What’s the rule for scheduling personal appointments during work hours? Elaine Varelas weighs in

Workplaces are becoming increasingly flexible with how employees structure their days, and we all have personal obligations that can't always be handled in the evening or on weekends. But are there norms to be aware of before leaving the office for a massage or hair appointment? Elaine Varelas explores what's appropriate and when.

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –Boston.com

Q: When is it appropriate to schedule personal appointments or plans during the work day? I’m thinking things like networking meetings, massage/hair appointments, or gym time. Do I always have to use personal time for this? It can be really hard to schedule these things outside of work hours and I’m more than willing to stay late or come in early. What’s the protocol?

A: The short answer is that it depends. Different level employees get different perks in their jobs and different organizations have different levels of flexibility. A fitness company, for example, may have no problem with employees using the gym, track, or basketball court during work hours, as long as a complete day is worked—while a more traditional firm may not have this as part of the culture. As work places become more fluid with hours and work locations, you may find your organization is less structured; however, many companies are very structured and will not change especially if your job is service oriented and demands availability during traditional business hours. Junior employees may also be expected to use weekends and nights for something like a hair appointment, while senior people and employees who travel extensively during the work week or have business obligations after work often schedule their personal business during work days because the hours they work and travel demands necessitate more flexible schedules. The key is to remain mindful of the business and communicate appropriately with your manager and colleagues.

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If you need to be out of the office during the work day for personal reasons, a reasonable approach would be to talk to your manager and show your ability to come in early or stay late to take care of your responsibilities: “Alex, I have an appointment next Wednesday at 3pm, and I’d like to come in early that day and then sign back in at home to finish the account review for Friday’s meeting. Does that work for you?” Recognize that these are requests and the needs of the business come first unless you are dealing with medical issues. Get a sense of your organization’s culture, too. How do others handle personal appointments that can’t always be scheduled in the evenings or on weekends? Do people regularly take long lunches or gym breaks without anyone batting an eye? Or does everyone follow a strict policy around time out of the office? Take clues from those around you and ask for their guidance as appropriate.

The nature and frequency of the appointment or event should also come into consideration before asking for time away from work during business hours. Is it a one-off appointment, like going to the eye doctor for an annual check up, or are you asking for daily workout sessions? Are you going for a long networking lunch that’s part of your job responsibilities or would otherwise support the work you do for your current organization? Or is it just in service of expanding your network to look for a new role? The latter is something that should be done on your own time, not the company’s. If the occasional request for workday accommodations becomes so regular that you’re effectively changing your hours, you may be taking it too far. That would be a different conversation entirely. Sneaking into a whole new schedule would not be welcome—coming in late once in a while is different than working 10-6 every day without acknowledging the change .

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Again, recognize that the business comes first. If your manager says it’s fine to take a two-hour lunch, the implicit understanding is that it’s permissible if business allows. This is the part to pay the most attention to. Taking care of non-urgent personal business during work hours is an accommodation being provided to you as long as it does not disrupt the business. If you are on a deadline or covering for someone who is out, understand that the business may not accommodate time away from the office, and it should not impact your attitude or work ethic. Workplace needs are often unpredictable, and you can’t be put out by any interruptions to your personal schedule.

The people who get approval to do these things have to be high performers—average or below average performers should not anticipate that their manager is going to allow for extra perks that might impact productivity or key deliverables. People who show that they are self-motivated, self-managed, and willing to take extra time for the business will most often be granted the opportunity to use workday hours for personal needs, as appropriate.

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