Career Advice: How can I leave on time?

10 comments
Louisa advises a woman who's working hours are impacting her wellbeing. Photo / Getty
Louisa advises a woman who's working hours are impacting her wellbeing. Photo / Getty

My working hours are getting me down. I typically work from 8.30am to 7pm, which I realise is not a particularly late finish, but my commute can take up to 1.5hrs each way. I hardly see my boyfriend - sometimes I'm so tired in the evening I just bypass dinner and go straight to bed, otherwise I don't have the energy to be up at 5.30am. I enjoy my job and have good career prospects that I don't want to jeopardise - but I want to leave the office at 5pm, so I can reclaim my evening. How can I make it happen?

How this is impacting you

Your working week is at least 50 hours, with a further 15 hours dedicated to commuting. It's no wonder you're exhausted. While your current approach - to prioritise sleep, and sacrifice evening relaxation time - is understandable (I too would opt for sleep over 'downtime' if forced to choose), both are incredibly important. Without enough time to relax and eat properly, your wellbeing will be affected and both your sleep quality, and ability to bounce-back each day, will be affected.

Fortunately, employers are waking up to this issue. In the last three years, the adoption of flexible working by UK organisations has increased by over a third (37 per cent), according to research published by recruitment consultants Robert Half. While 50 per cent of employers surveyed in London have expanded flexible working opportunities in the same time period.

Uptake of flexible working has been boosted by supportive legislation and a more widespread understanding of the advantages to businesses and individuals - such as increased efficiency and productivity, better staff retention and loyalty, improved employee health and wellbeing.

We know that someone who is stressed and regularly sleep deprived is cognitively less effective than someone who is over the drink-drive limit. We know that diverse workforces - those that are the product of more family-friendly working practices - are safer. There are plenty of studies that show an inverse correlation between productivity and working hours - meaning that as the number of hours worked goes up, productivity goes down.

However employers and employees still need to work harder - together - to support a true productivity-based culture of reasonable working hours, where time is respected and flexibility is offered, and taken, in good faith.

Next steps

While you may not be seeking a formal flexible working arrangement, your case for more tolerable working hours, and particularly an earlier finish time, can be supported by the same arguments. I think you should be transparent about your objectives, and make your case directly to your manager.

Of course, if your contractual hours are 9-5pm then you could simply up and leave, ignoring curious glances from your co-workers and seniors.

Do consider carefully beforehand where your boundaries lie and where you are open to compromise, but don't rush to agree to anything - such as leaving work at 5pm in return for a promise to log in remotely and work later in the evening - without thinking it through carefully.

In the interest of good working relations, however - and being mindful of your career progression objectives - I wouldn't recommend this approach. I think it's important to be open with your boss (and any colleagues you work closely with) about your motivation for making this change, and explain the positive domino effect it will have on your wellbeing at home, and productivity at work.

So you need to plan for a conversation with your boss. Take the opportunity to ask for an update on your performance and progression, and to reiterate your commitment and motivation to do well.

Then make a clear verbal request for a 5pm finish that explains why you're asking. Don't be afraid to emphasise the impact your current working style is having on your health and stress levels. Show that you've taken into account any relevant business and logistical implications (such as if, and how, you'll be contactable 'after hours', or what would happen if urgent work arises late in the day).

Do consider carefully beforehand where your boundaries lie and where you are open to compromise, but don't rush to agree to anything - such as leaving work at 5pm in return for a promise to log in remotely and work later in the evening - without thinking it through carefully.

Good luck, and I hope that you and your employer will soon be enjoying the benefits of your new working pattern - and that others will be keen to follow.

Top tips for leaving the office on time

Plan to leave earlier than you need: Something will always crop up last minute to delay you
Make sure you're prioritising: There's nothing worse than staying late purely because everyone else is. If you're putting in extra hours, emphasise productivity
Get some fresh air: You might think you have no time to take lunch, but a short break can clear your head and have a real impact on the afternoon's productivity
Start saying "no": If your day is crammed, be assertive and highlight your workload. If you need to, engage your boss and colleagues to ensure the right work is prioritised
Don't over promise: If you're asked to do a task just before leaving, clarify whether it can wait until morning
Keep your distance: It's very easy to slip and respond to your Blackberry's flashing light; if you find email encroaching into your evenings, set yourself a defined window to check what's going on at work, and stick to it.

- Telegraph

Louisa Symington-Mills is CEO of the Cityparents network. She was named UK Social Enterprise Entrepreneur for 2015 and included in the Global Finance 50.

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