I have started a new job (UK) and have read the employee handbook, HR orientation etc. I've been doing the regular 9-5; always on time, productive despite being new etc.

I'm however starting to get the feeling that "40 hours per week" translates to 8h30m, not 8h; 8h of work + 30m lunch break. This is purely observational and was not stated anywhere in my contract / employee handbook / HR orientation etc.

I've been obliviously doing the 9-5 for a couple of weeks now, even saying "good morning" at 9 and "goodye" at 5 to my superiors (i.e. they can clearly see the times I enter and exit the office). I'm now in a situation where I'm pondering how to clarify the situation with my superiors; it might be that I'm not in the wrong at all (I know, I should have asked about this on day one, I just naively made the assumption this is how things work, seeing I was not briefed otherwise by anyone). I should also mention that we enter/leave the premises using a swipe card (which is, according to the employee handbook, a measure of security, not a measure of attendance).

How should I approach this?

  • 5
    What do your co-workers do? – Dan Pichelman Nov 22 '16 at 22:48
  • 2
    Why not just ask now. "I've been wondering..." Always better if you bring it up instead of them. – Erik Nov 22 '16 at 23:05
  • @DanPichelman Might be a better idea to ask than what they should do, since there can be a culture of people working overtime. You don't want to do that unless you choose to, not because of "everyone else was doing it". – Draken Nov 23 '16 at 9:57
  • New job = first job I assume? – Lilienthal Nov 23 '16 at 9:57
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    Does your contract specify 40hrs per week, or that working hours are 9 - 5? It's been a while since I worked in the UK, but my hours were typically 37.5 per week rather than 40. – Laconic Droid Nov 23 '16 at 15:18

Lunch breaks do not count as working hours in the UK. Whenever people talk about a 40-hour work week or working 9-to-5, it's typically understood that those 40 hours do not include lunch breaks and that you're actually working a full 8 hours, which means starting at 8:30, leaving at 17:30 or any variation thereof for people with flexible hours. The reason no one mentioned this to you is that this practice is so normal that people with work experience don't really think about it.

If this is your first job this is one of those things that you can't be expected to know. Your manager should have explained this, as part of your onboarding as teaching new employees professional norms is part of the deal when you hire people with no experience, but it's understandable that she forgot. All you really need to do is ask your manager

I just realised that I probably misunderstood the hours that I'm expected to work. I took the classic 9-to-5 literally but our lunch break isn't actually included in that, is it? [....this is where she tells you that's indeed not the case...] I feel pretty silly for not realising this sooner but rest assured that I'll get the full 40 hours in from now on. Is it okay if I make up those hours over the coming week(s)?

The key is to make it clear that you feel bad about "messing up" in your first week due to an honest mistake and that you'll be working a regular schedule from now on. Suggesting that you make up the hours helps with assuring your manager that you want to respect professional norms and the nature of the business relationship you have with the company (their money for your time) but it's likely that your manager will simply tell you not to worry about it.

I would not bother HR with this. It's up to your manager to explain what hours she expects of you and whether you should make up the hours you missed.

On the off chance that this isn't actually your first "real" job, you'd still say pretty much the same thing but you'd explain that your previous employer simply handled this differently.

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    ^ basically this. If you have a manager, he/she will be your first point of communication. your manager is the one who has to evaluate you, not HR. If you talk to HR about this, chances are that your manager doesn't know and evaluates you badly because of it. however, if you tell your manager, your manager will make all the needed arrangements. including those with HR. – Migz Nov 23 '16 at 14:29

Read your contract

The information will be in there.

Typically "working hours" does not cover time taken out for lunch breaks.

Read HMRC Calculating your working hours

Where it states that:

What doesn’t count as work
A working week doesn’t include:
* time you spend on call away from the workplace
* breaks when no work is done, e.g. lunch breaks
* travelling outside of normal working hours
* unpaid overtime you’ve volunteered for, e.g. staying late to finish something off
* paid or unpaid holiday
* travel to and from work (if you have a fixed place of work)

It's possible that your employers are fairly relaxed and are happy that you complete the tasks you're assigned to. But someone might start noticing that you're not giving enough seat time, and that's not really a reputation you'd want to have....

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  • "someone might start noticing that you're not giving enough seat time" Good point. Especially since OP is new to the job (and presumably the workforce), the hours he puts in are one of the few performance signs that are immediately obvious. – Lilienthal Nov 24 '16 at 9:21

Ask the question of whoever serves as your HR contact - if there isn't one then any senior person would be able to at least outline it for you.

Do this soon, the longer you leave it the more likely there will be a problem.

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  • In my experience it'd be a mistake to go to HR rather than your boss. If this was in error your boss is way more likely to shrug it off and steer you the right way from here forward. HR is more likely to force some remedy for past wrongdoing like docking your pay. – Myles Nov 23 '16 at 15:15
  • Contrary to that, dealing with a high level person could backfire on you whereas people who's actual job it is to handle mistakes can fix it quicker. Don't get bitten by that HIPPO – speciesUnknown Nov 24 '16 at 17:26

Are you the first one to leave or the last one to arrive ?

I am assuming you have coworkers, since you mentioned an employee handbook. If you answered yes to either of these questions, there is a serious chance that you are not working as much as you are expected to.

Discuss it with colleagues first. It can be a very casual question, like "Hey Bob, I was wondering, when do you arrive/leave on a regular day?" If several colleagues work more than you, discuss it with your boss and ask him what exactly he is expecting. This could be done around a cup of coffee in a 5-min talk, you probably do not need a formal meeting.

Are you delivering what you are expected to ?

If you find out most people work 9am-6pm, for instance, it might be because they need this time to meet their delivery target. If you do not need this time at the moment, and if your boss is comfortable with you leaving at any point after 5pm as long as you meet your delivery target, just keep leaving at 5pm.

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