How do I ask for a work/life balance?
June 15, 2012 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I found a class I'd like to take after work. How bad would it look to ask my new boss if I could leave 5 or 10 minutes early to get there on time?

It's my first month on the job, so I fear looking like I'm lazy. I work from 9-6, and the class starts at 6:15pm. It is once a week and 90 minutes. My job is about 25-35 minutes away with traffic.

The bigger problem is it's a high-stress, high-work-volume job so despite working 9-6 hours, I have not once left before 6:30. Neither do most of my coworkers. My supervisor asks me to check in with them before I leave in case there is any more work to be done at the end of the day, so I usually get out at 6:30 or 7. I feel like my options are:

a) Leave whenever I leave, and risk missing half the class every week.

b) Leave the office at 6, and miss the first 10 or 20 minutes of class every week. Risk looking like I'm "dipping out" early.

c) Ask to leave at 5:50, where I'd cut it close but likely get there just in time. Again, risk looking lazy or like I'm trying to "dip out" early when everyone else is putting in the overtime (without pay, of course).

d) Don't take the class, fingers crossed that they offer a better schedule next semester - sorry that's grown up life.

I should note, the class has nothing to do with my job so I can't pull the "professional development" card. I still really want to take it because I'm excited to have a new hobby after basically not having a life for so many years - I'm tired of going home, making dinner, and going to sleep. Maybe there are other options, or a more tactful way to ask? I'd offer to come in early on some days, but no one is even at the office yet and without my boss there, there isn't a whole ton to do.
posted by windbox to Work & Money (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there an (e) where you can arrange with your boss to come in a half-hour early once a week?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:32 AM on June 15, 2012 [17 favorites]

Try to arrange with your boss hours so you can work around this commitment. You don't have to elaborate what the commitment is, just figure out how to get your hours in, either by coming in earlier or taking on extra hours where needed elsewhere in the week.
posted by xingcat at 7:35 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Even when I was staffing a call center where people had to be on the phones I would still try to work around classes for employees. Once a week for a set number of weeks is totally acceptable to me. The worst that can happen is he says no.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:50 AM on June 15, 2012

Holy Z's suggestion is definitely the best option. Personally I would ask to come in half an hour early every day -- you'll have more time to get your work done, leave on time for your class, and your coworkers will see that even though you leave earlier than they do, you're always the first one at the office, so there won't be any built up resentment.
posted by telegraph at 7:53 AM on June 15, 2012

d) Don't take the class, fingers crossed that they offer a better schedule next semester - sorry that's grown up life.

Grown-up life is exhausting every reasonable option before giving up on something you want to do. I don't think I've ever had a boss balk at "mind if I leave a bit early if I show up early?" Especially if in your case as it's closer to "mind if I leave on time if I show up early?"
posted by griphus at 7:56 AM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, unless you are the only person who needs to answer the phone or do X duty right up till you leave, it should be no problem to ask. "would it be possible for me to leave early on Wednesdays for the next 4 months and make up the time by coming in early?" you're just asking permission, it's not like
you're trying to tell your boss what he/she has to allow.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:57 AM on June 15, 2012

At my job people handle this by coming in early that day, or the next. It's totally routine. I'd talk to your boss about it. I'd probably propose something like "before I leave for class, let's meet and you can tell me what still needs to be done. Tomorrow I'll come in early to finish it up." You're not slacking, you're just delaying the work slightly, which shouldn't matter unless you're putting out a daily newspaper or are a surgeon or something.
posted by chowflap at 7:58 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with asking your boss and instead of saying "can I leave early?" ask "can I leave at 5:45?" It might just be me but if you ask to leave "early" then you are setting your boss up for feeling like s/he is doing you a favor rather than setting up a temporary alternative work schedule.
posted by cabingirl at 8:01 AM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

It depends on your work environment, but it usually doesn't hurt to ask. Whenever you make this sort of request, always propose a way you'll make up the time.

Don't sign up for the class if you'll regularly be arriving late. It's disruptive and disrespectful to the other people in the class and the teacher. The most important stuff in any class is usually covered in the first twenty minutes, and many places have a "no latecomers" policy anyway.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:06 AM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you're already doing a lot of unpaid overtime, what about asking "Mind if I leave at 5:45 on X-days if I stay until 6:15 on Y-days?"
posted by zerbinetta at 8:10 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd offer to come in early on some days, but no one is even at the office yet and without my boss there, there isn't a whole ton to do.

Personally, a month in, I wouldn't ask for this consideration... unless I could clearly demonstrate to my boss that there is some value in having me show up early beyond not losing my full time that day, and I was positive I could handle my work AND the class. I'm salaried, and I'm expected to work until the job is done - the hours don't mean jack. So I think that it's possible that there are also going to just be some days that you CAN'T leave. Not knowing your job, of course, I can't really say. I think a lot of it depends on your work environment, but if you decide to ask to leave early, I would also think of alternate things you can do after work to have "me time" in case your boss vetoes this idea. I can tell you that I work in hiring and

I would actually wait to take the class because a few months from now, the landscape at your job (the hours, etc) might be very different, as might the class time.
posted by sm1tten at 8:16 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't take the class. This is a new job, and the impression you make now will last for mother-loving ever. If you're in an environment where people stay late, then stay late. After a year or so you'll see how things are, and maybe then will be the time to take your class.

This is indeed how grown ups think.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:23 AM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I would wait to take the class or find one that meets at a time that doesn't conflict with work. Based on your comment that no one gets to the office early, you offering to come in earlier on the days you need to leave early wouldn't be much help. You've only been there a month; at this point, you're still in the stage where you need to be proving yourself and demonstrating to your boss that you are a valuable, responsible, and dependable employee. Requesting to leave early, even one day a week, could undermine those efforts.

After you've been in this job several months, you will also have a better idea of how requests like this are perceived. Maybe it's no big deal and after showing everyone you take your job seriously, you'll be able to make this request with no problems. It's also possible, though, that this is the kind of workplace where leaving early instantly labels you a slacker. You want more information before you make a request like this.
posted by pecanpies at 8:38 AM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Here's what I'd do. Is your current job something you plan to be doing for a while, or just a job until something better comes along? If it's your career, something you went to school for, a step on the path to your dream job, any of those -- wait til you've been there a while longer to find out the culture and if other people ever get to leave early. On the other hand, if this is just a job, you don't care about it, you're looking elsewhere -- there's no harm in asking about taking this class!
posted by jabes at 8:47 AM on June 15, 2012

It's difficult to answer without a clear picture of what kind of work you're doing. Your request seems entirely reasonable and like it should be easy to accommodate in most environments, you just have to figure out a way to do it that doesn't negatively impact or cause resentment with your co-workers. I'm all for it. Except that first month on the job is awfully early to be asking for schedule adjustments. But again, it depends a huge amount on the kind of work you're doing. Might be better to use a little variation of option D: Wait a semester and then try to take the class, even if the schedule is not better.
posted by LowellLarson at 9:03 AM on June 15, 2012

One thing to keep in mind (though it can difficult to given the current lack of employment for anyone, anywhere) is that your actions teach people how you expect to be treated. I learned this the hard way at my last job - I always stayed late, always came in early, gave up outside activities in order to show my commitment to the job (and this was not in a "life or death" type job. Not even a "life or something uncomfortable happens" job). This meant that it was generally expected for me to continue this behavior, regardless of if it was really necessary or if I wanted to.

Do you want to be known as the guy that is willing to give up personal time (and interests) for this job? Then wait until the class is offered at a more convenient time.

Do you want to be known as the guy that maintains a respectful work-life balance and spends some of that time strengthening his personal interests? See if you can come in early one (or more) days a week.

Just remember that whatever you choose now can set a tone for how you're treated later on.
posted by DulcineaX at 9:28 AM on June 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Any reason you can't ask the school if that class is going to be offered next semester and what that schedule might look like?

If they are getting requests similar to yours maybe they will decide to offer a later session of the class or a Saturday class?
posted by eatcake at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2012

I've been that employee and I've been a boss.

First, is the class in any way related to the skills you need/would help you do your job? I'd be more lenient for a marketing class vs., say, art welding or fire dancing (all of which employees of mine in the past have taken). If you can tie it to some advantage my department gets, I'm much more likely to look at it positively. If it's pilates? Um, yeah.

Second, are you in a customer or client service job? If there's paperwork, filing, programming, timesheets, etc. that you can do early, I'd ask to time shift -- come in at 8 (yes, extra, extra time) to demonstrate you're not shirking and indicate how you would use that time effectively without supervision. Be willing to document that work for your boss to review when you're not around. This can even be an advantage if there's some task others don't want to do that is best done in the morning. Or offer to be on email/remote work (if that's possible) in the late evening after your class to clean up after loose ends.

Third, with a creeping schedule job, I'm going to disagree with the folks telling you to wait -- strongly. Setting boundaries is best done early not just for you, but for workload handling and similar. Waiting until it's "a good time" after I'm used to you doing a certain schedule is harder than building a working relationship around one expectation and then getting another. Don't let me set up a rhythm with you and then screw up that rhythm. Tell me now.

Fourth, ask don't tell. Pitch it, thinking about my/the boss's point of view, not yours, but give me an easy out -- without apologizing for asking or downplaying your needs.
posted by Gucky at 7:36 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bottom line: your work always comes first. That's adulthood.

It depends on your work culture. Some places allow for a little flexibility, some don't. I have the impression here (nobody comes in early and everyone always stays late) that your place of work may NOT be that kind of flexible. And you've been there a month-- I would be very afraid to ask and give the impression that you're a slacker/person who has a life outside of work at a place where everyone is expected to work late. Could you perhaps ask a coworker during a break how it would go over if you asked to leave early, see if you can feel this out without asking the boss first?

I would say either to not take the class, or warn the instructor that due to your job, you will always get there late. The instructor won't be thrilled, but these days people wander in late to classes all the damn time, especially when it's a hobby class rather than academia. I've had people wander into my classes 30-90 minutes late and I didn't know if they'd show up or not. At least your teacher would know you're late for a good reason.

It sucks, but you have to schedule life around your job, not the other way around. If your job isn't cool with that, then them's the breaks.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:50 PM on June 15, 2012

Like the first comment says, ask if you can come in early. My high school architecture teacher ran his class like a business (he owned a firm on the side) and we were always making work-type deals with him. I had to take the crappy city bus to and from school, and I made a deal with him that I would come in early during lunch, and he let me leave to catch an earlier bus. Quid pro quo. And if you couch it like that, that you're trying to be fair with your boss and not shirking, it should show well on you.

Also, depending on the type of work you do, is it possible that showing up early will let you at least sort/organize the available workload so that when your coworkers show up everone's work is easier?
posted by Evilspork at 11:23 PM on June 15, 2012

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