I am exempt salaried in the USA, working from home. My work hours are 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM with an hour lunch from noon to 1:00 PM. While I complete all my tasks on time and receive exceptional reviews, my boss has started asking why I log off at 5:00 PM. It went like this:

I log out at 5:00 PM because the work day is 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

You're not an hourly wage employee and need to work until the job is done.

I manage my time in such a way that I don't typically take on tasks that would require me to work past 5:00 PM and this has never caused any issue with my projects thus far.

Well, there is always more work to do. Find something to do to stay past 5:00 PM.

I asked how long he expected me to stay and he simply replied "Until the job is done." While it's true we do have a lot of ongoing projects, we aren't behind schedule on any of them; in fact, I'm ahead of schedule on many.

Am I in the wrong here and this is a reasonable expectation? What recourse do I have here? I am a high-performer on my team and not easily replaced (it took us a year to hire one person to work alongside me); how do I convert that into leverage to work a normal 40 hour week?

  • 14
    Does your organization have an Employee Handbook? If so, what does it say about your works hours, overtime, and comp time? Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 15:30
  • 26
    You are not behind in any of your projects? Isn't that breaking some fundamental law of nature? Next time your boss bitches you should ask for a raise and, if denied, look elsewhere. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 18:42
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    How does your boss define "work is done" when "there is always more work to do"? When does your boss expect you to sleep, eat, have a life? Moreover, what is your negotiation position -- Will you find another job easily and/or is there a union/works council you could enlist? Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 7:45
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    When does your boss leave given that "there is always more work to do"?
    – Starfish
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 16:44
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    Why does being a salaried employee mean you have to work extra hours? Sounds like the boss just wants free labor.
    – Herohtar
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 19:37

15 Answers 15


The messages from your supervisor that you shared in your post are concerning. I would deem them to be a red flag. There is nothing wrong with not working past 5pm, especially if you perform well. If it's important to you, your current work schedule should be respected. The idea that there is always more work to do is somewhat true but it does not mean that you should work at times that are not comfortable for you. Quite the opposite! I would advise you to argue that there is no need for you to work later and that your work/life balance is important to you. If your employer can't accept your conditions, you can simply tell them that you will quit and find a job at a company that fits your needs better.

  • 68
    This is sound advice. The idea that you should keep working because there is more work to do it ludicrous. In many cases that would keep you working 24x7 until you drop from exhaustion. If the expectation at this company is that you regularly work 10, 12, or even more hours daily then that is not sustainable. Get your CV in order and start looking.
    – jwh20
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 1:56
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    One thing i would add to this perfect answer, you should say that work hours are as they are and there is always more work to be found. but additional effort need to be additionally compensated and your salary does not cover 24/7 of work efforts
    – Strader
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 5:03
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    Find a new job. The manager will not change.
    – kpollock
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 8:01
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    I wouldn't advise telling them that you will quit and then finding a new job, as you may find they kick you out earlier than you'd planned, and before you have a new job to go to. Find the new job first. Then tell them that you're quitting.
    – John Y
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 12:16
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    Good advice but not the right order of operations. If you want to leave (which if things are as you describe sounds reasonable), find another job quietly and then leave. Don't telegraph it or you may be fired and without a job, as @JohnY correctly says.
    – bob
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 13:34

Like others, I don't consider your 8am-5pm schedule a problem, but a sign of good time management. The problem to solve is the relationship with the manager.

How much can you observe about the manager's work? Do they work long hours? Do they tend to start at 9 and work until 6+? Are they performing well, or perhaps under pressure themselves? Are there operational reasons that drive these hours? E.g., are there certain end of day processes, or late meetings with other timezones, or support issues, that mean they need to be available? Are there any other dynamics around availability within the normal working day? What's their preferred communication medium - phone call, face to face, email?

For example, perhaps after three hours of meetings, they've come out at at 5:10pm wanting to ask you a question to clarify something. That's frustrating for them. If they have to put it in an email, will they get a reply tomorrow morning, or only tomorrow afternoon?

Think about some of these questions and gather data. The next time you catch up one to one, you can reframe the question to be about responsiveness, communication styles, and operational and support needs. Be firm about keeping your hours, but think about how you might be flexible in other ways. If 9-6 works better for both parties though, consider switching to that. Or make a commitment to always clear urgent email at 8am, before your manager comes in. Or offer to do knowledge transfer to other team members, who have a different work pattern, so it's not such a hassle if you're not at your desk at 5:02pm.

By reframing it about how you can help solve your manager's problems, you might be able to find a better solution with them, without compromising your professional and sustainable work style. At the least, it will help change the tone of the discussion from the command vs stonewall dynamic you describe in the question.

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    Fantastic answer. This way OP gets to keep their job, and the underlying issue gets resolved (if possible) through collaboration. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 14:05
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    This is sound advice, but ignores the not unlikely option that the manager and/or company are just a bunch of idiots who are trying to bully employees into working more hours in an ill guided attempt to "get more work out of them".
    – fgysin
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 15:01
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    @fgysin Ah, but that's just it. If you assume people are jerks, that tends to sour the relationship and they'll meet your expectations. On the other hand, if you act as if there are legitimate operational concerns, either 1. it's true - good thing you didn't pitch a fit over a miscommunication! or 2. you force them to respond to your legit problem-solving, and it becomes apparent very quickly that they're operating in bad faith. Then at least you know for sure, and you can say you tried. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 2:05
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    @SirTechSpec: No assumptions made. Given the statements: You need to work until the job is done, and There is always more work to do is the smoking gun of evidence that the boss is a jerk. Put these statements together, and the boss is saying literally that the employee should never stop working. aka. Jerk. Bigly.
    – Gerrat
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 17:52
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    @Gerrat the two statements sound more like common-sensical cliches repeated without really thinking about them to me, rather than a manifesto for working people to death. Or something out of Japanese salaryman culture where you always leave after the boss. The thing is just to work out where the hard boundaries are, and not compromise your own reasonable limits.
    – Adam Burke
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 0:39

You need to work until the job is done.

There is always more work to do.

These two things don't add up. If you were to take that literally, you'd work 24/7. It also doesn't really make sense to say that you should work longer without saying how much longer.

But of course I wouldn't recommend telling your boss exactly that.

I would recommend:

  • Avoid always leaving at exactly 5 PM.

    I usually tend to leave at around 5-10 minutes after the end of my work hours, because that's how long it usually takes to get whatever I'm working on to a good place such that I can hit the ground running the next day, and I don't have to take half an hour just to figure out where I left things.

    If someone leaves at exactly the end of their work hours, that's often (but not always) a sign that they haven't been doing anything for some amount of time before that for some reason or another, and they've just been clock-watching for a while. Another possibility is that they simply don't care all that much if they'd need to waste a lot of work time getting back to where they were.

    Now it may be that this doesn't apply to you, and that's fine. But leaving at exactly 5 PM can still create the impression that you actually stop working long before that or you don't care that much about your job.

    Whether the potential benefit of sometimes/often staying a few extra minutes outweighs the downside is something you'll need to figure out for yourself.

  • Ask questions if confronted about the time you leave.

    Limit the extent to which you defend the time you leave. Get them to defend why you should stay after 5 PM instead.

    "Those are my work hours" is a reasonable argument, but it's not a particularly compelling one if they don't care that much about strict work hours. The real problem is that they don't seem to have a good argument from their side, which is what you should focus on instead.

    If you dig deep enough, the reasoning behind asking you to work beyond 8 hours is one or more of:

    • You're not getting enough work done. This should be reflected in your performance review. If it isn't, this justification wouldn't be valid.

    • You're "on call" or you need to be reachable in case coworkers need you. This generally doesn't justify working more than 8 hours a day as you don't need to be working to be reachable, and it's not reasonable to generally be reachable far beyond your working hours in any case (officially being "on call" would be distinct from this).

    • It creates a bad impression for others. This typically isn't a particularly compelling justification, but you'll have to deal with why they say this is a problem on the fly.

      The main reason why they may say this is a problem is because others may work fewer hours and perform poorly as a result. But the counter-argument is that you working 8 hours wouldn't justify them working less than that, and their performance and actions should be judged independently of yours and doesn't have all that much to do with you.

      Another possibility is that most other people work e.g. 9-6 instead of 8-5, in which case their comment is a not-so-subtle sign that they want you to work 9-6 instead (even if they wouldn't admit as much). If that's the case, you can decide how much to push back on that.

    Of course exposing the fact that they don't have good justification should be done fairly carefully, and it would only get you so far. Ultimately they may still want you to work longer even without good justification. Which would nicely bring us to the next point...

  • Find another job.

    Some managers/companies just care too much about work hours, sometimes more than actual productivity.

    Those aren't particularly fun places to work for someone who values an 8-hour workday, and you wouldn't really be able to change the culture from the bottom up. But you may be able to get people to not care that much if you can perform on the same or a higher level than people who are overworking.

    If I were in such an environment, I'd stick to strictly 8 hours except in exceptional cases, not pay too much attention to people commenting on that (outside of formal performance reviews) and move on if it seems as though I wouldn't be able to be successful without overworking.

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    I was writing an answer in the same vein, especially the first paragraph. Clocking precisely on time sends a message and the solution could simply be to finish five or ten minutes later. It's not about what's legal or right, it's about how your boss feels and your relationship with him. I think the effort of finishing a just bit later is worth it if it's the only problem at your workplace.
    – Jemox
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 9:42
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    If you're gonna finish a few minutes because you're wrapping up, make sure you also leave a few minutes earlier sometimes you wrapped your task up a little faster than usual. If you get immediate blowback about leaving at 4:55 that one day, you know it's not a productivity related problem.
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 9:57
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    "Avoid always leaving at exactly 5 PM." But note that if you rely on infrequent public transport (as I do; that also means I'm in earlier than most), you may not have the luxury of an extra 5 minutes - and after all, getting your task list ready for the next day is still work.
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 10:33
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    Fair point, @ChrisH. Generally, though, transport for a "work from home" position, such as the OP's, is frequent, inexpensive, not rife with strike actions, and reliable.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 11:10
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    @FreeMan ah, good point. Apparently I have the attention span of a goldfish and by the time I finished reading the Q and this A had forgotten that point. Still, there are other comparable reasons (e.g. childcare is why I can't get a train 30 minutes or even an hour later without advance planning)
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 12:01

Given that you actually care about this job and that you put some pride in finishing projects not just filling time, try to argue from a company perspective, not just your own (very reasonable) desire to have a work/life balance.

This is how I believe you should argue your point.

"I do understand that there are times when we need to step up and put in extra hours to get the job done. I have no issues making exceptional efforts in exceptional circumstances. However, I take pride in always handling normal workload during a normal work schedule. If I had to to work extra hours to handle normal workload, I would have less margin to step up when extra effort is needed."

I learned this when I left a company with a culture where overtime was regarded as a sign of loyalty and commitment to a new job with a great boss who told me "Overtime is not primarily a sign of commitment, it is a sign of poor planning. Yes, it is sometimes neccessary, since shit happens and we have to deal with it right there and then, but when I see someone working late every day, what I see is someone failing to get the job done in time every day."

  • 1
    This is very reasonable. But only if the boss is 1) reasonable, and 2) not being abusive--trying to squeeze extra unpaid work out of OP. If either of these isn't true, this could unfortunately be a risky strategy. I think it's probably better to ask questions to try to learn about the boss' expectations than to make statements like this, even though I wish that weren't the case.
    – bob
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 13:39
  • @bob Quite true. But if your boss is unreasonable and/or abusive then this a not a place you want to stay.
    – Guran
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 16:19
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    Totally agreed. Just thinking it's safer then to fly under the radar while searching for another job unless you get to the point that you just need to walk out. Best to avoid actions that could potentially get you fired is my thinking.
    – bob
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 16:46
  • And of course, you must be payed the extra hours.
    – Eneko
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 20:25
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    @Eneko that's not how exempt salaried works in the USA. You're not an hourly employee, you get paid x amount per pay period regardless of hours worked. It's a bad deal if your employer regularly expects more than 40 hours from you, but also how many higher end jobs work. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 21:38

Am I in the wrong here and this is a reasonable expectation? What recourse do I have here? I am a high-performer on my team and not easily replaced (it took us a year to hire one person to work alongside me); how do I convert that into leverage to work a normal 40 hour week?

Apparently, your expectations and those of your boss aren't the same. You expect to be able to stop working at 5:00, your boss expects you to work later.

Your boss indicated that he wants you to work "Until the job is done." If it was me, I would have pressed for how I could know it is done. And if I felt that I was actually getting the job done when I stop at 5:00, I would point that out. If "done" meant something different, I would see if I could get to that version of "done" by 5:00. You may well hear that your boss doesn't expect you to ever be done at 5:00.

But either way, I'm guessing you have a decision to make. You can resist, stop work at 5:00, and hope that your boss will ease up. Or you can find a new job that will actually let you stop work at 5:00. If you pursue the latter, make sure you ask enough questions during the interview to ensure your requirements will be met.

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    In many of your answers and comments on this site -- including this one -- you seem to studiously avoid acknowledging when an employer is being unreasonable. If someone posted "My boss wants me to work in a near-vacuum, because he thinks that struggling to breathe will make me more productive. Is that normal?", I hope that your answer would not be "Apparently, your expectations and those of your boss aren't the same. [...] make sure you ask enough questions during the interview to ensure your requirements will be met."
    – ruakh
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 0:29
  • Actually, I would argue that these are not "expectations", but in a normal work environment I would expect these expectations to be included in a contract. The contract states how much compensation I get for what amount of work and also roughly what type of work I am supposed to do. So if the work contract (which I assume it does) says a 40-hours-week, then demanding something else as employer is just a breach of contract and completely unreasonable.
    – dirkk
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 8:13
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    As a American working white-collar (desk) jobs for American companies for the last 30 years, @dirkk, I've never had a "work contract". I've always received a letter stating initial salary and start date, but most US states are "at will" work, meaning the employee or employer can terminate work at any time for any reason. An employee giving 2-weeks notice is the polite standard and more-or-less expected, but it's not mandatory by any means. I have, on occasion, signed "non-compete" paperwork, but generally those have been deemed to be unenforceable.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 13:14
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    well, seems like my comments only applies to non-US then. However, it is certainly standard in Europe and most of the developed world. I am always surprised how little protection workers in the US have.
    – dirkk
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 13:33
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    @JoeStrazzere: It will very likely help them decide whether and how much to push back. Norms are a powerful thing. If 99% of bosses have a certain expectation, then even if I don't like it, I may well be best off accepting it, rather than limiting myself to the 1% that don't (and hoping that the person who interviews me will end up being my actual boss, forever, else it's pointless to even ask this in the interview). By contrast, if only 1% of bosses have that expectation, I can more confidently stand my ground, I can potentially escalate the issue to my boss's boss, etc.
    – ruakh
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 17:44

Based on the conversation, it seems your manager is more concerned about you working "more than 40 hours" rather "past 5pm."

I'm amazed (well, not really) that so many managers are still so misguided that they believe productivity increases beyond 40 hours. There are just so many studies (going back to Ford and its "invention") that show that 40 hours is the optimal work-week for worker productivity without corresponding "adverse effects" (mistakes, injuries where applicable, etc.).

I'm sure there's a better HBR (or other) article out there, but with a few minutes of searching and reading, I came across this research on the National Institutes of Health website, originally published by the Journal of Safety Research. It honestly needs a more in-depth reading than the quick skim I gave it, but here's an excerpt:

The reported frequency of all 5 types of AEs (adverse effects) was s of AEs was significantly significantly [ironic sic] higher — 14% to 28% higher — among nurses reporting an average work week longer than 40 hours.

You might look for ways to try to subtly educate your manager on the benefits of employees working regular hours. I realize it's an uphill struggle.

  • @WestCoastProjects - crunch can be done and can be productive... BUT afterwards we are LESS productive for quite some time (research confirms). If that fits with the work rhythm of our projects, all is good. But we cannot crunch all the time. That equals burnout. Ask all too many (ex) game developers! (many of my friends!).
    – kpollock
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 14:57
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    I would be careful not to interpret 40 hours as optimal -- rather, it's known that working more than 40 hours is certainly suboptimal. It could well be that working less than 40 hours is even more optimal.
    – Schism
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 19:45
  • @Schism Absolutely. Some studies seem to indicate that as well. The general consensus (or at least "conventional wisdom"), it seems, hovers around 40 hours, though. I'm sure age (although perhaps not as much as some might think), type of job, and other factors contribute as well. And in some jobs, fatigue-based mistakes are typically less costly than others. Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 19:50

This is a sad but incredibly common situation.

You have a manager who simply thinks that, whatever hours have been contracted for, are a license to get any extra hours he feels you somehow "owe", because you aren't an hourly wage employee.

A problem you have is that much of the work culture will be on his side, in the US. That doesn't make him right, but it makes it easier for him to feel you do indeed owe whatever hours he thinks 8-5 should really mean.

I've had this problem myself (due to medical sleep cycle stuff I often start late, end very late; my work didn't involve stuff which that was a problem for). I had a manager who wrote a "see me" memo about turning up to work at 10 instead of 9. I was essential to their project and he wasn't so secure, which gave me leverage to be extremely blunt. I emailed him back that I'd gladly watch and comply with the work hours in the morning, and "of course" in return, I expect him to be as respectful of them in the evening. Since I was usually in about an hour late in the morning, and worked 3-4 hours extra evenings, I never heard another word about it, again. Not a single word. Ever. And the performance bonuses and promotions still flowed.

I don't think that exact answer will work for you, but the principle stands. This is a manager who just wants more hours. Or doesn't understand you are efficient, or sees that and just tbinks of it as an entitlement to have more hours anyway, but efficient ones too.

You need to set boundaries. Because my sense is, he will push. So I wouldn't compromise going at 5, and agree to keep the peace, at all. One act of weakness just says that others are possible, to a manager like this. It'll become the norm and he'll be back for the next slice.

That means, not agreeing with his arguments, or conceding points suggesting you could give in.

I'm not an hourly wage person, that's true. I'm an 8 hourly day person. HR and I contracted that you will get my absolute best efforts for 8 hours a day. If you aren't happy that you have my best efforts, please explain, help me improve, or fire me. If you have my best efforts, and you want more hours, then that's a change of contract. Its not something HR asked for, or I offered. We can discuss it, but it needs to be clear, that you're asking me to do extra for free. That doesn't work with any professional, and I don't see why it should be expected of me.

This is pushy - but so is he. Either way he won't like it, but I don't think you have any option he will like other than rolling over and asking however many hours week he would like, and licking his shoes. So I start from an assumption that you will have to draw a line that fundamentally, he won't accept easily or like you for. You'll either succeed, or fail, to set and hold that line. You don't have a way to so it that doesn't involve conflict of some kind. So, unfortunately, I accept that is likely too, and not a deterrent.

If you're good and he knows you are good, then you won't be at risk from being that forcefully assertive. Challenge his assertion that its your job to provide free extra hours, and push back with your own perspective. No other professional would. Nor will you.

  • 3
    I generally disagree with any response that mentions employment termination where the other party hasn't mentioned it. It's reasonably escalatory. It's either going to cause them to back down, or it's going to embolden them. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 13:50
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    And that's okay. This is directly out of the abuse-mitigation textbook. The OPs manager has no compunction about escalating it, so that tendency must be headed off. Then maybe they will talk reasonably. Be sure they got where they are on the basis that if you pressure people enough and have some status, they'll allow you to do unreasonable things to their work life, and just accept it. So that needs heading off, not appeasing. Because appeasing doesn't work. Sorry, maybe I am a bit hardcore on it. But a high value employee can often do such things and succeed.
    – Stilez
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 23:33
  • We don't really know if the boss considers the OP a high value employee. From their perspective, it appears they look like an employee that isn't putting in enough effort. So I kind of think this may backfire. We haven't seen the boss escalate at all, so I'd probably wait to see if they silently back down before making this a thing. Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 0:52
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    Abusers tend to probe for weakness to see if its okay to pressure and coerce. In this context this is abusive - its someone used to applying pressure and coercion to get an unreasonable goal regardless of harm it does, fairness, or prior agreement. They want so they are entitled. For that, you don't show weakness, or else they will always going forward believe inside, that pressure is the way to go. You could sit it out and see if they do nothing, but that will feel like passive aggressive anyway, and a bad employee to such a person. So you may as well be up front and speak without fear anyway
    – Stilez
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 7:49

Check your contract

My contract states

"You may be required to work such additional hours as may be necessary for the proper performance of your duties without extra remuneration"

This basically means that my boss absolutely can demand I stay longer if they feel it's necessary

But if you're getting the work done and on schedule, there's no reason you should need to stay beyond your contracted hours!

I would examine the wording of your contract, and then bring it up with your boss.

  • 1
    Oh no, it doesn't. If you performed your duties, that's it. If there is more work, that's outside your duties. To get more work performed, your boss should hire another employee.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 9:38
  • @gnasher729 Exactly my point. As I read it, the contract is basically saying that if I'm failing to hold up my end of my work then the boss can require me to stay later to meet it. It does not entail staying to do additional work just because the boss wants me to as OP is being asked to do. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 11:06
  • 2
    Most of the time, these contracts are reasonably vague. There can often be in such contracts terms like "Perform work as directed to by your supervisor", which basically makes the amount of work unbound. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 13:47
  • "you must work 16 extra hours every day, for no pay" won't exactly hold up well in a labor dispute, even in the USA.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 16:41

Your boss sounds like an A-hole to be quite honest. If I was you, since you're working "online" just don't logout at 5pm. Stay logged in for a while but dont do any work. Problem solved.

If you really want to push it, since you said it would be hard to replace you, you could also just tell your boss "no". No, I'm leaving at 5pm. You've been way to polite to him already from the sound of it and he doesn't care.

  • Deceit is capitulation.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 16:39
  • may be but what goes around comes around. if the boss is trying to dick people around, he's going to have people looking to do the same to him. Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 4:20
  • I think you have it right with "no, I am going home". If the boss punishes you over that, you don't want to work there anyway
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 19:23

First off, I would simply do nothing in the short term, and continue to work as I have been doing.

I would make the assumption that the boss was confused about how much work was getting completed, and when the discussion was going on, the felt painted into a corner and had to double down.

It's very possible that simply pretending the conversation took place gives your boss an opportunity to back down without losing face.

Just about any other option is likely to escalate it. In some of these situations you may get what you want in the short term, but it may result in additional workload getting assigned, or some other types of vindictive response.

So allow them to make the next move, and if they persist, then look at one of the other answers here.


Lots of others have already covered this ground, so what I hope to add to this is a more streamlined train of thought on this.

First and foremost, double check your employee handbook or equivalent guide book. This prescribes what the work duties are of employees, and what the expected working hours are. Being exempt only means you can't collect overtime pay, not that you are expected to work overtime.

Second, establish what extra work there is with your manager so that there is a clear expectation of the work that exists and that it is within your job duty to complete it. Just because there's "work" to be done doesn't mean that you can do it, or should be on the hook for it.

Third, document everything. The conversations about why you're not working past a specific time if/when there is no purpose to do so are enough to warrant a friendly visit to HR.

Fourth, escalate the matter to their superior. If your manager doubles down on why you're not working past 5PM, and previous conversations with your manager about work expectations have failed, referring the matter to your boss' boss is an uncomfortable but practical next step. Bring your receipts.

Fifth, escalate to HR if everyone's decided to disregard the handbook and is setting new or unrealistic expectations. Be sure that what HR is saying aligns with what you are doing and, of course, bring your receipts.

Lastly, look for a new job if the sentiment of this employer is that you are expected to work more than 40 hours per week on a regular and ongoing basis. Your time is your time and only in explicit and well-defined circumstances are you obligated to give more than that.


Aside from the good answers so far:

Your boss has a reason for asking. It might well be that he is getting pressure from somewhere. If you have a good relation and want to be less confrontational than some answers suggest, you can try to figure out what that is and maybe find another way to address it.

For example, it might well be that some beancounter is looking at working times and all that's really needed is that you log off twenty minutes later, even if you don't do any work in that time.

This requires a bit of tricky social stuff and might not be your thing (definitely isn't mine, I'm better at playing armchair employee here than actually doing it).

  • In the USA, you are either non-exempt or exempt. If you are non-exempt then the bean counter better make sure there is money in the budget for your overtime. If you are exempt then a bean-counters opinion is obviously of no value whatsoever. "I think you should work longer" cannot possibly be an argument for an exempt employee to work longer.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 10:32
  • @gnasher729 the beancounter may anyway pressure the boss. Even if there's no legal base. He won't say "work longer" he will use other words.
    – Tom
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 11:02

You're not an hourly wage employee and need to work until the job is done.

This is probably the lamest management excuse in the book - and from my point of view it would be an excuse for you to leave.

In some cases (eg. programming) the "job" in many cases won't bee done in a day or in a week. Your boss cannot expect you to work 24/7 until a job is done.

A good way to combat this in a gentle manner, would be to ask if there are any problems with previous work you have committed. A good rebuttal for the following would be.

Well, there is always more work to do. Find something to do to stay past 5:00 PM.

Are there any problems with the projects I should know about?


Have someone been asking for me after 5 PM?

In this case you actively inquire about your tasks, and also (subtly) ask for a reason to remain at the desk.

Personally, i've had to pull the answers out of managers in the same way, and found out the reason behind the order. Maybe others on staff have been looking for you or there is a problem that is being kept silent from you.

It's a good way to see of something can be changed or optimized, such as an alternative arrangement of work hours - however it's also a good tool to uncover an overexpectant manager that is only willing to pay for 8 hours of work, but wants you to work for 10.

As a personal example, I work towards a "clean table" whenever possible - ie. I try to leave work every day (and every week) with as few loose ends as possible. Sometimes that results in leaving 10 or 30 minutes later.

However, if you get your planned work done by 5PM - that is how it is, then again if there are any loose ends in that your manager is concerned about, asking him is the best way to do so.

If your boss - even after repeated questions like the above - still falls back to "find something to do" and "there is always more work to do" without ever giving proper reason, it can be interpreted that he is "just" of the type that wants to eke out as much work as he can to make himself look good.


Make it a point to be aggressive in the way you deal with this. The last thing you want in these circumstances is a manager of the sort you're describing thinking they can tell what you need to be doing do past your contractual working hours. This is a major red flag and indicative of a manager who is assessing the waters, seeing how far you're willing to bend and how much work he/she can extract from you. The harder you put your foot down, the faster they're going to realize that this tactic won't go anywhere and the sooner they'll remember just how much they need you.


There's a good answer already. My addition would be to give a firm reason for stopping at 5. I would cite personal obligations like prepping food for the kids or anything really.

Then I'd add that if there was any work that needed to be finished (which there isn't yet) I'd log back in later and complete it. But 5PM is a firm stop time.

If the boss has any issues with this then they're being unreasonable on purpose, and it would be time to think over your options.

  • 43
    You shouldn’t have to come up with an excuse to have a life. Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 1:22
  • 16
    @Kilisi one should not have to justify or defend stopping work for the day at what most would consider a normal time, after putting in a full day of work. Doing so is not a "compromise", it's clearly setting boundaries and expectations.
    – alroc
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 2:50
  • 5
    @Kilisi Your responses here are different from your answer though. In your answer you recommend making an excuse and promising to do work after 5PM 'if there's work to finish', which is where the disagreement seems to be.
    – Blub
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 6:47
  • 4
    If the boss is inconsiderate they'll sweep away the excuse and OP will be left flat-footed and in a worse position. So it's very risky. Generally you have more "negotiating" power in a debate if you don't give excuses.
    – bob
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 13:40
  • 3
    This answer is the equivalent of suggesting a woman say "I already have a boyfriend" when being hit on by a creepy guy. In both cases it's none of their business, and no one should need to make an excuse to justify their expectations of being treated like a human being instead of a piece of meat for someone else's gains.
    – stanri
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 8:16

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