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For some years now, I've been working for a company that quickly growed up. We started from being ~10 people to ~70 people now, in three years. As it was a new company, I worked very hard during those years working approximately 10-11 hours a day (while in my country, the average duration of a working day is 7 hours).

Now, the company is well established and there is less pressure than before on finishing the projects as soon as possible.

However, when I want to leave earlier (6-7. pm instead of 7-8. pm), my boss/colleagues keep telling me that I won't be able to do my job properly if I leave "that" early. Just to note that all the projects I'm working on are ready on time, and I never had a problem with anything I've done so far in this company.

Am I now mismatched with my company's culture, even if the "job's done" ?

More generally, is there a true reason to work more just to be physically present at the company ?

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No, it's not unprofessional to work standard work hours. But your company's management may not see it that way, and thus it's up to you if you want to yield to their perception of what 'normal' is or whether you want to go work somewhere else. That is a personal choice that no one can make for you. There is a number of factors at work in your situation that I suggest you consider as you make that choice.

Growing company

In my experience start-ups tend to work hard/play hard. They work long hours and then throw expensive Christmas parties, or take their employees out to expensive dinners. Large companies, on the other hand, tend to work more standard 7.5-8 hour days, and look for across the board cost cutting strategies. The reason is that the latter pace is more sustainable in the long term. While startups work to get some market share at all costs, large companies think more about business continuity. As your small company grows, it will likely adopt this behaviour as well, but this doesn't happen overnight - it will change as new people come on-board and management will face new/different challenges. You may be mis-matched with your company culture now, but perhaps this will change in 6 months?

Hours worked and professionalism

These things are orthogonal. I've known people who killed themselves with 16 hour days but were still a very long throw away from being good 'professionals', while others who come in at 9 to leave at 5 did great work and made great long-term contributions to the company. If you want to make sure that you are being 'professional' then you should focus on how you are working, rather than for how long. Make sure your contributions and your attitude is worthy. Ultimately this feeds back into having good key performance indicators (KPI) such as bugs closed, issues resolved, features implemented, etc. Hours worked mean nothing, what matters is amount of work done. If someone ever challenges your contributions, you need to be able to speak about your KPIs, and ask them which one it is that they would like to improve. Perhaps challenging their idea of 'working hard' is easy based on the above, or it might just go over their heads.

Company Culture

Despite all the research and articles demonstrating to the contrary, a lot of managers think that working teams for long hours is a good idea. If this is the widely accepted norm in your company, you may not be able to change it. But keep in mind, this doesn't mean that there is something amiss with you, your level of dedication, or your professionalism. Some companies are just 'broken' (11 hour days as 'standard' rather than exception is a symptom of broken processes). If this is the case for you, you face a choice: accept it, challenge it, or leave. It's a personal choice, no one can make it for you. This ultimately feeds into....

Market value

How much do you value your time, and how much does your company value your time? If you are 'professional' you should be in a better bargaining position. A lot of very intelligent and driven people end up having families and other interest in life. If a company ever wants to have these sort of people work for it, it needs to yield to their demands of normal work schedules. More importantly, in my experience, people like that are able to spot each other. If you look around other companies in your area, you might be able to find just the right group/people that you would prefer to work with, and these people will appreciate your contributions and will not discount your contributions for not staying long hours.

Whether you want to wait or fight for your company's culture change or not is a personal choice. But to answer your question: no, working standard 8 hour days is not unprofessional.

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Company culture like this can be a really tricky case. Particularly when the company is changing. Changing expectations can take a long time and may or may not be feasible.

A couple of thoughts:

From a Practical Perspective

In most cases, the general thought is that if your work is done then there should be no reason to work overtime. The bigger question is what "overtime" may be. Is it the corporate culture standard of 10-12 hours? or the local standard of 7 hours? Hard to say, and you don't want to create a bad perception.

There is, however, and unspoken element about working on teams - if you are part of a team, you're expected to be somewhat available to team members. That's why leaving early frequently, even when you are ahead at your assignments, isn't a preferred idea from the boss' perspective. In a rapidly growing company, this can be especially true if you are one of the longer term employees - they aren't just counting on you for accomplishing work, they are counting on your knowledge of the company and it's products or services.

That doesn't mean that you are obligated to continue to work 10-12 hours indefinitely - the ideal situation would be for you to help everyone on your team work efficiently enough that no one needs to work 10-12 hours. Making sure that documentation is written, that processes are clear and that new folks are well trained can help a great deal with this.

The Political Perspective

With that said... there IS a political perspective and it varies widely from culture to culture. Some management will feel that if you aren't visible and in the office, you aren't working as hard as everyone else. Some may feel that if you can finish your work in 7 hours a day, while others finish in 11 hours, that you are underutilized and should be assigned more work. Some management won't care and will focus on exactly what you did and have no problem with you leaving early.

In general, there's a political liability to being the 1 person in a team who's working 3-5 hours less a day than everyone else. Working 9 hours when everyone else is working 10-11 probably isn't as big a deal... particularly if you are working hours that are highly visible. This is more true for groups of people who are doing the same job, and less true for people who have specialized skills. For example, most engineering groups with a tech writer aren't surprised when the tech writer leaves early, particularly since it's well known that the writer's high-effort phase will occur slightly AFTER the engineering high-effort phase in most environments.

Making Change

You may be able to change the practical stuff - it's a matter of making sure that work and team communication are both handled well.

But the politics can be hard to change. When it changes, it's generally slow, and you have to be aware of any unspoken concerns that are rising within the group.

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Is it unprofessional to leave earlier in the evening?

If there is an expectation that you should be at work for a certain length of time or during a certain time period, then it would be unprofessional to leave early without approval.

(This isn't to say that the situation is fair or even tolerable. If it is not, that could be addressed in another question. However, it is unprofessional to leave early when you have been told by your boss that you should be there.)

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