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I have a programming job and my supervisor is quite pleased with my work. I do my work, come on time and am very professional with my supervisor. We have flex hours (a concept which I don't completely understand) but every day I work from 9-5.

I have a lot of mental health problems and for that I see a psychiatrist, therapist and have group therapy. All these appointments are booked mostly at 6 which is the last hour they are available.

My supervisor often comes to me at like 4:45 and asks me to do a task which would take 15-30 minutes. My appointments are usually in a place which is 30-40 minutes away by bus, not including walking time to the bus stop which is usually 20 minutes. I do not own a car and take the bus.

I don't know how to express the fact that sometimes I have to leave a little early (like 5 minutes) or right on time. I'm afraid my mental health problem might be a red flag and deem me an incompetent worker.

Is there any way that I can convey my need to leave on time without telling him about my mental health problems?

  • Are they tasks that need to be done NOW or is saying "sure, I'll get on that first thing in the morning" an answer? – Erik Feb 26 '18 at 20:23
  • @Erik They are mostly time sensitive tasks that need immediate attention. – PythON Feb 26 '18 at 20:25
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    Flex hours should mean you can adjust your schedule. If you have three regular appointments every week, for example, maybe you can arrange to come in and leave early on those days. – sirjonsnow Feb 26 '18 at 21:33
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    Do you have a co worker with your skill set that you know that can back you up? – Isaiah3015 Feb 26 '18 at 22:56
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    Do you have an Outlook calendar that your colleagues can use to schedule meetings ? If so, it's totally right to use it to put an "Out of Office" appointment at 5PM the days where you have a therapy session. Then if your boss asks you something, tell him that you'll leave at 5 and it's written on your calendar. He'll learn to look at it from time to time. I also have a flex hours concept and that's how everyone at my job does in this kind of situation (including the managers themselves). – Tim Feb 27 '18 at 6:50
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There's a very simple way of conveying that you have an appointment:

Hey boss, I often have appointments scheduled for 6 PM. It takes me about an hour to get to them, and so I'd really like to take advantage of our flex time policy to come in 10 minutes early, and leave at around 4:50, such that I make it on time. Could we talk about it?

If you don't want to reveal to your boss exactly where it is you're going, you don't have to. It may be easier to make something up than simply refuse to answer, but I'll leave that decision up to you.

The point here is that your boss will not know you've got to be somewhere if you don't tell him.

Similarly, on days when your supervisor approaches you and asks you to perform a last minute task tell him you can't:

Sorry boss, but I have to take off in 15 minutes in order to make it to my appointment. It would take me at least 30 minutes to get X done. I can do it first thing in the morning though!

There's nothing wrong with pushing back against your supervisor's requests. I do it with my boss all the time when I know I have a good point to make, or have a personal reason why I can't proceed with the task right away.

Andrei, can you take care of task X? Sorry boss, I'm in the middle of task Y, then I'm taking off to the dentist's. Can it wait until tomorrow morning?

Boom, done.

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    @Morons "the op is basically saying he can never stay late": yes, and there's nothing wrong with that, especially if OP can use flex hours to come in a little early and leave a little early every day. – Dan C Feb 27 '18 at 2:44
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    @Morons "which is the last hour they are available." OP can't do 7. – JAB Feb 27 '18 at 3:04
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    I agree with this answer and that it shouldn't matter what this appointment is. I have recreational activities at fixed times after work hours a couple of days a week. As these are regular, I schedule these into my work week and work knows that I leave dead-on 5pm on those days. If anything, I would say it's quite unreasonable for a supervisor to approach you at the end of a shift in which you have notified them you need to leave on time and expect you to stay behind to complete a request. – DoctorPenguin Feb 27 '18 at 9:43
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    @Morons: If (as I was), you are responsible for picking your child up from day care. then the appointment is daily, and is absolutely immovable without prior warning. I never had a problem with this. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Feb 27 '18 at 11:16
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    "There's nothing wrong with pushing back against your supervisor's requests" In fact, not ever doing this is a really bad way to work. I don't consider peeps for promotion unless they're willing to meet me half way. I can't work with what I don't hear about. A respectful but constructive approach to talking to authority is really important in a hierarchy. – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 27 '18 at 12:59
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Is there any way that I can convey my need to leave on time without telling him about my mental health problems?

I think that the wisest course of action is to inform your supervisor about your appointment when your shift starts. This way he will be aware of these appointments and take it into consideration before asking you to do some tasks near the shift's end.

If these appointments are periodical, I suggest you do the same, but explain to him about this periodicity so this doesn't repeat in future occasions.

Another option you can consider is seeing if you can start your shift earlier (say 8-4), so you have decent time for any unexpected task that may arise and still be able to commute to your appointment on time.

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    At my company, we have daily "stand-up" meetings in the morning where our team gets together and briefly summarizes what we'll be working on for the day. This is a great opportunity to let the team know when your schedule is different than normal so they can plan accordingly. – Mage Xy Feb 26 '18 at 21:20
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    Indeed, by design that meeting is when you are supposed to be revealing such constraints! If they're not coming up during standups then there is something wrong with the process implementation. – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 27 '18 at 13:00
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    My schedule runs earlier than most of my team (7-3:30). I remind people of this in our morning stand-up if it's a day I really need to leave on time, but they often forget by the afternoon. So I also usually post in our team Skype thread an hour before I need to leave asking if anyone has anything they need me to wrap up that day. That gives me some time to take care of any last-minute tasks, but also sets the expectation of when I will leave. – QuoteRadar Feb 27 '18 at 13:42
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There are good answers already. What works for you depends a little on your companies culture. I have an appointment that requires me to leave at 16:00 every Thursday (pick my kid up at day-care), and frequent random events that require me to leave the office early. We also have flex time, so I book these appointments as soon as I know about them in my office-calendar as "private appointments" with the status "out-of-the-office".

If someone comes in I tell them sorry I have a previously scheduled commitment and will take care of it as soon as I can. There has to be a real fire somewhere for this to cause any comment.

This following is a personal note, but I did want to comment on your getting psychiatric help: I did go to psychiatric counseling for a couple of years at one point. It took me a while, but I'm very forthcoming about it now. Frankly I can point to several colleagues who would be better colleagues if they too would get some help, and I can think of at least two former colleagues who might be current colleagues had they done so.

Unless you are being required to do so by law, getting help speaks to your self-awareness, and initiative. It is your prerogative to keep that information personal, but in my opinion you deserve a workplace that is wise enough to see the merits in your actions, and compassionate enough to provide you support and encouragement.

Good luck.

  • In some countries/cultures there is still a taboo around mental health – mkorman Mar 1 '18 at 9:45
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As you are a programmer have you considered the option of working from home?

You will still need to tell your boss that you have a regular doctors appointment, though you don't have to go into specifics ("It's personal, I'd rather not talk about it.")

If you can work from home then these requests can also be answered with "I've got an appointment today, I'll pick that up at home later."

I will warn you though that remote working is a double edge sword. Yes you save the travel to work and it has convenient hours etc, but often managers don't see it as "real" work (you're at home so it doesn't really count). It is real work make sure you maintain a good work life balance!

  • Are you suggesting they does the work after the appointment, from home? Or that they work from home all the time? – Erik Feb 27 '18 at 10:07
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    For this specific case I'm suggesting OP then has the option to do the work later that evening, You could also work from home on the days where there was an appointment (maybe just half day). If the appointment was closer to their house then this would save time. Also you're less likely to be asked to do these extra last minute jobs, "out of sight, out of mind" – Martin Feb 27 '18 at 10:19
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    Working remotely isn't always the benefit I thought it would be. Children and non-working wives don't quite understand the concept. "Daddy's here, he can play with us." "Sweetie, can you help me fold these clothes?" :-) – WGroleau Feb 27 '18 at 12:52
  • Also, working from home doesn't automatically mean you can work (or not work) whenever you like. Unless the appointment is substantially closer to home than to work, I don't see how this actually solves the problem. If the notion was that working from home automatically imbues you with flex time, well the OP has flex time anyway so that's moot. – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 27 '18 at 13:02
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: I think the idea is that if the thing the boss wants done needs to be done asap then rather than waiting for the morning the OP can do it from home that evening instead. Its not about working home as a solution to leaving on time, its about working from home as a solution to work that needs doing urgently. – Chris Feb 27 '18 at 13:37
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As this is something that occurs regularly you should be proactive and deal with it in advance, so go see your boss.

Tell your boss that some days during a week you'd have to leave on time other days you are ok with having to stay a little late if something has come up. Then ask your boss if it would help if you monday morning sent an email with the days that week you'd have to leave on time.

Then your boss will know if it is possible for you to stay a little longer on any given day and can take that into consideration.

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    On balance this may be a viable solution, but I admit I have mixed thoughts about the precedent you're setting. Having to send out an email on Monday morning advertising the days on which you have to leave on time? You should have to leave on time by default. The boss should be giving you advance notice of required overtime, not the other way around. If there is a last-minute request and you can't do it, you can't do it, and you should simply say so. – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 27 '18 at 13:05
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One answer I didn't see that depends on company culture is to add those appointments into your calendar. If your company uses the calendars well, it enables your supervisor to see that you are blocked. You can simply write "private appointment". Include the travel time, so block from 5.

The main with this and the other answers is to communicate clearly. If your boss is not surprised by you leaving at time X, he should have no reason to complain.

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Other kinds of solutions exist, that might help here and which I did not see yet in the other answers (though 2 is mentioned in a comment):

1. Accepting the task, and indicating he will have it tomorrow morning.

Though perhaps it may be common for you to pick up things right away, it is not mentioned that the task really has to happen now. Something like this could simply be enough:

I won't be able to make it today, should I do it first thing in the morning?

Note that if his common response is to push you to do it today, you may need to play with the wording untill he does not have the urge. An example:

I have to leave for an appointment in a few minutes.

This does not directly give away that you will do it first thing tomorrow, so perhaps it helps because he then 'achieves' something as manager when he at least convinces you to pick it up when you come in.

2. Building some slack into your schedule

Surely it can be morally defended that you should never be required to do overtime, but in practice it can be very nice if you are able to show that you do want to be flexible, and help people out when they really need it.

The solution may be very easy:

Instead of setting your normal workday end at 17:00, set it at 16:30.

It may sound silly at first glance, but this allows you to pick up urgent last minute requests if they would occur. Once the manager sees your regular time to leave is 16:30, he will normally understand that a request that forces you to stay in till 17:00 may be honored, but that a request that forces you to stay in till 17:30 is really a big thing.

Of course this would mean you need to start working a bit earlier (perhaps not if you worked overtime the day before), and sometimes have 'downtime' between end of work and your appointments, but I think this is the best way if you want to introduce flexibility. (Of course moving your appointments backwards has the same effect).

3. Find a way to balance the scales

If I read correctly you working late in your specific situation could be balanced out by you getting a taxi instead of a bus. I would not mention this directly to your boss, but consider discussing with a mentor first whether it would be reasonable to say:

In order to make it to my appointment, picking up that task would require me to get a cab

Before bringing this up make sure to consider how you feel about who should be paying for the cab in that scenario. In some companies getting money for a cab can be normal, in others it can be unthinkable.

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