Help me sort out workplace culture time management issues
August 8, 2016 2:23 PM   Subscribe

I switched roles to a new location with a different culture and I want to make a good impression without messing up my schedule. My employer offers a great work/life balance and the new location's culture seems less aligned with it. I can't figure out how to navigate this effectively.

Just started a new role at work, although similar to the one I had it is a different setting. Let's say the old official end of day was 4:30 and the culture of the old setting was such that most people followed that pretty strictly.

My new setting, we will say the official end of day is 5:15, and apparently people put in extra hours. The person I'm replacing left at 5 sharp most days. I will be asking that person for their thoughts about this 5pm vs 5:15pm issue. This is all further complicated by the fact that I am actually working for a third party who provides support at this site. Third party is intentionally vague and hands off about start/quit times as long as the site doesn't have any issues.

So here's the thing. This role often comes with an expectation of lots of work outside your regular hours, but my job isn't really part of that per se. Think I would be like an outside auditor coming into an accounting firm. I want to make a good impression, be involved etc. At the same time I have a second job I also do and need to manage my schedule effectively to avoid burnout.

My full time role gave me permission to have second job with the understanding that it would not "interfere with my duties." The extra after hour stuff is not an official duty of mine.

At the same time, I am getting ready to take maternity leave and want to minimize any resentment coming my way. But somehow I need to do that without hurting the income from my after hours job.

Do you have suggestions? I have never been one to put in extra hours at work unless I had a deadline requiring it. I think this aspect of American work culture is stupid and not conducive to long term health, increasing employer health coverage costs and sick days in the long run. So it isn't that I'm lazy I just believe in working smart and taking care if the resource we are as people.

Thanks for any help you can provide. I left my employer at 5 pm instead of 5:15 and am feeling anxious that it will cause problems.
posted by crunchy potato to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In your sort of hypothetical, you state that in your new setting the official end is 5:15. If I'm in your shoes, I leave at 5:15 or 5:20 every day and I don't feel bad about it. I've generally found that if I do everything that's asked of me timely, nobody cares too much about when I leave (so long as its the type of place I want to work, where adults are treated like adults). It's hard to give any advice about the miscellaneous after hours stuff without knowing more details though.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:37 PM on August 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Learn to live with mild discomfort. It will go away. It will be replaced with a sense of valuing your own time and being a person with strong boundaries.

You have a different job with different rules. What anyone else thinks, except your supervisor, doesn't matter. Nobody else's theatre performance matters. Do not ruin the precedent your predecessor set for leaving at 5, for god's sake.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:38 PM on August 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

The person I'm replacing left at 5 sharp most days. I will be asking that person for their thoughts about this 5pm vs 5:15pm issue.

I wouldn't ask them, I'd ask your on site manager. If leaving early created a problem with the perception of how hard the former employee was working, the manager will know about it.

Basically you have two people you need to keep happy here: your manager at the job site and the actual company who pays your salary. Keeping #1 happy will ensure that they deliver a positive report to #2. What your coworkers think of you leaving "early" doesn't matter as long as the person you report to is ok with it.
posted by MsMolly at 3:18 PM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'd get there 15 minutes earlier and leave at 5 on the dot. Never earlier, never later.
posted by taff at 4:09 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think this aspect of American work culture is stupid and not conducive to long term health, increasing employer health coverage costs and sick days in the long run.

You can think this all you want but you won't convince anyone of it. If you've joined a long-hours culture, you either fit in and and go along or you do your own thing and stand out.

Don't think that being good at your job is your way out. In virtually every office, fitting in is waaaaay more important than your performance.

Get really good at playing office politics and you might do OK. Or just show up, do your thing, and leave when you want, but expect blowback at some point.
posted by paulcole at 6:55 PM on August 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm going to agree with paulcole. Fitting in to the office culture does matter, not just the opinion of your supervisor. With that said, I don't think you need to work longer than the official hours, with the caveats listed below.

I've worked in a similar office culture. I think you can get by perfectly well with your coworkers by working "regular" official hours, and not working late, as long as you stick to the official start and end times, and perform your job to expectations. Where you might run into trouble though is by leaving a bit ahead of the normal end of the day. I would keep your start time and end time in line with the official hours if at all possible.

I have a friend who worked in an office like yours. The regular hours were, let's say for example, 8 - 5, but he had negotiated a 6:00 - 3:00 schedule due to having young kids and a hellish commute, with the approval of his supervisor. Despite that supervisor approval, and despite his really great work, the general office "perception" was that he was leaving "early" every day, and somehow not putting in a full day, even though he actually was. That perception of his less than full work day made its way to upper management, and when downsizing happened in that office he was one of the ones who was downsized.

So, my point is, you may think 15 minutes is not a big deal, but your schedule will be less noticeable to your coworkers in general if it is in line with the official hours. You will be better able to work just your regular hours, and no extra hours, if you don't stand out as having a schedule that is out of the ordinary in any way (you want your schedule to just be part of the woodwork, so to speak). I think this (unfortunately) holds especially true as this is a new job location, a long-hours culture, and because you are planning to take maternity leave in the not too distant future.

If you really need to leave at 5:00 because of your second job, then I would get there 15 minutes early, and make sure people know that that is your official schedule.
posted by gudrun at 9:33 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a job where my work hours were slightly staggered from the rest of the office (I was also an on-site vendor). I came in later than most of the staff, and I compensated for it by never leaving before the department manager (my client) did. My hours ended at 6 but she rarely left before 7, so I generally left around 7:15, just after her. I also compensated by being seen around the office a lot during the day (ie, not hiding in my cubicle) and by sending most of my emails between 5-7pm.

If I wanted to come in /leave early I would send tons of emails and leave voice mails at the beginning of my day, and I would be vocal to people about getting in early. I know it's douchey but tooting your own horn in that way makes it less likely you will be seen as a slacker.
posted by vignettist at 12:01 AM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

As a general rule- fit in as much as possible to begin with, compromise in the least ostentatious way possible.

I do not work on the evenings or on weekends. Nearly all of my immediate colleagues do. I do not talk about it with with them (except close friends) and I leave at the same time as the majority, and occasionally stay late. Working this out requires something of a sensitive ear and I would avoid making any 'statements' around the time of mat leave. Broaching it with your supervisor is not a bad idea but I'd do it early, quietly and perfunctorily. Make it seem as if you are just checking and then compromise as you think is sustainable.

I do not agree that you should stay back to all hours just to fit in- draw a mental line in the sand for yourself after a while (get a feel for office culture first) and make your own small stand for a more sustainable culture.

I agree with you that this culture is toxic- but make baby steps.
posted by jojobobo at 3:27 AM on August 9, 2016

Note- I mention not doing weekend work because it's less obvious. Who knows what I'm doing after hours if I get the job done? I suspect a lot of my colleagues are inefficient/pre-crastinators anyway. But I am 10 years in. It's taken a good while to feel confident in that.
posted by jojobobo at 3:29 AM on August 9, 2016

I'm going to add my vote for getting there 15 minutes early and leaving promptly at 5, as your predecessor did. And owning that (privately, confidently, and internally) as *your* norm; no need to explain.

I know it can be difficult to get a read on what the actual culture of a place is like in only a short period of time, but my sense, from what you wrote, is that as long as you make your hours and do good work, that 15 minute difference regarding leave time shouldn't be an issue, especially as there is a precedent that's been set. Wishing you well.
posted by apartment dweller at 10:40 AM on August 15, 2016

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