should our office kick everyone out at 5 pm?

A reader writes:

I would like to ask you and your readers about a discussion my organization had about working late. I don’t work in the office late. I have worked late at home occasionally, but I do not stay in the office longer than close of business. Some team members do though, to a ridiculous extent. In other teams it varies. One team during the pandemic worked late frequently, but I understand that they’ve now returned to normal.

In a staff meeting and in my own team’s meetings, I’ve suggested that the organization could use a policy set by the controversial entrepreneur Alan Sugar. His rule was that work ends at 5 pm and that everyone had to be out of the building at 5:15. The book I read said that he enforced this rule by having security always lock up at 5:15. However, the wording I’ve used in meetings is that Sugar had staff kicked out of the office at 5:00.

I presume that any part-time employees would have their hours strictly enforced too, but the book only seems to cover the full-time staff.

Whichever way you phrase it, the rule was that staff were only allowed to work in their contracted hours. Everyone had five working days, 9-5 each week and no more. If they hadn’t finished a task by close of business on Friday, they’d have to finish on Monday. Apparently, it encouraged good timekeeping at the expense of making everyone nervous in the last 10 minutes of the day.

My organization’s staff network believes that such a policy would not always be practical, but it would certainly encourage staff to consider work-life balance and to think carefully before working late.

Just so that you know, I have never missed a deadline and I have often received compliments for the standard of my work. So, what do you think of this policy?

I like the intent, but the execution is impractical.

For one thing, it would make flexibility completely impossible. A lot of people like being able to flex their hours — coming in late after an appointment and staying a little later to make up that work, or to working a different schedule than 9-5 if the nature of their work permits it.

Plus, in many jobs, there’s an ebb and flow to the work — this week is busy so I’m going to be staying later, but next month is slower so I’ll knock off early a bunch of days. A lot of people want the autonomy to manage their own schedules and workflow that way, and the nature of many jobs permits it.

There are also jobs where it’s inherent to the work is that sometimes something urgent will come up at the end of the day and it has to be dealt with or there could be serious consequences (think PR, law, tech, and a zillion other fields — although I’m guessing you’re not in one of those or this would be an obvious no-go).

This is also likely to just spur people to work from home at night when they might prefer to just stay a little later to finish and then have a clean break once they go home.

All that said … is a strict 9-5 system better than jobs that expect people to work unsustainably long hours and have no time to themselves? Of course, and I can see how it would look really good to people who are dealing with the latter. But the choice isn’t between those two starkly different options. A healthy organization can ensure workloads are sustainable and people are able to disconnect from work, without employing this kind of rigidity. If your organization isn’t doing that, that’s a problem … but it can be solved with a less blunt instrument.

{ 302 comments… read them below }

    1. Jam Today*

      If its an environment where it is tacitly picked up as a virtue, there is a risk (and I’ve seen this happen in two workplaces) that it turns into a war of attrition, where “last to leave the office” status is the brass ring that people fight for.

      I am too old to play those games (I just don’t care anymore lol!) BUT I also get a lot done between 5 and 7, when meetings are over, emails stop, chats stop, and there is total silence where I can just *think*. In office environments where most of the way is like that I’ll peace out at 6 with everyone else.

      1. OneAngryAvacado*

        Yeah, at my first job I was told by my (emotionally abusive) boss that he was ‘worried my colleagues were thinking badly of me’ when I left around 6-6.30 once my work was finished – because my (higher paid, senior ranked) colleagues still had work to do and he was genuinely afraid this would breed resentment, so I really should stay later and work more.

        Of course, they didn’t give two hoots about when I left, that guy was an absolute dick and that workplace was messed up for multiple reasons, but it’s an example 0f how that sort of thing can get weaponised.

        1. cottagechick73*

          I ran into this with my first job as well. “you really should work later”… my reply “I don’t play around during day and get my shit done”. The boys (male dominated field) played nerf basketball during the day – a lot. And some complained about their wife and kids so it was an excuse to skip out on their responsibilities at home. I hated that office.

          1. Peter the Bubblehead*

            I know military service isn’t really comparable to office work, but in a similar vein, during my first sea tour I had a Division Chief who did not get along with his wife and hated having to go home at the end of the day. Most divisions would receive liberty at or around 1600 (4:00pm for you land lubbers), but my Chief had the mindset that if he wasn’t going home, no one in the division needed to go home either and it was not uncommon to be assigned busy-work just to keep us on the boat to 1800 or 1900 on a regular work day.
            Fortunately had another Chief in the division who saw what was going on and tried to intervene on behalf of the junior sailors when he could, but he wasn’t always around.

        2. ZugTheMegasaurus*

          I used to work really absurd OT; I hit 400-hour months multiple times. At one point during one of these crunch periods, a relatively new hire – who was new to the company but very well-qualified – saw me in the cafeteria and came over to say hi.

          She looked kind of upset and said, “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this job. I’m only working half as long as you anyway, and I’m completely exhausted. And look, I look like I just rolled out of bed but you look totally put together. I don’t know how I can keep up.”

          I looked at her and said, “Nobody should be working the hours I’m working. It’s not healthy. And you’ve got a baby and a husband and a new house taking up your time and energy. I live literally across the street, have no kids, and my disabled partner is home 24/7 to take care of the cat. The fancy bun in my hair is because I haven’t washed it in 3 days, and this shirt was quite literally the only clean piece of clothing in my closet because I haven’t had time to do the laundry in weeks. Don’t emulate that; you’re doing just fine.”

          I felt kind of bad that she thought she needed to do that in the first place, but she seemed to feel better afterward.

        3. Karma is My Boyfriend*

          I also ran into this in my first job! Overtime was mandatory for a couple of months in the summer, so I’d come in and work mine in the morning, when it was used, so I could actually focus! Boss saw me leave on time one day and made a comment to a coworker, who thankfully stood up for me and told Boss I worked in the morning. Boss made a comment about optics and that was a quick lesson for me that it is more important to have “butts in seats” than to actually DO the work.

          1. kupo*

            yeah, I was doing crunch at a job and to be able to get it done there were 3 of us coming in at 5:30-6am. Our boss would roll in between 7 and 8 and his boss sometime around 8. But it looked bad if we left before grandboss, so even if we’d already been there 12+ hours we’d wait for her to leave. at one point I had to explain to my boss I couldn’t stay because I was coming up on the end of my 3rd 5-hour chunk, and I didn’t want HR to scold me for not punching out at the 5-hour mark (my state requires a 30-minute break after 5 hours of work for non-exempt workers, which I was at the time). I’d been there over 16 hours, 15 of those on the clock. He let me leave.

      2. Heart&Vine*

        You can also end up with a reputation that turns off potential applicants. If an applicant gets wind that it’s common for employees to have to work until 7pm or later (whether or not that’s something your business actually encourages), they might decide not to apply because they fear the culture is one of “work takes priority above all else”.

        1. Bast*

          Absolutely! Work/life balance is important to me, and if I find an office promotes the “grind culture” of regularly working late, surprise OT (usually due to poor management), I would no longer be interested. Been there, done that, not doing it again. Someone choosing to work late is different; I do find that some people prefer later hours, and if a company is just providing flexibility, to me, that is a plus. The red flag would be if it seems like not just a couple of people who prefer later hours are there, but half of the office, and they look and sound “dead inside.” I had one company who offered such a paltry PTO plan (7 days total) and when I asked about flexibility to WFH if sick, was told that “the office is open on Saturdays to make up time if you get sick, or you can stay late on other days.” No thanks.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I am too old to play those games (I just don’t care anymore lol!) BUT I also get a lot done between 5 and 7, when meetings are over, emails stop, chats stop, and there is total silence where I can just *think*. In office environments where most of the way is like that I’ll peace out at 6 with everyone else.

        Agree 125%. I like to start at 7 am, for a company that’s so averse to hiring morning people that it’s effectively on Mountain Standard Time, because I’ll get more done from 7 to 9-10 am than I will the rest of the day (due to meetings, being social, assisting peers, etc).

        1. Bast*

          This is me! I am also most productive between about 7 AM and 10/11 AM. It baffles a lot of people, but while they are hitting their stride at 2 or 3 PM, I’m crashing.

      4. Goldenrod*

        This reminds me of that episode of “The Office” where Kathy Bates character (as the temporary boss) was staying late every day, so everyone else thought they had to too. When someone asked if they could leave, she said, “Sure…If YOU feel happy about the work you’ve accomplished for the day, go ahead.”

        It was delivered in a way that made everyone feel scared to leave…

      5. mli0531*

        This happened to me at a previous job. I got so much done after 4pm, when a lot of folks had already left for the day. With my commute, it frequently made sense to stay until I could avoid paying tolls (which ended at 6:30pm). The amount of concentrated work I could do when I wasn’t in meetings, was awesome.

        1. Clisby*

          My husband did this at a previous job (in Atlanta, GA). Most days he could get away by 4 (he went in WAY earlier than 9). If he couldn’t, he just stayed in the office until 7. The commute difference was 30 minutes vs. 2+ hours, and he’d rather spend the extra time working.

          1. Catabouda*

            I have a similar issue with traffic. If I can get out the door by 3:30, I can be home in 40 minutes. After that it can be 90-120 minutes, depending on the weather. So if I miss the early time, it makes no sense to leave early and sit in traffic for the time I could just be working, leave a little later, and make it home in the 35-40 minute range.

      6. Caramellow*

        Also, as an early AM worker, I found my contribution was far less valued than people who came in later and worked until 6 or 7. I also used those early hours without interruption to get a ton done.

        1. Your Mate in Oz*

          Flip side: when I started my current job it quickly became apparent that my boss woke up at 0530 just from the email timestamps. Once he realised that I like to start early (but not 0530 early, more like 0630) he’d ring me as soon as I logged on to tell me about whatever passing thought he’d had. It helped build rapport and made me his go-to for random ideas.

          But the save was that he expected 8 hours on the clock every work day. If he rang me at 0630 he’d message me at 1500 and say “why are you still at work? Is something wrong? Do you need help?”

          I’m on salary, and early on I was the guy there to write software for the completely new system (it’s the same old gadget… but now connected to the THE INTERNET!) so things broke a bit and I worked nights and weekends a few times. But got a bit of TOIL as well as pay rises. Now the system is properly in production I don’t get called outside work hours most years.

      7. Tiger Snake*

        I managed to somehow accidentally nip that in the bud early with my last team. When I needed to explain to all my new starters our flexible working policy, what I wanted to make understood was that you shouldn’t compare your hours to others because because the manager should always have the most work.

        What I ended up doing instead was somehow accidentally instituting an unofficial rule that you should ask yourself “how many hours did Tiger Snake work yesterday”, subtract 30 minutes from that and make that your absolute maximum; which everyone (not just my newbies) adopted.

    2. RagingADHD*

      It sounds like leadership brought up the topic at a company meeting, and LW was making suggestions to possibly promote work-life balance at the organizational level.

      If people are routinely working very long hours without speaking up, it can make it much harder for management to assess the workload and staff up or distribute assignments appropriately.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Wouldn’t the solution be to talk to the folks who are routinely working late and assess their workload that way? Aren’t there managers whose job it is to manage these folks who could find out if they are working “late” because that’s their preference vs. they have too much to do to fit it all in before 5?

        1. RagingADHD*

          I don’t understand why it would be a problem to discuss the topic. Nobody was issuing edicts.

          It is normally a good thing for leadership to invite discussion and input from employees about what’s working / what isn’t, and whether policy changes are needed. Maybe no policy changes are needed and it would be better addressed by individual managers.

          Maybe not. So why not invite discussion?

    3. CzechMate*

      1) If this person is in a more managerial role, they may want to ensure that people aren’t overworked or burned out.
      2) There can be security concerns if people are in the office past closing time (although this may not be OP’s intent in the letter),
      3) (and I can attest to this) if you manage your time and get everything done within the standard 9-5 workday, but everyone else doesn’t and needs to work late, it may appear from the outside that the person who leaves at 5 is the “slacker” when the opposite is actually true.
      4) If people feel pressured to work late, it could be hiding the fact that there is a capacity issue and the company needs to hire more people.

      I don’t know if mandating an office closure is the answer, but OP isn’t wrong to say, “I’ve noticed people working late a lot and there could be issues with that.”

      1. CzechMate*

        I’ll add also that my mom tried to institute a similar policy at her workplace before she retired–a “The office will be closed from 12 pm-1 pm every day and all employees must leave the office for a lunchbreak” rule. 100% well-intentioned. In the grand scheme of things probably wouldn’t hurt anything and actually would probably have some benefits. (It was also a small town so people could conceivably go home and have a real, solid break.) In practice, no one likes being told what to do even if it’s probably good for them.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Ooooh, I would hate this! I like to just work all day and eat in front of my computer. Is that bad for me? Maybe, but I also know that having a 15-30 minute lunch break away from my desk isn’t all that useful for me, because I lose concentration (see also: ADHD) and I’m always reading stuff while eating anyway, might as well read work stuff. I do take walks in the afternoons on occasion (I’m lucky enough that part of my job involves mailing actual letters so I even have an excuse to walk to a mailbox), but I always take them when I feel I need a break, not on any specific schedule.

          And what if the weather was bad? I’m guessing by your comment that your mom’s company didn’t actually instate this policy, but if so, would it have held even if it was pouring rain?

          1. CzechMate*

            This was a small company and everyone lived within 15 minutes of their home (and drove), so I think her thinking was that everyone would have to go home if they didn’t want to take a walk/go to a cafe/etc. My mom would drive to the local park and sit in her car watching the ducks, and she LOVED to pull up all these studies about how good that is for your mental health/productivity, etc.

            Ironically, I’m now a person who eats lunch…in front of the computer, answering work emails and reading AAM. She would be so ashamed, lol.

          2. Orv*

            I’m the opposite; I leave my office to eat because if I try to eat in the office, someone will interrupt me partway through.

          3. kicking-k*

            I feel just the same – a lunch break sometimes really breaks my flow. But my office automatically docks us 2 hours of flexi-time if we don’t log out for half an hour between 12 and 2pm. I’ve asked if there is a way around this but have just been told “We want you to take your break”.

            However, I do also have the flexibility to start late and stay late, which works for me (and my kids’ school run) and to say when I will work from home. I have worked in offices that literally shut at 5 before now and in a way I did like it because I didn’t have the chance to say “oh, I’ll stay late and finish that.”

      2. sacados*

        I do think it can be a good idea to find ways to gently nudge people into leaving at a “decent” hour.
        For example, an old office of mine had implemented a policy that was strictly meant to be electricity-saving: at a certain hour in the evening, all of the lights on the floor would turn off. Then anyone who was still in the office working could walk over and manually turn on the lights just in there area. And the same thing would happen one hour later. The goal was to save electricity by avoiding the lights in the whole office (it was a big open plan floor) being on just for a handful of people staying late.

        But another side effect of a system like that is that it does jolt you into realizing “Oh wow, it’s that late already — time to start thinking about going home for the day!” So it does also provide a subtle nudge that it’s time to finish work while still allowing flexibility for those who have urgent things to get done.

        1. Seawren*

          At my last employer, the cleaners started at 5 (normal hours were 8:30 to 4:30), which was your first nudge that it was time to wrap up and go home. They finished around 6 and, if you stayed after the cleaners left, you were responsible for locking up and setting the alarm for the night. There was always a mad rush to leave with the cleaners because no one wanted that responsibility. In 17 years, I never once had to set the alarm, which was fortunate because I’m pretty sure I’d forgotten the code within the 6 months.

          1. AnonORama*

            Ha, we have flexible-ish hours, I’m generally 8:30-5:30 and I usually take work home if I’m not done by then, so I’m almost never the last one here. But one night I was on a roll with writing and didn’t want to break concentration, so I stayed until 9 and realized I’d need to deal with the alarm! I knew the code, but the building has like 13 doors and one of them was open a crack, so the system WOULD NOT ARM. This isn’t a system where they tell you where the fault is, so I spent half an hour trying to find that damn door! Now I always leave by 6 (with laptop as needed).

        2. Daisy-dog*

          Yes, I could see electricity savings as a reason. Keeping the heat or A/C on at a comfortable temperature can be expensive after 5. In the winter, that’s when it’s getting dark (or is dark) and getting colder. In the summer, 5 can be the hottest part of the day where I live.

          It would also be helpful for when larger maintenance needs to be completed.

          1. anotherfan*

            ha! true story. We have a sizeable night staff, but because we were one of several different companies in the building, everything was set to go off at 5 p.m. and be off all weekend. Everything, including heat and air conditioning. This was before covid, so they just suffered. Now, everybody works from home.

          2. JustaTech*

            Our building has the heat turn off at some point in the afternoon/evening so by night it can be really quite cold. Which is fine when we’re all working during the day, but the few times I had experiments that ran overnight it was pretty uncomfortable, especially if you didn’t know that would happen and didn’t bring an extra sweater.

      3. Smithy*

        I get the larger point, but the problem with the 5pm closing piece is that it’s taking a magic bullet approach to a broader issue.

        Even something like people getting burned out – let’s say the office opens at 8am/closes at 5pm, it may create a dynamic of no one taking a lunch break, not taking necessarily medical appointments, and not being open to colleagues’ requests for help or informational meetings due to pushing to fit all their work into the office-open hours. This also doesn’t address any remote when people are at home. So relying on office hours to fix a “burnout” problem won’t do that if people have a workload that doesn’t fit into the traditional work day.

        Similarly, if there is an office culture that values work contributed by a “butts in seats” metric – then if you take that away, other low hanging fruit can be used to mark value when ultimately work product is not being acknowledged. During COVID, I worked at a place like this – where before COVID, butts in seats was a huge marker of value. Then during COVID, that just switched to who answered Teams the quickest, responded to emails at 11pm, etc. Again, not valuing work product, but availability.

      4. Alternative Person*

        Yeah, the OP needs to look at what’s going on with peoples’ workloads and the like.

        I used to work in a building that security closed at 21:30 for insurance reasons and you had to be out by then. Most staff were out by 21:00, if not earlier (all clients were gone by 20:30 and all you had to do was clear off your admin tasks which took most people 15 minutes or less) but there was one person who would often be there until security kicked them out.

        This went on for a while until the company did an audit and determined they were padding their timecard (coming in hours before their first client, hanging on until forced to leave).

    4. Generic Name*

      If everyone works late (and is vocal about it) and you get all your work done in 40 hours, if you’re salaried and don’t get paid overtime, some places will see you as a slacker, or not a team player rather than a person who is efficient or has good boundaries.

    5. Student*

      Then I guess you don’t realize that some of these people will also book meetings outside “normal” business hours, expect out-of-normal-work-hours responses when they ask questions, and try to talk themselves up as more deserving of promotions/promotions than the people who stick to normal work hours? Most jobs don’t work in a vacuum where you never interact with your co-workers…

      1. Observer*

        Most jobs don’t work in a vacuum where you never interact with your co-workers…

        If that’s their issue, then they should say so. And try to find a reasonable way to deal with it. Not try to impose a rule to make everyone keep the same schedule that they do in the guise of “caring”.

        Doing this just for their convenience is an even worse reason that the parental attitude they are claiming as their reason.

      2. Clisby*

        Then have a policy that outside of some true emergency, they shouldn’t do that. I worked for YEARS at a company like that. Nobody was supposed to schedule meetings past 3 p.m., because 3:30 p.m. was a perfectly normal departure time. Of course, emergencies did happen, but not very often. This is not unheard of.

    6. My Useless 2 Cents*

      I’ve always been the “clock out as soon as the clock strikes 5” kind of person. And I have never missed a project deadline because of it. I’ve always been super productive.

      I got the impression from the letter that OP is in management and wants to create a true work/life balance culture. I agree I don’t think a hard office closes at 5PM is the way to go about that. But there are unfair and not always straight forward reasons why another co-workers actions (like staying late) can effect another co-worker.

      For instance, a co-worker can have the habit of staying late. They could work hard all day and just have a lot to do, or they could goof off all day and do all their work in the couple hours after everybody leaves. Just because others notice they stay late they tend to get the reputation of “hard worker”. That moniker could tip the balance of a promotion in their favor over another equally productive co-worker.

      Over the years, I have noticed another disadvantage for those who leave on-time versus those who have a tendency to stay late. The late workers have the ability to have a quiet word or two with the Powers That Be (who also stay late). Never under-estimate a private word with the boss. Those conversations can end up being very beneficial to someone’s career.

      Just because you can’t see a direct link, doesn’t mean it’s not effecting you

    7. Orv*

      I’m self-conscious about how other people perceive my productivity, so I try not to be the first one to leave. I also try not to leave exactly at 5, I’ll wait at least 10 minutes even if I’m not doing anything. I don’t want a reputation as a clock-watcher.

    8. MCMonkeyBean*

      Because it can become the expectation. “Bob stayed late to finish the X report, why can’t you do the same?”

      My team definitely has a problem with people working late too much and I am trying very hard to establish reasonable WFH boundaries with my manager. It’s mostly going okay but it’s hard and I definitely think my reputation has suffered a bit because I do not want to be as accessible as other people on my team seem willing to be. I do good work and I hit my deadlines and I know my direct manager appreciates me, but honestly I think my grandboss is sometimes annoyed with the boundaries I’m trying to set.

  1. Decidedly Me*

    I don’t work in an office (full time WFH), but I would absolutely avoid a job with this policy. I flex my hours as needed (both for my own needs and business needs) and losing that would be awful for my morale and productivity.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      Yeah, if I suddenly had to start taking PTO for every doctor’s appointment instead of just leaving for 1-2 hours that day and then staying later that evening, or on another day…I’d be looking for another job. Unless there were a significant increase in PTO to compensate, I suppose.

    2. JustAnotherCommenter*

      Same here.
      I do personally struggle with maintaining work-life balance, but a policy like this would actually make it worse.
      One thing I’ve done to try and force myself to better maintain a work-life balance is working from the office and I will only ever work from home in emergencies – so maybe I’ll stay late but once I’m done for the evening, I’m absolutely done.
      Not to mention, if I have a little more work I want to do it’s way harder to do it efficiently if I break up my flow by packing up, commuting home and re-setting myself up once I get home and trying to get back into it.

      I’m sure there are lots of jobs where this kind of thing could work – but I feel like those kinds of jobs rarely have the workload where people are typically staying late anyway.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is one of those “road to hell is paved with good intentions,” policies.
      It’s going to turn into something like, “butts in seats at 9.” Or it’s going to be, “you have to leave at five but you can’t miss a deadline, so we kinda eat at our desks now.”
      And people are going to come in early.
      I feel that when you try to codify “good work environment” you end up with the message being lost to the rules. Like some Animal Farm stuff.
      “We support work life balance!”
      because, we are:
      “Out at five, no matter what!”
      If people are overworked, deal with that. If some outliers want to work 10 hours a day, deal with them.
      But there is no way to take one person’s rule for his company and apply it across every place.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        This. This is a “this very specific thing works well for me, so I’m going to force it on everyone else, regardless of whether it works for them or even makes sense.”

        There are people for whom this works, and then there are people and jobs and industries where it doesn’t work, and then there are people for whom maybe it could work, but it’s just a massive overstep in helping them organize their workday. I don’t want to be forced out of the office 20 minutes before I’m fully done with my deliverable just because it’s 5 o’clock. Flexibility is good, not bad.

    4. ferrina*


      I loooooove flexing my hours. It makes it easier to be able to take care of life stuff, but it also makes it easier to take care of work. I’ve worked 40 hours in weird bursts because it makes scheduling easier. It also is easier on my brain- I’m ADHD, and when I hit a hyperfocus, I’m happy to work an extra hour or two and get more things done. It also sets me up for an easier workload the next day and lets me create space for the days when I’m not as focused.

      1. Melicious*

        Yes this. Often if I’m in the middle of a task at 5pm, it will take far less time and effort overall to just finish it than it would to pick it back up again the next morning. Extra extra true on a Friday. It’s better for my work flow to wrap things up and have a clear plan for Monday than to leave something hanging.

    5. Banana Pyjamas*

      Yes. I had a job that sometimes required overtime. If I had been required to come in early instead of given the option of staying late I would have quit. I did sometimes come in early for business or personal reasons, but preferred and appreciated being able to stay late instead.

    6. Twix*

      Same here. I have a chronic medical condition that requires to to take a lot of time off for things like appointments and flare-ups. I’m also a night owl and tend to be most productive after 6pm. I frequently work until 10-11pm (and am in an industry where that’s feasible), but don’t generally exceed 41-42 hours in a week. If my company instituted a policy like this, I would literally take a 25% pay cut if necessary to go somewhere else that would allow it. I can live with 75% of my current income. I cannot live without that flexibility.

      If people are feeling pressured to work a lot of unnecessary overtime or treating hours worked as a litmus test for company loyalty, those are major problems that need to be addressed, but in a more targeted way. If the issue is simply people being in the building outside of 9-5, first look at whether that’s actually a problem in and of itself, and if so come up with the least restrictive flex time policy that will meet the company’s business needs.

    7. Ace in the Hole*

      I take public transit to work.

      The earliest bus arrives 15 minutes after our office opens. So I just leave 15 minutes late every day. No big deal! But if I had to leave at exactly the same time as everyone else, I’d be getting paid for 5 hours less per month… no thanks.

      1. Wouldn't You Like To Know, Weather Boy*

        I had similar concerns. As someone who occasionally had to carpool with family who worked near by (before work from home with COVID), the ability to stay in a air conditioned/ heated environment close to working hours while waiting for my ride would be essential. If I’d been working with hours ending at say, 8 PM, I would not expect to be able to wait in the lobby. If I wasn’t allowed to wait in the lobby at 5:05 PM? Very different story.

    8. JM60*

      As a night owl, I love being able to start and end my day later than the typical 9-5. That can’t practically be done for every job, but if it can be practically done, allowing it can greatly improve my quality of life.

      1. SarahKay*

        Another night owl here. To the extent that when I was interviewing for my current role the thing that gave me biggest pause was that I would be moving from a site that was open 24/7 to one that shut at 6pm, albeit it opens at 6am.
        I like to finish my work and then go home – and the laptop stays at work.
        In busy periods this meant I stayed till 7 or 8 pm (having started a little before 10 am), but in my new role I either need to come in for 7am-ish (bah, early mornings!) or take my laptop home which I also prefer not to do. Thankfully site now opens till 7pm which suits me and a couple of other night-owl people much better.

    9. OP*

      I’ve read a lot of feedback now and can see that my original idea was wrong. I think what I will say though is that if somebody is contracted for, say, 40 hours a week, then the organisation must make it clear that there’s no obligation to work 41 hours.

      1. amoeba*

        That’s definitely a good policy! Although at least for me, it’s even better if you can work 43 h one week and then 37 the next, but I know that’s not always possible.

        1. Peter the Bubblehead*

          My job uses Deltek on-line timekeeping, and it will not let us log more than 40 hours in a single work week (even if that work week is cut by different pay periods) unless we use an OT code and use of that code must be authorized by management.
          Quite often we will ‘front-load’ our hours [working 9 or 10 hours earlier in the week] so we either have time to use for unexpected outside of work appointments [I had to be home before 1pm this past Tuesday to be on hand for a repairman to fix my home’s heating system on very short notice] or to just have a short Friday [ALWAYS nice when I can head home at 9:30am on a Friday!], but never more than 40 hours over Mon-Fri. [Technically, 40 hours over Sun-Sat, but we only work a weekend day when travel is required as part of my job, and more often than not OT will be prior authorized for that week anyway.]

    10. amoeba*

      I also often have things to do in town in the evening and go straight from work – would be super annoying if I couldn’t adjust my schedule to be at dinner at 7 or at yoga at 6…
      Also, would a strict 9-5 even allow for a real lunch break for the people who want one? As in, would it include a paid hour off? That would of course be great, but if it meant I had to work for 8 h straight without breaks and have lunch in front of a computer, it would be a nightmare for me!
      (I’m in Europe, where an – unpaid – lunch break of at least 30 mins is mandatory, so the idea of a 9-5 is always a bit of a mystery to me…)

      1. JustaTech*

        Yes about the staying in town – when I did remote grad school some days I would stay in the office later so I could meet my husband for dinner, and while I was there I would do reading for grad school.
        I cleared it with my boss (“hey boss, is it ok if I stay and do grad school rather than fight traffic?” “Yeah, sure.”) and it was delightful to not have to fight some of the worst traffic in the city.

  2. Dawbs*

    sometimes offices are a haven too.

    it’s not ideal, but when I’ve had long term internet pages, long term power outages, colicky baby that wouldn’t allow me to concentrate, etc, the ability to sit in the office for 20 minutes and use their wifi and use a bathroom without a toddler pounding down the door, etc had been really nice.

    last time i moved, the ability to call the intent co and the water company from the office was a lifesaver. and i did this before/ after hours because the job kinda required it

    1. Cyndi*

      A few years back a storm knocked out the power to my apartment building for a few days, and I spent so much of my waking off time lurking around at work after I clocked out so that I could charge things, use Internet, be somewhere air conditioned. (It was July and I lived in a top floor apartment–totally unliveable without my window AC.)

      If I could have stashed all my perishable food at work I would have done that too.

    2. KToo*

      Yes, absolutely. We had a power failure lasting a few days and even as a normally WFH employee I went into the office to warm up and charge up batteries and devices. I also brought my teen daughter and took her to lunch.

      I can also see that any employee that may be in an abusive situation at home may want to spend extra time at the office and have a private place to make necessary calls or just time away from home.

    3. AVP*

      It can be incredibly useful just to have a place to sit (at your desk) for 30 minutes reading a book while waiting to meet a friend after work or for a night class to start. It’s a privilege that can be abused, sure, but for most people it’s a nice perk of being in the office.

      1. Hush42*

        So much this! I only live about 15 minutes from my office. But I have weekly commitments 2 nights a week that are in the opposite direction from work as my home is. If I had to leave right at 5 on those nights, I would drive the 15 (or 20 in 5PM traffic) minutes home, be home for 15 minutes and then turn around and drive 25 minutes (right past my office) to my destination at 6. Or I can just hang out in my office for 50 minutes, tie up some loose ends in the relative quiet, or just scroll social media.

        Anther reason this might be a bad idea- For 6 years I commuted 45 minutes to work. It took me about 6 months to realize that if I left at 5 I got home at the same time as if I left at 5:30 because I ended up waiting out the rush hour traffic out of the (small) city I work in but do not live in. So I started spending an extra 30 minutes at work every day because I felt more productive and was less stressed.

        That 5:30 turned into 6:30 or 7 a few years later *mostly* because I lived with my parents and younger sisters until I was 28 and while I adore my family, there were several days where the ability to sit in a quiet empty office for an extra hour, even while working, was beneficial to my mental health. I just needed to *not* be around people for a little while and my office was a safe space to do that in. I am not saying that working a ton of extra hours is always the right answer to that problem. I guess what I am saying is there are way more factors to why people might work late than just poor work-life balance.

        1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          I had a long commute when I was working in a major city near home. I got in early so I would be on time to cover the front desk at the start of the day, and I always used the bathroom after I clocked out and before I commenced my commute home. (Less vital if I was taking the train or had borrowed the car, more vital if I was on the express bus, plus I never knew when the freeway would be a mess because of some collision.)

          When I switched to another company site, where we all left together at the crack of 5, I had to figure out a new schedule so I didn’t hold everybody else up. All of the rest of my team had much shorter commutes than I did.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        I certainly appreciate being able to wait inside the office for an extra 10-15 minutes after my shift, versus having to wait that same amount of time outside at the bus stop in freezing rain in the dark.

      1. Enoby*

        Imagine using work to escape. Now imagine the abusive partner finds out the office has a mandatory “closed at 5 on the dot” policy, and the abused person now has to scramble to get home or be in “trouble” for potentially doing something the abuser doesn’t allow. Yikes!

    4. Chirpy*

      I used to work at a place that locked up strictly at shortly after 5 on Friday (other weekdays, the building’s other tenant was open later). Which was awful in the winter, because if I left at 5, I ended getting stuck in the snow and having to walk/ski the last mile home, but if I could wait until 6, the roads were plowed and I had no issues.

    5. Sarah H*

      When I was in full-time evening grad school (and continuing to work almost full time!), I could be found at my workplace as late as midnight during finals week. I lived with 3 roommates, the office had just been renovated to include nicer common areas, it was just so much easier to stay late and use the office space than go home and try to focus in a much less serene space.

      I also had to go into the office to use specific location-restricted data for a grad school project (with all appropriate permissions of course). I’d show up at the office for 5-6 hours on a Saturday, not for any actual work but for my class project.

    6. June*

      Yup, just did this this past weekend. Our power was out and I needed heat/electricity so I sat in my office for 5 hours.

    7. Flexible schedule*

      I love being able to have an option to work from the office. Free AC, coffee and tea, and a larger work space than my tiny apartment are huge perks. I do live closer to the office so I also ride my bike in so I get fresh air. My company offers full flexibility on how you split your time. Only rules are to get approval for international remote work and keep your residence updated to where you live for tax purposes.

    8. Bilateralrope*

      A few years ago, there was a power cut at our main office that lasted several hours. On payday. The people working payroll couldn’t even start on that until power was restored, and thus had to stay several hours late to get everyone paid that day.

      An option that would be off the table with a “kick everyone out at 5pm” policy. Even if delaying paying staff causes legal issues.

  3. I'm A Little Teapot*

    If 3 people are staying very late, then manager(s) need to work with those 3 people to figure out what’s going on and resolve it.

      1. Genevieve en Francais*

        I don’t think I’m a Little Teapot necessarily means anything nefarious, but if three people are that out of sync with the rest of the company, what’s “going on” could be: they’re struggling to master their tasks, they have unrealistic workloads, their particular boss/department has overly high expectations for their work output, etc.

        1. Clisby*

          Or, they don’t start until 10 and take a decent (1 hr min.) lunch break, and their day just naturally extends later than other people’s do? What about the people who start at 6-7 a.m.? Are they whining that not everyone comes in that early? Unless there’s a real reason to set a 9-5 workday, don’t do it. Let people flex their time. If their managers can’t figure out whether the work is being done, fire those managers and hire people who know how to manage.

          1. ferrina*

            That’s also something that the managers can/should touch base on. If the person’s reputation at work is taking a hit because it looks like they are staying late, the manager should touch base to make sure that everything is going smoothly. If the person is working late hours because that’s what they enjoy and they still have good work-life balance and are productive, then the manager can confidently say to their boss that there is no issue.

          2. amoeba*

            Eh, we have flex hours as well, but it’s not possible in all jobs, I guess (coverage based, etc.) But yeah, if it’s possible, I agree it’s much better. Best of all while still tracking your hours and making sure you don’t have too many over the week/month/year! (It’s year for us and that’s amazing…)

      2. oranges*

        I suspect they meant “what’s going on in the workload of these 3 people that they can’t get their work done in the same allotment of time as everyone else.” Not an implication of inappropriate behavior.

        If you’re the type of business/industry where folks generally work 40 hrs, these outlier people may need additional support, training, systems, management, etc.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Or they could have a job like mine, where they field a lot of requests, many of which have tight deadlines and come in after 3:30. I love it when everyone else has signed off and I can get more done.

      3. I'm A Little Teapot*

        “Going on” could be work loads are unreasonable, someone needs training, someone is wasting hours during the day on their phone and staying late to get work done.

        There is a reason why people are staying late. It is also possible that something nefarious is happening, in which case that would also qualify as “going on”. The English language is delightfully flexible sometimes.

        1. Saturday*

          I’m not velomont, but I think the point is that maybe nothing is going on that needs to be resolved. Maybe they’re staying late because they’re enjoying some flexibility in the work hours, and they prefer things this way. It’s a good idea to have a conversation about workload, etc. but I don’t think staying late needs to be addressed as though it’s necessarily a problem.

          1. I'm A Little Teapot*

            In which case, the resolution is “they’re working a flex schedule, it’s fine”.

      1. WriterDrone*

        And if that’s the case, that should be dealt with by making other people do their own jobs, getting them adequate training, or hiring more people. The point isn’t that those three people are definitely bad workers, it’s that they may need more support than they’re currently receiving.

  4. RJ*

    That you’re suggesting a policy from Alan Sugar, the man who has spent years crying about remote working while remote working himself, tells me all I need to know. Them working late won’t affect you unless your job sucks; if your job sucks you’re not going to get any traction on this suggestion and if it doesn’t, why are you getting involved in their business?

    1. el l*

      I also don’t see any corroborating evidence that Alan Sugar ever proposed this.

      I do see a lot about working 16 hour days and hating remote work, but not this.

      1. OP*

        It was from a book I read several years ago. I had to go on Google Books to find the exact passage. I sent Alison the exact details alongside this question.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I’d never heard of the guy before so I just looked him up on Wikipedia. He…does not sound like the kind of person who should be looked to for inspiration on how to manage a business.

      Regarding the 1970s UK law which states that it is discriminatory and hence illegal for women to be asked at interview whether they plan to have children, Sugar is quoted as saying “These laws are counter-productive for women, that’s the bottom line. You’re not allowed to ask, so it’s easy – just don’t employ them. It will get harder to get a job as a woman.”

      1. Antilles*

        I hadn’t heard of him either.
        Then I googled the name and in the first three links learned that he openly and repeatedly talks about “the younger generation is entitled”, “nobody wants to work any more”, and “the current generation doesn’t have anything to teach me”.

      2. Saturday*

        I love how this statement is like, “It’s counter-productive for women because those employable women who don’t plan on having children will get lumped in with all those obviously unemployable women who do – how unfair!”

    3. Undine Spragg*

      Basically “controversial entrepreneur” is almost always not the person you want to take advice from on how to treat your workers.

  5. Jane*

    As someone with really bad memory problems, the idea that I would have to break in the middle of a project at some set time every day and try and remember where I was the following day or even week is ridiculous. These are adults. Treat them like adults. If they are working into the night, that speaks more to extreme workloads or unrealistic deadlines. I doubt most people want to be working that late.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s exactly my thought as well. I am an adult, I have been working for a long time, I have no problem advocating for a reasonable workload, and I’ll come and go as I damn well please. This level of paternalism would frankly make me leave a job.

      If I seem to be falling into bad habits, I’m happy to have that conversation with my boss or even a concerned coworker. As I am happy to have that conversation with younger people who are still learning norms. But locking the door would be so offensive to me.

      1. Clisby*

        ^^^ +1000. Unless there’s a real reason for 9-5, why dictate it? Sure, I see it in coverage situations like you’re a receptionist, or you work on the company help desk, or you work in a doctor’s office or a government office that deals with the public all day long – that kind of thing. But outside of that? Sure glad the last 27 years of my working career was spent in a job with truly flexible hours.

    2. fidget spinner*

      Totally agree! I have ADHD and if I’m in the middle of something, I HAVE to finish it. I will actually spend time during my working hours doing something other than working (…like right now, lol) because I know I have a meeting or something that will interrupt my workflow, and then I’ll jump in and finish my work after the meeting so I can just focus and get the whole thing done.

      1. ferrina*

        Also ADHD. The “leave at 5” thing only works when there are tasks that can be left undone. I’ve certainly done it at hourly jobs, but one of my luxuries as an exempt salaried employee is that I can take full advantage of my hyperfocus and just work late when I want to. A couple times a month I’ll happily work an hour or two late because I want to. And a couple of times a month I’ll stop working an hour or two early because my brain isn’t cooperating with me that day. It balances out, and that balance makes me so much happier.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I’m a third ADHDer who behaves similarly. It’s really really hard to be interrupted when you’re in a flow state (aka hyperfocus) and it can be equally as hard to return to that flow state the next day. Why force someone to stop working on a problem because of some arbitrary schedule somebody decided was a neat way to run his company?

        2. Michelle Smith*

          This is me, except more frequently than a couple times a month. I’ve even worked on Sundays sometimes just so I could get the thoughts I had about a project out of my head so I could relax the rest of the afternoon.

          1. Jaydee*

            Fourth ADHDer chiming in. This is me definitely more than a couple times a month. I’m not always as productive as I “should” be for 8 straight hours a day. Sure that happens occasionally due to hyperfocus. But often I start a thing, get interrupted by a phone call or email (or my brain), have a meeting, start another thing, get interrupted, start a third thing, start a fourth thing, finish the first thing, have a meeting…oh, and only one of the things I started was actually on my to-do list at the start of the day. The hour or two after everyone else leaves are the time I can finally finish up all the things I started all day and do all the other little things on my list that never got started. If you lock me out at 5pm, you’d better be prepared for my productivity to go down because I won’t get that quiet, focused time I need to actually finish things.

    3. Phony Genius*

      Yes, if I start writing a paragraph, I have to finish it to make sure I get the entire thought out before I forget it forever. Even if that means I work a few extra minutes.

    4. Winstonian*

      Seriously. At a time when there is a push for more worker autonomy (flexible hours, WFH, etc.) this is just a reversal of that couched in “work/life balance” language. If there’s an issue with people being overworked/pressured into unstainable work levels, deal with that. Stop using a sledgehammer to place a thumbtack.

    5. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      This was my first, and frankly horrifying and panic inducing, thought. I do work that requires hour sfor some tasks to make sure I don’t miss a step or accidentally skip over a person who needs info. I havebeen known to stay until 9 PM to finihs a task, in which case I come in at noon or work only four hours the next day without issue.

      This idea is terrible. It quite literally caused a physical raction of stress and anxiety when I read it.

  6. Velomont*

    Peoples’ working hours also need flexibility depending on where they live as well. An employee who lives one or two km from the office might happily leave at 5:15 because he/she can walk and traffic is irrelevant to the commute, whereas other employees may live 30 or 40 km and it only makes sense to stay until 6:15 to avoid heavy traffic.

    1. Lorikeet*

      Exactly. I work a 56 hour fortnight and live an easy 10 minute drive from my office. I start at 8 and finish at 3.30 4 days a week. My colleague who lives an hour away and works a 70 hour, 9 day fortnight generally starts at 9.30 and stays till 5.30-6ish, meaning he can drop his kids to school and avoid the worst of the traffic. We do similar work, but at times that suit our particular needs and wants.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, I used to go to classes at 6:30 so I would hang around at my desk for an extra hour. I wasn’t working. But I didn’t have time to go home and back to class, so it was my only real option besides sitting in my car with the heat on.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Most people in my building are gone by 5, but if I have an event downtown to attend, I’ll either work on something or go read a book in the break area until I have to leave, 5:30/5:45 ish usually. It would suck to get kicked out because someone thought the building had to close exactly at 5.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      Yeah, when I worked downtown I flexed my hours so my commute was later than most others on the road.

    4. Banana Pyjamas*

      This is such a great point. My last office the hours were 8:00-4:30. Of course the building opened early because we were expected to be at our desks and ready to work at 8:00. Security would regularly rush us out a few minutes early so they could lock up at exactly 4:30. I usually hung out in my car until 4:45 because I actually got home earlier and got better gas mileage by waiting. One time I actually got locked in at 4:28 and security had to let me out.

    5. Flexible schedule*

      My last job was an 8 to 5 with 1 hour lunch. The issue with that is it caused me to leave at 7 am and spend an hour on the road and probably longer if an accident happens while I was in route to the office. There was an unpopular rotation for conference room checks that had to happen at 7. I talked to the team and we settled on me coming in at 7 to do the checks if needed and leave at 4. Doing that cut my daily commute to less than an hour each way. I was happy, the people who lived down the street were happy. They t was a win.

  7. Antilles*

    I don’t see a scenario where this really makes sense.

    1.) If your organization overall already prioritizes keeping people on a reasonable schedule, with work weeks around 40 hours and flexibility, then you don’t need this at all. It might even be counter-productive as you remove the option for people to work a later schedule as needed.
    2.) If your organization generally does a good job but certain individuals don’t, then you need to handle this on a case-by-case basis to figure out the core reason why those individuals are working way more than others.
    3.) If your organization is so bad with working crazy hours that you actually need to physically lock the doors to try to get back to normal work week, then your organization is probably beyond fixing. You’ll implement this and it’ll last like two weeks before people decide that nah, this isn’t working (or perhaps management sees a bunch of missed deadlines, if the long hours are due to workload) and go right back to the way it was.

    1. ThatGirl*

      To me it would make sense in an environment where the work was pretty structured – customer service, manufacturing, a call center, something like that. To make sure everyone was logging off/shutting down at the same time and not trying to overdo it.

      But I don’t think it works well in a traditional office environment, for all the reasons mentioned – it’s far better to make sure nobody’s workload is overwhelming and that there isn’t a strong expectation of working 45, 50+ hour weeks.

      1. ferrina*


        I’ve worked hourly jobs where the boss was very strict that we were done by 5:00 (because they didn’t want to pay overtime). They would actually come to our workstation and make sure we were leaving if we were still there at 5:01. These were also places with physical time cards that we punched in/out of. These were also jobs that could not be done remotely and having certain numbers of staff available at different times throughout the day was part of the business necessity.

        But for an office where staffing hours don’t have a business necessity and I get paid the same if I leave at 5 or 5:30? Let me pick what works for me that day. If there is a business necessity (like the office manager can’t leave until everyone else does), then set a reasonable policy. But trying to police my behavior simply because you think you know what’s best for my life is condescending, and it’s bad management.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      Right… I mean, I work for #3, and personally I’d settle for not getting 4 calls in a row at 7:30pm when the caller knows I’m attending a wake that night?
      I have a boss who lectures us for answering said repeat phone calls (from our internal customers) and thats even worse. The only thing more frustrating than having tremendous pressure to meet extreme deadlines, which requires working long hours, is to spend time getting moralized at about how we should just choose to have better work life balances… which is kind of how I imagine locking the doors would feel. “Oh, great, now I have to meet the same crazy deadline, but without the benefit of my desk where I can access all my info and have 3 monitors”.

    3. Festively Dressed Earl*

      One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is the possibility of enforcing a strict 40 hour cap in professions that attract super-helpers. Some needs are bottomless, and there’s a type of person who will burn themselves out saving just-one-more. If you’ve got an office full of helpers, it’s probably good policy not to let people go over 40 hours. That doesn’t have to mean everyone keeps the same set of hours, just the same number.

  8. Illogical*

    Someone doesn’t work in tech. Not that tech doesn’t have major issues with overwork and burnout that need a major culture shift. But sometimes the database crashes at 4:50 and what are you going to do?

    1. Student*

      Give them the service level agreement that they’re paying for. Did they pay for four-9s service? No? Then I guess they don’t get four-9s uptime. Yes? Then we’re staying late tonight.

    2. CL*

      My thoughts exactly. Do they really want upgrades and server reboots done during business hours? I was actually at a business on Tuesday where all the employees had to reboot their computers repeatedly. (This is a large business with hundreds of locations.) As a customer it was annoying that my transaction was getting delayed due to this but as a tech person, I cringed.

  9. Mr Apricot*

    It seems to me if the organization is well run management should be aware of how much workload each employee has and what the working time requirements are. If the organization is giving people 50-60 hours worth of work a week is really doesn’t matter what gimmick they could up with for “work-life balance.” (Same with unlimited PTO, etc). And if they are aware and care the workload should be manageable anyway.

    Also, I’m not sure that the business practices of the host of the UK Apprentice would necessarily translate to the rest of the business world (although Sugar seems to have worked his way up from the bottom as opposed to getting success through celebrity and family money as Trump did).

    1. Annie*

      You’re right that management should be aware of how much a decent employee can accomplish within a standard 40-hour workweek with allowances for “life happens” type stuff, but in practice, management frequently forgets or is affected by magical thinking. A forced 40-hour workweek might be a way to start to course correct.

  10. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    This is an insane idea that sounds good in a bro-dude business blog but is completely impractical in real life, for a million ideas besides the one Alison already pointed out.

    Three that have applied to me, off the top of my head:
    I need to work late so I can talk to a client in another time zone.
    I need to work late so I can push a software change out when it won’t impact as many users.
    I have a redeye flight and it’s more convenient to just stay in the office for a few hours before heading to the airport.

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Even without a business reason to stay it makes no sense. I go inot the office and work past my end time once a month when I have book club… because the pub it’s held in is less than a block from my office and if I went home, I’d literlaly turn around and get back in the car after 15 minutes. I get another hour of work done and can take comp time later in the week.

  11. KToo*

    If this were only an issue of people who are working paid overtime doing so against company policy and trying to find a way to enforce that it’s one thing, though this wouldn’t be the solution.

    As someone who is not paid hourly, I would not work for a company that had this policy. It’s too much like micro-managing. What about anyone who wants to stay late because they’re going to the gym after, or to avoid traffic, or to catch a bus that doesn’t come right away but it’s bad weather outside, is waiting for a ride to pick them up, is meeting someone to go out to dinner, etc… there’s so many reasons someone may want to stay in the office later, and maybe get some work done without anyone else around during that time.

    Trust your employees to know what is best for the own schedule and if there is a problem with any particular employee for specific reason then address it with them – staying late isn’t an issue, time management might be.

  12. Delta Delta*

    When I worked in an office with others I needed that before and after hours time to actually get things done. It’s sometimes just a quirk of an office that business hours are busy (I mean, obviously), but to the point that a task that takes concentration or time or space just can’t get done if there are other people around. A hard stop at 5 just doesn’t make sense if people legitimately need the time/space after hours.

    1. Anonychick*

      Yup. My mom used to say that she got more done between 5pm and whenever she decided to leave (usually between 7 and 9) than she did the whole rest of the day, AND her reputation for staying late helped her be able to negotiate an unofficial later starting time (“please try to be here by 10am” vs “9am on the dot”). Plus, leaving later meant she actually got a seat on the train home (a ~45min trip). Was she technically working more hours at night than she was saving in the morning? Yes…but she still preferred it overall.

  13. Brain the Brian*

    I can see the argument from a safety standpoint that no one should be working late alone — but that would also apply to starting early alone. I’m a late-flexer by nature, and I was very lucky several years ago when I had a medical emergency at about 7:30pm that a coworker was also working late that evening and could call an ambulance for me.

    But setting rigid rules just for the sake of setting rigid rules doesn’t make sense, IMO, and a policy quite that strict is likely to alientate more longtime staff than good candidates it attracts.

  14. Ess Ess*

    Wow… please remember that the concept of diversity in the workplace includes understanding that different people have different needs and ways of working. You state how you work best (“I don’t work in the office late. I have worked late at home occasionally, but I do not stay in the office longer than close of business”), however that does not work best for everyone. Each adult should be allowed to determine how to best complete their own job unless their way is detrimental to the company. What works best for you does not mean it is best for everyone else.

    If you have concerns about people overworking themselves then address the total amount of hours worked or the actual workload but don’t create artificial barriers — locking them out of the office on an arbitrary deadline — which creates even more hardships to getting work done.

    1. Green Tea*

      Yep, I’m an early in, early out kind of person because that is what works best for me, and I’m allowed that flexibility. I’d be pretty angry if the office instituted a ‘doors are locked until 9am’ policy, even if it was well-intentioned.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Same! I’m mentally checked out by 3:30, but I start between 7-7:30 (depending on when the bus gets me there). Arbitrarily shifting my schedule means you’ll get less work from me because you’re not letting me play to my strengths.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Same here – I start work around 7:15 and try to be done before 4. It works for me! Don’t make me start work later!

      3. Bast*

        Same. I’ve avoided jobs with really strict “start at 9” hours because to me, that’s late.

    2. Ace in the Hole*

      Yeah. Personally, I would NEVER work late at home because I need a clear boundary between work and personal. On the rare occasions I need to work late, I want to stay and finish up in the office.

  15. Immortal for a limited time*

    I’ve worked in two different jobs (one private sector, one public sector) that required a proximity card to enter and exit, and I’m sure that’s fairly common. In the first job, the security alarm was armed at a certain time of night, so all staff had to be out by then, and we all knew it, so it wasn’t a big deal. In my current job, the prox card allows upper management and security to know who arrives and leaves when. Back when I was a junior staff person, my then-manager told me that her manager knew I was staying well past 5:00 and that I shouldn’t do that. I got the message that we want you to go home and nobody expects you to work late or donate time to this job. Now that I’m a senior staff person (and exempt from overtime) I have the freedom to stay past 5:00 if I like, or even to enter the building on weekends (thanks to prox card settings), but they don’t encourage it. During covid WFH, I also was gently reminded not to work late — which they were aware of thanks to Microsoft Teams, which showed my status as “green” after 8 pm on many evenings. Busted! My point is there are ways to know who’s working late and ways to initiate a private conversation, if necessary, without literally barring the doors or removing them bodily from their offices. I also live in a cold climate where such extreme actions could mean that people who don’t drive themselves to work would be stuck outside waiting for their ride, or waiting to attend a planned event that night instead of going straight home, or whatever the case might be. Blanket policies, no matter how well-intentioned, can have unintended consequences. Why can’t employers just treat their employees like adults?

    1. Ess Ess*

      You can change your Microsoft Teams status to show away or out. I do that occasionally when I’m working in the middle of the night to meet a deadline and need to be not interrupted by my coworkers (who work offshore so it would be middle of their day)

  16. Parenthesis Guy*

    This system would almost certainly be problematic. What do people do if they need to have a medical appointment once a week? Not do it during working hours? Take leave for a few hours each time?

    What about people with kids that have to do a daycare pick up? If they can work from 7-3, they can do pickup at 4. If they can work from 10-6, they can do dropoff at 9. If they have to work from 9-5, that’s a problem.

    What about people that like to get to the office early because of traffic? Tell them they have to get in at 9, even if it means their commute will triple?

    There are reasons why people can’t be in the office from 9-5 every day of the week. Forcing them to do that causes more problems than it solves.

  17. Coverage Associate*

    Agree with everything Alison said and also the completely personal reasons for staying late. Last night, my husband had zoom meetings and couldn’t leave to pick me up until 8. I worked a bit past 6, then got a nice dinner. Are my family’s transportation issues my employer’s problem? No. And there are some workplaces where it’s not safe to have staff stay late, especially alone. But while there are other safe places I can go near work, they are by definition not as secure as my office tower and its 24 hour security. Safe employees are better employees.

    Also, after work professional events start at 6pm or even 7pm in my industry. You don’t want to be the workplace where employees sit at a bar or park bench waiting for the networking event to start.

    1. Bast*

      Our building locks up at 5 PM during the winter, and 6 PM during the summer. We generally are encouraged to work our hours and go home; thankfully my boss prioritizes work/life balance. The locking up however, isn’t really my boss’s choice; the property managers do this as a result of the crime increase around here after dark. During the day, it’s a bit of a shady area, but okay — plenty of college kids and business people out and about. It’s completely different at night. Buildings have been broken into, vandalized, and robbed. There is an influx of “wrong place, wrong time” gang crime. It isn’t even just our building — quite a few in the area have started doing this as a precaution.

  18. RagingADHD*

    Traffic here is terrible from 4:30-5:30. I often take a long lunch and leave closer to 6pm. I get home at the same time with much less stress.

    As to workload and overtime, I was interviewing last year for a job that seemed like a pretty messy / boundaryless situation. I wasn’t sure I wanted it, but the money was pretty good and I was about to be out of work, so I stayed in the process.

    Despite the job being listed as 40 hours with occasional overtime for emergencies (and that being reinforced by the lower levels of interviewers), the CEO was weirdly insistent about the fact that the role would support people who were working 14 hour days, 6 days a week. I finally got fed up with making nice and told him “In a role like this, I believe that if I can’t get my regular work done in 40 hours a week, I’m either not managing my time appropriately or not setting expectations appropriately.”

    On the way out, I told the HR guy that if the CEO’s concept of the job was accurate, they needed to add a digit to the salary offer.

    I did not get an offer, and I was perfectly happy with that.

    1. HexagonRuler*

      I was in a similar situation for a while.

      I accepted a job at a company with a strict 9am – 5:30pm workday (with a strict noon – 1pm lunchbreak), but I knew from the traffic congestion in the area that attempting to arrive by 9am would be a fools errand, so before I started I negotiated an adjustment to change my hours to 8:30am – 5pm.

      As others have said, the strict hours where done with good intentions, but could be quite restrictive, especially the fixed lunchbreak which tended to match the lunch breaks of professionals in the nearby town that you might wish to visit, though my line manager was quite accommodating with adjusting my lunchbreak.

      On particularly annoying incident was one winter there was a prolonged period of heavy rain, resulting in both closed roads causing lengthy detours, and public transit delays. A significant proportion of the office commuted by train, and when that train arrived an hour late due to the flooding, that lateness was instantly forgiven. When I arrived half an hour late, despite leaving home half an hour early because the numerous closed roads had doubled my commute to 2 hours, I had to explain myself to my line manager – when she finally arrived because she was on the delayed train!

  19. Alex*

    That would really bug me. I rarely do work outside the 9-5 realm, but I like the flexibility that I sometimes use to work slightly outside those hours. I’ve also hung around the office for other reasons, like I’m going to an event at say, 7, and don’t feel like going all the way home and then coming back downtown. It would feel very unwelcoming to be literally kicked out/locked out because “YOU MUST HAVE WORK LIFE BALANCE.” Work/life balance looks different to different people.

    It would be much better to create an environment that allows flexibility, time off without guilt, and manageable workloads.

    1. HonorBox*

      The last sentence in the first paragraph is SPOT ON. As so many others have pointed out, that balance might come from leaving at 5:45 instead of 5:00 because the commute is easier. Or that they can actually get a project completed by staying a bit late rather than trying to pick it up in the morning. Or any number of other reasons. My work/life balance is different than my coworker across the hall. My work/life balance is different than my wife’s. If a company SHOWS that it values people and values that balance, in many different ways, it is going to be far more impactful than locking everyone out at a specific time each day.

  20. oranges*

    Company leadership demonstrating healthy work/life balance, firm boundaries, realistic expectations, and effective time management will go MUCH farther to achieve the general goal of this policy than any daycare “lights out!” rule.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Company leadership demonstrating healthy work/life balance… will go MUCH farther to achieve the general goal of this policy than any daycare “lights out!” rule.”

      Exactly! I don’t like the authoritarian vibe of this extreme “locking the doors” approach. It makes much more sense for the leaders at the top to model a culture that encourages and rewards work life balance. Don’t treat people like babies.

  21. Peter the Bubblehead*

    The office I work in has open hours from 5:30am to 5:30pm. It does not matter if you come in at 6am and leave at 2pm or arrive at 9am and leave at 5pm – all that matters is you put in your 40 hours for the week and no one can work more than 10 hours in a single day without prior management approval. Also, the core hours of 7am to 3pm must be covered by each work group in case our customer (a US Military agency) requires direct support.
    While I realize not every company can support such flexible hours, it has worked for our company and is considered a major perk – to the point where it was stated when a new lead company took over our office and wanted to eliminate the flex hours they were told a minimum of 50% of our staff would walk if they did.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      *no one can work more than 10 hours in a single day without prior management approval*

      This is the kind of condition that I think is useful to balance flexibility with presenteeism. Full thoughts in a top level comment.

    2. Springtime*

      I worked at a place that had a similar policy–the office was open for a 12-hour window each weekday, and most staff could choose a schedule within that. I wasn’t privy to all the reasons for the policy, but I think that part of it were the safety concerns if someone were alone in the office, or were in the office during the off-hours when the climate control was set to the most basic level. On rare occasions, individuals might be granted an exemption, if they really needed one.

      My current workplace is very different, and I don’t think there is a strict policy, but if you haven’t left at the end of your shift on the dot, a manager will often ask, “Why are you still here?” Part of it is encouraging work-life balance, part of it is making sure we aren’t paying unauthorized overtime, and part of it is ensuring that no one is just using our group offices as a hangout and potentially distracting people who are trying to/should be working.

  22. Essentially Cheesy*

    The number of posters saying they’ll work as many hours as they want to, above and beyond their full time hours, is really interesting. Is that a reverse psychology thing?

    My office culture really is such that (most) people are really out by 5 p.m. and if they aren’t, it’s because they start working later in the morning. If so much is going on that they work a ton extra, they ask for help, No one is expected to work 60 hours a week here. I get to my normal end of the day and I’m done.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’ll work late if I have to. I’ll also leave early if I can. A lot of posters are sharing specific reasons things works for them (productivity cycles, noise at home, natural end points, traffic, on and on). Not everyone works the same job as you and not everyone’s preferences or needs align with yours. That’s okay.

    2. Engineer*

      For myself, it’s that if I hit a good productive groove in my work, I want to follow that for as long as I can rather than try to pick it back up in the morning or over a weekend. Some days I might hit that groove at 4pm and ride it all the way 7pm. But my company doesn’t expect me to work that kind of day all the time, and they expect us to be adults capable of managing our work weeks – that, I think, is key.

    3. Generic Name*

      Every workaholic I’ve ever known seems to love the humblebrag about how they “worked 70 hours last week” or whatever. I’m at a management level now, and I’m not shy about telling people that I stick to 40 hours as much as humanly possible, allowing for the occasional crunch time, which is usually only a couple of hours above 40. I was actively recruited for my current job by the head of the department, so I don’t think being a person who only works 40 hours has hurt my career.

    4. Antilles*

      There are a few posters saying that, but most of the comments along those lines are more that they want the *flexibility* to adjust their hours in a way that makes sense to them, rather than being forced to leave exactly at 5 pm.
      It’s not volunteering to work till 7 every day and just give the company an extra 10 hours of your life. It’s wanting the ability to, say, work extra on Thursday and leave early on Friday. Or have a doctor’s appointment in the morning and stay a little late to make up for it without burning PTO. Or working from 10 to 6 to dodge the heart of rush hour. Etc…

    5. AngryOctopus*

      The “I’ll work as many hours as I want” is more of a “I’m going to work 10 hours today because I’m in a groove on this project and I can wrap it up tonight! Then I will leave at 2 on Friday!” attitude, not a “I’m going to work 60 hour weeks SO THERE” attitude. Thats real flexibility, and trusting your workers to adjust their working hours in a way that makes sense for them. Saying “you may only work 9-5 and we will kick you out” devalues people who work better later, or are finishing something up before doing something else nearby (and thus not commuting home and back).

    6. Observer*

      The number of posters saying they’ll work as many hours as they want to, above and beyond their full time hours, is really interesting.

      That’s not what I think most people are saying. They seem to be saying “I’ll work as many hours in a *particular day* as works for for me”, not necessarily that they want to work more than 40 hours a week.

      . and if they aren’t, it’s because they start working later in the morning.

      This is a key thing that a lot of people are pointing out. What the LW is suggesting would make that impossible.

  23. Isben Takes Tea*

    This theory sounds like the kind of parenting advice spouted by experts who consider that if adherence to arbitrary routines is enforced, then the ideal outcome will always be produced in every child/human every time. It doesn’t allow for situational nuance or agency, and for what purpose? To enforce an (and specifically here, your) arbitrary bar of “work/life balance.”

    Additionally, whether in a home or workplace, any policy that works because it is “making everyone nervous” is not actually a healthy policy that fosters positive community.

  24. Lemonfork*

    My company has a pretty strict “work ends at 5” culture. We offer a lot of social services in a rough neighborhood and we want to make sure things are locked up and that staff are out by 5:05 for their safety.

    To those who are arguing about a lack of flexibility with a 9-5, my administration has great flexibility towards parents and others who need accommodations – but no working past 5!

    1. Lemonfork*

      Furthermore – my last job really stressed having work/life balance, and so thecore office hours were more of a suggestion. In reality, this ended up meaning I was kind of on call all the time and ended up working 10-12 hour days.

    2. HonorBox*

      But the difference is that there is a very specific case for your company. And a very reasonable one at that. The LW doesn’t seem to be in a situation where concerns over employee safety is paramount to shutting things down all at once and forcing everyone to vacate the building.

    3. Isben Takes Tea*

      I think there’s a difference between “it’s part of our culture and safety to end at 5” and to arbitrarily introduce it in (what seems like) an authoritarian measure with no discussion about why the working late is occurring first, or other possible consequences of the policy change.

      I wouldn’t inherently be against it! But it seems the OP is approaching it more from a “this works for me, ergo it should work for everyone” perspective, which is what most commentors are reacting to.

    4. Bast*

      My office is also in a rough area, which goes from shady but okay during the day to downright scary at night. Property managers here lock up the building at 5 PM in the winter, and 6 PM in the summer for those reasons. It doesn’t *quite* work because in December/January it’s still getting dark at like, 4:30, so it’s pitch black by 5, and in July it’s light for way longer than 6 PM, but I’ll bite. Offices have been broken into, vandalized, and robbed, and people have been stabbed in robberies gone wrong just walking to their car. I have the capacity to WFH if I really needed to, but my boss doesn’t encourage it — he’d just tell me to take an hour or two and not worry about it.

    5. Observer*

      in a rough neighborhood and we want to make sure things are locked up and that staff are out by 5:05 for their safety.

      Which has nothing to do with what the LW says, though. If a company has a good reason to need to be rigid about closing time, then that’s what it has to do. But don’t expect other organizations who don’t have those issues to do the same thing.

  25. Vermont Green*

    My dear friend has ADD and occasional severe mental health issues. Despite this, she was able to hang onto an admin-level (filing) federal job where she found the work atmosphere highly distracting. She did what she could during the day, and then routinely stayed late, maybe till about nine, to finish up.

    If she’d been kicked out at five p.m., she would have soon lost her job and would never have earned thirty years worth of pension to cushion her comfortably during her retirement years.

  26. Garblesnark*

    I have a disability that makes it hard for me to drive sometimes. This is no burden whatsoever for my employer – I carpool with my spouse, get a ride from a friend or Uber, or take the bus.

    I would reject a job offer at a place with this policy. Part of my arrangement with my employer is a safe place to wait for my ride after my shift. Most of the time that’s 15 minutes or less, but in rain or winter, I deserve a roof for that 15 minutes, especially after 8+ hours of high quality work for my employer.

  27. Generic Name*

    My company doesn’t have set working ours, but it’s definitely awkward to be in the office after about 6 or so because that’s when the cleaners come in and vacuum and clean the floors with those little zamboni things. But technically, the building is open 24/7 with staffed security.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Reading your comment, I had a brief vision of a cleaning staff person riding on a little zamboni-like thing with a cowcatcher on the front, scooping up people who were still working there and shoving them out the doors.

      1. Generic Name*

        OMG, hilarious. I’m envisioning this in the illustration style of Gary Larson (creator of The Far Side cartoon).

  28. Seltzer Fiend*

    As someone who is possibly not neurotypical, a hard stop time at the end of the day is not practical for me. My day needs some extra time built in compared to the average person so my mind can wander, or so I can hyperfocus on something that recharges my work batteries, or so I can get some forgiveness on days when I just cannot focus on anything and need to sign out early. Humans aren’t robots, and many of us can’t impersonate them very well or for very long.

      1. pally*

        Yes- agree.

        Maybe there’s an expectation that a good work/life balance can be achieved if everyone is shuffled out the door at 5 pm each day?

        (not suggesting this is the avenue to accomplish this balance)

    1. OP*

      In summary, poor communication, potential burnout, and pressure on other employees. Of course, I now see that this idea may create more problems than it solves.

      The poor communication comes from the staff working late forgetting that not everyone else works late. We have an instant direct messaging system that’s supposed to be used during office hours to request immediate action. I’ve often logged in during the morning and found that somebody has requested immediate action about an hour after I’d finished work. That person has the same working hours as I do. On the other hand, I’ve answered a question sent in office hours, but found that my answer has been ignored until after I’ve left. The direct messaging system is supposed to be a conversation. I have addressed this point with individual colleagues.

      There are set deadlines every year and some emergency projects where working late could be useful. I’ve done it. On day-to-day matters, it isn’t. Some people are close to burnout because they’ve effectively chosen to work late or skip breaks that they’re entitled to have. No one has forced them to do it, they just do. The same people who choose to behave in this way then complain loudly about how they’ve suffered. They’re perfectly welcome to ask for help and our stakeholders are very understanding of the pressures we’re under.

      As for pressure, some of these people are in leadership roles that has made colleagues feel they have to stay late too. It’s similar to a problem I’ve seen elsewhere on this site.

      Still, the feedback here has been helpful and I’ll take it on board. If it comes up again, I’ll probably say that the organisation should encourage employees to speak up if overworked, push back if things become too much, and should feel able to take a break.

  29. GettingThereFromHere*

    This proposal sounds like a pretty rigid “butts in seats” work environment to me. In my office, we have staff who work 8-5, 7-4, 10-7 five days/week; staff who work 4/10 and 12/3 schedules, and everything in between, all in the name of work/life balance. If you tried to implement a strict cookie-cutter 9-5 schedule here, I’m pretty sure we’d be looking at about 60% turnover in short order. :-/

  30. HonorBox*

    I think the idea behind this is great. Try to keep everyone to ~40 hours. That makes sense. But I think there are too many variables that could wind up frustrating employees and causing some difficulty with business. What if there’s a meeting that runs long? What if a meeting ends at 4:45 and people need to send a few emails, type up notes, finalize the day? What if a customer needs something urgently? Forgetting how flexibility might benefit employees for myriad reasons, being able to be flexible for the needs of the customers is even more critical. While we want to promote work-life balance, locking everyone out at 5:00 isn’t going to do that. Because the work will still need to be done. Find ways to ACTUALLY promote work-life balance.

  31. The Rafters*

    I wonder if it’s a safety issue. In my current location, *someone* will be in the locked, secure building. In a regional location where I briefly worked, it was definitely a safety issue because the nighttime activity was definitely different than the daytime activity- think shootings on a fairly frequent basis, etc. That building had guards, they didn’t like us being there after hours, but didn’t have the authority to kick anyone out.

    1. Clisby*

      That could be an issue. In the last place where I worked onsite instead of remote (about 1988-1996), the building had security 24 hours a day, because there were always people working. Not over-working, but the computer data center was up 24 hours a day, and so was the data entry department. I never felt unsafe on the odd occasion I had to work at night – I was never the only person there.

  32. Ms. Murchison*

    LW, to give you another perspective on how this sounds to others:
    The overall picture you paint sounds like you see a situation that is using a Rube Goldberg machine and you’ve advocating switching to a sledge hammer. Because using a sledge hammer feels confident and assertive, and the Rube Goldberg machine requires a lot of adjustments and upkeep, and accommodates people who don’t like sledge hammers the way you do. Moreover, you don’t seem to need the sledge hammer personally; it sounds like switching won’t have an impact on your day. So… do you just really like the idea of swinging a sledge hammer at other people?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “So… do you just really like the idea of swinging a sledge hammer at other people?”

      Yep. Trying to force someone into the cadence of what you think work should look like isn’t better than the bosses doing the same. It’s just a different shaped box.

  33. Person from the Resume*

    I have a very strict “tour of duty” ie hours I am in the office (my home office so online). At least I got to pick my tour of duty so it’s what I chose because I would not be fond of 9-5. I want to start earlier and end a bit earlier.

    It sounds like the LW likes 9-5, and does not consider that everyone else may not.

  34. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I think in a world where it’s clear increased flexibility is what people are looking for, something like this really flies in the face of that. And, honestly, I generally wouldn’t take advice from people who have “Lord” as a title, at least not as it pertains to things like “how should I manage staff in an office”, no matter how successful they might be considered to be as an entrepreneur.

  35. Daisy-dog*

    I worked somewhere where I could kinda see this happen, but the buffer should probably be a little later than 5:15. We had about 60 people at this site and they were pretty consistent. I stayed until 6 maybe twice and both times the place was a ghost town. If anyone was still there, they were on their way out soon after me. We had badge-access to get into the building, but someone did have to set the alarm. I could see a situation where if someone needed to stay late consistently, they could make arrangements with their manager to get their own alarm code. We’d know who was the one to set it at night and take it away if misused.

  36. Freelance Bass*

    If I was an employee there, the way this would play out is I would rush to get out of the office on time, forget my keys or phone or something, and be unable to go back and get it.

  37. Chris too*

    This is an awful plan for people who have had some sort of emergency like car trouble, or who share one vehicle with a partner that works a bit later. They’d like to stay inside, in a warm dry building, while waiting for whoever is coming to help them out, rather than being thrown out by security.

    1. MsM*

      Yeah, I like getting a ride home with my husband sometimes, but that means giving him a chance to get home, take care of a few odds and ends, maybe wait for rush hour traffic to die down, and then head back out. If I manage to do a bit of extra work while I’m waiting for him, great. If not, building has to stay open anyway, so it’s not like I’m hurting anyone sitting quietly and noodling around on my phone.

  38. Ron B*

    There are many good reasons to consider revising office hours and enforcing early/earlier finishes. “Alan Sugar does it” isn’t one of them.
    He has been a successful businessman in his time, but over the last 39 years has slid towards being a Trump-lite – an entrepreneurial figure who defines himself more by his celebrity and poorly-considered political pronouncements than anything else.

  39. Agent Diane*

    Alan Sugar is a big fan of presenteeism. He regularly slams remote working, including during the early months of the pandemic when he claimed people working from home were “scum”. He also has suggested that women discriminate against women in the workplace more than men do, and that the gender pay gap in the UK would be solved if women just asked for more money.

    The man may not be as dreadful as the US host of the Apprentice but he’s widely seen as a joke on this side of the Atlantic. We call him Mrs Twiddywinkle as he looks like the hedgehog in the Beatrix Potter books.

    I would not recommend following any of his so-called business ideas.

    I have worked in a lot of places that have a policy of the office being open from 7am to 7pm. That gives people the flex they might need whilst also not leaving someone working alone at night. Admittedly, the cleaners would start coming round from 5pm so I tended to start packing up when I could tell they wanted to lock up at 6.45pm! Every one of those offices had door security using proximity passes as well.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Haha now I did too because I wouldn’t have remembered her actual name, just the mental picture I have of her!

    1. OP*

      I disagree with many of Sugar’s attitudes. I have read about several entrepreneurs and if they have something to say about a specific issue, then I bring it up. If we were doing web design, I may bring up Jack Ma. If we wanted to deal with climate change, I’d probably suggest a policy from Deborah Meaden. I would never take inspiration from Jeff Bezos about working conditions but his views on management has made me think. It’s just that Sugar’s policy was the relevant one here.

      It is a a bad idea that overreacts, I agree. My organisation’s attitude though is that they’d rather have somebody offer a bad idea then no idea at all. A bad idea can at least be edited into a good idea. I’d definitely take the feedback given here.

  40. Janine*

    I work at a location with this policy—not for weird business theory reasons, but because organization policy is that security must be on duty when staff are present, and they are not about to pay overtime when flexibility needs can be accommodated other ways. (Our site opens at 7 so there is flex opportunity and some staff use it.) I think it works OK, especially given there is lots of flexibility in other aspects of the workplace.

  41. NPOQueen*

    My anxiety would skyrocket. I’m one of those folks who works late in the office, because I’m a night owl and my brain doesn’t fully kick in until 10am. My office culture is meeting-heavy, so when would I have time to do my actual work? The hours between 4-6pm are my best working hours, because I’m more awake, alert, and informed about what’s going on. All my coworkers are morning people and they leave me a ton of emails to tackle at the end of the day. I’d be working at my laptop in the dark if the building turned the lights off, because once I’m home, I’m done. Work/life balance is up to the person ultimately, the company just has to make sure it’s not imposing on people’s time too much. People can make their own decisions about when and how to work.

    1. Saturday*

      I looove that time at the end of the day when people stop sending me emails, and I can focus on my work in peace.

    2. Tegan Keenan*

      I also am one of those late workers and I would start job searching if this kind of policy were implemented. In addition to being a night owl, the nature of my work requires extended periods of hyperfocus that can be very difficult to achieve when others are in the office.

      I am the highest performer on my team and recently I have been working significantly fewer hours. I had been worrying I was slacking; however, while reading these comments, I realized I’m getting at least as much work done now as when I was regularly working 9-10 hour days.

      The difference? My “butts-in-seats” boss is gone and my current supervisor trusts me to manage my own schedule. I’m way more productive–and happier–now.

  42. Observer*

    I can tell you that we would lose a LOT of staff if we did something like this.

    We were actually having a similar discussion, but the reason for it was a significant security issue that had come up. *And* the hours were nowhere near as rigid as your suggestion. And even with that, there was significant push back.

    But I have to ask, why on earth would you even suggest that? Just because some well known CEO had such a rule? Even “acclaimed” CEOs can get this stuff very wrong.

    ** What problem are you trying to fix here? It’s not clear to me that people really are not thinking about their work / life balance. You certainly present no evidence whatsoever of the matter.

    ** Why is it your business? Again, it doesn’t sound like you are dealing with people who report to you who are being stressed out by unreasonable work loads.

    ** Why would you choose the most restrictive and inflexible way of dealing with that challenge? Especially since many of your colleagues believe it would be impractical.

  43. el l*

    “Strict 9-5” is so radical that it can’t possibly be only a solution to the problem of overwork. Extreme methods require extreme justification. What a draconian way to impose order on the lots of “it depends” of working life.

    Look, it reminds me of the old-school boss practice of throwing underlings’ loose papers off their desk and into the bin at night. The point was supposedly to get them to “handle each piece of paper once,” and to resolve their day’s tasks by the end of the day. I wonder if the bosses would have consented to being treated that way. More to the point, must be nice to have a job where all problems can get resolved in a day.

    Anyway, it doesn’t do anything to address the real sources of overwork: Reasonable circumstances, like illness or parental leave. Inadequate staffing. Incompetent team members. Unreasonable goals. Unorganized people. And more.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I think this must be a massive cultural difference. Strict 9-5 with about 30-45 minutes flex (but the assumption that no one will go significantly over 37-38 hours) has been the norm in every office job I’ve had back to 1998.

      It’s got a lot more flexible since the pandemic, although I don’t know whether that’s a full cultural change or just that I’ve reached a level of seniority where nobody cares if I leave at 4pm as long as I’ve done the work.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yeah, obviously a lot of people posting today are used to a fair amount of flex, but the idea that 9-5 is “radical” and “draconian” seems over the top. I can see going with a bit more flex than that, but an employer who didn’t wouldn’t seem radical and draconian to me at all based on my office experience.

  44. Michelle Smith*

    Are you proposing to do the same thing in the mornings by not letting people into the building before 9 am? What if someone wants to start their day at 7 because they have to leave early for an appointment at 3?

    I don’t like people micromanaging when and how I work. As long as I’m available during core hours and people know how to get ahold of me when I’m not online on Slack, I really, really don’t think someone should dictate when I arrive at or leave the office.

  45. Charlotte Lucas*

    I can only assume Alan Sugar doesn’t live somewhere with winter weather. Because this would be a terrible policy on a particularly snowy (or even rainy) day. When my commute was longer, waiting for the main rush to be over on a snowy day made my trip home much less dangerous and exhausting.

    And I like working a bit later, when it’s quieter and I can do things that require more unbroken time and concentration.

  46. Not my real name*

    We were given a no overtime notice in January on a Thursday morning. Individuals were told to leave at X time on Friday to meet this, Thursday evening was a mandatory all staff meeting. Friday afternoon the closing crew were left alone for the last two hours of operations (NORMAL 1/2 HOUR) with the manager. They had their butts handed to them and were not happy Monday morning. One asked why everyone had worked over 8 hour shifts the week prior I told him we had gotten tied up late with customers at the counter, he should have been waiting on (not said). Now I hand the manager any jobs that others can handle.

  47. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I moved from one office to another of the same law firm.

    At Office A, each person had set hours (eg my cube neighbour did 8-12,1-4 and I did 9-1,2-5) and the culture was such that it was very unusual for anyone below partner to work past their hours. If someone needed you to work late then this was considered an exceptional favour and you’d get your hours back within a week.

    At Office B, we had true flex time – core hours 10-12 and 2-4, office open 7-9, 35h/w is full time, you just can’t have a negative balance – together with generous PTO and separate unlimited paid sick leave. What that meant in practice was that employees were required to be flexible, ie dropping everything to finish things “urgently” at minimal notice.

    I honestly preferred the first in terms of expectations, because the culture was ironically more respectful of work-life balance.

    For the LW, I wonder if there’s a way to get the best of both worlds. Nowadays it would be relatively trivial to have a digital curfew so that someone might be in the building but their device(s) would hibernate. There’s probably a softer version more similar to Netflix reminders.

    For example, you could get a pop-up saying “you’ve already worked 8 hours today / 40 hours this week – do you wish to continue?”, escalating to “…10…/…50… – has a manager authorised or requested this?” etc.

    A few benefits: employee has to acknowledge their hours rather than just blasting through the clock without noticing; still allows for flexibility and assumes employees are competent adults; allows for easy audit.

    This may just be the way my brain works, to be fair. I have daily alarms to remind me to find a stopping point around half an hour before I need to leave.

  48. Safely Retired*

    People have different work styles. When I was employed I tended to show up a bit early, say 30-60 minutes, and leave late by a similar amount. Offsetting that was that I tended to work slowly. The net result was that I got my work done, which should be all that matters.
    I have observed a few others for whom work was a refuge from an unpleasant home life of strife. And a few for whom work defined them, with nothing at all calling them to an empty apartment.
    Overall, to me, this sounds like someone who thinks they found an excuse to tell people what to do; some people find that sort of thing satisfying.

  49. subaru outback driver*

    My last job two jobs ago required coverage from 7am-7pm. So no everyone leaving at 5pm wouldn’t have worked.

  50. MistOrMister*

    There is not a single company I have worked for as a main job (all law firms) where this policy would work. All of them have core hours that are longer than 8 hours a day and peoples’ start and end times vary. The way places get around people working insane hours is to manage them properly. We are told OT is not to be worked without approval and even if you ask for it, the first thing they try is to find someone to help with your tasks. That makes more sense to me than just throwing everyone out the building at a set time. Some days I need an extra 15 to 20 minutes to finish up a task and it makes more time to just extend my day a bit and come in later the next day than to stop and try picking it back up in the morning. Also, throwing everykne out at 5 fails to take into account remote workers.

    I know one firm that has those kind of ridiculously rigid hours and they have a reputation such that most people refuse to even interview there. When I was new, I didnt know about their rules and had an interview. They had set hours of 8 to whenever and you had to take lunch from 12 to 1 daily, no exceptions. No flex time whatsoever, you couldn’t start early or work late for makeup time at all. (you also could not have your phone in the building or internet at your desk computer for a job that required intwrnet access – you had to go to the various internet stations in the office for internet use.) Based on what they told me at the interview I fled like the building was on fire! You can’t get and keep good people with those kinds of micromanage-y rules.

    1. Piscera*

      Regarding OT, the get-someone-else approach doesn’t always work. Sometimes one needs to be familiar with the substance of the task, as well as the procedures involved.

      For instance, I know how to electronically file documents with the court. But I won’t necessarily know if the wrong PDF was labeled as Exhibit D. Or if someone missed an item when redacting sensitive information.

      A past employer tried the get-someone-else approach, but not for long. I heard they dropped it after someone botched a court filing.

  51. OP*

    Thank you everyone.

    The consensus is that this policy is a bad idea and that flexibility is needed. Since the idea came from the eighties or nineties, I can see why.
    It’s great to learn the reasons. I’d never thought of the office as a haven and I can appreciate the weather problems mentioned above. I asked here because I wanted an outside perspective; many colleagues have similar lifestyles. I also noticed that many complaints on this site are about managers demanding workers stay over their contracted hours. Of course, both extremes are a bad idea. Good to be certain.

    There is 0 chance of my organisation implementing this policy, but one of the problems noticed by senior management and networks is that several employees don’t take proper lunch breaks. I don’t mean that they don’t take a full hour but rather they don’t eat at all until mid-afternoon or even later. There’s already been an unofficial request to avoid lunchtime meetings if possible. Despite practically everyone knowing that it’s harmful not to eat, some still do it. I probably should have asked Alison about that problem instead, but this one seemed more interesting.
    In one case, someone worked 4am-3pm just because they woke up early for reasons unrelated to work. That caused real problems and had no business benefit at all. I’ve also had colleagues working very late send direct messages to me implying a request for immediate action that I can only see the next day.

    As for involving Sugar, I’ve taken ideas from many entrepreneurs like John Timpson, Stephen Bartlett, etc. I disagree with Sugar on many things, but recent experience made me start thinking about this idea.

    Anyway, thanks again for the feedback and the opinions. I guess I was overreacting and it was great to see how problematic my idea would be.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Based on your mention of Sugar and Timpson, are you in the UK? Because I don’t think this idea is nearly as wacky in the UK as it seems to be in the US. As I’ve said, 5 would be a little early but it’s quite normal for an office to close at 6pm.

      1. OP*

        I won’t confirm my location, but I like reading about business practices worldwide. I also like Jack Ma.

        1. Agent Diane*

          If you were in the UK then employment law has something to say about how long someone can work without a break. Employers must allow someone to have a break of 20 minutes after six hours work, and the break must be during the working day not at the end of it. So not taking a lunch break until 4pm if you started at 9am is a breach of that.

          However, in practice most office-based employers ignore it if their employees work through their breaks as they treat us like adults who can manage our own time.

    2. Observer*

      I’ve also had colleagues working very late send direct messages to me implying a request for immediate action that I can only see the next day.

      So that’s rude, and I can see why you would want to push back on it.

      Are you getting any pushback or complaints when you don’t respond on their implied timeline? If not, feel free to ignore it. And I do mean *ignore*. Don’t mention the time of the message, don’t apologize, don’t imply any apology. Just respond in a way that would be timely if they had sent it first thing in the morning – which is essentially what happened from where you sit.

      And, if there are any more junior employees you have influence on, encourage them to do the same thing. And speak up for them if it looks like someone is being unreasonable to them.

      If people are giving you an attitude for not responding on these unreasonable timelines, be explicit that you don’t check email or messages out of work hours, so they need to work within that kind of schedule. And that might be something to bring up in staff meetings, especially in your team.

      Also, I see no reason not to push back on lunch meetings. But don’t get into people’s spaces about when they eat lunch. That’s waaaay to personal and individual, unless you are THEIR health care provided.

      1. OP*

        I don’t normally comment on the lunches of individual employees. However, there has been cases where a colleague on a project has not been able to respond because they’ve not had lunch by mid-afternoon. It’s sort of stopped by now, but before then the same people who chose to miss lunch then complain loudly about missing lunch even though it was their decision.

        1. Slaw*

          They don’t get to “miss lunch” just because they take it at a later time. This is a legal requirement. That’s not “their decision”.

    3. Cyndi*

      I think it would be even more of an overreach to try to manage your colleagues’ eating habits. Or worry about them at all.

    4. Annie*

      My question about the lunch break thing: How do you tell the difference between someone who works through lunch or takes it really late because they feel they have to in order to meet deadlines and someone who doesn’t eat at work for religious or health reasons, for example? I doubt it’s possible to get an answer without engaging in work-inappropriate behavior.

      Also, lots of people get professionnal advice about this sort of thing that contradicts (your understanding of) conventional wisdom, or they find that scheduling meals for “odd” times of the day makes other parts of their life easier, or they “forgot” to eat lunch one day and found unexpected benefits from it, etc.

      1. Annie*

        As I’ve hopefully illustrated here, there are a variety of reasons that aren’t internalized unhealthy workplace “shoulds” why someone might not take a lunch break like a normal person.

        1. Jackalope*

          I agrée with you that it’s not appropriate for an employer to force people to eat lunch except under very limited circumstances. I would argue that it IS within their jurisdiction to insist that you take your lunch BREAK, however. I’m perhaps biased in this area because I live in a state where a minimum half hour lunch is required, but I think it’s important for everyone to have that half hour (or full hour) time to do something that’s not work. Go for a walk, read a book, play on the internet, meditate at your desk, whatever; even if there’s no food involved, it’s important to have that rest period. (But again, that’s the law in my state, so it’s what I’ve always known.)

    5. Parakeet*

      It’s always nice to see commenters who take feedback well and want to refine their ideas!

      I often don’t eat lunch until 2:30 or 3pm, which most people think is bizarre, but it has nothing to do with work. I do the same thing on weekends. It’s just when I prefer to eat lunch (I’m not sure why). I would be pretty disconcerted to learn that management were discussing when I eat lunch and whether they think it’s harmful for me, just as I would be if they were discussing my weight or my workout routine.

      The late direct messages asking for immediate action do need to be dealt with, but I think the call there is to say that people sending direct messages after a certain time should not expect them to be read until the next day. Specific, narrow, to the point.

      I’m not sure I understand why someone working 4am-3pm would cause a problem in a job that’s not coverage-based or heavily appointments-based – or do you mean they did this every day, not just one day where they woke up early? Because if they were doing it every day, that’s 11 hours/day. That seems like a huge overwork problem! but it would also be an overwork problem if they were working from 9am-8pm, or 6am-5pm.

      A number of people have mentioned flex time, and I’m in strong agreement with them. Though I am salaried, I have to fill out timesheets so that we can bill different funders. Which prevents me overworking even if I wanted to (which I don’t). I have to meet a certain total number of hours in a pay period. But if I, say, work 2 extra hours one day because I had to present a training for people in a very different timezone and thus work some atypical hours, that means I could work 2 fewer hours on a different day. Or 1 fewer hour on 2 other days. If I work an extra half hour for four days of the week I can stop working 2 hours early on a Friday (I have often done this).


    Our overtime policy is so bad my coworker went to mandatory class an hour away. He was going to have 2 hours of OT. Our manager had him arrive an hour later then normal and take an hour extra at lunch. He could not leave early due to late afternoon meeting. The class and Overtime policy are both from Great Grand Boss.

  53. bamcheeks*

    I’m surprised how controversial this is! 5 is a little early, but the assumption that everyone will be out of the building by 6 or so is pretty standard. Everywhere I’ve worked, the expectation is that you leave by 5:30 or 6pm because that’s when the building is closed (and the heating usually goes off at 4:30ish, so by 5:15 or 5:30 you can feel it’s getting properly chilly!) I’ve never worked in any offices in the UK or Germany where people would regularly work later than 6pm.

    Over the last 20 years that I’ve been working it’s obviously got way easier for people to work more in the evenings but from home. In most office buildings I’ve worked in the assumption is that they’ll be empty by 6 or so and locked shortly afterwards , and I think that’s been pretty constant for the last two decades.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      This is very office and industry dependent and possibly country dependent as well. I have never worked in an office that closed to employees at a particular time or heard of this happening to others outside of people who work non-office jobs like retail or food service.

      1. bamcheeks*

        So do your offices have heating and security all night?? I don’t understand how the facilities side of this works!

      2. doreen*

        I’ve never worked in one where everyone had access 24/7. It’s been different times, and sometimes different times on different days but someone always had to deal with the alarm and the metal gate.

    2. Lexi Vipond*

      Yes, me too. I do work in an office where people expect to be able to visit us between roughly 9 and 5 if necessary (although we’re not primarily providing a public service), but people who’re not in that situation can still be seen leaving in droves at about the same time.

  54. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I wonder if part of this is supposed to deal with the social pressure people can experience when they see others around them working late. I don’t think this is the most effective solution (other people have pointed out good reasons as to why) but would be curious to hear from commenters about what *has* worked in their offices to support a healthy work-life balance, especially in those offices where there is a need to be in-person regularly.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Lots of flexibility. An expectation that you will not look at me sideways if I stay until 7 every day this week but leave at 3 pm when I’m less busy. A culture that allows me to feel comfortable saying “I’m overwhelmed and can’t take on any more projects right now” without it negatively impacting my career trajectory. Management being accessible to me during the workday, instead of only having availability for urgent and/or private conversations when you catch them at their desk around 6 pm. Affirmatively stating your reasonable expectations (e.g., you only need to let me know if you are going to be later than 9:30 if you’ll need coverage from another employee or you don’t need to tell me why you’re leaving at 4:30 today, so long as you put an away message up on Slack so I know not to go looking for you at your desk). Generally minding your own business as my coworker or manager if I’m getting my work done on time, am not complaining or showing signs of burnout, and my work is meeting or exceeding expectations. That kind of thing.

      1. Annie*

        I wonder if the suggestion to make everyone work a rigid schedule with no overtime is intended to be a starting point to “shock” the system and make something like this possible at the OP’s workplace?

        Old habits of presenteeism, working lots of extra hours to accomplish an impossible workload, management rewarding (intentionally or not) unhealthy work habits in the form of raises, awards, and promotions die hard; so it may take at least a temporary shift to such a rigid schedule to make the root causes of unhealthy work habits plainly visible so that essential changes can be made.

  55. Jackalope*

    I’m clearly going against the flow here, but since I’m in the other camp I thought I’d share why I like it better with a hard stop at the end of the day. (And I have frequently read with horror when other people have talked about offices being open super late like some people are recommending.)

    My office is open 10.5 hours/day and we have flexibility within that timeframe. Our state mandates a 1/2 hour lunch, so everyone shows up when they show up, stays for 8.5 hours, and then goes home. It’s sometimes possible to do OT but we haven’t had much of that available lately, so assume most people are working about that much. I appreciate it SO MUCH. I always know the latest I’ll be off, and the earliest I can start. The 2 hours of Flex Time means I can still rearrange my schedule to a certain extent if I need to. And I know that there’s zero expectation that I work excessively long hours. It’s never seemed controlling or micromanaging to me; it’s just the way my employer works, and I knew that coming in. As for getting caught up in work at the end of the day, normally I’ll try to save quick stuff for the last part of the day, or things that don’t need a big mental commitment. It’s just… something you get used to, like if you have a weekly morning meeting or a regular lunch date with coworkers.

    I will add that working from home is the same. You can’t be logged into the system (which is needed to complete just about anything) outside of the hours that the office is open.

    (In terms of the sick time and doctors’ appointments, we do need to use sick time if we take off early or show up late. The flex window falls at times where I’ve often been able to schedule before or after work. But we also get generous sick leave – around 100 hours per year and we can carry it over with no limitations.)

    Again, this is clearly not for everyone. Many other people have shared why they don’t think this would work for them. But since many of those people were railing against a system they hadn’t actually experienced but thought they would hate, I wanted to share that I have experienced it and really like it. After having had a previous job that had no respect for work/life boundaries and where I often worked very long, odd hours (with reason, but it was still long), I just about cried from happiness when I got this job and learned that we had a hard stop.

    1. Slaw*

      The important part of what you said it “This isn’t for everyone”. That’s what’s important to notate. Nobody should be unilaterally making this decision for everyone.

  56. Jenny*

    I have had periods of time in my career where I’ve worked the occasional night and/or weekend. Sometimes it is because I’ve had a huge deadline. And sometimes it was because I was kind of slacking that week and needed to catch up. A lot of the time I LIKED working for a few hours on a Saturday. I got a lot accomplished. I built up some good will with my bosses (I never told them I was working extra, but it was pretty obvious and they’d put me up for an award or give me an afternoon off).

    I haven’t had to do it much in the last 5-6 years. And jobs certainly shouldn’t expect it. But I don’t love the idea of outlawing it.

  57. Bear Expert*

    The complete lack of flexibility is not worth the gains you’d get from it, and those benefits can be achieved by having engaged and aware management instead of a draconian door locking ceremony.

    Being able to flex time is huge for work life balance – medical appointments, kid stuff, minor emergencies, health stuff including sleep disorders – having flexibility is always beneficial. And a rigid time focus also means the flexibility isn’t there when the business needs it – when a project gets unexpectedly complicated, or a team member ends up out sick and everyone would usually pitch in a bit more, you just don’t have the time.

    But also, if people are struggling with burnout and overwork, the answer is for their managers to set appropriate expectations and track them. Those expectations can be up and out, shifting expectations about when deliverables will be delivered to allow for reasonable workloads or dropping pieces of work entirely. (“We’re not currently staffed to support design for both a full season of new chocolate teapots and caramel teapots, so we’re limiting new caramel teapot releases to the special holiday editions”) Those expectations can be with the staff around what a full work week should look like and when to raise a flag that things are out of control. And managers should be checking on how much people are doing and how long its taking them – if the workload isn’t too much, but its taking too long, maybe there needs to be retraining or better tools. (Or the manager needs to learn the work has gotten more complicated since the last time they looked at it and takes longer and needs to be staffed appropriately.)

  58. powerade*

    You mention “to a ridiculous extent.” If people are regularly staying past midnight, that’s something that the company should probably address. Not by saying leave by 5:15 though

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Yes! There’s a huge difference between wanting to flex time or being in the groove and working past midnight!

      My office building is officially closed by 4:30, but people aren’t kicked out. We can leave when we like. And flexing time outside our core hours is normal. But so is sticking to a 40-hour workweek.

    2. OP*

      There was a case in the past where some colleagues were kicked out. They stayed about 4 hours after everyone else had left. If the facilities managers hadn’t found them at the last moment, they really could have been in trouble.

      But as I’ve said in other comments, I see this proposal by itself is a bad idea, but I’ll take the feedback on board.

  59. Lorac*

    I remember reading an article about Japan, where they have a massive overwork culture, they instituted a mandatory lights off time. So like after 7:30pm or whatever, they turn off all the overhead lights to strongly encourage workers to go home. Workers can still work in the dark, but it’s a big signal that it’s time for them to go home now.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      My old job the main network most people worked in would go offline about 7:00, so while you could still work on spreadsheets or answer emails, a lot of the functionality was limited. This prevented most people from working in the evenings.

  60. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

    IANAL, but the commentary about dresses and the open “look at how much/little she eats!” might also be considered gendered harassment. Please email all the deets to your HR team. It really doesn’t matter that they aren’t local.

  61. Have you had enough water today?*

    Employers have an obligation under the law to ensure the safety of their staff & recently there has been a heavy focus on mental health & work life balance. I think a lot more workplaces will start monitoring staff hours more closely in the future to ensure they are not working too many hours on any one day & across any one week. A previous employer is currently embroiled in a pretty dramatic court case due to several employees having actual breakdowns at work & needing to be admitted to a mental health facility, in part due to the expectation of 60 hour weeks & a crushing workload.

  62. Turquoisecow*

    My last job most people left around 5ish but some people stayed late. My boss stayed late because she was often in meetings most of the day and would use the quieter late hour to check emails. I stayed later (and came in later) because a) I’m not a morning person and b) my husband worked until 6:00 (at least) most of the time. There was no point to me clocking out at 5:00 and getting home before him to sit in an empty house. I preferred to come in somewhere between 9:30 and 10:00 and stay later than get in at 8:30 and get out earlier, my brain doesn’t function as well first thing in the morning.

    A job before that the culture was often to stay late and people who left on time were often seen as slackers. They also didn’t officially allow that sort of flexing, but if I came in a few minutes late in the morning I would stay a few minutes late in the evening to make up the time. (Of course I was also seen as a slacker for not being there by 8:30; there was no way to win).

    It sounds like OP is trying to prevent the sort of thing where people feel like they have to be working all the time or be seen as slackers, or performatively staying late after goofing off all day or otherwise not managing their time well. My old job there was definitely a culture of busy work, with people always talking about how very busy they were even when they weren’t. But the way to do that is not to lock the doors at 5:15, it’s to trust people to be adults and manage their own schedule. Don’t make comments about people leaving on time or coming in five minutes late, discourage management from that butts in seats mentality. I had a VP who would walk through the cube farm at 8:00 and complain no one was at work yet – start time was 8:30 and these people were hourly non-exempt. I also had some who’d come around at 5:15 and make the same complaints even though the day ended at 4:45. If that’s the sort of person you have making promotion decisions, the busywork and stay late culture will flourish.

  63. Sparkles McFadden*

    If you’d like to make sure people have a good work/life balance, give them manageable work loads, a decent amount of vacation and sick leave, and *more* flexibility.

    This proposed policy is a ridiculous level of micromanagement. You’re basically suggesting that adult professionals don’t know how to manage their time, so management will do it for them. It’ll be explained as “We’re trying to help you with work/life balance” but it’s really just another way for management to make sure the employees know they are powerless and not respected.

  64. Joseph*

    We have done something like this as part of “action short of a strike”. The union had told us to only work our hours. No extra time. It really made a difference to those meetings that were meandering towards 5pm. The meetings were finished

    As others have said here, it doesn’t work all the time for everyone but once in a while not have senior manager just walk around and insist people home

  65. too many dogs*

    I’m guessing that these are all salaried people, so they’re not staying late just to get overtime. That 9 – 5 is just too rigid. It doesn’t take into account, as many of you have commented, that people are productive at different times. of the day. I like having some flex time as was suggested, to be able to come in after an appointment and adjust my schedule accordingly. I would suggest that the company back off the 9 – 5, but state something like “For everyone’s safety, people may not be in the building after ____ o’clock.”

  66. ElliottRook*

    I worked in an office like this–if you were early you were expected to sit at your desk until exactly 8 before you were allowed to clock in, everyone clocked out at exactly 5 like synchronized swimmers, and we had about 5 minutes to pick up our bags and get out the door, with the office manager following behind us, practically herding us like cattle, to lock up and get us gone.

    That rigidity was just the tip of the toxicity iceberg in that office–I put up with a lot that would send me running screaming now, because I was 22 and thought it was normal.

    1. Cyndi*

      This raises another good point–a really rigid arrival/departure time policy like this is going to create terrible human traffic jams at 8:55 and 4:55 every day.

    2. CattyWampus*

      I have worked in places with rigid rules about work times, regardless of the fact that I and most of my coworkers were salaried exempt employees. This came about because of an “optics” situation, not due to real business needs. We were told we could work no more than 40 hours per week putting in our time during an 8-5 work day with an hour for lunch. Theoretically, we could be pre-approved by our managers to work over but only if we could flex the time off during the same week. This was a healthcare/social services job serving vulnerable adults that required massive amounts of documentation and special projects to help secure grants. Asking for pre-approval to flex time off during the same week was a joke when we might have someone with an urgent need show up at 4:45 on Friday. We were told to send them to another agency that ran a 24/7 program, but often the person in need didn’t have a car, it was too far to walk, and not safe for them to be waiting by the side of the road until a ride showed up. Which left us staying until we could make sure they had a safe way to get where they needed to be and then getting our butts chewed the next week for not keeping our required hours. And special project assignments were always in addition to an already very heavy workload which was not doable in an 8 hour/day, 40 hour week. When we pointed out that taking on extra work meant we couldn’t get everything done in our approved hours and was there any way to get comp time that didn’t have to be used in the same week we worked over we were told no, that we had to figure out a way to get everything done within our required hours. I stayed at that job for 5 years, almost always on the verge of a nervous breakdown because I had to “sneak” working over and hope I didn’t get caught (and possibly written up) or just not getting mandatory time sensitive work done (and possibly getting written up plus dealing with knowing people in need weren’t getting adequate services).
      It’s easy to say that no one should ever work under those conditions, but there are a million reasons a person may not see a way to just leave their job, or may find that most jobs in their field work in a similar way so better the devil you know…
      Anyway, when I hear a suggestion like this from someone like Mr. Sugar I always have to wonder whether they are really coming from a place of wanting employees to have good work/life balance, better health, etc. or if something else is at play and they are actually causing more problems for employees health than they would if they let them work the hours they need to for the job they have to do.

  67. Dido*

    Requiring every employee to work in office every day from 9-5 with absolutely zero flexibility is objectively the opposite of promoting a good work-life balance. If I need to come into work 2 hours late because of a doctor’s appointment, do I have to take a full half day off because I can’t stay late to make up my hours?

  68. Not The Earliest Bird*

    As a senior salaried employee, I would be appalled by this policy. Part of the reason why I don’t hate my job is my ability to flex my hours and work during times when no one else is in the office to bother me. If I want to work from 11 AM to 8 PM, on a Wednesday, I’m going to do so (so long as I don’t have any required items that have a due time earlier than 11 AM on that Wednesday). And then I’m likely going to leave early on the following Friday, because I got my job duties completed on that Wednesday.

  69. Karo*

    I appreciate the intent here, and I’d certainly rather work at a company that did this rather than a company that expected you to work 60 hours a week, but as others have said, I’m an adult who can manage my own time. It’d be better to create a work environment that makes it clear that people aren’t expected to work too much rather than creating a work environment where they can’t work past a certain point.

  70. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    How much have you engaged with the staff who do work late about why?

    You don’t mention much about their reasons in your letter. There can be so many reasons! You’d need to understand that in depth before you could implement any “solution”. (It may not necessarily be a problem.)

    1. Enoby*

      “I’ve found a great solution to a problem! Do we actually have that problem? Ummm….. but look what a great solution it is!” That’s not going to earn much good will.

  71. Dog momma*

    Even in health care,things come up at the end of the day, whearther it is in a,hospital, office, etc. Could be clinical, or not. I’m A nurse reviewer and there were many times something came up expedited at the end of the day. You stayed til it could be finished bc it could affect health care, unless we needed more info, which would be requested, and the case pended til the next business day.. We’re not talking products on a shelf here.

  72. Sometimes maybe*

    I understand the benefits to the company, but I am so tired of the “work/life balance” argument. It seems so many well intentioned are people lecturing on the best way to achieve that balance. It comes off rather infantizing. Often these “solutions” come from those who are preemptively trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. There are hundreds of reasons people like to work extra hours from time to time, and usually when employers try to “help” employees achieve a balance they usually make it much worse for the employee. Like Allison said, just trust your employees to manage their work and only intervene when actual problems arise.

    1. Annie*

      Yes, working extra hours is a valid preference. However, from here, we can’t tell if an employee is working extra hours because they really want to, they spend part of their workday waiting until their most productive self kicks in, they really don’t need to or want to but feel like they should in order to maximize their chances of getting a raise or promotion, or it’s explicitly required of them.

      Worse still, one employee’s preference can look like a should to another employee in the absence of clear signals that extra hours aren’t regularly necessary to meet deadlines or qualify for promotions or raises.

    2. OP*

      It probably does seem infantizing, but that’s also happened several times too. I’ll have to be careful how I phrase this anecdote, but one colleague who habitually stayed late had to endure some colleagues saying ‘Time go to!’ and ‘Come on, go home!’ like a teacher talking to a child. It really says something when someone who is more overworked than another employee has to tell the second employee when to stop.

      1. Slaw*

        Yet, you’re talking about them like they are a child. And are approaching this “problem” as if everyone in the building is also a child.

  73. WestsideStory*

    I have to disagree with Alison and others, in as much as it depends on the industry. In the early part of my career (book publishing) I worked for a company that practically insisted we leave at 5 pm. It wasn’t like we were curing cancer or saving puppies – we made and sold books. I will be forever grateful that our C-suite gave a young person the time in the evenings to pursue life style goals (dating, learning dressage and lap swimming,among other outlets) and instilling in me the capacity to prioritize tasks and get all work done.
    Yeah life work balance is a plus.

  74. Project Maniac-ger*

    This feels like an “address it with the problem employees rather than make a blanket rule” situation. Unless those who are staying late are pestering everyone all day and don’t get work done until there’s no one left to pester, this rule won’t fix anything anyway.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for the feedback. I’ve addressed it with some people. There was someone who claimed to be overworked enough to not have time to read the internal newsletter but apparently had time to discuss my education. I pointed this out at the time, but they said that my childhood was more interesting than vital information that all employees should know. I guess I went too far.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        That could very well be a case where you and the employee disagree on what information is considered vital.

  75. GoodGollyMolly*

    I’ve spent way too many hours at work lately. One night I was there after 9pm. Another to 7:30. I went home and cried Monday night after another late evening. I wasn’t crying because of the workload (which seems to grow every day), or because I’m so buried I’m panicking that I’ll never catch up by Friday, but because of how stupid I feel for staying. Every time I come here and read Alison say companies exist that care and support their workers, have manageable workloads, and have full staffs to make the workload manageable, I feel like she’s talking about sparkly, magical, unicorn mermaids that live at the bottom of a rainbow that ends in the Bermuda Triangle.

  76. Rudy*

    I had a job once where a co-worker was one of those types who would spend half the day holding court in their cube and then complain, loudly, how they always had to stay until 9 or 10 pm to get their work done.

  77. Enoby*

    “I want to promote a healthy work-life balance by making people leave precisely at 5, then go home to finish up what they were working on, rather than letting them do work *at* work”. Is this really what you want?

    ADHDers (and probably a lot of neurotypicals too) would get so much less done if forced to stop in the middle of something. If I stop in the middle of what I’m doing, it’ll get finished… um… at some point, I guess? I’d also not start anything after 4 because I’d be afraid I’d be forced to stop in an hour whether I was finished or not. So you’d lose that hour from me. Or, I’d rush through just so it would be done and not eternally in my to-do pile, and now you’ve got worse quality work in general. Yay?

  78. anon_sighing*

    This is patronizing in that it’s treating employees like adults who can’t manage their own time. Management’s response was nice, so it doesn’t sound like it’s people being forced to stay longer but I don’t have full context.

    Also sometimes, something will take me until 5:15 to finish that will take be 2x longer to reorient myself to the next day. I like to think I can get those 15 minutes back someplace else (leaving a little earlier, come a little late, a little extra longer lunch, an additional break, work place chatter time, etc). I think this is how healthy offices built on trust operate.

  79. Weird Barbie*

    Good god, I would hate to work in a place like this! What if people you work with are more productive later in the day? What if someone is on a roll with a project they’re working on and they don’t want to be forced to stop mid-flow and then have to spend 20 minutes the next day trying to find their flow again?

    The policy is infantilizing and nonsensical. Let people work if they want to work! And realize that some people (those of us who don’t do mornings) absolutely DO get a lot done in the evenings (fewer calls, fewer meetings means more room to focus on deep work).

    I also hate scheduled breaks (I’ll eat when I’m hungry, thanks, and that’s not always at 12:00 pm on the dot) and I love what I do, so…perhaps I’m weird?

    1. Slaw*

      You’re not weird at all, I’m with you 100%. Let me have the autonomy to structure my day as long as I am getting all of my work done as necessary.

  80. Tradd*

    My office sort of does this. Besides the owners, no one has a key besides the office manager. Office opens at 7:30 and closes about 5:30. Official hours are 8-5 M-F. I’m one of the few with capability to work from home. We’re in international transportation so there can be emergencies. The office manager is here willing to stay later if there are true emergencies. If I’m in the midst of something, I’ll just pack it up and finish at home if it’s truly urgent.

  81. amoeba*

    Not sure if that has been mentioned already, but:

    “I have worked late at home occasionally, but I do not stay in the office longer than close of business.”

    I’m sure that works well for you, but for me that would be a nightmare. When I leave the office, I want to be finished with my work for the day. I typically don’t even take my laptop home. Once I’m on my sofa, I very much don’t want to even think of work anymore. Making me do this instead of just staying an extra 30 mins or hour would stress me out much, much more!

    1. Lizzianna*

      100%. I have a toddler at home. Having to take my laptop home to wrap up a few emails in the middle of the chaos that is toddler bedtime makes me want to pull my hair out!

    2. Slaw*

      Yes, very good point on this too. If there is a need to work late at all, I’d much much much rather just do it while I am still there rather than cutting into my mental downtime at home. I also try very hard to not bring my work home with me, mentally and emotionally.

  82. Rosalleti*

    Yep, ridiculous in most workplaces for so many reasons. Make managers accountable for manageable workloads and work hours. I make a point of encouraging our staff to finish on time and to understand why people might be staying late so we can address any patterns. If it’s happening a lot we offer time off in lieu

  83. Alan*

    I’m a software developer and I worked at a place like this in college. Everyone in by 8 a.m., everyone goes to the breakroom at break time, everyone stops work at lunch, everyone goes to the breakroom at break time again, everyone leaves. One of the VPs would literally roust people from their offices. It was completely insane, not least because I could be in the middle of something tricky and need to stop and stand in the break room for 15 minutes before I went back to try to remember what I was doing. It was completely batsh*t crazy.

  84. Marian the Librarian*

    I work in a building that is only open 830-5 due to security, and it works really well for us. There are a few folks who would rather be able to work earlier (like 7-3 or something), but because it’s just not an option there isn’t much complaining. I love that my working time is strictly bounded, and also that I get to walk out of the office with all my colleagues every day.

    1. Slaw*

      And that’s great for you, but that doesn’t work for everybody. One size does not fit all.

  85. ijustworkhere*

    I prefer to work in the office. The internet is better, I have access to other resource materials located in the workplace that I need, and I don’t want to bring work home. I’d be upset if my company locked me out at 5:15. I manage my own hours and get my work done. This seems paternalistic to me.

  86. Lizzianna*

    This is such an interesting discussion, because I work in government, and we have pretty strict rules about working hours. Technically, we’re not allowed to work before 6 am or after 6 pm without explicit supervisory approval (even telework). We also close the office after working hours (without supervisory approval) because of security reasons for not wanting people in the building at night.

    In practice, my team are all adults, and I don’t look too closely at the hours they work unless they give me a reason to. They have blanket permission to flex their time or earn credit hours (basically, we have to work 80 hours a pay period, but if you work a 10 hour day one day, you can work a 6 hour day the next, and if you go over 80 hours, you can carry those hours over into your leave bank). I don’t require them to ask for permission, per se, but they do need to notify me if they’re working in the office after it’s closed. People really bristle when supervisors try to enforce these rules strictly. And they feel pretty worn down when they’re being expected do more than 40 hours of work in a week but are getting in trouble for working more than 40 hours.

    At the same time, these rules are all in place *because* supervisors were abusing employees, pressuring them to work extra hours without compensation, or putting them in dangerous situations (some of our employees do work that is dangerous if someone is suffering from sleep deprivation).

    I think it comes down to having a healthy amount of communication between a team and a supervisor. Team members need to be transparent about how much time it actually takes to get the work done. Supervisors need to be receptive to hearing that, and adjusting workload, or being transparent if they really do need more than 40 hours in a week, and making sure their team is appropriately compensated for that work (either with money or flexibility with future time off).

  87. Nancy*

    Let people make their own hours and stop assuming the person working at 6pm is overworked and has no work/life balance.

  88. SusieQQ*

    I hate this and would probably quit. I’m not a child; I can manage my work schedule.

    Also let’s stop acting like 9-5 is an ideal work schedule for everyone; it’s not.

  89. Slaw*

    OP seems to have an extreme sense of self-importance. Raving about their own quality of standard of work and how they get it done within that strict time frame. Great! But not everyone is you or wants to be you. And typically people who feel the need to throw in a phrase about how great their own work is, aren’t actually as great as they purport themselves to be.
    This is an impractical solution and, unless you’re a member of top management who’s looking at this from an angle of eliminating excess overtime for budgetary reasons, then you should probably just stay out of it and mind your own business.

  90. Matt*

    I’m wondering about how the many users reporting here that late workers are getting praise while early morning workers remain unnoticed and get sideeyed for leaving early. That’s also my decade long experience – however in the recent “can I negotiate a later schedule” article comments I seemed to be in the extreme minority and everyone seemed to be in a culture where early workers were praised and “pm people” had the “slacker” image. I guess we finally can conclude that the ideal employee should be working around the clock …

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