Years ago I worked with a guy who set his pager to go off at 4:54PM every day. He then spent 6 minutes wrapping up whatever he was doing, cleaned up his desk and packed his bag. At 5:00 on the dot he bid us all a good night and walked out the door. This guy was pretty good at his job, turned in high quality work, held himself to a high standard of ethical behavior, and was generally a solid employee. His ostensible goal in setting up this system was to maintain a healthy work/life balance – he scrupulously avoided doing any personal work (surfing the net, sending emails to friends, etc.) while he was “on the clock”. He held the traditional view of employment; barring extreme circumstances work should take place between the hours of 8:30AM and 5PM. Where is he now, you ask? That’s right, unemployed.
In stark contrast I had a friend who used a feature of Microsoft Outlook to schedule update emails such that they were sent at 7:30PM. There he was home on his couch watching football when his boss received an update making it appear that he was diligently working on wrapping up his day. Despite the fact that this guy was only a so-so engineer, his reputation for being a hard worker and loyal employee resulted in his promotion to management.
Perception is a funny thing and both as a manager and an employee it’s important for you to be aware of how you are perceived within an organization even if you don’t think your job is a popularity contest. While you may not like playing the game, understanding the rules can make the difference between being successful and seeking your employment elsewhere.
Each organization has its own set of cultural values. Some are sticklers for process and policy while others are more loose about their rules as long as the work gets done. It’s worth the time it takes to investigate the unwritten rules of your company for your own personal success. There’s another moral to this story for managers though; just because someone looks like they are burning the midnight oil doesn’t mean they actually are. Don’t fall for the perception without uncovering the reality or you may inadvertently promote the slacker and fire the quality producer.