If you're an 8-to-5 worker, and you're reading this at the office at 5:30, you should have left for home a half-hour ago.
At least, that would seem to be the consensus of readers based on responses to a column I wrote a couple of weeks ago.
In that column, I shared the results of a SodaHead.com survey on work/life balance. Part of the survey dealt with when people left the office each day, and the results showed that 26 percent of respondents said they stayed at work later than they wanted to due to peer pressure.
Furthermore, according to the survey, 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.
I mentioned that I had worked for bosses who expected to see people working late, even if they didn't have something to do, but that I don't agree with that philosophy.
It appears that I'm not alone.
A reader named Shawn posted a comment online saying he agreed with my point of view, and so have most of his bosses.
"I think for the most part, my managers have shared Kratz's opinion. Stay late if the project demands it, but otherwise team members should go home at the end of the day, on time, to avoid burnout," Shawn wrote. "People who spend too much time at work start to resent their jobs, and it affects their performance, as well as other aspects of their life.
"While I feel that my willingness to work late does speak to my quality of character as an employee, I don't necessarily feel it directly correlates to my eligibility for promotions. Sometimes if someone's working late it's because they've procrastinated doing something. A good manager can determine quality by people's results, not their schedule."
Another reader, Dave, said in an email that he had recently gained a new perspective on late nights at the office.
"After being a salaried worker for 27 years and now being a contract worker working hourly, I've had the opportunity to look at overtime in a new light," Dave wrote. "I am contracted for only 40 hours per week. If I work more than 40, I won't be paid for the extra hours.
"Companies have no problem with requiring their salaried workers to work more than 40 hours. In my last job the manager was mandating 50-hour weeks. The company would have been upset if I only worked 30 hours in a week, but they had no problem with me working essentially for free for more than 40 hours. It would seem we devalue ourselves if we work 50, 60 hours a week."
I agree, Dave. I understand that part of the trade-off of being on salary, which usually brings higher pay than one could earn as an hourly employee, is knowing that you'll have to work more than 40 hours in a week on occasion. But asking salaried employees to repeatedly put in 50- or 60-hour weeks is an abuse of that understanding.
Another reader, also named David, sent an email to say that more reasonable hours could benefit not only an employee, but also his or her employer.
"I am a firm believer that if you can't get your work done in an eight-hour time, then an hour or so longer isn't going to make a difference," David wrote. "In fact, I think it is detrimental to your overall productivity, as you then start to stress out about work and how little you spend with your family.
"I say put in eight hours with a half-hour to an hour lunch and two 15-minute breaks, one in the morning and one (in the) afternoon. A well-rested and healthy employee is a productive and happy employee."
You're on to something, David. The times I've stayed late at work, sacrificing family time to do so, have not always been my most productive hours. And they definitely didn't make me a happy employee.
A reader named George said in an email that this problem led him to find a way to quit his job.
"There is nothing more ridiculous, in my mind, than a mentality that a warm body at a desk is adding more value to a company," George wrote. "I'm a results-oriented person. If there is work to do, I'm happy to stay late to do it. But I refuse to sit there, pretending to work, just to appear 'dedicated.' The guy who sat next to me for three years refused to leave before me. I can only assume he figured the boss would notice and reward him accordingly."
George fought back by starting a side business and working on it during evenings after getting home from his full-time job.
"I did this for an entire year," George wrote. "It wasn't particularly fun, and family time was scarce. After a year I was able to quit my job and support my family from my own business.
"Now I set my own hours. When there is work to do, I get out there and do it. When there is downtime, I spend it with my family rather than twiddling my thumbs at a desk. It's a pretty good life, and I never have to look at my watch and think, 'It's 5:03, is it OK for me to leave now?' "
Congratulations, George! I'm sure the short-term sacrifice was difficult, but it sounds like the long-term benefits have been great.
I'd appreciate more input on this issue, so if you have an opinion, please let me know. I may share your thoughts in a future column.
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