Our team of 5 (including supervisor) were asked by higher management to stay late after work to carry out a task that isn't part of our normal duties, but was necessary for the company as a whole due to the actual team responsible having got behind for some reason and left work without completing it - it was needed for the next day.

Say there were 100 "things" (each of an equal level of difficulty) to be processed as part of this task e.g. forms to be entered on to an electronic system.

We split it into 5 * 20 things (as there were 5 people) so each of us were given a batch of 20 things to be entered. There was an implicit understanding that we would leave work once they were complete.

I set to work on my batch of 20 items and was finished in about 45 minutes. The others were taking much longer due to a combination of: 1. I seem to have a natural aptitude for data entry and they don't (I have done 'temp' jobs doing data entry through agencies before, although my current role doesn't have anything to do with data entry) and 2. I noticed that they were chatting, bantering and generally taking their time over this task.

So after completing my batch of 20 things I packed up my stuff and left. (There wasn't any "coordination" work that needed to be done after -- it was literally enter these things and then it's done).

The others were there for about an hour longer as I understand it.

Next day the supervisor had a word with me - he was "disappointed" and "dismayed" that I had just packed up my stuff and left, leaving the others to it. In his view I should have hung around and picked up some of their "still not done" items. (Remember we were each allocated the same number of items, of equal difficulty, but the others were just slower than I was).

My question is whether I was in the wrong, should I have hung around and taken some of the rest of the workload from the others so that we could all leave earlier? Was this a professional thing to do or were there other, better alternatives?

In some sense it's a fairly petty question since we are talking about a max of a couple of hours extra time (if in the extreme case the others refused to do anything and I had had to do all of it), but I feel it's the principle that's at stake. An equal amount of work (that wasn't even ours to complete!) being given to each person, I happened to complete it earlier so I didn't see any obligation to help out the others.

  • An equal amount of work may not be an accurate measure of the work to be completed. You say equal difficulty but that's seems unlikely for 100 tasks and 5 different people of likely varying skill levels.
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 20:37
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    @cdkMoose Yes, they were pretty much interchangeable. I'm not sure of the difference between 'equal amount of work' and 'equivalent' but yes, they were basically 100 sheets of paper with the same thing "enter Age into Age Field 1" "enter Delivery Zip Code into Zip Code Field 2" etc. Edited to add: yes, it would be a different amount of work for people of different skill levels (even if they were given the exact same information to enter!) - but my aptitude at doing data entry has no relevance to my skill level at our actual job.
    – user108419
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 20:40
  • But for this set of tasks, it is only your aptitude at doing data entry that matters.
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 21:02
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    Why did senior management not contact the other team before the end of day to get the work done? Why did management not call them back to get the work done?
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 6:30
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    For some strange reason, people don't see the amount of work you do but rather the time you spend at the office. If you are on your phone, or on stackexchange, etc., doesn't matter, as long as you are at your desk at least 8 hours each day. Even if you could put up a work sprint without any lazy intervals or chatting in the break room and do the same amount of work in 4 hours, people will not accept it... Sorry for the rant, but your question reminded me of what I don't like about todays work culture.
    – Dirk
    Commented Sep 2, 2019 at 13:11

8 Answers 8


There was an implicit understanding that we would leave work once they were complete.

Perhaps the problem was that this was an implicit understanding and not an explicit one.

You also mention, emphasis mine:

Our team [...] were asked by higher management to stay late after work to carry out a task that isn't part of our normal duties, but was necessary for the company [...] - it was needed for the next day.

So it seems that the whole 100 things that needed to be done were due for next day.

Again, I think that the problem was of communication. You seem to have assumed that if you finished those 20 tasks you could leave, but your coworkers seemed to have understood other thing (that the whole team was to leave when everything was finished).

I think that you were not in the wrong... but you weren't completely in the good also.

You state you "just left" when you finished your part, but perhaps a more professional and supportive action would have been to mention "hey guys, I finished my 20 things. I need to go because of [reasons], does anybody need some help before I leave?".

That way you are offering your help to your coworkers (who may not be as efficient as you) and in a way are also stating that you finished your tasks and desire to leave (which, is also fair given the tasks were divided).

In part I think your supervisor was right. Your whole team was responsible for delivering those 100 things; you doing "just your part" and leaving the others alone was not a "team player" move.

Next time, make sure that the understanding is explicit. Have it clarified if everybody should stay until all tasks are done, or if one can leave after finishing your chunk (or whatever implicit detail you see needs to be made explicit). This will avoid future communication issues.

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    @user108419 yes, that is why such things have to be made explicit, so there is no room for understanding or for things to change afterwards. Perhaps (speculation) your other coworkers complained of you finishing earlier and thus why your supervisor had second thoughts? Anyways, make sure to have it explicit next time :)
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 20:35
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    Since management have to get a different team to deal with work from another team, then the chance of it being clear is close to zero... @dan-klasson
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 6:33
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    @dan-klasson That and a dollar will buy you coffee. If management is unclear it's not the employee's fault, but it still behooves the employee to clarify if they aren't sure of something. Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 12:44
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    @SolarMike Doesn't change the fact it's their fault. The guy told the team he was leaving. No one stopped him. Unless they made it clear to everyone that no one is leaving until it's done, they are in no position to blame anyone but themselves. Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 16:55
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    @dan-klasson if someone rans over a person in front of you, it surely isn't your fault, but you will be considered ...not a nice person, if you just ignore the one lying on the floor and go away. If you're a team player, assigning guilt is the last of your concerns, fixing the problem the team has to deal with is the first priority. And then comes the part where you look how to prevent the problem in the first place, which also isn't about guilt and dodging personal responsibility btw. Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 12:47

I think you were not in the wrong to leave early. However, you should have communicated your decision to leave over an email/such to the supervisor, so that he is aware of what happens.

I noticed that they were chatting, bantering and generally taking their time over this task

As an individual, one may not feel comfortable spending over time due to the lack of focus of their peers. If it really is that important a task, all people need to focus on the task rather than whiling it away.

Right now, it looks like that the others take over 2X the time you take. Unless you have a marked pay difference from the other 4, or have a seniority attached to your role, all 5 of you were equal, so ideally you were/are under no obligation to work on extra tasks, or get things done.

[IMO] What seems to have happened here is that your leaving early has created a sense of inferiority/ ego hurt amongst the remaining 4+supervisor, who may have chosen to represent the situation as an incident of you leaving earlier than other rather than the others being less efficient than you.

So this seems to be a tactic at making you stay back longer by peer pressure. As such, you should stick your ground, make sure that you communicate politely why you chose to leave early. Focus on you doing the tasks and then leaving, rather than how quickly you did or others didn't. Next time onwards, make it a habit to proactively communicate things.

  • I'm less senior in the team (relative to our usual work) than most of the others, actually.
    – user108419
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 21:07
  • 'Tattling on colleagues via email is generally not a good move. This just makes it worse than the actual situation. An email could have been written which avoids this finger pointing.
    – kedavle
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 7:30

How were you compensated for the time?

Saying "I took this part, goodbye guys!" sounds unprofessional to me, and feels mostly like a badly run school project. Perhaps talk with your supervisor about making the implicit expectations about the workload more explicit.

Did your supervisor see how your colleagues did not work efficiently on the problem?

  • "Did your supervisor see how your colleagues did not work efficiently on the problem?" -- yes, the supervisor was 'one of equals' in this particular situation and particpated in the banter and chatting and other time wasting -- actually he doesn't really have any particular management skills at all but was just promoted due to favouritism with management, but that's another discussion. I suspect what happened is something like supervisor felt (wrongly IMO) that I should have picked up so he could get home earlier, so pulled rank and made it a 'performance' matter.
    – user108419
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 21:10
  • David K: I will keep that in mind.
    – Petter TB
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 13:19
  • user108419: Sounds like you are in a bad spot, with a supervisor that you don't work well with, overall. Sounds tough! Also sounds more and more like a badly run school project! This seems like a larger issue, than the "what should I have done" part of it. I would have talked with the supervisor before leaving, at least.
    – Petter TB
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 13:22

The answer depends on the aim of the question.

If you wonder if you were right ethically, yes, you were. You did your part, and had no obligation to do other people's work for them.

If you wonder how to make other people happy, do everybody's job without being paid for it and without complaining. Whether you want to do it, or whether it is good for you, now that's a whole different question.

If you ask what is good for you, it depends on your situation. In general, you should not accept to do other people's jobs, except if those other people also do your work from time to time, equally often and in equal amounts as you do theirs. If you start doing their work without any compensation, they will just let you do it more and more. In my experience, there will be no end to it - you will end up both picking up the slack for co-workers who are slow, and picking up the slack for managers who don't want to do their job and discipline those co-workers of yours, and they have easier time of it if they just let you do all the work.

You have to put a stop to it - either you flat out refuse to do their work, or they need to also do your work from time to time.

The problem is that there are companies that would fire people for such attitude, and if you cannot get another job, well, that would be a problem. So, first of all you need to analyze your situation.

If you can't get another job, then sometimes you have to do it - and in that case I recommend that you start working on getting another job, getting some education, moving to a place that sucks less.

If you can get another such job, then just tell them "no".

Also, another question is whether the company in return for asking such things will also allow you to come late or leave earlier when you need it. If they don't make a fuss about such things, well, then from time to time you can also do some extra work.

If, however, the company doesn't give you any slack when you need it, yet they ask you to work extra when they need it - well, then they either need to pay extra or to give you extra free time, or you should find another job.

  • 1
    The entire premise of the question was that this one group was doing the work for another group. There's a saying -- "The is no I in Team". Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 20:54
  • @JulieinAustin ...can't resist, "But there is a ME!" --Taylor Swift
    – mkennedy
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 21:36
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    @mkennedy - Yanno, I was going to launch into my Comedy Skit which includes, "... but there is a ME, and ME says, you're part of a Team, not an Individual." Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 21:40
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    @JulieinAustin management should have focused on the other team...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 7:32

You haven't been especially unreasonable but I think you did handle this, rather minor, issue incorrectly.

"I feel it's the principle that's at stake."

In a collaborative context there are exactly two reasons to rigidly enforce a personally held principle:

  1. The issue is systemic (and thus important in aggregate)
  2. The issue is high impact (and thus important as a single event)

Your problem (staying <1 hour later) is neither of those things. In the circumstances it is both reasonable and sensible to suffer a minor inconvenience for the sake of your colleagues. A little can go a long way, if you are generous then on the whole people will be generous back and it works out better for you in aggregate.

For the sake of example: If you need to get home to dependants or have a prior commitment then it would make sense to treat the event as high impact.

  • Interesting! I wouldn't say it is either "systemic" or "high impact" as such, but it still felt like an unjust situation where work is handed out on the stated fair basis (which I agreed with) of each person taking on an equal number of tasks (given that the tasks all take about the same amount of time) but then backtracking on it when I left early due to completing my tasks more efficiently -- especially as it wasn't only a case of actual 'aptitude' but also lack of work ethic on the part of the coworkers.Then I think the supervisor saw it as 'insubordination' or such.
    – user108419
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 21:04

If your team of five has hundred small tasks to do, then it is likely that some take longer, some take less time. Since you finished earliest, I'd guess that you were lucky to get tasks assigned that take less time. So even though you did 1 fifth of the tasks, you didn't do one fifth of the work.

Whether that is true or not, that is what your colleagues will think. You could have taken off some work from someone else, and everyone would have left a bit earlier. So yes, I can fully understand that you are being criticised.

And the bonus points that hopefully everyone has in their manager's good books will be vastly reduced for you. So this was a tactical mistake.

  • They really were 100 equivalent things and any small differences would have been averaged out over the whole workload. I just observed that I was physically much faster to enter them onto the system and also kept my head down with the work rather than stopping to chat, coffee, etc. Take my word for it that I wasn't "lucky" to get particular work items, they were just typical of all of them!
    – user108419
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 21:12

There was an implicit understanding that we would leave work once they were complete.

Notice the we? I think your manager is worried that you don't see yourself as part of his team. Also if there is overtime pay or other payouts for extraordinary work involved, it might become a hassle for your manager. He could lie and say you stayed as long as the others or he could say that you worked faster and meake himself and the rest of the team look bad.

In my opinion you din't do anything wrong. But you could have done something right by helping your team, bitching about the other team and completing the whole task with your team.

If you want to go in this situation it is always better to give a reason so a conversation like that occurs:

you: hey manager I need to leave in 30 minutes to feed the seven starving orphans I am taking care of.

manager: Are you done with your random asigned items?

you: yes sure. / Almost. I am finishing the last one in the next five minutes.

manager: Allright go help Steve for the next ten minutes and then you can go and walk your dogs. (Managers don't normally care for the reason you have to go, but it helps to have one)

  • I think you're right, I don't really see myself as part of this team. I work as part of a team in my normal work but I think partly it's due to being "other" comnpared to the rest of the team who are very much a clique (gender based, mostly -- the sole other woman who's part of the group is the love interest of one of the guys.. make of that what you will?!) and I'm perceived as the outsider. I know this objectively to be true from conversations with others outside this group.
    – user108419
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 21:14

Your team stayed to do work for another team. It should not have even been your problem. Last I checked we still have telephones and they could have called the other team whose job it was to do that work and get them to do it. L

Regardless it is sad that we still have some antiquated rituals with office jobs. I've run into this scenario before and to keep the peace I usually always keep a novel on hand or something fun I enjoy doing in the evenings available so that once I finish whatever it is I'm doing I can still put in the face time that everybody seems to love while I heat the seat waiting for dismissal from corporate prison.

  • The other team whose responsibility it should have been, had all left work at that point. There was no way of contacting them.
    – user108419
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 21:01
  • I guess I should start turning my phone off right when I leave work too. That way I can't be called back in to do work that was the responsibility of my team.
    – Lijo
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 12:36

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