Leaving work early: is it 'sloping off' or actually good time management?

Written by
Karen Meager

02 Jun 2016

02 Jun 2016 • by Karen Meager

What does time management look like in your organisation?

How do your senior team behave, and how do they judge other people around what time they arrive and leave work? This will determine how people behave much more than any real resourcing issues you have in your workplace.

Human beings are very adaptable and can pick up on culture quickly, it’s engrained in or biology. Right back from our tribal roots we have the ability to tune it to what’s required to ‘fit in’, most of this is unconscious until we stop and think about it.

If I’m working with an organisation and they're complaining about people coming in late or leaving early, I will always unpack with them why this is important. I want to ascertain how much of it is to do with a business requirement and how much of it is a cultural issue.

There are good reasons to regulate people start and end times for working days, people need to be available for meetings, task and appointments as the business requires. For some organisations though, this issue has developed more meaning that it really deserves.

Here are some common ones:

  • Leaders complain about people leaving early. When explored further that is defined by anyone leaving before 6pm. Their contracted day is 9-5.
  • People arrive early or on time for work and then spend time drinking coffee, eating their breakfast and ‘catching up’ with colleagues. They are present but not working.
  • People’s expectations of working day times vary significantly from their contracted hours.

Striking the right balance

Working late sometimes when we have an important deadline or something we want to finish shows dedication and good prioritisation.

If you have someone who’s always working late then in could be appropriate to question their ability to manage their time. If the organisation is not drastically under resourced then people should be able to accomplish what they need to within the working day.


The problem is that organisational culture is lazy and and if no-one challenges what’s happening, this can slip into unhealthy behaviour. Before you know it it’s ‘just the way it is here’.

Sadly, we have also come to value people who are ‘so busy’ as if it’s some kind of badge of how popular and important they are. If you want a productive and healthy culture, these slippages need to be addressed.

From an HR perspective signs of slippage are:

  • Managers are demanding more people and resources without a direct business cause. They just seem to be overwhelmed. This could be an indication of slippage into an unproductive culture. People working late too often is not necessarily a symptom of overwork.
  • You walk around the business during the working day and people seem to be engaged in idle activities a lot. I’ve seen many organisations where people come in early, are working when the boss arrives, slack off during the day and then get busy again around 4.30. This is not the fault of the individuals, it’s a sign that management measure by what you are doing when they arrive and leave.

People should be measured on their outputs and contribution to the business, and as leaders and HR professionals, we need to make sure this is being measured appropriately and not just by employee’s working day start and end times.