How to Deal

Get to the Bottom of Boss's Philosophy on Staying Late

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, December 26, 2007; 2:19 PM

I work for a company as a middle manager and right now I am supervising only one person in my section. I usually work 8-5 but stay late if I have to or sometimes take my work home. My boss has a philosophy that no matter what, managers have to come early and leave late even if there is no urgent need. She has reminded me a couple of times that I need to quit the habit of leaving at 5 p.m. and stay late. A couple of other managers do stay late (2-3 hours) and she always mentions them. My argument is that I would love to stay late if I have to and there is an urgent need, otherwise I will leave at the prescribed time so I can spend some time with my family (she is a single person with no family here). Apparently, we are not on the same page yet. What should I do?

You are doing the right thing by explaining your reasons for not putting in unnecessary face time. It is unfortunate that your manager does not appreciate the wisdom in your logic, but all is not lost.

I recommend that you get to the underpinnings of your manager's philosophy. There are a number of possible reasons why she might think that staying late is appropriate for managers regardless of workload, including:

1. Making a display of solidarity with other team members who are staying late, which arguably promotes good morale and boosts productivity;

2. Being available to support and answer the questions of team members who are staying late, or being available to manage technical emergencies that might otherwise arise;

3. Modeling desired behavior, by which I mean showing those who report to you that long hours are expected;

4. A sense that it is not fair for other managers to go home early when she has to stay late;

5. An immature concept of what it means for a manager to put in a full day's work.

Short of staying late, there is little that you will be able to do to placate your manager if her philosophy is based on reason No. 4 or No. 5. However, there is much that you can do to reassure her if her philosophy is based on Nos. 1, 2 or 3.

First, you should occasionally stay late. Make a point of it so that your boss cannot truthfully say that you never do it. Once a week should be enough.

Second, make it clear to your boss that you are on call and available 24/7 to answer questions and provide assistance to your team and the larger department. To support this, change your voice mail to include a number at which callers can reach you after hours. Place an auto-responder containing similar information on your email when you leave for the day, and be sure to answer a few emails from home during the evenings. Also, call occasionally after hours to check in on your direct report and make sure that your boss somehow finds out about it. Finally, call your boss after hours now and then to check in and make sure that she does not need anything from you.

These are not empty political gestures. Your objective is to instill in your boss some degree of confidence in your availability and commitment to the operation. If the use of a few well-placed theatrics makes you uncomfortable, remember that the payoff will be greater autonomy and less scrutiny.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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