      I became that obnoxious coworker who made sure my coworkers understood how low our actual pay was when they worked an additional 12-20 hours a week

    3. My heart is a fish*

      A very good point. When I was promoted to salaried exempt, I made sure to ask what the weekly hours generally looked like, and took that into consideration when I accepted the new role.

    4. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Some Lisas will never accept doing any work from home, though – boundaries.

  44. My heart is a fish*

    Interesting the contrast between responses to letter #1 now versus responses when it as originally posted. Before, people were more willing to accept that a salaried job would require more than 40 hours a week, but discussed whether that expectation was clear, whether the employee could come in earlier, maybe she has children to pick up or a bus to catch, etc. Now it seems like we’re all pretty firmly in agreement that the sheer expectation of more than 40 a week is not okay.

    1. hmmm*

      I noticed that too. It’s amazing how time (and a pandemic!) shift everyone’s views.

    2. Orangie*

      Yes, I thought the same thing! 2019 Orangie would have a total different take on this than 2022 Orangie.

    3. BigHairNoHeart*

      I noticed that too. It’s interesting that the commentariat is so unified on this because I don’t think that viewpoint is actually reflected in the overall American working world right now. We’re definitely seeing a shift where more employers understand that demanding much over 40 hrs/week is loosing them staff, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near the majority of employers seeing it that way yet. The idea that employers are wrong to expect more than 40 hrs/week from their employees is understandable, and hopefully will become more universally true over time, but I don’t actually think we’re there yet! Cultures often change slowly.

      I think this goes back to something Alison said in a post a week or two ago that a lot of commenters are giving input based on how things should be rather than how they are.

      1. My heart is a fish*

        Agreed on the change being slow. Plus, even in situations where it is realistic to hire up to where no one generally needs to work more than 40 a week, that transition takes time to accomplish, and deadlines need to get hit in the meantime.

    4. BuzzzOfff*

      People finally starting to realize that we’re human, not automated work bots!

  45. Clever Alias*

    I hate to pile on this, but it’s such a miss that I have to. If an employer told me that “this isn’t a job where you can expect to always leave precisely at 5,” then I would be looking for a new place of employment. Pre-Covid, my train left at 5:15 and if I wasn’t on it, I was very very very late for daycare.

    The meeting deadlines thing? Yes, that is something that needs to be addressed. The how, however? It doesn’t mean you need to stay past five.

    1. grizzly barrister*

      Depends on the industry. If you’re in the legal field with that attitude you wouldn’t get hired, but in others it would be weird to leave after 5.

      1. Danish*

        I know from experience/friends that this is true, but really… why? Why is it like this? Why does it remain this way? Its also my understanding that the world is not lacking in people interested in the legal field. You’d think there would be enough potential employees that you shouldn’t have to expect to work yourself to death as a feature of the profession (honestly, I don’t know why anyone would WANT legal counsel that’s overworked to death. How mentally sharp can you be when you’re working at burnout levels as a given?)

        1. Jane*

          There are a variety of reasons, one of which you mentioned. Firms know they can work associates to death because as soon as one burns out another is there to take your place. Associates are also seen as mouths to feed to a firm, so they work you to death and expect you to claw back your salary and the overhead costs that keep you at the firm from clients. The Old Guard mentality is a big reason that firms are still like this, and I was essentially told “Well, we were worked to death so we expect you to put in your time as well.”

          I will also add that no matter where you work-big firm, small firm, in-house, nonprofit, government, etc. and no matter your field, there is always something that can come up that’s wildly out of your control. You can get subpoena’ed at any moment, one of your employees might need to be arrested on the job site, someone halfway around the world might want to know if they can hand a big bag of money to a foreign official. A ruling might come down from the court that you didn’t expect, etc. So because of all those moving parts and the fact that other people often drag their feet on their obligations, working a 9-5 job just isn’t going to be feasible for most people in the legal profession, unless you’re someone like a receptionist at a firm with set office hours, or you work in a contractor or government role in which you are only permitted to work a certain number of hours a day.

        2. kiki*

          I have a few friends in fields where long hours are endemic (law, investment banking). When I’ve talked to them about it, one factor they mentioned that I hadn’t considered is that they had already sacrificed a lot to get where they are. If they just stopped, wouldn’t that mean all the previous sacrifices weren’t worth it? They had worked their butts off in school for 4-7 years and sacrificed a non-academic social life then. If it turns out that it was no longer necessary, would that mean they wasted their youth? And for a lot of them, their whole lives and sense of self had become about their jobs. If they suddenly stopped working 70 hours a week, they genuinely wouldn’t know what to do with the extra 30.
          The biggest thing, though, was the competition. There’s a lot of people out there who want to be lawyers or investment bankers. While it would make sense to band together, put stronger limits on hours, and force firms to hire more people, folks who make it through all the schooling are primed to be competitive. Even if most people agreed to band together, there’d be enough who’d refuse because they’re ready to sacrifice their personal lives for work.

          1. pancakes*

            That first paragraph is a terrible reason. That seems like a pretty senseless variant of the classic sunk cost fallacy. It’s also just not everyone’s experience of grad school. I had a fun and active social life in those years, and definitely wasn’t alone in that. It’s possible your friends are using that fallacy as an excuse for the “I don’t know what to do with my time when I’m not working” mindset you mentioned alongside it.

            Competition is very real and I think that is probably one of the main problems.

            1. kiki*

              I agree that it’s a terrible reason, especially as somebody who has sought work-life balance at the expense of income and prestige throughout my schooling and career. I didn’t think it was a good reason, but it came up more than once with different individuals from different careers and college experiences, so I thought it was worth sharing.

  46. Call Me Disillusioned*

    Surprising levels of corporate BS from Allison here. You have a job, you get paid. The expectation is that you work hours X. If the workload cannot be completed in that time, then either the workload is incorrect for the hours given, or the employee is not capable of getting the work done because the employee’s skills are not up to the task. This crap about “salaried” is just more corporate garbage for “We own you and will dictate how you live.” Employer/employee loyalty is a two way street and this isn’t how you get there.

    Just throwing more hours at it and telling the employee (in not so many words) to “Suck it up, buttercup” might have worked once upon a time, but them days is gone, hopefully for good. If Lisa’s skillset is not the issue here I hope she’s polished up the resume and is looking for greener pastures.

    1. grizzly barrister*

      This is going to vary widely by industry. I was in-house counsel for a defense contractor with employees all over the world, and leaving every day at 5 and being unavailable was not something we did.

      1. Karia*

        Well… sure. I don’t think anyone would expect regular hours in law or the military, and that’s why the pay and / or benefits typically reflect that. The issue is when those intense requirements are levied at teapot glazers who earn £20k a year.

        1. grizzly barrister*

          That’s what makes me wonder what’s going on with LW1, and I do wonder what industry this is in. The issue here is less that she’s not willing to stay late, but more that she consistently fails to meet deadlines. Staying late is one possibly solution out of many to that issue. Another issue I see is whether or not things could be assigned in a timely manner. If you’re handing her work at 4:30pm and expecting her to stay past 5pm for some arbitrary reason, that seems more like a management or workflow issue than an issue with Lisa, unless she *is* in one of those industries where you can’t help it when fires come in. There’s really just too much we don’t know about to make definitive statements like the one above.

          1. Karia*

            Yep. My lens is dirty on this one, because I’ve been taken advantage of in the past. But as I say, there are industries, such as law, the military, even payroll, where you work to the job. Or e.g. charity work, but even then, employees are often given some time off in lieu.

            There are also plenty of companies who operate solely by underpaying and overworking inexperienced employees. And (often also underpaid) supervisors being outraged when said employees try to leave on time can be part of that.

    2. BuzzzOfff*

      Agreed. The “live to work” folks have really screwed over the rest of us for a long time, but thankfully they’re getting some backlash now.

    3. BubbleTea*

      I get the two way street in my job. I answer incoming calls and they can take ten minutes or two hours, with anything from a three sentence summary or a full write up and follow-up email. No way to predict it. So sometimes yes, I finish later than usual. But the flipside is that if I end up having a bit longer for lunch, or need to pop out for an appointment, no one is fussing about it. Not every job is one where the employee can just do the work during specific hours. It would be daft to hire an extra person to help on the days when we get four people phoning at once (with two of us answering) and wind up taking six calls with ten hours of work attached, because that person would also be sitting around twiddling their thumbs with us when no one is calling on quiet days.

  47. Dust Bunny*

    It’s nice to be sympathetic, y’all, but so far Lisa is a) not getting her work done, b) preventing others from getting work done, and c) not advocating for herself if she needs to, so all we actually know is that she cuts out on the dot and is holding everyone else up.

    Maybe she rides the bus, maybe she’s got kids, maybe, maybe, maybe, or maybe she’s unrealistic about what the job requires. Or maybe she has a legitimate conflict and needs to explain this to the LW and negotiate and compromise.

    And I think it’s a leap to assume that this job is routinely forcing people to stay hours late–most jobs have occasional time crunches and, yeah, it sucks when your coworkers leave them in your lap.

    1. grizzly barrister*

      Yes, this is what strikes me as well. She’s not getting her job done in the time allotted, so her options should be to come in early, stay late, or explain why it is that she needs either assistance or to give some of her work to someone else.

    2. I'm not even corporate*

      Yes, I’m really surprised by a lot of the comments here! It’s one thing to have a commitment at a specific time, it’s another to just…drop the ball without discussing it.

    3. BigHairNoHeart*

      I’m inclined to agree. It’s interesting to see the differences between when this was published and now. There are some facts in this letter being overlooked with speculation that favors Lisa. I’m inclined to be sympathetic towards her too, but that doesn’t mean she can just keep doing what she’s doing forever. LW and Lisa need to talk and get the situation resolved, which will very likely result in Lisa needing to work more hours occasionally (which is basically what Alison said in her answer).

    4. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      In my experience, some people like Lisa advocate for their work/life balance by saying no to professional development, taking on stretch assignments, cross-training, or doing anything other than the status quo. The justification that they use is that they want to “focus on their family” or they’re “not looking to climb the corporate ladder” something similar, even when it’s made clear that there’s no expectation for them to stay late and that any training they need can be done on company time.

      What ends up happening over time is that their skills and organizational knowledge fall far behind, making them inefficient at their own jobs and not all that useful in a collaborative sense. And honestly, much of what some Lisas won’t do during their 40 hours is a major factor in why everyone else is working into the wee hours.

      Good employees with tight boundaries on their time aren’t the issue at all, and with some Lisas it’s a red herring that prevents a closer look at other competencies. I’m just fed up of the fact that these people are often the ones who stand in the way of process improvements and ultimately feel entitled to a lighter cognitive load than their colleagues. Look closer and you might see that the problem has nothing to do with her commitments outside of work.

      1. BuzzzOfff*

        Yeah attitudes like this make my blood boil tbh. Why should anyone be expected to do more than the job they were hired and are paid to do? Why should the default expectation always be “advancement” and not “I can do this job to the level required”? Not everyone is interested in constant promotions or having their life ruled by a corporate job that ultimately couldn’t care less about them. So what’s wrong with keeping the status quo?

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          This has eff all to do with promotions or advancement, and I’m speaking from the perspective of a role where people are generally expected to be career individual contributors, so let’s get that assumption out of the way immediately. Also, I work in higher ed, so a lot of the corporate BS arguments aren’t relevant here.

          I dunno, the technical requirements of my job have changed over time, as have the needs of our internal clients. I have colleagues who share my job title but can barely use the tools of the trade that became available a decade ago. But I’m the problem for not expecting them to keep up or even have current organizational knowledge? I deserve to have my work/life balance hampered because I have to compensate for someone who can’t be fussed? Come on. Why is it not an option for everyone involved to make use of the resources our organization provides us so that both we’re equipped to get our crap done on 40 hours? Or does your work/life balance require freeloading?

          I have a mortgage to pay, so I can’t just be like “oh, whatever, I guess I don’t need to know how to use any software that was introduced after my probation period”.

          1. BuzzzOfff*

            Where is there any indication that the LW or Lisa is in higher ed? Also it sounds like maybe you have resentment towards your coworkers because they’re not following the same pressure that you’ve put upon yourself

        2. Jane*

          In Lisa’s case, she’s not even doing the job she’s paid to do. She’s repeatedly missing deadlines, so if that’s the “status quo” then she either doesn’t belong in that role, or the role itself and the way assignments are passed down need to be examined.

    5. Emily*

      But the manager hasn’t had even a conversation with her about it: “Sometimes I wish I could just tell her to put in a few more hours to catch up and get the work done.” If your manager hasn’t even said anything to you, then it’s not totally unreasonable to think that things are ok, especially if you’re in a low-level, non-managerial position. It’s the manager’s job to say “hey, this is a problem”, and then it’s Lisa’s job to explain her conflict/constraints, it’s not her job to pre-emptively negotiate to continue doing a thing she’s already doing that the manager is aware she’s already doing.

  48. Person from the Resume*

    LW2, spouses joining your employee on a business trip should not cost you extra money.

    They or your travel organizer should book the cheapest plane ticket within your travel rules. If they want to fly with their spouse on a more expensive ticket or drive they have to pay the difference. If your employees would have shared a rental car don’t allow then to rent one for themselves and a spouse but not a coworker.

    I have less opinion about spouse traveling with them, but your employee should not miss networking or evening events at a conference to spend time with their spouse.

    That should be an easy policy to make and enforce.

  49. Ann O'Nemity*

    I wonder if LW #1 is expecting 40 hours butts in seats PLUS extra when deadlines require it. Or if the the workload fluctuates and thus can offer flexibility – work extra when required, leave early for a personal appt without taking PTO. The flexible approach makes a heck of a lot more sense these days!

  50. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    For #2 the spouses — Why can’t people network with their partner by their side as it were? Is admission to the networking events limited to conference attendees only? If it’s more about cost, give a set amount that they will be reimbursed and then let them decide if they want to cover alternate arrangements like bumping up to First Class, or driving.

    More generally though, if you have specific goals for the team when they attend these conferences, communicate clearly on that. I hate being sent to conferences with no quantifiable goal for me being there. My grand boss has always been clear on setting goals — “each of you are expected to attend ABC events and in the next department meeting give an update on XYZ.” If networking is such a priority, tell them they need to come back with 3 new industry contacts that might lead to X business, for example.

  51. TheRain'sSmallHands*

    Pre-Covid my husband would travel maybe six – eight weeks out of the year. He was a conference speaker for probably four of those weeks. I usually went with him for a week or two a year. For the cost of airfare and the hotel extension over the weekends, we’d spend a week every year in London. We’d arrive the weekend before, sightsee, then during the conference I’d spend the days on my own, and he’d do his conference thing – once the conference ended, we’d do a little more sightseeing and head home. When he had client dinners, I found dinner on my own. When he had dinner with his work friends, I usually went along – but there was usually one dinner that was employee only. Work dinners with friends were usually expensed (the company is pretty liberal about that) and my meal was picked up. But generally the companies expenses regarding me were a dinner or two (and I spent most of my career in the same industry, I’m actually a useful networking contact myself).

    Here’s what I learned from both being the spouse, and attending conferences myself. Conferences are often EXHAUSTING. Especially if you are a speaker because everyone wants you time – you get stopped a day later on your way to the restroom for questions. His conference schedule is intense between speaking and meeting with clients and networking with his coworkers (who are flung all over the world) – and it honestly isn’t reasonable for the company to expect too much in terms of networking/client dinners (and they don’t – experience has shown them that three 16 hour conference days that start with client breakfasts and end with client cocktails leads to speakers who can’t speak on the last day of the conference). And also exhausting if you are an attendee, if you are an introvert, if you are a woman at a tech conference (some people here know exactly what I mean). You can’t expect ten or twelve hour days from your conference attendees for a week any more than you can expect it from your employees. And not everyone is made for networking, some people are just good at going to a conference to get information.

    So let your employees bring spouses (or other guests), just set policies. For instance, spouses don’t attend the conference, but attendees are expected to spend full days at the conference (i.e. just because its in Orlando does not mean you skip day two of the conference for Disney with your family – and I’ve known plenty of people who have spent more time at the local attractions than at the conference). If you have client dinners or employee dinners – communicate that up front give a schedule and mention whether guests are invited – but don’t book them every night – even your solo travelers may want to recharge and hang in the hotel room and binge Netflix on their laptop (the luxury of business travel when I had small kids – four nights in a hotel room by myself and no movies with talking animals!). You will pay for the hotel room, but airfare, any upgrades, an additional driver on the rental car, meals – anything the company wouldn’t pay for if you were solo, is your responsibility – including extra hotel days for the weekend.

  52. Jim M.*

    I don’t want this to come across as harsh, but this is what has been wrong with office culture for decades. Thankfully it appears to be finally, slowing, shifting in the direction of work/life balance but it seems as though your office culture *may* not be fully embracing that, yet. If the employee cannot get their work done in the 40 hour week, then either the employee is doing something wrong, you are not doing your job as a manager by setting reasonable expectations or higher level management has unrealistic expectations that are trickling down. Case closed, end of story. If a typical work day is until 5, then the employee gets to go home at 5pm and enjoy the other end of the work/life balance. If you need the employee to do more work, the company needs to pay them and see if that is incentive enough, or at least offer comp time to do so (although comp time still only gets you the sane number of work hours out the employee). I get it, they are salary. If salary means the employee truly can work, guilt-free, an under 40 hour week when things are slower, then I have a bit more sympathy for your case since that’s essentially informal comp time as long as this kind of schedule was disclosed when they were hired. In my experience as a salaried employee, however, that is never the case.

    At the end of the day, no matter how much you like your job, a job is a business transaction and you cannot expect an employee to give you their time for free, much like your clients should not expect your products for free. I’ve had a few jobs where my manager had expectations such as yours, and a few more jobs where my manager had reasonable expectations and was adaptable. Guess which jobs I went out of my way to do a stellar job during work hours and which ones I did not? Not to mention I voluntarily left those few jobs that had unrealistic expectations after just a few years each and we all know how enjoyable the hiring process is right now.

    I don’t expect my employees to work extra hours. When I see work is taking longer than expected, I adjust my expectations and, unless there truly seems to be a performance issue with the employee, I leave it as that. The problem with even just occasional expected extra hours is some employees will not manage that perpetual uncertainty well so you end up with an unhappy employee and you are not even getting too many additional hours out of it.

  53. Been a Long Day*

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable that salaried employees occasionally need to work overtime to finish tasks, but it’s important to be flexible about it. My first thought was that Lisa likely has to leave at 5 on the dot to pick up kids from daycare or after school care. If that’s the situation, it’s making her job incompatible with her family responsibilities and will only result in her eventually quitting and won’t get the work done. I would start the conversation by talking about the deadlines, and then looking at prioritization of tasks – is there anything else that could be taken off her plate or that is less critical and could be delayed until after the deadline? Then acknowledge that it’s unfortunate that sometimes we have to meet the deadline even when it means overtime, and talk about some options – come in early, take a working lunch, stay late, leave and come back later, finish the work from home in the evening, even be more efficient during the day if possible – making it clear that it’s up to Lisa to figure out a way to get the work done in a way that is least inconvenient for her. As everyone else mentioned this should only be very occasionally – if it’s daily or weekly it’s time to reevaluate workloads (although I get that that’s the culture in some industries and workplaces, my own included)

  54. Too Old for Mom Jeans*

    I am a business owner who works an unreasonable number of hours per week. And yet, at 5 PM unless my spouse has a rare day off I MUST go. No warning. I have to go. I have young children needing afterschool and daycare pickup. I then proceed to spend a very busy and draining 3.5 hours commuting, cooking, homework checking, and co-overseeing bathtime and bedtime. I will restart my work remotely at 8:30 PM, but working between 5-8:30 is not an option as I have another ‘job’, and yes it’s a busy one.

  55. Anonymous, colleagues who read here will recognize it*

    Is the problem that Lisa is leaving? or that Lisa is not getting work done?

    I understand an occasional “we need you to stay past 5” — with some notice.

    People who leave at 5 on the dot may have other obligations. When my child was little, I had to leave at 5 on the dot to get him from daycare or afterschool care. He had health issues, and we quite regularly needed to take care of that after work/school = I had to leave at 5 on the dot to take care of it. Over the past two years, I have had to leave at 5 on the dot on my in-office days because I have a spouse who’s developed crippling anxiety and depression — I need to get home and manage medications, stuff that didn’t get done during the day, and just be there to be a reassuring presence.

    Other people may need to leave on the dot to catch a bus or train; if they’re driving, 15 or 30 minutes can mean the difference between a do-able commute and a horrific hours+ crawl.

    What’s the real issue — the leaving time? or the work? Address the real issue.

  56. DeeBeeDubz*

    I really disagree that because Lisa is salaried she should not worry about how many hours she works and just worry about getting the work done. Every extra hour of work she does with no extra pay effectively lowers her salary because she is giving up her free time for that. If the deadlines aren’t being met then address that as a performance issue. But if she is expected to work longer than 8 hours any given day/40 hours any given week she should be compensated for that.

    1. Karia*

      Yes. There are also so many other factors. Is it more expensive for her to stay late? What about late fees for kids or pets? The cost of medical appointments missed? The fact that she has to get a taxi, not a bus?

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        This was my point to a manager* who set up meetings that began half an hour before my end time with NO notice: I either need to take this on speaker in the car, which goes against company policy, need $10/MINUTE late charges, and will need corporate legal to handle the CPS issues arising due to my failure to pickup by closing time + half hour, or will be declining this meeting.

        * technically a manager but not mine, not in my tree of report, literally had no sway over me. Further, his meetings WERE useless time sucks with no agenda and nothing accomplished and he was eventually removed from the project that was causing the issue.

        My end time was written into my employment offer, as was my start time of 6 a.m. per my department standards. I was willing to flex with a day’s notice that “hey, we’re going to need to stay late” because that gave me 24 hours to figure it out, not 0.5 hours with an unreachable spouse out of town.

    2. BuzzzOfff*

      Yep, unless they’re willing to pay her more, they should figure out how the work can get done within the normal work hour boundaries

  57. anonymous73*

    A lot of comments here seem to be making several assumptions without a lot of information.

    1. Why is Lisa missing deadlines? If they’re understaffed, that’s a management problem to solve. If she needs more training, that can be addressed. Is she socializing or goofing off?
    2. Why does she leave at 5? It could be picking up her kid at daycare, a long commute, or any number of other reasons she needs to go at a certain time.
    3. OP keeps pushing back deadlines when they’re not met. If OP doesn’t address the core issue, all they’re doing is teaching Lisa that deadlines are not enforced.
    4. Has OP communicated their expectations to Lisa? If yes, have clear and specific consequence been communicated if those expectations aren’t met?

    OP seems to equate “working hard” with “staying late” and that is 100% unfair and probably why Lisa hightails it out of there at 5 on the dot.

  58. Too tired*

    I worked at a satellite hospital location (am saying this because it had fewer resources than the main campus). My job ended at 6, but if there was an emergency, I would have to stay until it was finished. My boss told everyone who worked at this location that if they had things that needed them, they needed to have some sort of back up arrangement to address it (aka if a kid needed to be picked up). I quit when my kid was born. I see the job listing pop up every year or two.

  59. London Calling*

    How more hours is ‘a few more hours’ and will she be paid for them, or is she expected to work for free? one of the reasons I left my last place was because the ED started bandying around the word ‘overtime.’ Nope, I had a commute that gave me regular twelve hour days, there’s nothing about payables that can’t wait until tomorrow and I don’t believe in presenteeism at the expense of MY work life balance to make someone else look good.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      The employee is salaried which almost always means exempt from overtime pay (in the US) so she won’t be getting extra money, but she is getting a set amount of pay every week no matter how many hours she puts in.

      Working extra hours without extra pay is compensated by the employee being paid the same every week including those weeks that she’s off for the holiday and for vacation. Also she doesn’t have to track her hours or clock in and out.

      1. London Calling*

        Same as the UK then. I suppose the answer is very much industry dependent and the OP really needs to have a talk with Lisa and find out why she’s leaving on the dot and not meeting her deadlines; as well as clarifying how much overtime is actually expected. That way they’ll both have a clearer picture of each other’s expectations.

      2. Jora Malli*

        That’s *theoretically* how being salaried/exempt works. But where I work, the expectation is that you can be required to work more than 40 hours if the situation warrants it, but you can also be required to use PTO if you are in the building for fewer than 40 hours a week. It’s the worst of both worlds.

  60. CouldntPickAUsername*

    lot of people here going ‘what if Lisa is a parent’ why does that matter? why do you have to have kids to not want work to dominate your life. I could just want to go home and stare at a blank wall for 5 hours and it still be completely valid reason to not stay at work late. examine your work process and priorities and discuss how she can better meet her deadlines but don’t set the standard of staying late all the time. you already eat up a lot of her life.

    1. Emily*

      I think any reason is a valid reason for drawing a boundary around your time, enforcing it, and dealing with the consequences. But if she’s picking up kids from school or daycare (or catching a train, or otherwise has some very time-sensitive thing she needs to do), it is far more likely that if LW starts making her stay later, she’s going to be gone immediately from that job, whereas if she just really likes that blank wall, there could be more room for an outcome where she is willing to stay longer from time to time. That’s not a normative statement, but there are certain circumstances that tend to make people less flexible about their time and more willing to make the trade-offs associated with that, like changing jobs.

    2. BubbleTea*

      Your blank wall doesn’t require you to take care of it. You won’t be charged extremely high fees for being late home to stare at it. You wouldn’t be arrested for neglecting it. And it isn’t an essential future member of society whose existence is necessary for the services which you will rely on in your old age.

      1. Another Emily*

        Oh FFS. Every person deserves work/life balance, regardless of their other responsibilities and priorities. If Lisa has a daycare pick up she absolutely has to get to, and her job is one where fires occasionally come up at 4:55, she may be a mismatch for the position. (I’m a working parent, who’s spouse also works.)

      2. balloon frenzy*

        Wow… No, a parent’s time is not more valuable than anyone else’s because they made the choice to have kids.

        I made the choice not to have kids largely for environmental reasons, but that doesn’t mean I signed on to pick up the slack from parents for the rest of my life.

      3. pancakes*

        I really don’t like the idea that it’s essential for people to have kids to provide society with workers, and I highly doubt that’s what moves most people to have them.

      4. MeepMeep02*

        It doesn’t matter, though. Everyone gets to set boundaries around their time. You shouldn’t have to justify to your boss just why you are setting that boundary.

        Maybe she’s writing the Great American Novel or working on a symphony. Maybe she’s volunteering to help the community with something very important. There are lots of non-kid-related reasons for something that are just as important as kids. And the one thing that all these reasons have in common is that they are none of the boss’s business.

    3. starfox*

      Thank you! So many of these comments are like, well, if she has kids, then that’s a good reason to not stay late.

      But those of us who don’t have children shouldn’t have to stay late all the time because we don’t have kids. I spent the entire pandemic covering for my coworkers with kids… It’d be nice to get a little flexibility myself.

  61. Sarah Murphy*

    Hot take: there are very few jobs either important enough or that pay well enough to justify expecting employees to ever work more than 40 hours a week without additional pay or comp time – regardless of their salaried status. These same employers complaining that staff doesn’t stay late to get the work done will also dock employees if they have to leave early or arrive late to take care of necessary life things. Absence of an actual performance issue during the time the employee is scheduled to be there, I feel like this is a non-issue and the employer probably needs to hire more staff.

    1. Karia*

      This is a good and sensible take. And (while it’s anecdotal), in my experience, the venn diagram of “companies who expect you to take PTO for a medical appointment” and “companies who expect you to work late for free” is a circle.


    I dont have kids (just spouse and one dog) but I work 8-4:30, occasionally I work until 5. My downtime is needed and I find if I work past 5 p.m. on a regular basis, my ability to manage projects and respond is diminished. No one is a machine; everyone needs that decompression period. After burning myself out at a prior job because my manager was a micro manager who emailed and texted at all hours of the day and night, I established my own boundaries. Managers who complain about people leaving at their scheduled stop time need to perform a stop it.

  63. Calliope*

    So on the spouses, obviously they need to be covering their fights, meals, and any hotel surcharge. But I don’t think employers should nitpick on requiring the cheapest flights (within reason). Generally speaking let people book a slightly more expensive flight that leaves at a better time or doesn’t have an awkward connection or is on their preferred airline, or yes, accommodates their spouse’s schedule. Requiring that every flight be the cheapest is a serious morale killer for business travel.

    1. Jerusha*

      Say it louder for Guacamole Bob in the back!

      (The original GB, obviously, not the commenter who uses that name!)

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Good for Lisa, to be honest”

      Agreed! My one critique would be that maybe Lisa should try to get a sense of the company’s work/life balance before accepting her next job. Personally, work/life balance is VERY important to me, and I don’t want to stay late except in very unusual, infrequent cases. This is why I work at a big university which is known for solid work/life balance. Buyer beware!

  64. Felix*

    Such an out of line response. What makes Lisa leave on time? Uhm, perhaps her contract?!

  65. Essess*

    Are these deadlines and needing to stay late happening without warning? For example, does she find out at 2pm that there’s a deadline that she’d need to stay late to meet that same day? I had a job that used to do this… they’d constantly expect people to stay late for hours without warning. I had a heavily scheduled life where I had appointments and plans already arranged after my scheduled work hours. If I knew about needing to stay late ahead of time, then I could arrange to be free to work later, but it was not possible when the demand for extra hours sprang up on the same day.

  66. Bye Felicia*

    Go Lisa! In my salaried jobs, I have stayed late/taken 2am calls/worked deployments late at night, because they were necessary. But nope, on a normal day, I’m offline when the day is over. If I have to constantly stay late, then it’s a problem with the org, not with the employee. Go Lisa go Lisa go Lisa!!!

  67. Oakwood*

    “I constantly hear “I’m so busy,” yet she never stays late to catch up or complete the work. I’m constantly pushing back deadlines because the work doesn’t get done.”

    “Constantly” is the important word here.

    If you are constantly doing something, that means you are doing it all the time–as in every day. Are you expecting Lisa to work late occasionally or every day?

    Does Lisa have the unrealistic expectation that she can leave at 5:00 every day or are you the one with the unrealistic expectation that employees will work late most days?

    1. London Calling*

      And if OP is ‘constantly’ hearing this then why hasn’t OP addressed this already?

  68. Mitzii*

    I’d be curious what type of business it is, and whether there is other flexibility in the day. I used to work in advertising, and we had a lot of hard and fast deadlines and many days where you had to stay past 5 or sometimes even work weekends to get the jobs done. On the other hand, there were also many days where we were waiting for client input, or the schedule was just lighter, where we could roll in late, take a 2 hour lunch, etc. It was much more about getting the work done than keeping set hours.

  69. HelloAvocado*

    I’m disappointed in Alison’s answer on this one, and that’s my first time saying that! Workplace norms are changing, and asking an employee specifically to stay late to get more work done seems woefully out-of-touch. Wouldn’t a better approach be to set up time with Lisa and say – “My expectation is that your work would get done by deadline. You’ve missed several deadlines now – what’s up?” and go from there? Staying late for performative reasons is not necessarily the answer to the core issue of work not getting done.

  70. Avi*

    This is the first time that I have completely disagreed with Alison. At least where I’m from (UK), salaried jobs stipulate the number of weekly hours (typically around 40 hours per week). I’m not going to work for free outside of those hours. If my boss wants me to stay late, I expect overtime pay or time off in lieu.

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      I think this is a clash in both culture and employment law: in the United States, most salaried employees are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and don’t get overtime pay.

      1. cappucino girl*

        I mean…sure. As in, they have a better culture in the UK. Where workers are treated very slightly more like human beings.

    2. Caroline Bowman*

      Agree. It clearly is a subjective thing. I don’t think most engaged employees mind occasionally staying a bit later for a specific project or to get some big thing done, but ”occasionally” means… rarely. It means that leaving around about on time each day is unremarkable and not a problem so bad that it warrants getting advice on the matter.

      If the person isn’t meeting deadlines, then that needs to be addressed as a topic in and of itself.

    3. Karia*

      I’m UK based too; I don’t expect either, but I do expect them to recognise that I’m doing them a favour. And I’m happy to do it at places where I get leeway on my birthday, or allowed to go to an app without using PTO.

      I used to let companies take advantage, and it never benefited me long term.

      1. cappucino girl*

        yeah this whole thread is reminding me of how few rights we have in the US – it’s ridiculous that we compare ourselves to European nations. the whole country is crumbling.

  71. Caroline Bowman*

    This used to wind me up so much, mainly because I generally got to work a bit early (through choice!) to do my catching up, get the day started ahead (I’m talking 15-20 minutes, not hours), but this went completely unremarked, which is absolutely fine, BUT then if I left within 15-20 mins of my working hours, not early, but later-than, oh ”where are you off to in such a rush?” and ”joking” about clock-watching.

    Good times.

  72. KP*

    I have a lot of feelings about this response and I realize my own experiences are coloring it…but.

    My workload has increased substantially in the past 2.5 years. It is fairly common for me to work at least 50 hr weeks. It’s not uncommon to hit 60.

    When asked to work a weekend, I asked when I was supposed to flex. I was already at 60 hrs and was going to have a very busy week after that weekend.

    I was told that my “inability” to manage my workload showed that I wasn’t ready to be promoted (something we both knew I really wanted. And that honestly, all of this was my fault because what was I doing with my time??

    That was the final straw. I realized my best would never be good enough. Sooo, I left. I just started a new role and they are scrambling without me.

    Which is just to say, maybe find out why your employee is leaving right at 5pm instead of assuming bad faith.

  73. Cherry Berry*

    Alison, for the first time ever, I disagree with you about LW1. Yes, salaried jobs do require occasional overtime but if it is required so often that LW1 needed to write in about how often Lisa leaves on time, then there is something else going on. Either there is a performance issue that should be addressed (like general lack of doing work) or there is a management issue with unrealistic deadlines, insufficient staffing, or insufficient training.

    I know I am not alone in having re-evaluated my relationship with work over the past couple of years. After many years of working jobs that constantly required me to put in extra hours to meet deadlines, my mental and physical health really suffered. I thought we had collectively come to a better understand of the work-life balance needed in all of our lives.

    1. Despachito*

      I agree with you – either there is a problem that Lisa has a performance issue, or there is a problem with management (excessive workload/insufficient staffing).

      I’d address the problem that Lisa is not meeting her deadlines, and to try and find out why. Is she not as productive as she should be? Or are you stretched thin and her workload is unrealistic? Are there people with the same type of work who do manage to be on time?

      Unless there are issues literally arising after 5:00 PM, there certainly has to be another solution than Lisa staying late. Either she has to increase her efficiency (if the problem is her performance) or something should be taken off her plate (if the problem is excessive workload).

      I do not think Lisa should have to explain why she leaves on the dot. What she should have to explain though is the question of not meeting deadlines, and this is what OP should work on with her.

  74. Karia*

    Also – why does the solution have to be ‘more hours’? I just saved a colleague 20 minutes a week by creating a automated process for her. Ground breaking? No. But those little efficiencies add up.

  75. Honestly Surprised*

    This is one of the first time’s I felt like Alison took the manager’s words at face value and I disagree with her response. The first line of this bothered me a lot… “Most of the team members are hard working, dedicated, and open to putting in extra hours when it’s occasionally needed to compete tasks. However, I have one employee, Lisa, who leaves at 5 p.m. on the dot regardless of whether or not the job is competed.” So because Lisa leaves at 5pm, she is not hardworking or dedicated? Most people work to live, not live to work.
    Many people have brought up childcare, but regardless of whether or not Lisa has a child, if Lisa’s work hours are 9-5, she should be leaving at 5. Having a work-life balance is not only for parents. Salary is SUPPOSED to be a fixed amount earned yearly by an employee for work completed, but many workplaces like to treat it like a pre-designated hourly wage. For example, as a salaried employee, I do not get docked pay for going to a doctors appointment in the middle of the day (which is rare), because I can still get my job done. But my last salaried job wanted time off forms to dock my pay for that hour as I wasn’t actively working.
    Who cares why Lisa leaves at 5pm? There is too much missing information for Alison to have given the stance she did. Does Lisa show up on time every day? Is she punctual with her breaks? Is she otherwise organized and task forward? At first, I thought, yeah, this could definitely be a performance issue, maybe. But it seems like other workers ALSO have issues getting tasks completed on time as they are all working late, but this manager’s issue is with Lisa because she leaves on time. A salary doesn’t mean you own every second of your employee’s time.

    Time for the manager to have a hard look in the mirror and see if their employee expectations are in line with work-load. Maybe have some 1 on 1s to check in with ALL employees and see how they’re handling things. Staying late every time a deadline is approaching (which it sounds like is more frequent than LW lets on as this is obviously very frustrating to them) is not a good solution. Figure out the performance BEFORE the deadline hits.

  76. Jake*

    I’m shocked by the amount of backlash to the answer.

    There are a ton of jobs where staying late sometimes to meet a deadline is a real requirement of the job. It doesn’t automatically mean there is some kind of workload issue. It can easily just mean that the work ebbs and flows in such a way that requires more work some days. From an employer standpoint, it doesn’t seem outrageous at all to tell an employee something along the lines of exactly what Alison said. “Hey, this is the job, and we need you to do this sometimes.”

  77. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    OP says his entire team is on salary so he doesn’t pay overtime. They may be doing this wrong. It’s not salary versus hourly, it’s exempt versus nonexempt. If OP is treating every employee as exempt, they’re probably doing it wrong. Being exempt requires a minimum salary along with meeting other conditions like supervising other staff (must manage people, not just programs) have hiring and firing authority, make independent decisions in their work etc. The 1st thing OP needs to do is to figure out whether or not this person is exempt and should get paid for overtime. Employers can require paid overtime as a condition of a job or if the person is exempt they can require more than 40 hours a week, But the 1st thing the employer needs to do is figure out whether or not they are in compliance for exempt and nonexempt employees.
    OP also needs to make sure they are doing what Alison listen offenses coland says Colin make sure they are communicating extremely clearly “You need to work as many hours as required to complete your work, not leave at 5 o’clock when there is still work to be done.” If the workload is realistic, OP needs to determine if the person is working most of the day or messing around on Facebook.
    OP, I hope this and other perspectives are helpful.

    1. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

      So sorry the end got garbled.
      Note to self: read everything after using voice to text.

  78. monogodo*

    About 5 years ago, my wife had to travel to St Louis for a work conference. She had the thought that it might be cheaper to rent a car and drive there instead of flying. Then I had the idea that I could take vacation time, we could drive to her mother’s (half-way there), drop off the cats for her to cat-sit, then continue on to St Louis. We’d then stay at an Airbnb. I’d drive her in to the hotel for the day’s events every morning, and pick her up in the evening. There was one dinner where I was able to attend, and another that I wasn’t (so I met up with a friend from school). We worked out with her employer that we’d get reimbursed for our fuel costs instead of mileage. It ended up saving them money (between the Airbnb being cheaper than the hotel, and gas costs being cheaper than air fare). And I was able to give her boss a ride to the airport when she needed to leave, saving them cab fare. In exchange, I got a free trip to St Louis.

  79. SofiaDeo*

    I would be willing to bet there is too much work for the people on staff. I see this all the time in my profession; people are expected to stay late to finish anything that came in that day, but the option to leave early is *never* allowed. Which, if this was made clear up front, might be used to negotiate a slightly different salary, or otherwise affect the number of days/days of the week one agrees to. I stopped being a salaried employee mid-way in my career. If they wanted me, they made me hourly with overtime. This is a medical profession, not an office, so a bit different. But after I spent months of 60+ hours a week to get a regional software update done successfully (and my department was the only one in the region that did not have major problems at Go-Live), I was denied leaving 2 hours late at the end of Go-Live week. There really wasn’t a reason to deny me except “butt in chair” mentality.

  80. Dana Lynne*

    I don’t often disagree with Alison, but in my life there were day care pickups that were not negotiable. One spouse or the other had to be there by 6, period. So there is no mention here of possible child care deadlines being a factor.

    If there are kids involved in employees’ lives, there are complications to being able to routinely work past a set time, whether that’s 5, or 6 or whatever. If this employee was told that 5 is the end of the work day, you can’t blame them for believing that. If the job has no set end time, that needs to be explicitly stated so parents can make plans accordingly.

    I agree with other commenters that the issue of not meeting deadlines is a separate problem. But — this idea that people can routinely work past 5 with no trouble completely misses the part about day care. Usually Alison is very aware of child care issues so I’m not sure what changed here with this particular letter.

  81. MeepMeep02*

    Hard disagree on the Lisa situation. “Salaried employee” doesn’t mean “we own your every waking hour”. Even salaried employees get to have a life outside of work. And getting out of work at 5 already doesn’t allow for much of a life. Now we’re supposed to sacrifice even more of our free time, with no increase in salary, for something that does not benefit us?

    It kinda doesn’t matter what her reasons are for leaving at 5. It doesn’t have to be kids. It could be that her dog needs feeding. It could be that she has choir rehearsal and can’t be late. It could be that she has a regular meetup with friends or family. It could be that she is working on a painting that she needs to finish, or writing a novel that is almost done. It could be that she is volunteering for her community doing something. She gets to have a life. If the boss wants her to sacrifice more of her life to work more for the company, they can pay her more and she can decide whether that’s worth it.

  82. Anony*

    I think the backlash to Alison’s response to OP1 is a little odd. It’s an entirely reasonable expectation for salaried workers in many industries (and yes, we all know it’s different in the UK). This is the opposite of a butts in seats mentality; OP wants her salaried employee to meet goals and deadlines that they are consistently missing. Part of results-driven work vs just sit in your seat for 40 hours is that sometimes there is more and sometimes less. I do think the OP could explore flexible timing for Lisa, like logging back in later or coming earlier – whether or not she is a parent.

  83. Jenifer Crawford*

    A few thoughts re: the employee who leaves promptly at 5:00:

    1.) They could have a transportation issue, for instance needing to be on the last bus that can get them home.

    2.) On the other hand, perhaps they have a controling spouse who demands they be home with dinner on the table at x time.

    3.) Pick-up time from childcare (or a parent from eldercare) may be a part of this issue.

    By all means, talk with the employee; if a project is on deadline, work needs to be done. If a situation like one mentioned above is occuring, could the employee either come in early on occasion, or do some work from home?

  84. AnonymousReader*

    I don’t have children but I’m also one of those that leaves on the dot even though I’m salaried. Why? Because when I’m “on”, I’m on 100% and don’t do not work related things. My coworkers who usually stay late admit to taking breaks to do their dishes, build legos with their kids, go to the grocery store, etc.. As long as they are meeting their deadlines, I don’t judge them for working when it works for them but I also make it very clear I won’t answer emails at midnight.

    I applaud the employee for not staying past 5PM. Boundaries are healthy, even if she is leaving to sit on the couch at home, it’s the employee’s right.

    The meeting deadlines, I think is a valid point. Employer should discuss why employee is not meeting deadlines but I’m my best guess is their leaving at 5PM is not the problem. The employee is probably being overworked and this is their way of pushing back.

    1. London Calling*

      Yes to your last paragraph. I think the leaving at 5pm is designed to convey a message about work, whether that message is ‘I have a life outside here, thanks,’ ‘I’m over worked and undertrained and you are doing nothing about it,’ ‘your deadlines are unrealistic,’ and any variations on those and other themes.

      All of which could probably be cleared up by the OP actually, you know, talking to Lisa. As a manager once said to me, ‘If you have a problem with someone, tell them. Not everyone else.’

  85. Ella*

    There is just noch enough info I think, and I am surprised Alison was able to give the answer she gave on the little info that was provided..

    Questions I would have for the LW:
    – was Lisa guranteed she could leave at 5 pm every day when she was hired? Was she transparent about it/were hours discussed beforehand in anyway? Whatever was talked about beforehand: was that honored from the start or was it violated many times on the company’s end – is there a back story?
    (I am asking this because I worked at a place that said “usually you won’t have to work after X pm”, but then, everyday there was an exception to that and I missed so many private social events over these “exceptions”, that in the end I became pretty firm saying:”No, I can’t, I will be leaving at Xpm”)

    – is it really necessary to stay in “after 5pm” or is this more about: “Lisa isn’t meeting her goals and deadlines”? If she met them, would you still be bugged by her leaving at 5pm? (it sounds a little bit like it’s mostly about her “audacity”) if Lisa found a way to get everything (reasonable) done before 5pm, for example by coming earlier or working through lunch, would that work for you?)
    – pretty obvious question: is she maybe coming earlier than everybody else? and again: is it about time spent at the office for you, to show … commitment?
    – how much longer is everyone else staying? is that reasonable or is everyone just overworked and Lisa is simply not participating in being overworked?

    Maybe Lisa is leaving at 5pm because she knows if she stays longer and gets her stuff in before deadline, she will just get more work and will get to stay longer more often (yay). Maybe she is really focused and on while she is in the office and everyone else a little bit more relaxed because they don’t have a hard stop to their business day..

    For me, it just feels like someone got to hear what they wanted to hear without being asked for context..

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