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I work 9am-5pm, 5 days a week as an employee (not contractor). I'm fairly strict with myself in only doing work at work and making the absolute most of my time away from work. This means I will regularly arrive at 9am (well, 8.50am in all fairness) and leave at 5pm.

My boss usually arrives at 9am/9.30am. Will I be damaging my reputation by leaving at 5pm on the dot? He won't know that I'm usually here 10 minutes early every day and might think I'm clock-watching or something. I've never had any complaints about my rate of work and haven't missed any deadlines. I also take (pretty much precisely (within 60 seconds)) a full hour for lunch.

Is there anything wrong with doing this? All my coworkers seem to be in before me in a morning and leave after me in the evening. Of course I don't know by how much, but the way I see it is I'm contracted for 9-5, so that's what I'm going to work.

Should I perhaps stop being so 'tight' with the time I spend at work, or is it perfectly okay to be... 'time efficient'?

Edit: A little more info judging from the varied responses/comments. I'm from the UK. I'm pretty much 'the' IT department for a medium sized company and my role is pretty much support/maintaining websites. I am allowed an hour for lunch and seeing as I live literally 2 minutes from work, I go home everyday for lunch. A couple of other people in the office do the same. I'm not sure the precise details over my working hours or lunch are all that relevant here. The question can be applied to anyone that is employed in an office-role with regular hours. I guess the question could 'am I damaging my reputation by leaving on time?' as I can't see employers complaining at staff arriving early. Surely anything extra than the hours specified in the contract of employment is simply a bonus. The problem comes when other members of staff do put the extra time in, meaning the employers come to expect it from everyone (not saying that mine does, just that's how I can see it easily going).

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Are you supposed to work 40 hours a week? or 35 hours a week? From what you said in your question, you work less than 40 hours a week. –  scaaahu Jun 6 '12 at 9:41
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9AM-5PM is 8 hours. He works 5 days a week. That would be 40 hours. –  Ramhound Jun 6 '12 at 11:12
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@Ramhound: minus "...a full hour for lunch." * 5 –  Den Jun 6 '12 at 11:20
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Generally speaking, lunch hours cannot be counted as work hours, unless you can prove that you work every minute while you eat. –  scaaahu Jun 6 '12 at 12:10
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If you are truely a contractor you work the hours they ask you to; nothing more, nothing less. You are a paid resource not an employee so you should not feel the need to worry about how others might feel about your work schedule. Your reputation is based upon the quality of your work, not political office games. –  AlanBarber Jun 6 '12 at 12:26
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13 Answers

The main thing to do is talk to your manager about it.

All the advice about things to do without talking to your manager are likely to be somewhat ineffective because you're basically playing "the game".

Go to your manager and start the conversation off something like this:

"Hi X, I'm really excited about my work, and I'm really happy that we got project Y completed and project Z is moving along nicely and I thing we're doing some great work. etc. mention what you can that is positive.

[pause.]

However I am troubked about something and I really need your help. It's about the hours. I'm feeling this cultural pressure to do more than 8 hours, even though my current work is ok. What should I do?

Managers want to help. They usually work best when:

  • you are honest and upfront.
  • they have a say in the solution.

I think that badgerr's comment about "spending more time at work could increase your perceived value as an employee" is a slippery slope that the OP would be best off avoiding. After all if "more hours is better", how about 15 hours a day? The longer the hours are the less sustainable they will be

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Great point! - I've worked at places where people in other departments 'hung around' and our manager would specifically tell us not to get caught up in that and avoid burn-out. –  JeffO Jan 28 '13 at 20:33
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Should I perhaps stop being so 'tight' with the time I spend at work, or is it perfectly okay to be... 'time efficient'?

Overtime is a symptom of bad project management. If you manage your time as well as you describe then there may not be a problem in sticking to your contracted hours. Maybe your co-workers aren't as good at managing their time as you are, and work longer hours to catch up.

However, I would argue that spending more time at work could increase your perceived value as an employee - if you get more work done you make more money for the company, which may help to ensure your continued employment and steady increases in remuneration. Having read Michael's answer, I would agree that this might be a slippery slope. Being in the office all the time isn't the only way to be noticed.

It really depends on your ambition; what do you want out of your time with the company? If your goal is to be noticed and progress up the chain into the more senior positions (that's if there are any in this company) then going above and beyond your contract is a good way to be noticed. This doesn't have to be in the form of extra hours - you could instead build a reputation of quality and even helpfulness. Maybe by being "that guy" that people can go to for help solving a problem. It tells your employer that you care about the company and that you're not just someone who turns up, does some work, then leaves like clockwork.

I also have 9-5 hours, and usually leave on time. There have been periods where I have worked longer hours due to issues with projects that needed to be delievered, etc. Some employees do this more than others - it seems to depend on workload more than anything else.

From my own experience, being noticed for the right reasons (meeting deadlines, quality of work, interest in the company as a whole, and actually loving what you do at work) has positive career benifits. My answer to the question is that, it is okay to be time efficient but being a little more flexible and not limiting the time you spend at work is never a bad thing. When it comes down to it, you work for a business. Businesses like to get good value for money so that they can make more money. If you present good value for money, then they have more incentive to continue/enhance your employment.

As Michael said, if in any doubt, talk to your manager about it.

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I don't feel like there is a worthwhile conclusion in your answer. Yes, those are two sides to the problem. First you say "there is no reason you should not stick to your contracted hours", then go on to say "could increase your perceived value". I agree with that second statement, but it contradicts what you said first. –  NickC Jun 6 '12 at 20:06
    
@NickC edited to (hopefully) clarify and conclude –  badgerr Jun 7 '12 at 8:29
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Some companies have the concept of core hours, like 9am to 3pm, where everybody is to be onsite unless they are at an external meeting. If you have had a recent review, and the hours you are in the office have not been discussed, and you haven't changed your hours worked, then you are probably OK.

The best measure is are you productive, and getting your work done. You say that you are, and as long as your boss/customer is happy with your production then you are OK.

Setting exact work hours is acceptable. Some workers have to meet a carpool, or ride a commuter train, which can limit the opportunities to leave or arrive. Stay 10 extra minutes, will delay you by an hour. This can be a topic of discussion with your boss to make sure they are OK with your hours in the office. I have known some companies that would allow en employee to claim some work time on the train if they did emails on the smartphone.

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My feeling on the matter is that you're contracted to work between the hours of x and y and any more then you're giving your time and energy for free. But, I know that this does not work as an employee.

Ask yourself

  • Is the extra time hurting me?
  • Will there be a reward for brown Nosing?
  • Do I enjoy what I am doing?

The last question is very important, some jobs I just never want to leave because the task is interesting and enjoyable and so leaving and starting is never the problem, it's forcing myself to leave.

However, other jobs I have taken, I have hated, clock watched and wanted to leave before I start.

There is, as usual, no hard and fast rule, but if you feel that you're not putting the time in or you want to leave early, the answer is very much in your hands.

Do not fall into the trap of giving time away for free though, unless you're working for a start-up and they genuinely require more hours than they can afford.

If you regularly find yourself doing excessive amounts of overtime, against your will and for free, then I am afraid that the company you're working for has gotten itself into bad working practices. Either they have bad time management or they are abusing the relationship between employee and employer.

Of course managers are in before employees, it fosters this impression of hard work, dedication and doing something above and beyond the call of duty. But remember this, he gets paid a lot more than you. Also 'beyond the call of duty' works great in the army but not on civy street.

Me, I got out of being an employee years ago; I couldn't hack the political nonsense that employees are expected to be part of. I work for money, I receive money and I leave when the clock says leave. Unless of course I am loving what I do, then I have to force myself to leave which is very difficult because I am working on the clock, and they are paying for a certain amount of time and no more.

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-1 for Will there be a reward for brown Nosing? Going beyond expectations is not necessarily brown nosing. –  Chad Jun 28 '12 at 13:04
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@Chad There should never be a need to go beyond expectations. If either party does, then this is abuse, plain and simple. Why do more hours than what is being paid? must be political, must be looking for something in the future, a reward, surely this is paramount to brown nosing of the first order. I would never employ a brown noser. They would be so easily disappointed when things go wrong and get bitter and a nightmare to manage. –  WeNeedAnswers Aug 13 '12 at 19:09
    
the need is the expectation. Sometimes the need is beyond the norm. When you need to work a few extra hours one week to meet a dead line that is not brown nosing that is getting the job done. –  Chad Aug 13 '12 at 19:25
    
Its all about money. There is only a need meet a deadline to save money or to make money. Giving work away for "free" is against every principal of capitalism there is. Why should someone make money from your free work, as soon as you start giving work for free in a capitalist society this becomes the new bench mark, part of the system and you have reset your salary accordingly. –  WeNeedAnswers Nov 13 '12 at 19:33
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I am surprised that nobody mentioned the lunch hours.

Be careful. Legally speaking, lunch hours are not working hours. You're okay when the relationship between you and your employer is fine. If the relationship becomes sour, you'll be in trouble because your working hours are less than the number of hours you claim.

I don't know if any of the readers on this site are labor relation experts, lawyers or union members, etc. They should be able to tell us more about this issue. To the best of my knowledge, if your employer has contracts with the government, they have to offer lunch hours to the employees. Local law vary. The principle is the same, you don't work during lunch hours.

Added after OP edited the question:

In my opinion, your employment contract is what you have to follow. If it says your work schedule is 9-5 and you come in before 9 and leave after 5, you're okay as long as your supervisor says so. Everybody has a boss unless you're self-employed. Your employment contract is even above your boss because your boss has a boss. Everybody will have to follow that contract. So, my answer is, check that contract, or equivalently, your job description, or employee guides, etc. Your work schedule, lunch hour rules and other related issues should be documented somewhere. If it's not stated anywhere, you're in trouble.

I don't think you need to worry about your reputation. Again, as long as your boss is happy about your performance, you get your salary paid, pay raise every year. What's to worry about? On the other hand, if your boss is not happy about your performance, say he receives complaints from customers about you, then even if you stay in the office 12 hours everyday, you're still in trouble.

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Hi scaaahu - This question is a comment and does not answer the question. Would you like to expand your answer? Otherwise, I will condense your answer and convert it to a comment. –  NickC Jun 6 '12 at 20:10
    
Hi @NickC, you're right that the first version of my answer was a comment - I didn't want to prolong the comments in the question section (already too many). Now I added my answer. Hope it's okay now. –  scaaahu Jun 7 '12 at 4:21
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I know this question already has too many answers, but none of them mentioned this point:

In both my last job and my current one, the one person who kept to a strict schedule was seen as one of the most productive and hardworking people in the place. (It was a different person in each job; both places were academic labs with flexible hours; the strict schedule kept by the people in question was 8-to-5, which is 40h a week with unpaid lunch).

Everyone knew they were really focusing on work while they were there and being very efficient with their time, while the same was not usually the case for people who stayed late. So shorter work hours can leave a positive as well as a negative impression.

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I would argue that you are improving your reputation and the way others perceive you by leaving at 5 on the dot, meeting your expectations and not letting peer pressure get to you.

They are paying you for 40 hours per/week, why on earth would you voluntarily work over that if you are meeting your expectations? A common management trick to try and get extra work done out of their project staff is to give you the impression that you will be looked at more favorably for promotions and bonuses if you put in the extra time. These days have long been gone. You may get a small raise and a lead title, but as a project worker you generally NEVER get promoted to management unless:

  1. You were there from the very beginning of the company and it experienced massive growth very quickly

  2. You have an MBA or PMBOK certification

  3. You are drinking buddies or family friends with one of the upper level managers or directors.

By succumbing to free work you teach everybody, your boss especially, that you are a pushover and that it is all the more tempting for him to keep you on his team where he can keep you under his thumb for as long as possible.

Why would you do this? Thats for the birds man...

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As much as I think you are right about a lot of things that are built-in problems to the modern workplace, I have to downvote because I don't think ignoring this is any better of a solution than succumbing to it. –  NickC Jun 6 '12 at 20:19
    
@NickC Just like with bullying, you only have three choices. You succumb to it, you try to correct the issue, or you ignore it. Succumbing is not an option. I have seen others try and correct the issue by asking their manager about it, calling people out or trying to implement culture change and it almost always ends horribly for that person. When it comes to passive culture changes like this, the best advice is to really just ignore it or leave. –  maple_shaft Jun 7 '12 at 11:25
    
as a project worker you generally NEVER get promoted to management unless: you make the extra effort and show that you can perform well. A lead title is an intro to management. If you excel as a lead you will get asked to join management. You may even be forced into it. The only thing worse than being overlooked for a manager role is to be picked for it imo. –  Chad Jun 28 '12 at 18:53
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As someone who all my life has tended to start late and finish late, my personal experience is that people notice the latter much, much, more than they notice the former. So yes, I'm afraid you probably are damaging your reputation.

However, what really matters is what happens if you are needed beyond 5 o'clock. Do you ignore the phone if it rings at 4:59? Do you think about starting a new task at 4:45 and decide you're better off leaving it to tomorrow?

If the answer to that is yes, that's when I think it could get problematic.

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1/2 of the places I've worked placed the emphasis squarely on starting on time or early instead of how late you stayed. At another 25% it was more in between, starting late is not ok but working late is appreciated. Only the final 25% matches your own experience of working late being a bigger focus than start time. So, I guess it really varies. –  Tech Lover in NYC Jun 7 '12 at 1:11
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The important question here is:

Are you meeting or exceeding your work objectives?

If you are able to complete your work as expected, and are not forcing others to do extra work to take up your slack then I do not see a problem. Assuming you are willing to work over when there is an extraordinary occurrence that requires off hours attention then there should be no problem with the fact that you are able to complete your work during normal work hours. And the fact that you are able to do so is a sign of competence.

If you have a problem with your websites being chronically offline or have a back log of work that is not getting completed then the answer is no. While your contract may say 9-5 it is assuming you will be able to complete your work. For this I am not talking about an unreasonable workload but rather a workload that would be reasonable for a person (or team of the current size) to handle.

In addition, especially in IT, there are times where there will be an expectation of off hours work. These should be the exception and ideally not a regular occurrence. But when there is a need you should be willing to meet the challenge.

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Unfortunately, this is really contingent on management's perceptions (Which @MichealDurrant's answer suggests). There are plenty of workers who have been denied opportunities to advance because of their 'attitude' and not on their productivity. Software development is one area bucking this trend. –  JeffO Jan 28 '13 at 20:43
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This is a tricky question, and it mostly depend on what your employer might think. Here are a couple of (personal) thoughts.

First, as long as your work gets done and delivered on schedule, you can keep leaving on time.

Then, I don't know what's your work, but I also tend to leave around the time I signed, and usually leave the office when the task I was doing is complete and done. If you leave exactly on time, you might break your train of thoughts, and it will be harder to get back into it the next morning.

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"First, as long as your work gets done and delivered on schedule, you can keep leaving on time." - as long as the schedule is realistic. –  Den Jun 6 '12 at 11:23
    
@Den - Actually sometimes we are called upon to go beyond the norm. Schedules can not always be realistic. That does not mean it is ok to ignore the schedule because you have to put in a little extra time. –  Chad Jun 28 '12 at 18:48
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I would count yourself lucky that the hours that you are being paid for are greater than the hours that you are working.

I find it suspect that the company truly contracts you to work 9 to 5 and gives you time to also complete an hour lunch within that paid time. Leaving on time seems prudent, but bear in mind that your boss is more than aware that you are at the job 40 hours a week, doing 35 hours of work, yet getting paid for all 40.

When he looks at your coworkers who presumably are contracted for the same time but arrive earlier/leave later he probably sees people who are putting in at least the work hours that they are being paid for, not someone who is doing the bare minimum.

Just think of pieces of flair:

If you think the bare minimum is enough, then ok. But some people choose to wear more and we encourage that, ok?

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That is the norm for UK jobs normally quoted as X hours a week and Y for lunch –  Neuro Dec 13 '12 at 18:32
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It really depends on the corporate culture. Some organizations place a very high value on the time someone arrives, others on the time someone leaves, some on both and others don't care as long as work gets done and customers are served. One company I interviewed at required everyone, unless otherwise excused, to be on site at 7:30 AM every day. Another didn't have any attendance requirements although it was tacitly expected that certain personnel would work well into the evening at certain times.

If you're working as an hourly contractor (through an agency and not on a corp-to-corp basis), you should arrive and leave at specified times and stay the amount of time the client and you (and your agency) agreed upon, no more, no less, unless a change has been agreed upon beforehand. The same would apply if you're working hourly in a perm position. Generally, you'll have less flexibility than perm salaried employees.

So, it really depends on your particular situation how it will affect your career.

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I disagree about the fixed schedule for contractors. I've been freelancing for 30 years, and when I have had on-site contracts, either direct or through a broker, I have never had my start and leave times specified. Unless there is an early meeting (e.g. 9 am) scheduled, I generally come in later in the morning and and work until 6:30 or so, to avoid commute traffic each way. I use tsheets.com to make sure I am putting in 8 hours, not counting lunch. Any overtime has to be approved. –  tcrosley Jun 6 '12 at 14:43
    
@tcrosley - Independent freelancing (1099 or corp-to-corp) is different from working as a W2 contractor through an agency. Often the agency will want you keeping certain hours so that you look good to the client (aka maintain good visibility) and keep those commissions rolling in. Maybe this has to do with the agencies/brokers I've worked through and the places I've worked as a contractor though. –  jfrankcarr Jun 6 '12 at 14:51
    
good point, I've never worked as a W2 contractor so I'm not familiar with that culture. You may want to edit your answer to say "If you're working as a W2 hourly contractor" –  tcrosley Jun 6 '12 at 14:54
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That is a great question. The answer depends on several factors, the larger corporate culture, the state of the team, the state of the projects and your career goals.

There are many bad situations that can lead to negative impressions of your behavior. I think you should rule those out in your thinking. This would include any corporate culture that is intentionally trying to take unfair advantage of their employees. I would discount these factors for two reasons, if they are true you don't really want to work there and if you respond as if they are true you can sometimes create an issue where there wasn't one. So first, give your employer and your coworkers the benefit of the doubt and choose to view their attitudes and actions in the best possible light.

Very broadly I would think of your job as either being service or production, actually it is helpful to think of it in both ways.

As a service, you can break your question down into the needs of your customers. If you really are meeting the needs of your customers then it doesn't matter what hours you keep. If you can meet customer needs working odd hours or regimented hours it is fine. If your customers start to complain, I would revisit your strategy and look for why. More hours is not necessarily the answer. You might need to look for more help; stop doing something that is not actually serving your customer's needs; or start doing something that your customers are asking for but you didn't think was part of your job description.

As production, you should focus on the tasks that need to be done and commit to meeting project milestones. If your team is not setting project milestones you should set your own and start measuring your own productivity against the project goals. You need to make sure that the tasks you are doing tie in to the needs of your team and company and then focus on your work in "task chunks" instead of "time chunks." This shift from "time chunks" to "task chunks" is what I mean by task-oriented, which is often a bullet point on job postings. I think it is generally accepted in the software industry that being task oriented is a good thing. Note that there is nothing in this description of being task oriented that necessarily means you will work more hours, but there is the implication that you are committed to getting the task done no matter how long it takes when things don't go as you planned.

Generally, I promote people when they are already doing the next job level. My expectation is that as people move through the job grades they will need to do more than 40 hours to meet the expectations of a role they were just promoted to and that they can do less than 40 hours to meet the expectations of a role that they have been in for a while. There is not a one to one correlation in time you put in to increase in your capability, but improving yourself is what you are supposed to use the extra time for when you have mastered your current role. Often people will do more than 40 when they see the opportunities they have to advance, but this is their choice and it is based on their career goals. Your manager should be able to talk to you about your performance in terms of your current role and the next role up. From these conversations you can begin to form your own strategy for how to use your time to start reaching into the next role.

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