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I've noticed a trend. Every day my boss will leave about 30 minutes before the office closes up. From that point, the rest of us just sort of trickle out of the office one by one for the next 30 minutes. If I have all of my work completed for the day, is it normal to leave when my boss is gone?

I'm usually done with my work and since he's gone, I know I wont be getting any more projects to work on.

Is it unprofessional to leave early if he's gone already?

  • 15
    What country? This can be quite culturally dependent. – Myles Jun 8 '15 at 21:50
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    Get a head start on your next day's work and impress the boss! or polish off some stuff that you have worked on! or work quietly on your own stuff! or read articles about web development! Don't leave early unless you know it's something that you can take advantage of and your boss approves. Also, as a side note, I totally thought the title was "Is it okay to leave early if my boss dies?" and the answer to that question is yes, but be quick about it. – zfrisch Jun 8 '15 at 23:04
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    For that matter, it isn't ok to leave early just because anyone else does. They may have come in early, or have cleared their departure with the boss as medical or flex or vacation time... or they may just be slackers, which is not something you should be imitating. – keshlam Jun 9 '15 at 2:18
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    ... for that matter, if you've finished your work for the day already then why not leave before your boss? Once he spots the pattern he'll give you more work each day, problem solved. – Steve Jessop Jun 9 '15 at 10:37
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    Basic principle: If you feel you have to ask whether something is unprofessional or unethical, it probably is. In most cases folks who ask these questions already know the answer but are hoping someone can justify doing the wrong thing. – keshlam Jun 10 '15 at 1:12

13 Answers 13

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Short answer: Your boss leaving early has no impact on when you should leave.

What time does your boss arrive in the morning? What time do you arrive in the morning? Is he there before you, or after you?

Work your hours, do what you are being paid to do and don't worry what time your boss leaves.

  • 79
    If my boss leaves early because the building is on fire, that has a big impact on when I leave :-) – Philip Kendall Jun 8 '15 at 21:53
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    @PhilipKendall I think that may be classified as "extenuating circumstances", unless building fires are a more regular occurrence in your work place? ;) – Jane S Jun 8 '15 at 21:54
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    Interviewer:"Why'd you leave your last position?" Phil: "The building kept catching fire." – zfrisch Jun 8 '15 at 22:19
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    "Happens everywhere I work! I don't understand!" :) – Jane S Jun 8 '15 at 22:21
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    @DavidZ: that's highly culture-dependent. In a traditionally-minded Japanese workplace you should probably stay put until your boss decides the smoke is thick enough to justify the move ;-) – Steve Jessop Jun 9 '15 at 10:29
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If by "leave early", you mean "don't work the number of hours specified in your contract", then yes, that is clearly unprofessional. We're all adults here and we shouldn't need somebody standing over us to say "OK, you can go home now" - you go home when you've finished your work for the day, independent of whether your boss is there or not.

On the other hand, if you've already done your hours for the day, then that's fine - but it would equally be fine to go home before your boss.

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    Or to tell your boss that you have finished your assigned work and "please, sir, can I have some more?" – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jun 9 '15 at 8:45
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    I'd say that the time you leave really depends on the culture of where you work - where I am, it's a defined start and end time, and you are expected to be there for every minute. Bosses come and go during that time, or may be away at meetings, etc - but I agree in principle that the measuring stick should be your contracted hours and if they are flexible, then whether or not your work is finished. – nurgle Jun 9 '15 at 8:56
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    "you go home when you've finished your work for the day" depends highly on how you define your work. Are you expected to be there X hours or are you expected to get X done? Though in most places it's the first one (; – Francisco Presencia Jun 9 '15 at 9:07
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    Sure - but the point is it's still independent of when your boss goes home. – Philip Kendall Jun 9 '15 at 9:25
  • @FranciscoPresencia Or sometimes your boss expects you to do X hours and then expect you to do 2-16 hours of extra time. – Ismael Miguel Jun 9 '15 at 9:25
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If I have all of my work completed for the day, is it normal to leave when my boss is gone?

I've always told the folks in my office that I don't want them working to the clock. Instead, I want them to work to get the job done. Sometimes that means leaving early, and sometimes that means staying late - they get to decide. If they want to leave right after me, and they can still get their work done, that's fine with me. (I get in before everyone else, and tend to leave at a reasonable time).

But the only useful measure of "normal" is "whatever is normal in your particular office".

If you are salaried, many offices don't care about the particular hours you work. On the other hand, if you are hourly, it might matter a lot - you might not get paid for the time if you leave early.

If you are in a project-based role (a developer, for example), it may not matter when you leave as long as you complete your projects in a timely manner. On the other hand if you are in a service-based role (a client phone support person for example), your presence may be essential during your assigned work hours.

Consider asking your boss what he wants you to do after he has left. If he says it's okay for you to leave, then you have your context-specific definition of "normal". If instead he tells you the kinds of work you could be doing even after he has left, then you know that he doesn't think leaving early is "normal".

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    Why doesn't this answer have more upvotes? I am salaried, though while I am working in our support department, I am being paid to be online/available for customers during a certain timeframe -- so leaving early would not be acceptable. However, I also work IT, and when I'm not doing customer support, my boss has no problem with me leaving early if I've gotten everything taken care of that needs to be taken care of today. – Doktor J Jun 9 '15 at 21:27
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I found two of your opening statements quite jarring:

I find myself just browsing the internet when he leaves [...]
Is it unprofessional to leave early if he's gone already?

Some people are answering this based on what's acceptable locally or what's contractually mandated but professionalism isn't anywhere near as subjective. It's easy:

It's unprofessional to waste time you're being paid for.

If you're working on a clock, your time is your employers to use; you should be working while you're there. If you've finished your assigned tasks, that work can manifest itself in a number of ways that really boost your future productivity:

  • Double-checking support tickets to make sure you've closed the ones you've handled that day.
  • Reflecting on the day's work and adding comments so Next-Week-Jaken doesn't waste an hour trying to understand why you did what you did.
  • Planning. Listing and prioritising what you're going to do tomorrow.
  • Maintenance. Cleaning your desk, desktop, chucking out old notes, etc.
  • Self-improvement through training, even something like helping out in your technical discipline on Stack Overflow.

These are all things you'll have to do at some point. In my experience, this is the rubbish that some people manage to fill 9-10am with. Getting this out the way will allow you to start your next day focussed and prepared.

But that's all secondary to what your boss wants you to do... So ask!

You know when you're running out of work and you know when your boss is going to be available, so let them know you're going to have 20-40 minutes free today and ask them what they'd like you to do.

They might want you to hang around to handle calls, they might want you to start on something else, they might suggest another activity we haven't thought of, or they might even let you off early. Either-which-way, it's your employer that has told you, not a bunch of anons on the Internet.

If nothing else, you'll be a rockstar in your boss's eyes. That helps when applying for your next job.


There is an argument that it's your manager's responsibility to utilise your time but that's their angle. In terms of professionalism —again— it's unprofessional to waste time you're being paid for. It's your responsibility to let them know you've finished your work.

Be pro-active here. If you add up these 30-minutes, you're looking at 120 hours a year. That's thousands of dollars in salary (Texas webdev average) so even if you don't appreciate that you might end up doing more work and spending less time on Facebook, imagine what you'd want from your employees.

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  • Does he show up 30 minutes early?
  • Does he show up an hour early and take a longer lunch?
  • Does he work on weekends?
  • Is there an agreement that you must work 40 hours, but that it doesn't matter WHEN you work those 40?
  • Does he work 60 hours a week when needed, and do 30 when not - doing his best to balance out the hours responsibly?
  • Is he on call? Expected to take care of things at night, thus meeting his 40 hours normally?

At my place of employment, everyone is expected to work 40 hours a week (I'm a contractor, so I actually "work" 37.5 hours a week - lunches withstanding). If I show up at 8 and leave a 4... or if I show up at 10 and leave at 6... I'm getting my hours in - and my tasks done. The key point at this job is that you get permission to do stuff outside the norm (which is 8-4:30, hour lunch) and that you inform others of stuff outside YOUR norm.

I've worked previous jobs where you WILL be in at 8 and you WILL leave at 4. Too late too often and you WILL not work anymore. Did you work 15 minutes late yesterday? Thanks, see you at 8. Did you have to skip lunch? Thanks, see you at 8. Did you get a page on the weekend? Thanks,...

Key point: It depends on the job, the expectations, extenuating circumstances, contract signed, etc

  • It's irrelevant how many hours the boss works. His contract is different. – Peter - Unban Robert Harvey Jun 11 '15 at 7:25
  • @Peter ..., contract signed, etc - my main point was that many things come into play (start, stop, off hours, burst hours, etc) as well as company norms - and managers being different (under different rules, expectations) would definitely come into play there. – WernerCD Jun 11 '15 at 12:36
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I find it interesting that none of the current answers seems to address the following adequately:

I find myself just browsing the internet when he leaves, as I'm usually done with my work and since he's gone - I know I wont be getting any more projects to work on.

I do not agree with the suggestion that was made by some of the answerers that you should just 'think of things to do'. While I certainly agree with the fact that since you are paid you are expected to stay and work - I do think that it is also the employer's responsibility to make sure that there is work to be done. If there is nothing useful left to be done, it would not be efficient for you to stay.

Therefore, I would propose that you ask your manager before he leaves what things you should work on in the remaining hours. This also gives him the chance to give you time off in case he does not feel that there are at this moment things that you should work on.

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    While there are certainly occasional times where someone "runs out of work", the OP seems to be suggesting that this is normal. Since the OP is a developer, running out of work should just above never happen. There's always something to improve upon. Thus, in this particular case, it really is a matter of the OP having zero initiative and by making things up to do at least gets them started in the right direction for having some initiative. – Dunk Jun 9 '15 at 13:23
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    I do agree that running out of work is nonoptimal and should not, in any sane environment, happen. I do not agree that being unable to come up with such work themselves means a developer has "no initiative". Generally speaking, developers shouldn't be going around adding new features to anything without approval, that would be madness. (Of course, realistically there's likely a bug backlog, but that depends on the type and age of the project.) In any case, that does sound like the biggest issue: there should just always be more work to do. – neminem Jun 9 '15 at 17:42
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    Theres always documentation to write as a developer too. Just browsing StackOverflow would be better than "browsing the internet" – reggaeguitar Jun 9 '15 at 19:09
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See the answers regarding "What should I do when I don't have assigned work?". You generally do have something productive you could be doing, and your career will go much better if you do that than if you do only what's explicitly assigned. And if there's really nothing even anticipated, spend the time improving your work skills; that's a legitimate use of your work time and entertaining and valuable to you as well as your current employer.

If you work only when actively supervised, you won't be working long, or promoted often. There are lots of eager, energetic kids who'd be glad to take your job away from you. Don't let your boss think one of them might be a better fit for the position

If the boss actively dismisses you early (coming around at 3PM the day before a holiday and telling you that you can leave, for example), the answer is different ... because that's a different question.

If you aren't sure whether you've been given permission to leave early, ask!

4

The highest-ranking 'boss' in our office room leaves consistently an hour before I do every day.

She is also always in before I am each morning, and while I don't know how early that is, I do know that she has to be working at least as many hours as me to make full-time pay.

To put it simply: You work the number of hours you're required to work, no more unless you get paid overtime, and no less unless you get permission, take time off, or under extenuating circumstances.

3

It depends if your contract states that you have to work 7 hours per day or if it says 35 hours a week, and if you are free to chose the time when you work or if there are fixed times.

Read the contract, when in doubt ask, especially how to handle the half hour that you have obviously left every day.

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    What contract? Salaried employees in the U.S. usually don't have contracts. – reirab Jun 9 '15 at 15:39
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What you are describing is called Spanish Practices within the UK:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_practices

The implied terms are that everybody kind of gradually finishes in that last half an hour means that it's a group norm. The question is if your boss is aware of it, if not then they might have something to say on the matter.

The key aspect really with relaxed work practices is how this affects your future. If everybody in the company is not giving 100% then surely that indicates a lack of competitive advantage, the business could shrink risking jobs.

It is not helpful for your long term career, so no it's not professional.

0

To give a more specific, straight forward answer, I would say it's highly dependent on your workplace and your boss/manager/department head, and the position you're in, how well you perform, etc.

To give a recommendation/answer, I would say this:

At my current job I do web development, though it's not technically my position (I'm IT, but I'm the one redoing the site and adding a whole lot of web-based functionality and integration to the business and the applications they use).

Being in this position, I can safely say there is almost -always- something you can improve upon, learn, research, etc. Web development is ever-changing and new stuff is coming out constantly. Code can almost always be improved, documented, organized, etc. It doesn't even have to be code. As an example: do you fire up your development environment manually, setting everything up each time? Just develop on the OS your on, etc? Consider something like Vagrant to speed up your setup time.

And the same, I'm sure, goes for most jobs. You can almost always get better at what you do, expand what you know and can do, and get an idea of what the people around you which you might have to interact with or can do something for. If he has no work after you ask him, find a way to make yourself more valuable to them and the business as a whole.

0

There is a different way to approach your question: does it actually matter?

In some office cultures, the time you spend at your desk matters. Staying late either makes you look "committed", or makes you look very inefficient.

I work from home. Only results matter. You could try to move this culture over to your current work. Then it will not matter when you leave, only if you do the work (and are a good teamplayer, which requires some time at your desk together with your team).

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I've noticed a trend. Every day my boss will leave about 30 minutes before the office closes up.

In my experience, I have seen that bosses are held to more lenient standards than workers, that's how it is.

If I have all of my work completed for the day, is it normal to leave when my boss is gone?

Depending on your office environment, you may not want to take that chance. Perhaps if you are in the good books of your boss, you can do so. If your boss looks unfavorably towards you, better stay till your time is done.

Stay and find something productive to do.

I find myself just browsing the internet when he leaves, as I'm usually done with my work and since he's gone

Perhaps your workplace doesn't mind you browsing internet, because at least it shows your presence to outsiders, especially management in other departments.

Better to browse websites for self-improvement for current job

I work as a web developer (I don't know if that makes a difference).

You can answer questions on stackoverflow.stackexchcange.com, otherwise it really doesn't make a difference.

Is it unprofessional to leave early if he's gone already?

Technically it is not unprofessional. As you mentioned you don't have other tasks.