How many of you would elect to work more than 40 hours a week? I’m guessing not many of you. We all need our own time. It’s up to us to protect it, and not rely on our manager to do it for us. Of course there will be times when you absolutely have to stay to meet a deadline, but that should be the exception. The best way to ensure you’re not working more than 40 hours a week and are able to leave the office when you need to is by setting boundaries.
New in the office
Observe colleagues and your boss. At what time do they arrive and leave? Are there specific reasons for need to their early arrival or late departure? Are they in meetings all day and as a result fail to get their work done? Are they talking all day with colleagues when they could be getting work done?
Acquaint your boss with your priorities, but don’t come in the gate immediately demanding things. You’re still in that beginning phase and want to make a good impression.
Leave on time whenever possible. If your work is finished, don’t wait for your co-workers or boss to leave. Although you want to establish yourself as a hardworking and motivated employee in the first few months on the job, begin introducing the idea that you do not want to stay late every day. Do this delicately and gradually.
Introduce your priorities gently. Do you want to make it home for dinner with your family? Talk about your family. This doesn’t mean you need to do it constantly, but inserting tidbits during conversations over time will alert to your boss that family is important to you.
Maybe you want to make it to your 6:00 p.m. spinning class at the gym. No shame there. Exercise improves sleep, reduces anxiety, and boosts work performance. While not everyone will understand or value that, you shouldn’t have to give it up for your job all the time. Talk about your classes so colleagues know what’s important to you.
After several months in the office
If you’ve proven yourself to be the star you are, you should feel comfortable talking to your boss about your long hours if it’s become an issue. Find a time when she is not busy and sit down to talk about your priorities. Be sure to start the conversation by explaining how much you enjoy the new job. Then explain that you are fully on board with the fact that some days you’ll need to stay late, but you’d like to try and leave on time on other days. Briefly explain why and its importance to you. Maintain her confidence by assuring her you can get your work done during regular business hours.
Meetings. Many meetings are a waste of time. Look at your calendar and pinpoint which ones are necessary for you to attend and which are not. If you’re a manager, can you ask others to attend in your place? If you don’t think it’s essential for you to be in a meeting, tell your colleagues you can’t make it but ask them to inform you of anything important. It will make some co-workers upset, but it will allow you to get work done. Perhaps you could even suggest that they cancel some meetings altogether, saving everyone valuable work time.
Chit chat. If colleagues are preventing you from getting work done by coming to your office to chat or complain all day, close your door. If you’re in the ever-popular open-concept office, you may need to put a sign up, or purchase noise cancelling headphones to signal to colleagues you need to focus. You can add humor to it if you’re worried about what people will think.
Boss’s expectations. Dealing with a boss’s radical expectations or understaffing is a much more difficult issue. However, if you’re a valued employee, you should be able to address these issues with your boss. She may be looking for some creative ideas on how to redistribute work or find a more efficient way to do business. Make sure you go to her with solutions instead of complaints.
After a year or more in the office
The latter concerns are easier to address with your boss once you’ve been on the job longer. Presenting solutions rather than grievances will go over better.
Stick to your guns. Set your hours, let people know what they are, and stick to them as much as possible. Be honest and transparent if people ask why you insist on leaving at 5:00 p.m. If your boss questions it, remind her that you can be reached in the evening if something unexpected occurs, or you can handle it early the next day.
Too many bosses and employees believe that everything should’ve been done yesterday because they are not good at prioritizing. Sometimes you may think your boss needs something today, but if you ask, it may turn out he doesn’t need it till tomorrow or the following day. There is no harm in asking once you’ve earned their respect, and if it means you will do a better job, your boss, client, or colleague should be willing to oblige. If you find you cannot get the right balance at work and are continuously having to arrive early or stay late, let the job search begin. There are companies and bosses out there who will respect work time and priorities.