Ask the CHO: Implied overwork

ClockOffice Lady asks this question:

I have a question, can anyone help? On our contracts, we are supposed to work 39 hours a week (excluding lunch hours).

So we all come in at 9 am and leave at 6 pm. But since we are supposed to work 39 hours only, we supposedly can leave at 5 pm one day of the week.

But of course nobody does and everyone works until at least 6 pm five days a week.

According to instructions, “of course??? we can leave at 5 pm one day of the week….we just need to inform our supervisors first.

I of course also work until at least 6pm everyday, but sometimes, there are things that I wanna do that I want to leave early for.

Should I really not ask even though I am entitled to it? :(

I’m fairly sure that this kind of situation is quite common. The rules say “work X hours a day”. Practically everyone works more or way more.

You can stand up for your rights, but then run the risk of hidden punishment – you may be passed over for a promotion or a raise the next time around, because you’re obviusly not as committed as the other people who work more than you do. This is of course total bullshit, as I pointed out here, here and here.

So what to do?

Here’s one suggestion: I’m a big fan of getting things out in the open where you can deal with them. What would happen if you raised the question at a department meeting?

Say it like it is: “You know, I’ve been wondering about how to handle this situation. According to the rules, we can all leave at 5 one day of the week, and sometimes I want to do this. However, I see the rest of you guys working and that makes me wonder if maybe someone would resent the fact that I left early. Also, I would feel like I took advantage of you guys, if I take that hour off that you never do. How could we handle this situation?”

Could that work?

Is anyone else out there in a similar situation? How do you handle it and what would you suggest?

17 thoughts on “Ask the CHO: Implied overwork”

  1. That reminds me to some of the habits at the last bank, for which I worked as an employee.
    The normal working hours were 8.00 till 16.45 (1/4 hour breakfast time, 1/2 hour lunch).
    The “normal” people left at 17.00
    those, which were promoted just a bit and got some kind of responsibility left at 17.15.
    Those which quite a bit more of responsibility left at 17.30
    These leaving time were met, even if the person had nothing to do.
    Just to keep the image up.
    It was quite difficult to breakt these unwritten rules.

    I agree with you Alex, the second best thing, is to bring this issue on the table.
    The best thing could be: To quit and start up your own company. Then you can work, whenever you like and when ever you feel energized.
    Something to think about???

  2. >On our contracts, we are supposed to work 39 hours a week

    Leave at 5 then on friday if you don’t have something you need to do then.

    If asked why you did, say that’s what the company agreed to in the contract. Offer to renegotiate at the same rate of pay per hour (which implies a 2.5% raise) if they take issue to this, but that is what they agreed to.

    Lots of time though, no one will say a thing. No one will be bothered, no one will hold it against you.


  3. I had a similar issue some time ago at my current job. I decided that for me the best thing to do was work my 40 hours as strictly as possible, otherwise I don’t get the family and personel time I need, and I’m not that productive past that anyway. Overtime is ok once in a while but not as standard fare.

    Pick your day that you only want to work until 5 and keep that as regular as possible. Then the others around you will know your schedule and won’t have to wonder what day you are going to be gone.

    I also agree that bringing this up in a staff meeting might not be a bad idea.

  4. I began working at my organization about a month ago. I have the opposite problem. During my first ‘get to know my staff’ meeting i informed everyone that i would prefer they work no more than 40 hours per week and that everyone take a full hour lunch. My staff was so used to working long hours that they would not leave on time.

    We had a big meeting last week where i used another tip from this blog and asked everyone to write all their tasks on post-it notes and hang them according to a three-point scale 1-hate it 2- it is ok 3- love it! After rearranging tasks to be better suited for their career desires people were getting things done more quickly and leaving on time.

    One of my employees still felt the need to work late every day, so i started going to her every day at 5pm and asking what she was working on and offering to stay late with her to help her. I sometimes offered to take the entire responsibility off her plate (in a non-judgemental way) to ensure she could get home a a decent hour and get re-energized for the next day.

    The productivity of my team has sky-rocketed lately. People come in at 8am ready to work and excited to bring ideas to me. We all leave at 5pm now as often as possible (4 out of 5 days usually) and the rest of the office seems miffed that we can ‘get away with it’. However, with priorities realigned, people more energized about their work and people with more time to appreciate friends and family our work is reaching a higher caliber and output is actually increasing.

  5. The idea of bringing this up to my boss frightens the day-lights outta me. Literally all my counterparts at the office thinks it’s a bad idea.

    When I first started work here (with only 4 months of work experience after graduation), I actually did leave at 5pm one day a week and even wrote my supervisor a chirpy little note each time I did. It was only much later did it dawn on me that I was the only one doing it. Duh.

    My supervisor never said anything about my leaving at 5pm. But she never does it herself, unless there was some necessity.

    Later, I actually did plan on leaving at 5pm every Friday, only to have the boss schedule our weekly staff meeting at 5 or 530pm each week.

    Has anyone actually did something themselves about this? How exactly did you tell your boss about it? And what was the reaction?

    I used to leave at 9 or 10 pm every night. 11 pm even. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I have now been leaving at almost 6 pm sharp each day (I HAVE to, as I have taken up classes and all that) and everyone is amazed.

    Even I am amazed. How come I can still get my work done by leaving so early? The answer is, I just don’t try to finish as much as I could in a day anymore (like I used to do by staying late). Now my attitude is more like, well, I’m leaving and everything can wait till tomorrow. The sky hasn’t fallen yet, so I guess I’m going something right…

  6. Hi,

    This system apparently relies on fear – and furthermore the system is taboo: Nobody dares leave as they are in their good right to do, nobody dares confront anyone with it, and nobody enforces it.

    I think you should use your self confidence to stop being worried of the formal or informal sanctions that may arise. Consider what your efforts are worth to your company and you’ll quickly be convinced that what you deliver to the company means they’ll never fire or sanction you for leaving on time.

    On the contrary: Leave on time, be proud of it, don’t make a fuss about it and nobody will ever critisize it. In fact, you might be the person who makes this foul system break down! If you dare, others will dare too.

    If it is important in your company to show your dedication to the company in the number of hours you work – or in another way ‘send signals’ of how serious you are, then that’s easy:
    Stay until 19 other days or arrive earlier – because you love you job and to prove that it’s not the working hours but the work it self which you are being serious about.

    The worst thing which can happen is that your boss talks to you about it and the taboo is broken (a good thing already)- at which opportunity you can safely and comfortably prove that you do every bit of work which is expected and more too (because you do, I’m sure) and respect the working hours. It will be a very fruitful discussion – and he or she will have nothing at all to say but to agree.

    Imagine that your boss does not agree? I find that difficult. But in that case I would say keeping your job at Fear Factory is not worth the while.

    You have nothing to loose!


  7. If they really expect (and punish when you don’t deliver) more than 39 hour per work weeks and are repeatedly signing contracts to that effect, they are then entering contracts in bad faith.

    If this is just a “regular hours policy” or something, then they’re not in breach of contract. But they very well could be if they are contracting, never intending to live by the terms of the contract.

    Set up your weeks to work what you’ve contracted. If there is retaliation, file a class action lawsuit. (Everyone at the company can join in if this is widespread enough).

    I’m not saying if a company occasionally needs a little more you should whine that’s not in the contract: I’m saying if a company is abusing the power of the purse, and willfully disregarding its own agreements, you should seek reform.

    If direct talks with your supervisor don’t work, talk to HR, that’s what they’re there for.

    If and only if that fails, you should get another job, and/or seek redress via the legal system shooting for the fullest damages available by law (which can be treble damages depending on what exactly the companies does. IANAL, but they’ll have the right answers for your jursidiction).

    If its only Friday meetings you keep seeing, leave at 5 on another day, randomly. If the boss keeps sceduling meetings to stop that, leave randomly. Get him to say it IN WRITING that you have to be there at 6 every day. Keep this email at home.

    Companies don’t often respect the fact that when an employee has set hours that they will not work more than, that employees become much better at prioritization. So in addition to being envigorated because their life is much better, they’re doing more important things for the company with these hours.


  8. It sounds like this is a new job out of college, so you shouldn’t be so nervous about making the perfect impression. Imagine this, you still have 40+ years before you’ll probably retire, and during that time you’ll probably hold quite a few jobs at quite a few different companies. Working your contracted hours in your first job won’t wreck the rest of your career. I find that thinking big picture like that always helps me calm down and get back to reality.

    Second, I think you need to empower yourself a little here. You have a right to work normal hours, you shouldn’t feel guilty about that. Also, you always have the option of finding a job where you can get that. So, if you can’t find it in your current job, then I guarantee there is a company out there that values balanced work hours (take Sarah S. as an example above).

    I’ve found from my own experience that you can’t make a big deal of the hours you or others work (unless you’re working too many). You need to just do it, and act as natural about it as anything else, meaning you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing it. You don’t have to ask permission, or announce that you’re leaving each day. Just do it. You’ll feel guilty for a while, but that goes away, and you’ll probably be more productive after it too. The most important thing about work is work, not hours. Everyone around you, including your boss, is a real people who also wants to work fewer hours. Unless you’re actually slacking, they don’t care. If it is a problem, then someone will bring you in, and say it. They won’t punish you, they’ll just tell you that they expect you to work more. Simple, and painless, however, you shouldn’t let them place that expectation on you without verbally saying it. So, just leave at 5 on the day of your choosing without announcing it, and make a habit of that. Worked for me, and I work 6-7 hours a day, and I’m one of the goto guys, so I know they still value my contributions.

  9. I work at a company where the culture is to arrive late (as much as 10:30 in some cases) and to work late.
    I have a long commute and I know that, whether I get in at 7:00 or 9:00 I still won’t get to spend time with my family in the morning. But if I leave early I can have ‘quality’ time in the evening. So early in my time here, I started arriving very early and leaving at 5:00 *at the latest* (except for rare, absolutely necessary, planned occasions). This was never directly commented on since I got the work done anyway, but I suspect that it slowed promotion options early on simply because I was not around when the bosses were doing things.
    Now, after a number of years of this, I am the go-to person in a number of areas and my career is progressing in leaps and bounds. This is at least partly because everyone KNOWS that I get in *very* early. Never mind that it is a lot harder to work long hours when starting before 9:00 than to work long hours staying past 5:00.
    In fact, my leaving time has been getting earlier and as long as I arrive before 9:30 (when most others get in), the perception is still that I am doing long hours.
    Of course, in a perfect company the seat-time would not be a critical factor anyway…

  10. Thanks for the great comments everyone. I like all the different viewpoints.

    Office lady: What speaks to you the most in all of this advice? What could be a good first step to take for you?

  11. Wow…that’s a lot of response. I never expected that. Thanks so much!

    First of all, I don’t think I’m gonna sue my employers. It’s just not going to work. Class action? I don’t know how things work in the US, but I am in Hong Kong, where people are known to be hard-workers, i.e. work late and whatever it takes…no one’s going to join me in suing and then risk losing their jobs. I’ll end up the national joke.

    Hmm…I still don’t think I’m ready to bring the topic up. I do think it’s probably the most straight-forward way to handle this, but considering the culture in the office and all that, I think I’ll leave it for now.

    I think the best idea (for now, at least), is to leave at 5pm at a fixed day of the week (not Friday, coz of the stupid weekly meeting). That way, I don’t have to go to my boss and ask her every week whether I can leave at 5pm on a certain day. If I just tell her once, she can either remember, or forget, but I’m still going to leave and hopefully she’ll get used to it.

    However, being the whimp that I am, I’ll have to give her a legitimate reason to do so, instead of telling her “I”m leaving at 5pm becoz my contract says so..”. I think I’ll just tell her I have classes at a certain time every Monday and if I have to make it on time, I’ll have to leave at 5. (That is actually real and the reason why I asked the CHO this question in the first place.)

    Anyways, it’s just that all your comments have been really helpful and have been very encouraging and made me less of a whimp! Way to go!

  12. Office Lady: I’m glad we could help. Please do let me know how it works out!

    Astha: That’s amazing. If even Best Buy can mend their ways, there should be hope for many other companies :o)

  13. I’m supposed to work 8 hours a day but usually work about 8.5. For me, that gives me a lot more freedom. If I’m having a nice conversation over lunch, I don’t feel hurried to go back but feel free to stay another 15 minutes or so. If during the day, I spot an interesting website, I take a short break to read and enjoy it. Sometimes I just walk around my floor to see what other people are up to, even the parts of the organisation that I usually don’t interact with.

    Perhaps you can do something similar with your ‘extra’ hour? Use that hour to relax some more during your work and make your job more enjoyable!

  14. A lot of people I know have similar problems. I think this boils down to how important other peoples opinions and perceptions of you are. I am the type of guy that takes “Stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” seriously. I frequently do things most people would never do at work because I really don’t care what other peoples opinions of me are. Other people sense this and I “get away” with my “behaviour.” The advice of “just leave” is the most sound advice and what I advocate to other people at my work that have the same problem (or believe they do). We all dedicate an enormous amount of our life to our jobs, there has to be a cut off point, we all need balance. Hey, I’m at work 9 hours a day, I arrive at 8:00 am and leave at ~5:00 PM. I actually only work about 6 hours a day and frequently take 2 hour lunches. But the work I do is high quality.

    You don’t need quantity, you need quality. Make that your focus and you could burn the building down without getting fired.

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