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Dear Liz, how can I leave the office at 6 without feeling guilty?

Dear Liz, how can I leave the office at 6 without feeling guilty?
My contracted hours are 9-6, but when I start to pack up my things to go home I feel like I'm the only one who is doing it. I don't want it to seem like I am not committed to my role, but I'd also like to have my evenings free.

We are in an industry that requires flexibility on many levels and the pitch culture we live in often requires long hours.

If you expect that you can clock in at 09.00 and leave at 18.00 then an agency may not bring out the best in you. But there are several layers to this question:

The manager who expects everyone else to be here, just because they are. “I had to do it, so it’s your turn now”

If you are one of these managers you are probably not bringing out the best in your people. Being present for the sake of it is neither productive nor necessary. If there is a high volume of work, a pressing deadline then of course we roll up our sleeves and get the work out of the door, but being here, just because they may not want to go home or have other things to do should not stop you from leaving.

A culture of, if you are not at your desk – then what are you doing? “Where, IS he?”

The assumption can often be, if I can’t see you, then you aren’t working. Our work can often be done anytime, anyplace and anywhere. With tools like Zoom and VPN most of us can work virtually. So what is the fear actually about? That we assume people are skiving, taking advantage, not pulling their weight? This is a trust issue - managers and teams should understand that you are present and working... just not under their noses.

If I leave on time I feel guilty

You need to explore why you own this guilt. If you have completed your work, not dropped any balls and everything is on track, ask yourself why you are feeling guilty. What are you feeling guilty about?  This may also come down to team communication and making sure that everyone is clear on the work status and that there are going to be no surprises in the activities. As long as we all know that and we are all pulling equal weight, why is there any need for guilt? If you are dancing out of the door whilst the rest of the team is drowning in deadlines, then that is not on and not fair.

Ask yourself “How truly effective am I when I am at work?”

Agencies are great social places and access to the table tennis and the pool table are welcome distractions. But the time spent there can sometimes be time away from the work priorities. So before you head off for some play, are you on track with your work? If you want to play first, then you know you will need to work later. And that’s ok. Just check in with your team mates who may only be able to play once they have finished their work. These two views of the world cause anxiety and major misunderstanding. We all value different things. Some people want to work from home as they are more productive there. Others are more productive in the office. Some need or want to leave in a timely manner. Talk to your people and find out what’s important to them.

We need to get to a position where we manage people by output and deliverables and not by the hours spent in the office. If you want to stay late because you want to, that’s fine but we also want people with interests and passions beyond work. We also need to press the pause button from time to time; being constantly switched on upsets our neuro performance and it is proven that restoration time is essential for our optimal performance. Top tip: slow down, to go faster.

If you have an HR-related issue that you need answering by our expert Liz Nottingham, Agency HR Director, FIPA, please contact us at social@ipa.co.uk. Any questions published will appear anonymously.

Last updated 14/03/2018

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