Balancing act: Is leaving work late the new 'on time'?

Published: Monday, April 30 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

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I've spent a lot of time the last few months thinking and writing about work/life balance, especially since I changed careers last September.

I believe that's a good thing. It's a topic that warrants discussion as we all try to be the best workers and best family members we can be.

Despite those months of research, though, I'm still interested when I hear different takes on the issue. So I was glad to receive an email about a recent survey by SodaHead.com, which calls itself the Web's largest opinion-based community.

The website posed several questions about work/life balance to its users, and it received more than 1,000 responses.

According to the email from SodaHead.com, 36 percent of respondents said they did not feel they had good work/life balance, with the scales tipped in favor of work. Broken down by gender, 39 percent of men and 30 percent of women expressed concerns about finding the right balance between activities inside and outside the office.

I'm not sure how scientifically accurate this poll is, but the results feel right based on discussions I've had with friends and family. I've found that at least a third of the people I talk to struggle with finding balance between work and home, at least occasionally.

The poll also asked some interesting questions about when people leave work each day, and what impact they think that decision has on their careers.

According to the email from SodaHead.com, 41 percent of respondents said they thought they might be passed over for a promotion if they left work early. Also, 26 percent said they stayed at work later than they wanted to due to peer pressure.

This really hit home for me. I can think of several times in my own work life when I felt I needed to stay in my cubicle later than I wanted to — not because there were tasks to complete, but because my bosses were the kind who equated extra hours in the office with hard work.

As I've spent time as a manager, I've come to feel differently. While it's important to be in the office to exchange ideas with colleagues and to foster productivity, I don't expect my team members to stay late just to prove that they're working hard.

Sure, there are always times when an unexpected project will come up that requires some overtime, and I appreciate employees who are willing and able to step up when those instances arise. But generally, I'm much more concerned with high-quality, timely results than with making sure I can see them in their cubicles at 5:30 or 6 p.m.

Not all bosses feel that way, as evidenced by other results from the SodaHead.com survey. It found that 21 percent of respondents said they left work after 6 p.m. each day, while 18 percent left between 5 and 6 p.m. and 19 percent left before 5 p.m. For 26 percent, their departure time depended on the day.

This result reminded me of one particular friend of mine who almost never leaves work before 5:30 p.m. This person is extremely busy and often has deadline-driven work to complete right up until quitting time. But on other days, this friend stays late largely to ensure a departure time after the boss quits for the day.

I understand it's my friend's choice to do this. The boss has never indicated directly that it's necessary. But I'm guessing some indirect communication has given the message that it would be a good idea. I think that's unfortunate and probably does a disservice both to my friend and the company.

As for me, I try to leave work between 5 and 5:30 p.m. each day. I'm sometimes unable to meet that schedule if I have to complete a project, but I do my best to avoid late departures.

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