People often have to work over-time for different reasons. Salaried employees rarely qualify for additional pay any more (US?). I think managers are more likely to request over-time than say, "Can you work under-time and just go home?"

Many see it as "an hours pay for an hours work." so unless you want less pay, you have to fill the time you're expected to work. Then you get asked for more. Many people protect themselves from getting more work given to them by appearing to be busy all day long. Or at least they do this to justify the full-time position.

Would there be any incentives to allow workers to just go home early if they get their work done? This assumes someone won't find "something" for them to do to fill the time. If the next day they don't get to leave early, is it seen as a punishment? Would it motivate other workers to get things done sooner or will it just stir up animosity?

For some employers, they can't always compensate the efficient employee, so would this be an alternative.

Can this be accomplished without a lot of trust, honesty and transparency between what employers expect from employees and what the employees are actually doing? i.e. Is it practical in the current workplace?

  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROWE could be useful as an example of what is being asked I think.
    – JB King
    Nov 19 '14 at 20:03
  • How is "undertime" different than... vacation measured on an hourly basis?
    – corsiKa
    Nov 19 '14 at 22:41
  • I assume by "undertime" you mean something different to TOIL (time off in lieu) where extra hours worked are added to leave?
    – HorusKol
    Nov 19 '14 at 22:53
  • 1
    Also - there should be "trust, honesty and transparency between what employers expect from employees and what the employees are actually doing" even if there wasn't this concept of undertime - being present does not mean that work is being done...
    – HorusKol
    Nov 19 '14 at 22:55
  • @HorusKol - Over-time hours added to leave would be comparable. I've never had extra hours or any other hours really tracked in my work. I always had a fixed amount of vacation/timeoff but never a ceiling on the amount of time I worked.
    – user8365
    Nov 20 '14 at 0:14

Would there be any incentives to allow workers to just go home early if they get their work done?

You mean besides the good will of treating your employees like adults/professionals?

This is what being a salaried worker means, despite corporate belief otherwise. I've done this in the past with my reports and it works wonders for morale. People are also a lot more willing to work overtime when they see the "you can go when the work is done" mantra is applied fairly. Beyond that, by focusing on getting the work done, you're putting the emphasis/rewards/punishments in the right place. Being at your desk for 40 hours isn't going to make the company money. Doing your job does.

Is it practical in the current workplace?

I've done it and seen it done in two other employers, so yes.

  • 11
    One of the best managers I've ever had would threaten to unplug your computer if you worked too late. He knew he had a team that risked getting burned-out if they weren't careful.
    – user8365
    Nov 19 '14 at 18:47
  • 3
    @JeffO I've actually followed through with that threat. My motto is rushed code is crappy code, I don't permit crappy code. Nov 19 '14 at 22:01
  • 1
    @JeffO - I've never gotten that far. I've told people to go home. They didn't, but that's their call. They're adults.
    – Telastyn
    Nov 19 '14 at 22:22
  • 2
    @JeffO: my boss told us that yesterday, too ... but fortunately we all have notebooks with a battery inside, so the threat is not that forceful (just the screens go off). Nov 19 '14 at 22:36

It depends on the employees you have and what "you can go home when the work is done" means.

If you have any marginal employees they will leave after 20 hours and never ask for more work. If you have good emplyees they will not go home if they know there is something else to be done that they can pick up that was not orginally assigned to them. Can you even define what "when your work is done" means (I personally have never had a job where there was no more work to do.) And is it fair to employees who always have work, if some others who are less valuable to the organization can alawys leave early because no one trusts them to do the work that is not yet done? I worked in a situation like that once and it created a lot of hate and discontent among the good workers althought he marginal were happy.

Personally, I would not be willing to pay a full time salary to anyone who won't work full-time. So someone who leaves early occasionally, no problem. Someone who only works 20 hour weeks every week? If I keep them (which would be questionable, I have seen people fired for this and rightly so) I want them on part-time with a part-time salary. Someone who leaves after he is done his part when others are behind and he never asks for more work or lets the manager know he is done so he can be assigned more work to even out the workload? That would be unacceptable.

Then how do you handle the employee who will only do more work if you insist she stays but the others are responsible and so you let them go?

Personally I don't get why people think working the hours they are contracted to work is such a horrible imposition.

  • 3
    I struggle with the "ask for more work" concept. Management has abdicated their responsibility to know what is required from the people they supervise including time requirements. How else can you evaluate them?
    – user8365
    Nov 19 '14 at 18:39
  • I agree you shouldn't complain about the amount of work you're contracted, but it seems like managers are more likely to require more hours without the balance of occasionally being requesting less.
    – user8365
    Nov 19 '14 at 18:41
  • 4
    Why should I be punished if I can do the same amount of work as someone else in less time? Ideally, I'd get paid more, but if that's not the case...
    – user8365
    Nov 19 '14 at 18:42
  • 4
    It is not being punished it is doing the work youare contracted to do. If you put in less than 40 hours you don't deserve a salary based on 40 hours worth of work. There are always people who do more than others and someof them get paid more per hour and some do not based on their own negotiating skills. Comapringyourself to others is ALWAYS a losing game.
    – HLGEM
    Nov 19 '14 at 19:28
  • 1
    What I am saying is that the proposal is open to abuse and to getting less work from the employees for the same anmount of money. It works fine in small teams where everyone is a high performer. It works badly if everyone is not a high performer and the truth of the matter is only 5% of employees are in the top 5%. The majority of companies don't have those employees. You have to plan for not having them if you are not in a tiny company that pays so well it can attract top talent.
    – HLGEM
    Nov 19 '14 at 19:31

This as actually an incentive very common in some areas, in others it's discouraged. (generally speaking the more progressive an area is in regards to business the more likely you are to see it)

How does it work?

It's actually extremely simple and in principal how salary is supposed to work.

Effectively your assignment hits your lap on Monday and it's due Friday for example. On Friday I don't care if you spend 20 hours or 80 hours if you deliver on your deadline something of at least the expected quality I'm happy. (albeit if the hours are WAY off we probably need to adjust expectations to at least be closer to reality)

That means you can take whatever days or time off you like so long as you deliver and you're there at times we need to organize or plan.

(And yes there are companies who are very successful who operate in exactly this fashion, I've been known to force my staff to go home when they start putting in too many hours because burn out is ultimately more costly then minor delays)

Is it a good thing?

I'm sure there are valid pros and cons for this structure, but based on my experience and what research I've found it's nearly universally true getting a few hours less than forty a week winds up more productive than any over.

What? How? The key here is the longer hours you work, the less productive you become. While by no means exact I go by for every hour you work your productivity drops about 10%. This is for two reasons, first you start producing less in general, second as you're mentally taxed you're more prone to mistakes that will require time to correct, eventually you hit a point of doing more damage than benefit. (Again this is NOT an exact science, individuals vary, etc)

In addition you need detox time to get things together before you get back to work or it's like starting with several hours already put in. My office we don't keep strict hours. (no time clocks or anything) we have a few meetings you need to be at and I try to enforce the unofficial no more than ten hours a per 24 hours policy.

If it's so good why is it uncommon?

The first is simple, there are countless people who disagree with the research for various reasons. If you disagree then frankly you see any time they are not working as lost revenue.

The second comes from lousy corporate policy. There are people who's job is more based around attendance than accomplishing a set task. (think support staff like you computer techs, etc) Often for the sake of "fairness" or to have some all encompassing policy companies will make all "full time" employees work "at least" 40 hours.

Culture is another huge thing here. Some culture you live to work that's your pride and joy. Not working long hours is not live up to your full potential, to be a lazy bum. There are also problems in business culture where your "dedication" to the job is the primary factor in which advancement and raises are concerned. Often companies make the poor choice of seeing "Dedication" as "How long do they slave away at their desk" anyone who isn't working long hours is clearly not very committed to these people. (this mentality is both flawed and undermines productivity)

The last cause is self inflicted. There are tons of reasons people work long hours. Perhaps you're struggling with a difficult problem, trying to meet a deadline that you were overzealous about, feel a need to "step up" or that you're under performing, etc.

Typically these are lame reasons that are you treating a symptom and not a problem. The problem is the overzealous deadline, that you're under performing, or that your company culture is based on time put in, not on actual merit, etc.

By all means from time to time we all need to put in a long day or two, but those should be the rare exceptions, not the norm. The norm should be you get your work done in a nice cadence, it's of excellent quality, you go home. (generally if you land under 30 hours you're not being ambitious enough on your deadlines, if your over 45 you're being too ambitious) Otherwise I'm go to judge you based on what your cadence, the quality of your work, etc.

Where do I find such jobs?

General the more progressive a place is the more likely you'll see these sort of jobs, more traditional places tend to actively resist these sorts of things.

For example, while roles like this do exist in Florida they are extremely rare and looked negatively on by other employers as "unprofessional". It's a right to work state that in most avenues is extremely conservative, as such companies here for the most part work in the same manner they have for centuries.

Meanwhile if you look at states like Oregon while this type of company isn't the majority companies with "unlimited PTO" (one name for this style of company) isn't uncommon. It's viewed neither as professional or unprofessional, just a way of doing business. Many of these companies experiment with a variety of practices that were only started in the last decade often shedding a number of the traditional ways of doing things.

Ultimately companies all over are slowly adopting more progressive policies like this, but it is EXTREMELY slow. It's also primarily happening in markets with a shortage of quality workers like software development.

  • Excellent answer. I would add that corporate America used to know that working overtime was less productive, through a series of scientific studies. But after silicon valley happened there was a shift to the current ridiculous and detrimental culture.
    – daaxix
    Nov 20 '14 at 3:55
  • @daaxix the only good news here is it does appear our culture is making progress away from this problem. Unfortunately these things move VERY slow. Nov 20 '14 at 19:05

I think this works on a team level where the members of the team can all support each other

If WE get all the work done then WE go home early. The week's work must be clearly defined, and if that means everyone goes home at 2pm on Wednesday for a 4.5 day weekend, so be it

Your risk is breeding resentment in those with more work - although you tend to find that in many organisations those with more work are more senior anyway, and probably already work longer hours.

Judge it on your own team, and whether some will benefit more than others, or for the wrong reasons. It has to be done fairly, and then people could be more motivated

And the final risk: people rushing to get the work 'done' so they can go home, even if the work isn't completed. You have to be careful not to turn an attempted perk into something you end up policing and upsetting people over.

My opinion: I'd do it as a 'everyone goes home early' on a Friday, if the team has had a successful week, or implement it as part of a trust-based flexitime... Let staff know that you won't be watching their hours, but you expect them to get their work done and will notice and reward as normal for those who give most benefit to the company. That way people can balance their work/home life and their future prospects according to their own needs and desires


I think the fact that this question is asked the way it is, says a lot about the culture. I live in a completely different part of the world when it comes to work culture. People in US are among those less happy about their work situation and I'm from the country where most people are happy about their work.

It's not uncommon that you are employed to do a specific task and whether it takes you 25 or 50 hours a week. Doesn't really matter you can leave when you are done.

You ask:

Can this be accomplished without a lot of trust, honesty and transparency

well where I live that question would be something more like Can you have motivated employees without a lot of trust, honesty and transparency and the answer is no probably not. as they say trust and honesty goes a long way