should our office kick everyone out at 5 pm? — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I would like to ask you and your readers about a discussion my organization had about working late. I don’t work in the office late. I have worked late at home occasionally, but I do not stay in the office longer than close of business. Some team members do though, to a ridiculous extent. In other teams it varies. One team during the pandemic worked late frequently, but I understand that they’ve now returned to normal.

In a staff meeting and in my own team’s meetings, I’ve suggested that the organization could use a policy set by the controversial entrepreneur Alan Sugar. His rule was that work ends at 5 pm and that everyone had to be out of the building at 5:15. The book I read said that he enforced this rule by having security always lock up at 5:15. However, the wording I’ve used in meetings is that Sugar had staff kicked out of the office at 5:00.

I presume that any part-time employees would have their hours strictly enforced too, but the book only seems to cover the full-time staff.

Whichever way you phrase it, the rule was that staff were only allowed to work in their contracted hours. Everyone had five working days, 9-5 each week and no more. If they hadn’t finished a task by close of business on Friday, they’d have to finish on Monday. Apparently, it encouraged good timekeeping at the expense of making everyone nervous in the last 10 minutes of the day.

My organization’s staff network believes that such a policy would not always be practical, but it would certainly encourage staff to consider work-life balance and to think carefully before working late.

Just so that you know, I have never missed a deadline and I have often received compliments for the standard of my work. So, what do you think of this policy?

I like the intent, but the execution is impractical.

For one thing, it would make flexibility completely impossible. A lot of people like being able to flex their hours — coming in late after an appointment and staying a little later to make up that work, or to working a different schedule than 9-5 if the nature of their work permits it.

Plus, in many jobs, there’s an ebb and flow to the work — this week is busy so I’m going to be staying later, but next month is slower so I’ll knock off early a bunch of days. A lot of people want the autonomy to manage their own schedules and workflow that way, and the nature of many jobs permits it.

There are also jobs where it’s inherent to the work is that sometimes something urgent will come up at the end of the day and it has to be dealt with or there could be serious consequences (think PR, law, tech, and a zillion other fields — although I’m guessing you’re not in one of those or this would be an obvious no-go).

This is also likely to just spur people to work from home at night when they might prefer to just stay a little later to finish and then have a clean break once they go home.

All that said … is a strict 9-5 system better than jobs that expect people to work unsustainably long hours and have no time to themselves? Of course, and I can see how it would look really good to people who are dealing with the latter. But the choice isn’t between those two starkly different options. A healthy organization can ensure workloads are sustainable and people are able to disconnect from work, without employing this kind of rigidity. If your organization isn’t doing that, that’s a problem … but it can be solved with a less blunt instrument.

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