I work at an office where everyone (I literally mean everyone), from senior management to the new intern, leaves work early on Fridays.

I asked a peer about this and was told, "No one cares. You can leave whenever, just don't broadcast that you leave early." This put me on edge because hiding things usually means it is taboo. This is what people do though; they leave early, but rarely mention it.

Our office is practically empty by 2 to 3 PM and only me by 4 pm on Fridays. Some people did come in at 6 AM and worked their full hours, but many came in at 8 or 9 AM and leave 2-3 hours early.

Because of my gut feeling, I don't leave early, but I feel it is starting to alienate me from my peers who do leave early.

How should I approach this issue?
Is it more appropriate to work the exact 40 hours or go with the relaxed culture?

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    You didn't say what line of work you're in, but one thing you could add: if you do stay at work while everyone else slips out, do you have useful things you can get done? Or will you be twiddling your thumbs if your coworkers aren't around? – Carson63000 Jun 15 '13 at 1:16
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    If in doubt just do as your contract says. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jun 17 '13 at 10:07
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    How is it causing alienation from your peers? How do they know that you aren't leaving early if they've already gone? – ChrisF Jun 17 '13 at 11:16
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    In general, the flip side to there being an "unwritten" policy that its OK to leave early on Friday is that you're expected to stay late on occasion if there's a critical project. It is a kind of reciprocation that is common in places where the employees are not expected to be clock-watchers. – Angelo Jun 17 '13 at 13:21
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    @BalogPal No check in/out system. We do time sheets biweekly and put hours based on the "honor system". It is more in the lines of "don't brag about this feature" – CaptainFlint Jun 20 '13 at 23:16
up vote 37 down vote accepted

Guidelines

This is mostly a set of guidelines. There's no one right answer. Sounds like this has become an informal trend, and it's something to be aware of. Personally, I've never seen that either bucking the system (staying) or following the norm had a huge impact on my work, as long as I stuck to these ideas.

Don't advertise.

Is a common term you'll hear on this stuff. In general, management doesn't want to change the rule, probably because they want it to be an option that if things are getting done, they can ask people to stick to the regular hours. Generally "don't advertise" does not mean lying. If someone asks point blank, answer truthfully. But don't start the day saying "wohoo! I'm so glad to be leaving early!!"

It also means "don't count on it" - if you arranged trip tickets assuming an early exodus and then have to stay late, this isn't an official policy, it's a courtesy - so don't presume it'll always be true.

Contract vs. Permanent

If you are a contractor, this become hairier. I'd advise talking explicity with your boss if this is the case - lying about your hours is not OK, so either work the full day, or claim fewer hours.

If you are a regular employee, you have a bit more flexibility, and may be able to run with the herd on this.

Make sure the work gets done

This is the bottom line for just about anything. Don't leave early if your work is not hitting it's deadlines. Even if you have a whole-team problem, put in the effort. Whether or not other people realize it, not hitting a deadline is a problem and sooner or later, the fact that folks are leaving early will come up.

The work getting done may or may not also include coverage of a time slot. It sounds like no one in your office is manning something that has to stay running - but in these situations, someone is on the hook to keep it running, and you don't want to be the guy that bailed when it was your turn to watch over it.

How flexible are the hours?

It sounds like some people come in early, and if the hours are flexible, others may be staying late other days or working through lunch to get the full minimum hours in. This is pretty variable, but it's an option in some offices. The trick is, you don't want to be the guy short on hours, if everyone is really putting in 40 hours, but in a flexible way...

When do the bosses leave?

In cases where I've seen an approved but unofficial exodus, the bosses make it a point to be the first to leave. It sets the tone. In formal offices, I've seen the descending echelon - Big Boss leaves at 2:00, his subordinate leaves at 2:30, mid level managers at 3:00 and so forth... But even so, pay attention to when your boss leaves. If the whole office is dark, and it's just you and him, ask him if he needs anything and then head out if it's a "no", but otherwise, don't be on the early side.

Alienation

I often find that people feel more alienated than they actually are. If you're a good team player most of the time, then I'm going to bet that your tendancy to leave late is not something anyone is going to mind.

But - be aware if folks are making plans to grab a drink or play a game after leaving early - you are more likely to be on the outs from not participating in a social function than you are from staying to get work done.

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    This helped the most. Thank you. – CaptainFlint Jun 22 '13 at 0:16

If it is indeed alienating your peers, then it's probably going to negatively impact your work and productivity.

And "don't broadcast it" isn't the same thing as hide it. I would suggest that what was meant was more "don't make a big deal about it, and don't abuse it" rather than "just make sure no one sees you leave".

Just a guess of course, but given your description of the culture, it sounds like "don't broadcast it" probably means something like "don't say you are leaving at 2 on Friday on Monday".

If this is indeed the culture that management wants, then they probably perceive it as being relaxed and casual -- on Fridays, you work until you get to a good stopping point and then take off, not that the work week is 36 hours.

As for your actual question -- I suggest that you don't do things that make you uncomfortable. That isn't meant to say go along. You have to decide which is worse, going along or alienating your co-workers. Best solution is to somehow resolve the issue -- either you becoming comfortable with going along, or helping your co-workers become comfortable with you not going along.

Executive Summary

All communities (including workplaces) have a set of official rules, and a set of unofficial ones.

Following the unofficial rules (without asking permission first) is usually the safer approach, so long as you use common sense and don't abuse the (unspoken) system.

Check your contract

What does your contract say? Is there a set number of hours per week? A set number of hours per day? Fixed working hours? The first thing to do is to check to see what you are contractually obligated to do. Screw your 'gut', check your contract to see what you are obligated to do under the terms of your employment.

Apply Common Sense

So let's say your contract says your working hours are from 9am-5pm, Monday through Friday (excluding paid leave and company holidays), with a one-hour (paid) lunch break. Does this mean that everyone follows them? In reality, some people may honor the spirit (8 hours a day), but muck around with the starting and quitting time (7am-3pm, or 11am-7pm, etc.). Others may honor the spirit of the 40-hour workweek, and work 8-5, 8-5, 8-5, 8-5, 9-1pm. They are in violation of their contract, but they are within the bounds of reasonable behavior.

Make a Decision

So you've determined what your contract says (de jure), and you've figured out what people actually do (de facto), now it's time to decide what the best approach for you is.

Don't ask your boss

If you ask your employer if this is okay, they will likely say "No", because tacit approval (by not enforcing the contract) is much easier than explicit approval (by actually giving you permission to ignore your contracted conditions).

After all, chances are the boss doesn't have the authority to alter your working contract, while he is able to ignore what you actually do at his discretion. If something were to go wrong (for instance, you started working from 10am-2pm every day), he would get in trouble because he authorized one exception.

The old adage says:

It is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission

Don't give a reason to need to apologize

If you decide to leave early, be sure to use common sense. While the employer may be flexible on working hours, it probably comes with a tradeoff in the sense that the employer expects you to be as flexible as they are when needed. If you're planning to leave at 2pm but have a deadline that day and haven't done your work, don't leave. If you are working on a big project that you need to do something for before it can proceed, work until you finish even if it means more than 8 hours in a day.

When in Rome...

Make sure that what you do is in line with what a majority of your coworkers do. Just because there's one guy who comes in at 11am each day and leaves at 7pm doesn't mean you should do it. He may have had a special discussion with his boss, or otherwise be an exception. If a good portion of your coworkers occasionally take 2 hour lunches, that is probably okay to do (occasionally). So if they all leave at 2-3pm on Friday, no harm in following suit, but I'd avoid doing it on a Tuesday.

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    I wouldn't ask the boss in writing, because he won't want a paper trail, but an oblique verbal question would be fine: "Is there anything else you need me to finish today?" – jpatokal Dec 10 '16 at 23:46

One area where this will not work is government contracting. They consider it fraud if you claim hours on your time card that you didn't work. I have even see it taken so far that they would bill only 8 hours a day max no mater how many hours extra hours you worked that day, so that you still had to do 8 on Friday.

If you are on overhead, or on a contract that doesn't bill the hours directly, then there are fewer fraud concerns.

Keep in mind the statement to not broadcast it might be because their supervisors are unaware of the practice. Or they have been caught in the past, and are trying to get avoid getting caught again.

  • "everyone (I literally mean everyone), from senior management to the new intern". Sounds like the supers are doing this too. – acolyte Jun 17 '13 at 13:04
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    @acolyte - Everyone has a boss... And when the poop hits the fan it tends to roll down hill and gain steam in my experience. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 17 '13 at 13:15
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    Uh yeah. We just had a whistleblower incident where the contractors would get called in, do the work, and claim they worked 8 hours. Pretty much everyone did it, and management knew about it. It started out with just a couple getting in trouble, but one guy pointed out the entire culture. Now they're all in big trouble: losing jobs, having to pay money back, charges filed. The guy pointing it out wanted a rewared, but since he was part of it, they said no. – thursdaysgeek Jun 17 '13 at 22:56

There's one thing I'd like to add to the answers already given.

Does this company have more offices?
In that case "just don't broadcast that you leave early" sounds like a we-don't-want-the-others-to-know conspiracy, i.e. you're probably collectively going against what's expected from you.

First if you are paid by the hour and claim 40 hours while only working 38 hours that can be theft by deception. If you are salary but report the number of hours you work, and falsely report working a full 8 hours on a day you consistently leave 2 hours early then you could be committing fraud, which can also end in criminal charges. In most places, the company can fire you for it, and it could end up with criminal charges against you. If most of your company is indeed doing it, the chances are unlikely, but I would hate to be the person that gets caught and they decide to make an example of.

I have worked at places where some people would work 8.5 hour days Monday through Thursday and then only 6 hours on Friday. This allows you to leave early Friday, while still working a full 40 hours.

I feel it is starting to alienate me from my peers who do leave early.

I suspect the thing that is alienating them is that you are asking questions, rather than your not participating. If they are breaking the rules and you are pointing it out by asking questions then you are potentially causing them to get in trouble or for management to decide that it is time to crack down on the practice. There is a possibility that neither will ever happen, but the fear of the possibility keeps the staff from talking openly about it.

If you choose to keep working your full week and not say anything about the rest of the staff taking off early then I suspect you will have no problems. If you would like to leave early but still work your 40 hour week then I suggest working over a few days or every other day. At least this way you know you are giving the company the work they are paying you for.

As from my experience, I will tell you that it depends on the situation. If you have any useful work, then complete that and leave the office. Otherwise you can leave after your lead leaves the office.

If your lead has any problems with you, then don't leave the office early.

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    I think this is basically a decent answer but it fails to explain why it is acceptable to act in this manner. Answers that explain why are more useful to future visitors who have a similar situation so that they can judge if their situation meets the criteria. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 17 '13 at 13:13

You should do what you've been hired to do.

  • If you were hired to work 40 hours a week and get paid for 40 hours a week then you should work 40 hours a week.
  • If you were hired to work 40 hours a week and work less than that then in my humble opinion, you are essentially stealing from your employer.

Check your moral compass and see what you find out. Be of good moral and ethical character and do what you know is right and who cares what anyone else is doing.

It's too bad that there are so many people in the work place that don't do the right thing unless their higher ups are watching. I believe in working the hours you are paid to work and nothing less. Sounds like you believe the same or at least similar.

  • this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape? – gnat Dec 11 '16 at 0:40

protected by Jane S Dec 11 '16 at 9:25

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