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It's 5:00:01PM. Time to Leave Work?

By Jennifer Pollock

It’s 5:02 and 34 seconds. You’ve been watching your computer clock tick for the last half hour. You’re done with all your work. You’ve read the entire Internet, reorganized your inbox (sub folders for sub folders for sub folders style), and have sent emails with the subject line “I’m dying…” to everyone you know. Your boss sits in the next office, yapping away on the phone. All you can think of is what it will feel like to step through the front office doors and into freedom. Should you leave? In a sane world, yes. But often, the unspoken rule is that you shouldn’t leave work before your boss. You’re expected to be there until after they leave, unless they tell you to go home first. In which case you should probably say something horribly insincere like “Really? Wouldn’t you like me to stay and help you with anything? Like organizing your file cabinets?” And, dangerously, it is likely that yes, yes they would.

But before you even think about shutting down that monitor, make sure that you’ve done everything you were supposed to do, prepared everything you were supposed to prepare, and know what your game plan is for the next morning. If you’ve done all this, and your boss still doesn’t give you the green light, try doing some above and beyond work (a.k.a. brownie points) for a bit and then asking them if there’s anything they need help with. It’s a polite cue that you’re done with all your stuff and are wanting to be released back into the wild.

In general, the best way to figure out when to leave work is to observe when other people are leaving. All offices have official “hours,” but different departments usually have their own ebb and flow. You should get in that current. Underlings, unfortunately, are usually expected to put in the worst hours—since the overlings probably had to do the same to get there. It’s that whole “paying your dues” thing. I would say life isn’t fair, but, unfortunately, it’s pretty understandable. Gotta pay the cost to be the boss.



I agree that it "looks" good if you stay later, but you don't have to punish yourself by staying later if you have no reason to (especially when you're not getting paid extra). I am expected to be at my job from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. so the phone lines are covered if they ring -- so while everyone else is heading out earlier around 5-5:30 p.m., I'm stuck. But as soon as 6 p.m. rolls around, I just ask my boss if there's anything he needs before I head out (which is just my way of politely announcing that I'm going home, while making it look like I'm an eager worker bee), and he usually gives me a grateful, "No, but thanks for asking. Have a great night!" Occasionally he'll even release me a few minutes earlier with a, "Get out of here" or, "You heading out soon?" (which I take as my cue to say, "Yeeah, I guess so..." and then bolt).

It's an easier situation to deal with if you have a set guideline of hours, but if you don't, then I definitely agree to go with the flow of the rest of your coworkers. Maybe be the last to leave some days to show that you're serious about your job (even if all you're doing at that point is sending e-mails and checking traffic), but don't do it ALL the time, or else they'll expect it from you and you'll feel guilty for leaving on time.

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