4 Tips to Help You Leave Work Earlier

by Vault Consulting Editors | April 16, 2012

Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg has been in the news of late for an interview she did with Makers.com, an organization dedicated to "showcasing hundreds of compelling stories from women of today and tomorrow." While there are many meaningful takeaways from the interview, one minute-long segment about leaving work "on time" has had the blogosphere buzzing.

In the segment, Sandberg—a mother of two, and one of the most powerful people in the tech industry—cops to leaving work at 5:30 every day. While she notes in the interview that it's something she's done ever since becoming a parent, she points out that it's only in "the last year, two years that I'm brave enough to talk about it publicly." This from a woman who was Chief of Staff at the Treasury during the Clinton administration, and who served as Google's Vice President of Global Online Sales & Operations. If she's afraid to speak up about one of the most critical areas affecting work-life balance, what chance do the rest of us have?

What chance, indeed? The culture in many companies is such that being seen to put in long hours often trumps effectiveness as a means for evaluating employees—despite an increasing body of evidence that sustained periods of long hours actually leads to lower productivity, increased levels of stress and, ultimately, burnout.

Clearly, Sandberg's interview isn't going to change corporate culture overnight—even at her own firm. But if does indicate that leaving the office at a reasonable hour is within the realms of possibility. Here, then, are a handful of tips for making it your reality.

Set expectations early

You're never more powerful than before you start a job. You negotiate everything from salary to time off before you do a stroke of work for a new company. So why not include your expectations for when you'll be leaving as part of that process? If getting out on time is going to be a deal-breaker for the employer, best that you—and they—know it in advance.

Work when you're at work

Those who work the longest hours aren't always the most productive employees. Eliminate time wasting wherever possible, from those ten-minute blog-reading diversions (except this one, obviously!) to the water cooler gossip sessions. And be sure to let your supervisors know when you meet goals and targets—reminding them of your productivity is always a good idea, especially when your goal is to convince them that results should trump face time.

Don't sneak out—or around the issue

Whether you're a new hire or an established employee, acknowledge publicly that you leave on time. Offer a reason, if you prefer, but there's no need to apologize or make excuses for quitting at a reasonable hour. And take the occasional opportunity to remind colleagues why you can do it: because you do everything that's expected of you—and more—in the time you already spend at the office.

Make yourself available, but don't overcompensate

Sure, you'll check your email out of office hours. And, yes, if there's a deadline coming up, maybe you can even commit to doing a little more once you get home. But don't fall into the timestamp trap as a means of compensating—something that Sandberg admits to having to overcome: 

"I was showing everyone I worked for that, I worked just as hard. I was getting up earlier to make sure they saw my emails at 5:30, staying up later to make sure they saw my emails late. But now I'm much more confident in where I am and so I'm able to say, 'Hey! I am leaving work at 5:30.' And I say it very publicly, both internally and externally."

 Whether it's your physical presence or your electronic one, face time is still a pernicious trap. At heart, the problem with it is one of expectations—and people can just as easily be trained to expect that a 10pm email won't be answered until the following morning as they can to expect an instant reply.

 More:

 Makers.com interview with Sheryl Sandberg

 Sheryl Sandberg on leaving work at 5:30pm

 --Phil Stott, Vault.com

Filed Under: Workplace Issues


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