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TL;DR:

My manager says I don't "show a sense of urgency" like the rest of the team because I am laid-back and typically leave right at 5. But I come in early and work through lunch and definitely 'work my hours.' Is he right that coming in early is not the same as staying late? Is this a view that I need to fight to change within my organization, or is it a common assumption in the working world in the US?


My manager just had a conversation with me that left me pretty confused. I asked him to clarify but he couldn't explain things to my satisfaction. The context of the conversation had to do with a lot of upcoming projects and how I've been taking on a leadership role for my team, and how I'm at a crossroads where I can take charge and pursue the leadership role starting with these projects, or I can opt to focus on being an engineer and working the job I'm accustomed to.

Of course I'm going with the former of those two choices because who doesn't want to push themselves, but the point was then made that while I get results with my work, I don't "show a sense of urgency" like the rest of the team because I am laid-back and typically leave right at 5. Allegedly if I am to become a good leader and inspire confidence in those I am leading, I need to show more enthusiasm and work ethic to set the standard for them to follow. My response to this was to point out that I in fact show up at least an hour early every day and typically work through lunch as well, putting in around 10 hours a day. I thought that would end the discussion right there, but apparently not. He seems to be under the impression that it's better to stay late than come in early, and working through your lunch break doesn't show the same dedication as taking a normal break and then staying an hour late.

I'd like to point out that working overtime is not a requirement, we're simply dealing with how people perceive my work ethic. I choose to come in early because I truly do have a lot of work to do, and I work through lunch so I don't feel bad about leaving right at 5 to spend as much of the evening as possible with my family. That argument only seemed to make my case worse in the manager's eyes because he said that in order to do my job effectively I'm going to end up having to sacrifice some family time once in a while.

By that point in the conversation I was thoroughly confused, so rather than argue it out over what was essentially a compliment ("You're doing well and I want to promote you"), I resolved to find an alternate solution or some validation of his points. Can someone please help me sort this out? Is he right that coming in early is not the same as staying late? Do I need to resign myself to the fact that my evenings are forfeit if I am to pursue a leadership role? (For the record, I've never been shy of staying late when it's necessary, I just try to stay ahead of the game so it doesn't end up being necessary very often.) Should I confront him about any of this, or just leave well enough alone?

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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*comments removed* Remember what comments are for. For extended discussions, Get a Room (a chat room). –  jmac Jul 8 at 3:20

12 Answers 12

The other answers are good but I wanted to add one more point.

If he's promoting you to a leadership role then that means that people more junior in the company than yourself will be looking to you for leadership and following your example.

If they arrive at 9 themselves then they do not know you have been there since 7, for all they know you got there 5 minutes before they did. What they do see though is you leaving at 5 while they are working late. Seeing you pack up your bag and leave the office is immediately making them start thinking of all the things they would rather be doing than working late...

From the sound of it the boss is happy with your own personal work ethic, however he is worried that the perception given to other people might damage theirs.

Yes signalling that you've been working from much earlier can help, for example sending out update emails each morning when you get into the office. However that is not always enough. I've seen this happen in reality: a team member negotiated with the team leader to work from 8:50 to 4:50 as it would make their travel arrangements easier. Unfortunately after a few weeks they were asked to move back to the usual hours as once they started packing up other people started doing it too. (Particularly in this case some people who had been coming in before 9 but then still leaving at 5 rather than leaving early).

The other thing to remember is that we're talking about emotions, feelings, perceptions here. They don't always respond to logic. Being told that someone is there from 7am doesn't change that feeling you get when they walk out the door and you are still working.

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*comments removed* Remember what comments are for. For extended discussions, Get a Room (a chat room). –  jmac Jul 8 at 3:21

I don't "show a sense of urgency" like the rest of the team because I am laid-back and typically leave right at 5.

If "laid-back" was a term actually used by your boss in this context, he is basically telling you that leaving "right at 5" isn't sending off the kind of signals he wants from his leaders.

Is he right that coming in early is not the same as staying late?

It's not really a matter of right or wrong here. Instead, it's a matter of opinion and perception.

Coming in early is often not noticed by others - particularly if you have a team of folks who tend to arrive late (after your arrival). Staying late may be easier for folks to see - thus sending them the signals that your boss might consider proper.

Your boss is the one who can promote you, so you need to convince him that you are doing the job he needs you to do. It almost never works to try to argue a perception based on the results of polling a community like The Workplace. Instead, you'll have to find a way to understand why he feels the way he does, and let that guide your actions.

Do I need to resign myself to the fact that my evenings are forfeit if I am to pursue a leadership role? (For the record, I've never been shy of staying late when it's necessary, I just try to stay ahead of the game so it doesn't end up being necessary very often.)

Earlier in my career, I did whatever I had to do in order to get ahead in my company. That involved working some evenings, and some weekends as well.

Later in my career, as I became more established and more trusted, I changed that. Since I'm an early riser anyway, I found that I can get the most done by:

  • being the first one in the office (I get in before 7:00)
  • working through almost all lunches
  • leaving at a reasonable hour most days (5:30 or so)
  • working late when needed (seldom these days, but it happens)
  • working at home at night and on weekends when needed

Basically, the job is demanding, but I have adjusted my schedule to work better for me and still work well for my employer.

You need to think about this in terms of your company, your profession, your career, and your family life. You may need to give up some evenings to get ahead in your particular situation (temporarily or even permanently), or you may not. Context is everything.

Should I confront him about any of this, or just leave well enough alone?

I'm not sure I'd use the word "confront" here. Instead, start with a "conversation". Talk to him and try to understand things from his point of view.

Perhaps he needs you to set some sort of example for others on the team to adjust their behavior. (Perhaps the people you lead aren't doing what he expects once you have left for the day. Perhaps you can explore ways to improve their behavior without sacrificing all of your evenings.) Perhaps he feels you are "watching the clock" when you "leave right at 5", and he would rather have you demonstrate expected behavior by working until you reach a logical break point.

Confrontation is unlikely to get you what you want. And avoidance is unlikely to help either. Talk to your manager instead. Then you can decide how to deal with the real issues.

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I would really like to know how long this manager has been in their current position.

From what I can glean, your manager is managing emotionally, not intellectually. He has a real resource problem, and he's doing what every newly-promoted manager does initially - try to get more productivity out of the resources he has. However, he doesn't know how to measure that productivity, so he equates hours worked with productivity (which while true in assembly-line work, more creative and thought-based work shows rapidly diminishing returns in overtime productivity). Also, he doesn't seem to see your data as data. What he needs to see is the same "panic" in you that he has (my supposition, admittedly, from your post).

There are two ways to play this (well, three if you count outright defiance).

  1. Give in. Stop coming in to work early, and start staying late. Get your "scared" face on, and try to mimic his panic.

  2. Train him. This is the harder one, but probably will be best long-term. Get him to realize your extra time. Send him status reports and requests for information (make sure they're valid requests) the very first thing when you arrive at work in the morning. Send your communications to your team next, CC'in him. Wait for him to go to lunch, then send him another round (admittedly a tiny bit passive-aggressive, so tread lightly). Make him "see" that you're working at these times. Send your team requests for their reports every evening just before you leave, and conclude with "I'd like to have these by 7 am so that I can take care of things when I get in," or something similar. CC your manager, of course.

Your manager is managing emotionally because he's (probably) scared. I would assume it's because of these big projects coming up. Then follow up with your manager regularly, explaining to him that you are trying to stretch the workday by showing up so early, getting the administrative work done before your team arrives so that you can spend as much time as possible with them.

The second option is best, but make no mistake: It is a lot of work. Getting emotional people to start working with their intellect instead of their feelings is no easy task.

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This is an issue of company culture. Your boss has told you that what the company values is people who will stay late to get a job done rather than coming in early. If this is what most people are doing (because culture promotes it), then there IS value for the employer in your doing the same thing since that puts everyone on the same schedule, which improves collaboration and teamwork (albeit possibly cutting down on quiet concentration time).

Culture is VERY difficult to change. It has to be instigated from a position of leadership and in my experience, it takes at least a couple of years to make a significant shift.

This leaves you with a few choices:

  • Accept a leadership role within the existing culture, with the possibility that down the line you might be able to influence it in a new direction (and with acceptance that you might not).
  • Continue with your current schedule and continue to plead for more flexibility in work schedules (not just for yourself but for your coworkers as well - demonstrate leadership!). You might be able to convince your boss. A plea for better work/life balance for employees would point out different work styles, different commute schedules, the positive effects of schedule choice on employee engagement, studies about the need for quiet vs the need for collaboration, examples of successful leaders in the wide world who work an earlier schedule, the correlation between work flexibility and retention, and examples of successful companies (competitors even?) that have shifted culture in this way.
  • Consider that you may have to change workplaces in order to get the kind of culture you want to work in.
  • Consider that pushing for more responsibility is not always all it's cracked up to be. Your boss is telling you that leadership at your company requires giving up more of yourself to the company. This is true in many places. Management/leadership is a very different job than "not management" - don't assume you will enjoy it. I have promoted people before only to have them hate it or just not grow into it.
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From what you say, I think a couple of points are clear:

  • your manager is not concerned about the simple number of hours of work you do

This is reasonable, and it's why your arguments about coming in early and working lunches are falling on deaf ears. What he wants from you, and the example he wants you to set, is something other than working a specific number of hours above contract.

  • your manager believes it sets a bad example (or anyway fails to set a good one) to leave at 5

Nothing you report specifically confirms this, but I suspect he considers the period immediately following 5 to be "core time", in which all team members should be available, at least sometimes. It's all very well putting in hours early, when hardly anyone else is there, but he wants you to be leading, and making yourself available, at a time of day he feels is important for teamwork.

To be a leader you need to do more than make time for your work, you need to support others when they are working. That doesn't mean you need to be there every minute they are, but your boss sounds concerned that there isn't enough overlap between your overtime and theirs.

Furthermore, if you're setting an example to people who come in to work at 9, then when you leave they will start thinking about leaving. They didn't see you arrive, so that time does not set an example. They may or may not have seen you work through lunch, but even if they did that might not set a good example either because not everybody is productive in 10-hour stretches with no break. Whether your team really needs a specific example of leaving work at a particular time in order to work responsibly, I really don't know, but it seems your boss thinks it does so you're stuck with that for the time being.

The crux of this is what he means by "once in a while". When talking about unpaid overtime some people say "once in a while" and mean "one or two days every few weeks, perhaps several days in a row a couple of times a year". Some people say "once in a while" and mean "any time I say so, at no notice, which will become increasingly common until it is essentially every day indefinitely". If you have the latter kind of boss, then you pretty much cannot gain his favour other than by meeting his expectations or somehow changing his view of what a full time job actually is. So this is where the answer to your question lies.

If your boss's view is completely out of line with your company culture then a reminder of written policy and/or a visit to HR to get their opinion of where you stand might be able to help you gently guide him towards (a) not considering it a bad thing that people leave at 5 when the work is done, and (b) finding other ways to use you as an example to others than just when you leave. Naturally, you need to be extremely cautious and diplomatic about this, because he won't enjoy his subordinates calling him out over it. However, if his view is the company's view then you're probably stuck with it.

Also:

  • your manager "seems" to feel that it's worse that you're trying to make preparations that prevent you needing to sacrifice family time, than if you were following this working pattern for other reasons.

This is possible worry, since it suggests that he believes the sacrifice of family time is in itself worthy. This might be a macho thing for him, much as some consider it more worthy to play through pain than it is to avoid injury in the first place.

However, you only said it "seemed" to make your case worse, not that it actually made your case worse. Maybe he misunderstood you, and thought that you mentioned your early hours as a justification why you would never need to stay late, when in fact you mentioned it merely as a description of how you avoid frequently needing to stay late. If so then it might be helpful for you to re-affirm to your manager your willingness to stay late when required, just bearing in mind that you will continue planning to avoid it being required.

To get promoted you need to handle this disparity between what you do, and what he thinks a leadership-material employee does. If his expectations are in line with what you're willing to do, and all that's happened is you've had a sticky meeting about it, then further discussion will resolve it. If his expectations are that potential leaders should be in work until 7pm and actively prefer not to see their kids, then you have an actual problem.

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*comments removed* Remember what comments are for. For extended discussions, Get a Room (a chat room). –  jmac Jul 9 at 4:29

I'm not sure if your manager doesn't get it, or if (s)he is just not expressing it well, but there is a an aspect of this that you do need to consider. Once you are a leader (team leader, manager, director, etc.), it is not about you any more, it is about your team. You may need to adjust your work style to match the needs of the organization and your entire team.

  • If you leave at 5:00 every day, what does that demonstrate about sticking through until the problem is solved?
  • If you have team members that start later and stay later, who is taking care of their managerial needs?
  • If other teams/departments are dependent on your team, who do they go to after 5:00?

The answers to these questions depends a lot on your organizational culture, but they are valid reasons to suggest that your working day as a manager has different expectations than as an individual contributor.

Do I need to resign myself to the fact that my evenings are forfeit if I am to pursue a leadership role?

You need to resign yourself to the fact that your job may go through significant changes (some good, some not so much) as you transition from contributor to leader.

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*comments removed* Remember what comments are for. For extended discussions, Get a Room (a chat room). –  jmac Jul 9 at 4:30

It's rising early rather than burning the midnight oil that says "itching to go". Cheerily showing up very early is a sign of enthusiasm while staying in very late is escapist -- since any worker with a worthwhile life outside of work should know when to call it a day; we can get more done in the first few hours of the day than we can ever do in the last many since human productivity lowers dramatically the longer we drudge on. Productive workers need downtime.

I've personally found that regardless of how much one hates sleep and loves their work, they won't progress on especially sticky problems any more dramatically at midnight when they're half asleep and their body is threatening to cut them off than at sunrise when fully recharged and switched on. Unless one stacks boxes for a living, they need to think of work not as a sprint but as a marathon for which they must pace themselves or burnout in the last mile.

A leader/manager who promptly shows up before anybody else, regardless of whether they leave as soon as the bell rings, is in a far superior position to properly synchronize their team, inspire discipline in them, build up their morale, and command their respect than one who drudges them into the ground because he's all too glad to have no life outside the workplace. One of the sought-after perks of rising up the career ladder is having more time for life outside of work without feeling guilty or explaining oneself.

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*comments removed* Remember what comments are for. For extended discussions, Get a Room (a chat room). –  jmac Jul 9 at 4:30

Your manager is focusing on the wrong thing, and you're making the same mistake. Instead of focusing on TIME, i.e. "You're here past 'normal' time, thus you must be working hard.", you should be focusing on what you DELIVER. I can come and sit in an office 200 hours a week and look busy, but if I'm not actually doing anything, what's the point?

Bring the focus of the conversation to the value you bring to the company. Talk about how you meet or beat every deadline. Talk about how your work compares to others. Talk about innovative ideas you've put in place. Talk about concrete results.

Remind your manager of what is actually important, not the game that people play with the clock.

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*comments removed* Remember what comments are for. For extended discussions, Get a Room (a chat room). –  jmac Jul 9 at 4:30
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If you sit 200 hours a week in a office, you have to be there 1.19 seconds every second! Quite impressive, if you ask me, no matter how much you accomplish! –  Josef Jul 9 at 13:53

I had a very similar issue with a new manager. He was upset that I was coming in early and leaving right at 5. I think this unfortunately is most likely a sign of a bad manager and a bad company culture. Whenever there is an environment where people do not feel that can put in normal working hours and have to stay late or skip lunch just to keep a manager happy will always suck the happiness out of a team. You guys will eventually get burned out. Your team will end up resenting you because you guys have unreal expectations (unless I'm missing something and working late and missing lunches is part of your contract). If you want to be a real leader for your team you need to go to his boss and address this situation with them, and ask if is what is expected, and explain to your managers boss how this kills morale and eventually productivity.

There is a great video on the subject titled Go the F#*k home https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBoS-svKdgs . I would encourage you to start looking for a new job.

It sounds like you are a great employee, and great employees with good work ethics are in high demand. Take it from someone that got burnt out and almost walked away from programming, FIND A BETTER JOB! Life is so much better when you don't have to deal with this kind of bullshit.

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*comments removed* Remember what comments are for. For extended discussions, Get a Room (a chat room). –  jmac Jul 9 at 4:31

Had much the same problem with a manager (and I wasn't in line for a management position myself).
I was always there at 7 (when the automated locks opened and the building was accessible to us), leaving usually around 4-4:30.
One day he calls me into his office complaining I always went home early, accused me of not "pulling my weight".
I got rather angry as he had no clue, he had no complaints about the work being done, ONLY about his misconception that I wasn't working enough hours.
Which he had no way of knowing, himself only ever arriving after 11. I confronted him with that, he apologised, and never heard of it again.
But it's common practice in companies for managers to arrive late and leave late, then expect their worker bees to already all be there when they arrive and still be there when the manager goes home.

If you'd always arrived late and left late, he'd probably have reprimanded you for being late all the time, never noticing the hours you put in after he goes home himself.

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**A few points one of which has been partially addressed-

A.** More importantly- the whole schedule question sidesteps quality vs. number of hours.

Contrast a crackerjack, highly experienced developer, semiretired who literally does more work in one 5 hour shift than the new hire does in two 8 hour shifts. (For simplicity, ignore salary considerations.)

Of course this is much harder to measure by a manager and less visible on a day to day basis by other coworkers.

The real goal is to promote quality work, ahead of schedule. As a leader could you develop some metrics for this?

B. Perhaps the hours after 5pm are because he wants you to be available to support other team members who are there after hours.

C. Is there a compromise option? Available by phone text & email until 7pm?

D. In the worst case scenario, consider a meeting with your manager & his boss. Obviously, diplomacy & tact become vitally important.

E. Even though in reality I practice your manager's style, I know your style/ hours are more effective, which I need to adopt over the long term. Quite frankly in this aspect, your style is more professional.

Finally, please let me know if this is helpful.

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Some more points to consider:

Many developers work late because it's more silent in the evening and they can work uninterrupted and get things done. Or coming in early for the same reason.

You can take the chance to backup your team and explain how they are all able to work unsupervised (if they are) and that if anything happens you are always available to them by skype/phone/whatever.

Your job is to remove obstacles they might have, that's seldom a thing of urgency but more of planning, and if you have a team that reports problems early, you can deal with it during your normal hours.

Also make clear that if there really was an urgent problem you would of course stay late, pull an allnighter, or whatever is neccessary to get things working, but that in the normal mode of operations you are more productive if you have your quality time after work. You are already giving up 10 hours of your life which you could spend with your family.

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These are more comments than an answer to the OP's issue –  Jan Doggen Jul 8 at 12:22

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