“I feel guilty for leaving early”

A reader shared that she feels guilty for leaving the office before her coworkers do, or for playing sports during her lunch break.

She’s not the first person who has told me this, and I’ve felt it too at times.

If you leave earlier than others, or you take a longer lunch break, does that mean you’re shirking? Does it mean you’re lazy? Is it “cheating” on the contract you signed with your employer?

We all care about our work. And we want others to know that. But staying later just because everyone else does, or forgoing some badly needed exercise, isn’t the right way to demonstrate our commitment.

Playing sports and going home at a reasonable hour are ways to take care of yourself. If these things make you feel guilty, here are three things you can do:

Examine why you feel guilty

When you experience a negative emotion, there is usually a belief behind it. Can you identify which belief produces the guilt?

Perhaps the belief is one of these:

  • People who stay later care more about their work.
  • If I work longer hours, I will contribute more.
  • By staying later, I’ll be more likely to receive a promotion. So when I leave early, I’m hurting Future Me.

Once you’ve identified the belief that drives your guilt, you can work on changing that belief.

Remind yourself that you need rest and exercise to perform well

When you play sports or go home to rest, you’re helping yourself perform well for the long haul. By contrast, your coworkers who chronically stay late and who don’t get enough exercise are much more likely to burn out.

It’s a matter of priorities. If you want to do the best work you can, you need rest and activities outside of work.

If your boss, or your coworkers, believe that the person who spends the most hours in the office will contribute the most, they’ve got their priorities wrong.

Move away from the mindset that you’re trading your time for money

A recent New York Times article discussed a New Zealand firm’s experiment with a four-day work week. The company’s founder, Andrew Barnes, does a great job describing why how many hours you spend in the office doesn’t matter (emphasis mine):

[W]hen hiring staff, supervisors should negotiate tasks to be performed, rather than basing contracts on hours new employees spent in the office.

“Otherwise you’re saying, ‘I’m too lazy to figure out what I want from you, so I’m just going to pay you for showing up,’” Mr. Barnes said.

“A contract should be about an agreed level of productivity,” he added. “If you deliver that in less time, why should I cut your pay?”

Can you adopt this better mindset, too?

What about you?

Do you feel guilty for leaving the office early sometimes? If so, how do you handle the guilt?


— Peter

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