Should You Feel Guilty for Leaving Work on Time? Elaine Varelas weighs in

Are you the first one out the door every day while your coworkers are still at their desks? Elaine Varelas discusses work hours.

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –

Q: I always arrive to work on time, work diligently and efficiently while I’m there, and leave on time. I’m not checking my phone or wasting time online—I come in, I work, I leave. My coworkers are still working when I leave, and I worry that I seem lazy or not committed enough. Should I subscribe to the “more hours at the desk = better employee” mentality?

A: Good for you! Being dedicated to working when you’re at work is a style others should follow. Too many people succumb to distraction at work, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, online shopping, checking on kids, or any number of other activities that take time and attention away from the tasks at hand. Multiple studies have shown how much time gets wasted at work, so being efficient, meeting your deliverables, and making sure your manager is satisfied with the work you do is the area of focus.


At the same time, don’t be a clock watcher. Colleagues and managers are bothered by people who would never think of staying five minutes extra. Don’t pack your desk at 4:55 and bolt for the train. If you’re in the middle of something, stay until it’s finished—even if it means leaving at 5:30. Managers and colleagues are eager to see employees who say “Hey, I can take on more, what other projects can I help with? I’d like to learn and contribute more.” No one is saying you need to do that every day for 12 hours a day, but if you’re as efficient and diligent as you say, take the opportunity to offer more when you can. If you are a manager, it is even more important, as your employees are watching you and will take their lead from your behavior.

You will find managers who are very face-time oriented and who think more hours at the desk equals better work, which is unfortunate. There are many things wrong with this perspective, and one major consequence is that it largely penalizes women, who are often the primary caregivers for children and other family members. Their responsibilities often involve collecting children from a closing daycare center, which doesn’t allow for staying late. Many women sign back in to their work email after their children are in bed, and this effort is lost on managers who only recognize face time as a marker of a good employee.


The most effective managers and employees communicate often about the work they’re accountable for, the expected deliverables, and what they can accomplish. If you’re worried about how your manager perceives the hours you keep, pay attention to your team’s culture, the organization as a whole, and what the leaders do—and above all, communicate with your manager. If your manager or others view you as an uncommitted clock watcher, it isn’t going to matter how efficient you think you are. Find a balance between your manager’s expectations and your preferred work hours. No matter what that looks like, the crucial thing is to convey your willingness to learn, contribute, and grow.

If you are concerned about the social aspect and how you are perceived by coworkers, engage in relationship building with these people. Take lunch breaks together or plan to stay late once a month and go for dinner or drinks after work. Nurture those relationships and help colleagues understand why you leave when you do. People’s lives are full of additional obligations and activities—are you taking a pottery class? Training for a marathon? Maybe you know that mornings are your most productive time, so you front load your day and leave earlier than others.

As long as you’re getting your work done, offering to contribute more when you can, and not watching the clock, there’s no need to worry about your—or anyone else’s—start and end times. In any organization, you’ll find efficient, timely people like you as well as people who are less efficient but whose deliverables and lifestyle allow them to stay late. Everyone has aspects of their lives that affect their work hours, and we would all do best to keep that in mind.