What are the consequences of leaving work on time in software companies?

What's the professional way to deal with this?

[Editorial addition]

The question is about working standard hours and not putting in extra hours without being explicitly asked to. Is working extra hours a norm or an expected work attitude in software companies and/or for a software developer role? How is one going to be perceived by colleagues and peers if one only worked the standard hours specified by local laws or the contract?

  • 12
    You will be looked down upon by your peers and immediate management for trying to have a life.But most of these are self professed Workaholics who are in it for the love and sheer joy of work, or rather in it just to show others that they do.
    – Aditya P
    Apr 23, 2011 at 17:56
  • 3
    It depends if you use a laptop and can work at home. For me leaving the office != finishing work.
    – Alan Spark
    Apr 23, 2011 at 18:54
  • 3
    Here is a good read related to this topic (J.D. Meier on 40 hour work week @ Microsoft) : blogs.msdn.com/b/jmeier/archive/2010/10/21/…
    – decyclone
    Apr 23, 2011 at 19:30
  • 2
    Depends where you work. Where I work, we all just hit Ctrl+Alt+L at 5 on the nose and walk out the door.
    – mpen
    Apr 23, 2011 at 23:06
  • 10
    What are the consequences of them only paying you your salary and nothing more? Its a two way street. If they arent paying you more, why would you work more? Apr 24, 2011 at 4:54

14 Answers 14


The consequence? You get home on time... That's about it.


In response to some of the commenters: This answer is directly related to a conversation I had with my manager very recently. I have weekly 1x1 meetings with my manager, and a few weeks ago it went something like this:

Me: I have a concern about last week. I was doing [some test procedure], like I talked to you about, but some of the people on the team (I didn't name names) were telling me things like "don't bother" and "it's a waste of time" and even gave me some dirty looks for doing it.

Boss: Wait, what? Did I say anything?

Me: Uhh... no...

Boss: Then who cares what they think?

Me: Good point...

Boss: Yea, don't worry about it. If there's a problem, I'll tell you.

Point being: it doesn't matter what your coworkers think about whatever you do; just do good work. You'll get respect, and won't need to stay late.

  • 1
    To the previous commenters: comments are meant for getting clarification to answer, not for extended tangential discussions. It looks like the answer was edited based on the initial comments. If you still disagree with the answer, feel free to add your own.
    – user8
    Apr 24, 2011 at 19:37

The professional way to do this is to... well, leave more or less on time. Give it 1-15 extra minutes perhaps in order not to be perceived clockwatching then go. If you have a task that is about to get finished in these 1-15 minutes, do it, otherwise shift it for tomorrow.

It's important to demonstrate from the beginning that you don't intend to let yourself be ridden on.

If you wish to demonstrate your engagement, putting in extra hours is the worst possible way to do it. First it will damage your health. Second nobody will appreciates it but instead expect this from you by default.

Be motivated during the day, the rest of the time is not paid anyway.

If you get frown at for not willing to work 10-12 hours, switch the job before it sucks you out.

UPDATE: To answer directly your question about how it is perceived, it depends. It depends on a particular company, its size and culture, it depends on the industry and finally it depends on the country and its culture. In western countries it may be generally considered wrong to work over standard hours. In eastern countries people might not even be familiar with the idea that they are entitled to personal life. Not knowing where you are, it is difficult to advice, but speaking of advanced countries and good companies, it is generally bad not only to force you to put extra hours, but even not to notice that you're doing it and damaging your health and social life. I would give you a general advice to limit your hours and remove yourself from the places that dictate to do otherwise (unless you are generously paid for doing that and you personally accept that).

A true story. At my last place of work I did put in extra hours from the beginning. As it turned out, it was quite stupid of me. Do you think anybody thanked me for that? Hold tight. I got yelled at for possibly not putting in even standard hours! You know why? Because when I was the last one to go, people were leaving without paying me a visit to say goodbye and then obviously the next day nobody remembered when I left and even when and whether they saw me at work. How's that for gratitude. Since then I started to count 8 hours then go. Did me good.

UPDATE 2: All of the above refers to product companies, that is places where you sit in an office and do your work. If you were to join a service company (consultancy), they'd send you across the country and farther to visit their clients. In that case I presume the question of working hours fades away, since if you're stuck this week in some new town, you can't do much with your personal life - your family, your friends, favorite places to visit and favorite things to do are all back home, all you can do is to wander through the town or sit in the hotel. In that case they practically owe you 24 hours, so I suppose you might as well put in more hours as just another way of spending time while not in a position to do what you'd normally do during your off hours.

  • 5
    +1 great points +100 for doing this from the beginning and another +100 for they will expect this from you by default.
    – Aditya P
    Apr 23, 2011 at 18:20
  • 2
    That true story sounds very similar to my true story...
    – Ryan Hayes
    Apr 23, 2011 at 23:31
  • Excellent answer. I really hate how even some companies will not even consider people for raises/promotions if they're not the "work-aholic" types. Apr 24, 2011 at 1:52
  • 3
    side note about western-eastern culture difference... I worked for a company that had office in the Americas and one in China and worked at both offices. In the west I regularly did 10+ hours a day and got accused of stealing the company when I had to do normal work days for a few months. In China I rarely work above 9 hours but almost always lock up the office when I leave !!
    – Newtopian
    May 6, 2011 at 13:47

It depends entirely on the company's culture.

I've programmed for a small factory where you couldn't leave late because the owner personally locked the doors at 5 PM. And I've also programmed at Silicon Valley startups where 60+ hour weeks were normal, and anybody who worked just 40 was considered a slacker.

If you want to get along with your colleagues, do whatever they do. If you're not happy doing that, do it anyway and look for another job. With luck, you'll be able to find a company whose culture matches the way you want your life to be.

  • +100 - most useful advice so far. Everyone talks about culture and fitting in being more important than talent when hiring. You can't disregard time expectations.
    – JeffO
    Apr 23, 2011 at 21:44
  • 5
    If you're working in a Silicon Valley startup, the question is, are you getting shares or stock options? It's different to work like crazy if you're getting a potentially big payday. Apr 23, 2011 at 23:34
  • +1 for the locking. Care to provide more detail on it?
    – user1249
    Apr 24, 2011 at 1:27
  • +1 Exactly. It depends on your company. Especially, the people in your company who are above you. You're screwed if you are in Silicon Valley or in India (where I come from) :P Hope you are in a company where reasonable people are there and they look at the "work" you do rather than "at what times" you do it.
    – user19224
    Apr 24, 2011 at 5:09
  • @Senthil I am from india and in my company (6k+ employee strength) we dont even consider working extra hours. Yes if we screw up then its our responsibility to do whatever it takes to make up . but that does not happen very often .. But still
    – Chani
    May 6, 2011 at 11:53

The crucial question here is if you do the work you are asked to do, and do it on time.

If you do, well, then you should by all means leave so you put in the agreed upon hours.

If you do not, then you need to put in the extra effort necessary. I assume that the timeline is reasonable and as agreed to with your boss, and you are simply behind. It is a different matter, however, if you are expected to be a 60-70 hour/week resource, because then you are basically hired at a lower price than expected, and you need to either come to terms with this or start looking for something else. I understand that cultures differ - it is important to state what culture this is happening in.

  • 4
    +1 for pointing out that the first thing you need to do is to do a good job. Apr 23, 2011 at 21:59
  • well Anderson .. i hope you can be my manager someday. i'd love that.... you see where i am drifting at ?
    – Chani
    May 6, 2011 at 11:55
  • and what makes you guys think that other managers are righteous creatures? what if i am good at my job but my manager wants me to work extra hours just so he can get more work done ??
    – Chani
    May 6, 2011 at 11:57
  • 2
    Thing is that doing what is asked of you sometimes means that even putting 150hours a week you would still not get it done. I'm all for tasking one for the team but I will NOT (well no longer, live and learn they say) work crazy hours just to patch someone elses incompetence. Did it, they get the rewards and I got the ... well... lets just say that delivering it on time almost got me fired because of one bug that was left behind... so from now on... impossible projects = a big and resounding NO
    – Newtopian
    May 6, 2011 at 13:50
  • 2
    @Newtopian, as I wrote - I assume the timeline is reasonable and agreed to.
    – user1249
    May 6, 2011 at 15:53

Lots of good answers here. Unfortunately in many companies, time spent in the office correlates with the perception that you are busy and a hard worker. What I like to do in offices where overtime is the norm, is to load up some programming related e-books on my PC. Then around the time the workday should be over, I switch over to self-improvement mode.

  • I see where you're coming from, but the problem then is that you end up in a cycle of mistrust, where the management mistrust the workers as they suspect the workers are slacking; while the workers resent the managment for expecting them to stay late ... and round and round it goes :-)
    – TrojanName
    May 10, 2011 at 18:20

It depends on many factors:

  • Your life. Family? Hobbies? If working 80 hours / week leads to a divorce, then you won't be very productive for the next year. Not worth it. (I've seen this).

  • The company culture. Do they demand you work certain hours? Do they insist you take care of yourself, so you show up ready to do your best possible work

  • The quality of your work. If you're not a very good programmer, then you can impress people with your dedication. But you'll still suck.

  • The ability of your coworkers and boss to evaluate your work. If they can't tell the difference between good and bad work, then they'll fixate on the hours you work. Again, for bad programmers this is good news, but for great programmers, find somewhere else to work.

  • Your commitment to the work you're doing. If this is your own startup, you want nothing more than to see it succeed, and you'll trade everything for it. If you're writing yet another payroll app for a large multinational, then surely you're bored from day 1, and would rather be on your way to a fun evening at 5:01pm.

  • Your ability to stay productive with long hours. If you get tired after 6 hours, then working 12 hours is waste of everyone's time. In programming, the value of the work doesn't scale linearly with the quality. As soon as you get tired, you work more slowly, you produce more bugs, and you have fewer brilliant ideas. Better to do a shorter day of the best work you can do, then go home and play, balance your checkbook, call your mom, go swimming, get a good night's rest, and show up for work fully refreshed the next day.

  • The market you're in. Everyone wants the software as soon as possible, but in-house business software is less time-critical than hot internet apps. Some projects will be done when they ship, so pushing yourself harder for a short time may make sense; other projects are ongoing, and you'll still be working on them 10 years from now, so pacing yourself is important.

Remember that there is always a reason to work extra hours, but look at the big picture.


I tend to show up at 8am and leave at 5pm, give or take 10 minutes. It works for me, and I get lots of done. Unfortunately though, and that's just how things are, 10-7 just looks better than 8-5.

Not much you can do about it, other than of course getting stuff done every day, and showing it. 8-5 will always lose against 10-7, so make sure you show results, frequently.

  • i would like to add that 8-7 looks suspicious
    – Chani
    May 6, 2011 at 12:05
  • Heh, I know at least one company where NOTHING gets down before 9am. All the early arrivers are basically in morning coffee mode until the boss arrives at 9am. Sometimes you just can't win.
    – TrojanName
    May 10, 2011 at 18:21

It's not how late you stay, but how early you show up. If your day starts at 8 or 8:30, you're in good shape. Many folks leave at 4:30 or 5 for many reasons: catch the train, pick up the child from day care, ride in a car pool.

But when you leave at 5 after you rolled in around 10:30, well, that's not so good.

  • +1 I generally show up 20-120 minutes late and stay at least that much late every day.
    – jamesbtate
    Apr 23, 2011 at 22:50

the perception is related to your reputation at the company.

if you suck and everyone hates you, they will use it as an excuse to fire you.

if you are a young Anders Hejlsberg, they will think "how does he DO it! :)"

  • If you suck and everybody hates you, they will use any legally acceptable reason to fire you.
    – user1249
    Apr 28, 2011 at 10:57
  • he is one smart mofo May 6, 2011 at 18:06

You don't know how it is perceived, you will not know, you can not know.

So don't make movie plots in your head. If somebody has a serious problem, he should talk to you. Nobody can expect you to be a genius mind reader.


Some tricks for big corporations expecting you to work overtime:

  • Have a good excuse and appear like you want to stay but just can't
  • Send emails out of hours
  • Compensate by making very good presentations of your work and your team's; on the later case, emphasize how important or meaningful their work is and do not take any credit for it; you still get karma with the presentation

Same applies for expected after-office drinks. But once in a while show up and buy a round to make it up.

Appearances are very important in those social groups. Try not to upset your fellow programmers trapped. This last is very easy, help them out on occasion, buy them drinks or bring things to change the mood in the office. Be a nice guy.

  • 2
    I used to write scripts that would send emails after hours from my development workstation (traceable to such!) just to get a bunch of "cult of overtime" worshippers off my back. Apr 24, 2011 at 7:02

This can depend a lot on a given company's culture...

In some smaller companies and startups (mostly where the staff are relatively young and keen - and single), there can be a bit of a long hours culture where it's conspicuous to come in and leave right on the clock. But even here - as long as you get your work done - it's generally okay to do as others have said: come in a bit early and try not to be the first to leave all the time. Those two things make the strongest impression.


In my time in the public service, I found that in general it's very time oriented. There's start time and an end time, and people adhere to them ridigly. If you don't, you might get frowned on.

But within the IT section specifically (which is where I work), it's far more results oriented. If you're reachable when they need you and you're doing what people perceive to be quality work, nobody cares in the slightest where you are or when you're doing it.

If you know which type of environment you're working in, then you can react accordingly.


Thinking more about this question. I've worked in companies, one in particular, where the culture was very relaxed, where some veteran programmers came in and left when they felt like it and nobody said anything as long as projects got done. Other programmers came in at 8:30 and left at 5:00 every day.

I became a project leader and then a low-level manager at this company and I remember that:

  1. the guys who were 8:30-to-5:00 usually kept to their schedules better than the nooners;

  2. project leaders and managers were a lot more comfortable with the 8:30-to-5:00ers and much more confident in their abilities to deliver on time.

You can be sure that managers are on their knees and praying every night that the 10-to-7 folks just show up for work the next day.

The notion that programmers who enjoy unpredictable schedules are somehow more "senior" or more "privileged" is often one that these guys confer on themselves; it's a kind of harmless self-delusion. Managers generally do not share their view, as I remember it.

Moral of the story: It's always to your benefit to arrive at the official starting time. That's my experience.

  • Interesting take on it. Thanks for sharing. Ironically some of the worst programmers I've seen couldn't make it into work on time either! :-)
    – TrojanName
    May 10, 2011 at 18:25

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