At my current job - a UK-based development company - I set a vibrate-only alarm on my phone that goes off for only a second at 5:30 pm (which is my official end time). I don't like to literally watch the clock as it would be distracting and unprofessional.

I have this alarm set so I am on time to catch a train which only comes every 45 minutes.

If anyone heard my alarm, it would be like I had just gotten a text or email alert. The only person who could hear it was my supervisor, who quickly realised its regularity. In a recent employee review, my supervisor criticised the use of this alarm because it made me 'seem too regimented' and 'it was as if I was not enjoying my time at work'. He is aware of my travel circumstances and I have never expressed a dislike of my work. I asked if anyone else had noticed it or was bothered by it, to which he said no. I was not told to stop setting the alarm but I have done so for now anyway.

I always arrive well before my contracted start time. I have almost never had to work overtime because of a missed deadline, though I have on a couple of occasions demonstrated that if an urgent situation arises, or if someone approaches me, at 5:29 pm, I will stick around until it is safely resolved.

In an environment where people contractually finish at various times / use flexible working hours, is it still unprofessional to have a personal alert for your own finishing time?

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    I do not find this unprofessional but would make a minor suggestion: I would set the reminder at say 15 minutes to the time you need to leave, not 1 minute. I would then clarify with your boss that you are not clock watching, just the opposite. You get involved in your work and want to make sure you close things up gracefully rather than seeming to rush out or miss your connection because you do not pay attention to the time. A 15 minute warning gives you time to wrap things up for the day, or recognize you will simply be going over that day.
    – dlb
    Aug 15, 2017 at 16:43
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    Phrase it to boss this way - "On the contrary, I enjoy my work to the point where I get immersed in it and lose track of time. I really like my job. I just hate missing my train home." Just make sure you don't undercut yourself by having this as your alarm - youtube.com/watch?v=j4kRQzZqSlI Aug 15, 2017 at 18:14
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    I think an Outlook reminder that said "Catch train" (or words to that effect) would get the point across, and everyone would see it's neccessity. Aug 17, 2017 at 10:11
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    I think you should be glad your supervisor criticized this, considering he had to give "some" feedback - it suggests you're otherwise doing really well. Maybe he's just worried you're unhappy and will leave the company. I'd simply remind of the train-catching scenario and leave it be. Aug 17, 2017 at 12:52
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    @levelonehuman So instead of giving positive feedback and being recognized, he is being petty and behaving like the OP is not entitled to his personal time. I get your point, however cannot see reasons for the OP to be glad. Aug 18, 2017 at 4:18

14 Answers 14


Most people have some sort of commitment that they have to attend after work. These could be making the carpool/train everyday, picking up the kids, or a once a week activity. There is nothing unprofessional about using an alarm reminding you that you need to dash.

This isn't the case of somebody watching the clock, this is making sure that you don't miss your commitment. So using it isn't unprofessional or even unusual. But, even if it was a reminder that your minimum hours have elapsed, there is nothing wrong about doing this.

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    When talking with your manager (or anybody else) about it, talk in terms of train departure or kid pick-up or whatever, not in terms of leaving. That casts it in terms of things that are not under your control, which goes over better. Aug 15, 2017 at 16:34
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    I think there's also virtue in OP's reasoning that watching the clock would be distracting, and that should also be brought up. The alarm is likely making OP more productive, which is good for the company...
    – 2rs2ts
    Aug 15, 2017 at 18:43
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    You can also frame it as "I get so caught up in my work, I would forget to go home at night without the alarm". That's pretty much the opposite of disliking one's work and clock-watching.
    – 1006a
    Aug 15, 2017 at 19:28
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    I was able to bring up my train routine in passing today, and further to that, the alarm. My supervisor was more accommodating with it this time. I think it was a clashing of personalities before; he commonly stays late even though we're not overworked. As some have suggested, I put the alarm to a few minutes before my leaving time too.
    – user34587
    Aug 16, 2017 at 8:22
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    @TomW it depends on the nature of the employment. Hourly employees in retail and salaried professionals who sometimes have to put in a little extra will have different considerations (and contracts). I've never had a contract that would allow "40 hours are up, bye!" regardless of circumstances. YMMV. But either way, I've found that managers are more sympathetic to "I need to pick my kid up before daycare closes" than "I want to leave now". Anyway, not trying to have a conversation here (feel free to ping me in chat); I left the comment as a suggestion for the author to incorporate. Aug 16, 2017 at 13:05

It was unprofessional of your supervisor to tell you that. You have a train to catch. I work in a fairly casual office with lots of flex time, yet several people leave at specific times to catch transit options. If it's ever brought up again, tell your supervisor that you consider the criticism unprofessional and they are not respecting your time.

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    While you are 100% correct in your assessment that the supervisor is behaving unprofessionally, it's been my experience that calling them out on it rarely ends well. Aug 15, 2017 at 14:21
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    @DanPichelman Well, in my experience you can be quite frank to people face to face, just don't do it "in public". As long as you state clearly that this is a perception, not objective truth you are good to go. Point is that the criticism is off the mark, did not give valuable insight to any problem or learning.
    – Stian
    Aug 16, 2017 at 10:52
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    While this answer seems to be correct... I think you really need to know the dynamic between your supervisors/company and yourself in order to call them out on it. Myself, I've always taken the frank approach with my bosses. It works well and they appreciate my honesty. The issue would be if I was normally more reserved in my feedback rather instead and then out of nowhere told them they were being unprofessional.
    – dphil
    Aug 17, 2017 at 15:59
  • IMO; this should be the correct answer. Your personal time should not be used against you, and much less in an official conversation about your performance. Aug 18, 2017 at 4:13
  • I don't agree it's unprofessional of the supervisor. He sees it as an issue. Obviously a minor issue since it only appeared after some time of happening and there's no strong policy implied by him. It's better to track issues than to get over them, especially if things are done in a friendly way. And after all, the OP got a nice suggestion from here (set the alarm 15m earlier), so the supervisor's initiative actually may change things, and probably to the better. So I don't see your point.
    – yo'
    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:13

No, it's not unprofessional, but it might look as if you are waiting for this alarm to jump away. Since the vibration is the one triggering the response from your supervisor, I'd suggest to silence it. Set an outlook notification that will pop-up at your screen or something similar that will notify you without any feedback for the rest.

The issue here is 5:30 is now a "thing" and your supervisor will check the clock regardless of the alarm. You could vary the time you when you get alarmed and leave, when (if) it's convenient for you, so that your supervisor sees that you leave at different time. Might be a good idea to flex a bit and stay a couple of times after 6, to reinforce the new variety.

Edit: To clarify a bit. I am offering an alternative, if OP decides not to discuss this topic with his supervisor or until he decides to. I am not concerned with his boss' lack of professionalism, nor is my answer about kissing behinds.

Anyway. If you decide to talk about this issue, stress that for you proffesionalism is valued by {insert what you value here} and not by sitting in the office after hours for no reason.

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    If the boss knows the situation and still puts more weight onto appearances, then he's the one acting completely unprofessional. Aug 15, 2017 at 14:41
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    @FlorianSchaetz while you are correct your boss is also the one doing your reviews. So making an attempt to make them happy is something that many people like to do. And those who dont do that like to get upset because it raises the minimum standards. Aug 15, 2017 at 15:00
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    @IDrinkandIKnowThings All true, but the question was not, how to best kiss a behind, even if this is often what you need to do, but what is professional. And from this, we learn, that professionalism is only valued by professional people. Aug 15, 2017 at 18:01
  • "vibration" = "silence," already, so that essentially means "don't use your phone."..... which is fine as a suggestion. Aug 15, 2017 at 18:17
  • OP would also have the option of buying a cheap smartwatch to wear instead as it could also vibrate (except since it's right up against your body the vibration is very minimal and silent). This way he could have the alarm without anyone aware, in case he really felt uncomfortable about his supervisor knowing that the alarm still was going off.
    – h2ooooooo
    Aug 15, 2017 at 18:33

In an environment where people contractually finish at various times / use flexible working hours, is it still unprofessional to have a personal alert for your own finishing time?

As I'm guessing you already suspect, this probably isn't actually about an alert at all. Instead, it's far more likely to be about leaving promptly at 5:30.

Your supervisor is probably trying to throw a ham-handed hint that you shouldn't be so eager to leave at the same exact time each day. Your supervisor may actually like to see you work more, and later. Your supervisor may not be good enough to discuss the actual issue directly. Lots of poor supervisors/managers are like that.

I'm not saying this makes any sense, that you should ever stay late, that you should alter your schedule or anything like that.

I am saying that it is not at all unprofessional to have an alert for yourself so that you don't miss your transportation. (Or miss medication, or miss lunch, or miss a meeting, etc.). Alerts have a great use that seems completely practical and professional to me.

It probably makes sense to find a more "silent" alert. And perhaps even to alert yourself earlier, so that it doesn't give the impression to your supervisor that you are dashing off immediately. I know you don't want to be a "clock watcher", but it might be simpler to silence the alert until this odd supervisor gets it out of his/her head.

Whatever you do, continue to find a way to make sure you don't miss your transportation.

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    It's always unfortunate when you have to work around your manager's incompetence, considering it's their job to protect you from others' incompetence...
    – corsiKa
    Aug 20, 2017 at 19:46

Understand that the remarks that your boss made about you being "too regimented" and "not enjoying your time at work" are just a poorly executed trick to guilt you into working unpaid overtime, which is not working because of your alarm. It's certainly not unprofessional of you to have the alarm (and not very honorable of your manager to trick you into working more), but the situation is not unique or unheard of.

It is also possible that your alarm, however discreet, reminds your colleagues who are doing overtime work that they are working for free past this point. This "ruins the team morale" which is manager speak for uncovering this little trick which may have worked on more gullible colleagues who don't need to leave on a specific time.

If you like your job, it's best to avoid open conflicts. Tell your boss you have to leave at 5:30. If he's not OK with that, ask him if he wants to alter your working hours. Also, offer to use a more discreet alarm (e.g. an Outlook popup) if your manager finds that the current alarm is disturbing.


"it was as if I was not enjoying my time at work"

It hasn't happened to me, but I enjoy my time at work from 9:00 to 5:30 with a lunch break, and I enjoy going home at 5:30. If I leave at 5:35 I have to rush to get my train, so that's where the joy stops. The supervisor is plain stupid making remarks like this, it will just alienate people.

If your supervisor doesn't like the silent alarm, then you need to switch to a louder alarm.

PS. Since someone thinks this would be passive aggressive, what about the supervisor, who doesn't have the guts to tell you that he wants you to do unpaid overtime, but has to come up with that kind of nonsense? If you want someone to do unpaid overtime, then tell them, and you will get a matching answer. With a cowardly, dishonest approach like this supervisor, they should get what they deserve.

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    @doppelgreener The answer might be tongue-on-cheek, however it does have a point. It is unfair a complaint being made, and furthermore being made in a performance evaluation setting when sensible measures to not disturb are already being taken. Aug 18, 2017 at 4:16

Your supervisor's behavior is unprofessional and ridiculous.

You are not there to "seem unregimented" (does she not know that those who regiment their time are usually more productive than those who don't?). You are not there to "not watch the clock". You are there to do your job. If you are doing your job, and not bothering anyone else, then the alarm you have set is none of her business.

If she brings up the criticism again, I might suggest giving a dismissive (yet not impolite) shrug of the shoulders and defending your use of the alarm. Surely your manager must have other, better metrics to go by to determine whether or not you enjoy your work.


It is easy to deduce that you have a right to leave when your workday ends.

It is also easy to deduce that either the supervisor wants you to stay longer and is passive-aggressively managing you by showing annoyance at your alarm or that the supervisor is just nitpicking on you and really acting unprofessional. We don't know which one.

However what I would suggest is that you change the perception of how you leave. If your alarm goes off and you slap your laptop shut within a few seconds there might be (unjustly) a perception that you weren't really working on anything, you are so regiment that schedule comes before work, or that you simply don't like your work. Just talking perceptions, not what is going on.

What you can do is make sure there is a good amount of time and varying time between alarm and when you actually leave. This may mean setting it off earlier. I for one - being a tech manager for years - would highly highly question what an employee was doing the last part of their shift if they could shut down a few seconds after an alarm went off. I wouldn't have said anything but we are talking perception here. I would have certainly started paying great attention and possibly overmanaging the end of said employee's shift. Basically it would send off alarm bells and I have been right more times than not on these. If you are a good employee doing this, that isn't the norm but I do understand your reasoning and a good employee could certainly leave right around 5:30 every day.


In addition to supporting the dominant answer (no, this is not unprofessional at all), you should also check your working contract and conditions.

Many companies these days silently expect you to work more hours than they pay you. That is unprofessional on their side, it just became very common. Not too long ago, it was in fact quite common for workers to leave within a minute of work time being over. There used to be accustic signals in factories to notify shift beginnings and endings and people would literally drop what they were doing and go out.

Resist this encroaching on your personal time. If it comes up again, and you have the confidence, flat out ask what the problem is. Are you regimenting yourself? Yes, you are. What is the problem? Are you leaving on time? Yes, you are. What is the problem?

Commonly, supervisors are by themselves under pressure to deliver results, and the easiest (and unfortunately for many, only) way to do that is to more or less openly pressure their people into working more for the same pay. Keep that in mind. The supervisor is probably not a bad person, just one that is under pressure as well.


I was also scolded when I was younger, on occasion, for leaving on time when I had similar commitments and they knew I had them, and not only from superiors.

Often it can be human nature people comparing themselves to others - however using that argument coming evaluation time is plain nasty, or should I say, vindictive. It does not bode well for the character of your superior.

As for the point in question, if someone complained about me unfairly, I would remind them politely I am entitled to my personal time.

I offer a technologic solution however, for the noise, hence opening a new answer: use a smart band/bracelet. It is cheap, and only you will feel the vibration in your wrist for alarms, and also for calls when away from the phone. It will also enable you to keep the phone in silent mode without vibrating.

For instance, I had a xiaomi Mi Band bought in Ali Express that cost around 20 Euros, and the battery charge lasted 2 weeks.


You could replace the alarm with a repeating Calendar notification on your phone. If anyone notices, it is more clear what is going on.

There is nothing wrong with the alarm, but it's open to interpretation to anyone who sees it being regular.

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    How is a periodic calendar notification different from a periodic alarm? Aug 16, 2017 at 14:50
  • Calendar notifications are more common and are better at signalling to someone you need to leave than an alarm
    – code ninja
    Aug 16, 2017 at 15:23
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    And how exactly are they better? I'd say calendar notifications are worse at signalling something that happens every day, because you don't actually need a calendar. Aug 16, 2017 at 15:28
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    I get that. What I don't get is how replacing an alarm with a notification could help. I even doubt the boss will notice the change. Aug 16, 2017 at 16:20
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    I was thinking that whilst a regular alarm might seem weird (especially when it's "time to leave"), however a calendar notification might not. If anyone notices, it gives them a glimpse of what the notification is.. Could be "Train in 10 minutes"
    – code ninja
    Aug 16, 2017 at 19:01

You are asking the wrong question. The majority vote is that this is not unprofessional. You can take that to your boss in a confrontational way and say get off my back, but that is not likely to be a good path forward. Your problem is that your boss has noticed your alarms and is upset about them. You need to decide how to respond to the situation. Now that your boss has noticed, s/he may well check whether you are at your desk at 5:35 just to see if you are watching the clock, so suggestions that you reset the alarm earlier are not productive unless removing the prompt stops your boss' irritation. You are trying to combat the perception that you are not dedicated enough to stay late when it is useful. The simplistic answer is to document the time you do spend, either explicitly by stating it to your boss or implicitly by sending e-mails when you arrive early or stay late. The reality is that arriving early, unless there is a specific event that requires it, is not valued as much as staying late. Arriving early just is a way to get routine work done, while staying late handles emergencies. The fact that routine work left undone becomes an emergency gets lost in the shuffle. A good boss will notice the higher output that comes with your arriving early. I don't have an answer, just some things to think about. One option is to ignore it aside from not letting your boss see the alarms any more and hope your boss forgets about it. You need to think about what you know about your boss.

  • Upvoting due to providing useful text. However, I questioned whether to do so. Why? Because of the last sentence. If you don't have an answer yet, then add one.
    – TOOGAM
    Aug 19, 2017 at 12:39

In an environment where people contractually finish at various times / use flexible working hours, is it still unprofessional to have a personal alert for your own finishing time?

It can be. In your case, it is. Let me rephrase the question.

In an environment where my boss objects to a quiet alarm, is it still unprofessional to have a quiet alarm for your own finishing time?

Yes. Because you're showing disrespect for your boss's declared judgement (if you continue).

Suggestion: Just change your approach. Install some sort of visual alarm software that will flash your screen (or cover a third of your screen with a message) at a certain time. Make sure the message sounds safe, like "Ensure critical work of the day is saved." To you, that will also mean "be prepared to catch that train!" Considering the prior conversation, I would even avoid using a phrase like "time to wrap-up", because that sounds like an end-of-day reference. (Make sure any reference to the "end of day" is implied.)

Maybe one reason you boss doesn't like the alarm is that it also reminds him that he didn't get more done by the end of the day, which has now crept up on him. However, the boss may not to reveal bad feelings to you if such revelation might make him look more negative (e.g. less competent). Regardless of what his actual (and maybe even unconscious) motivations might be, what I recommend you focus on is: Can you successfully find a way to cooperate without appearing defiant / uncooperative?

If you can succeed in finding something that isn't noticed by your boss, but which achieves your goals, you may find the best of both worlds. (Just make sure that your new system is sufficiently hidden so that your boss is not likely to even notice. If you invent a second system which your boss notices and objects to, then you may dig a deeper hole by getting your boss to want to look for any such system, hoping to stamp out the unwanted behavior. So, be careful in whatever solution you select.)


While I don't think your supervisor is ok in his comments, another solution would be to use your flexible schedule to change the perception that you're waiting for 5:30 to leave the office.

Supposing you don't have another activity in the evening, why don't you arrive 45 minutes later a few days a week and those days grab a later train?

You would have worked the same amount of time, but your supervisor won't get the impression you're watching the clock.

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