Is it OK for a contractor to leave the office at 5pm?


In office based contract roles, perceptions of you as a 'hard worker' can come down to how much time you spend at work. Those 'seen' to be working the longest hours create the perception they are among the hardest working. But many of us have experienced slacker collages who fritter much of the day, and 'work' late, or leave at 5pm. So with contractors who are usually keen to prove their value, is it OK for a contractor to leave at 5pm? Lets unpack that a bit further..

Contractors are often some of the more the more productive, dedicated and professional parts of a companies personnel - they are skilled, experienced, and keen to prove their value each day. That is not so for many of the permanent employees around the office - some of whom are blatantly dragging their heels in the hope of a redundancy payment!

They also have the other side of that coin, where a contractors personal career is interwoven less intricately into the fabric of just one company - and thus their loyalty is firstly to themselves and their career reputation rather than the companies. As a result, they see themselves as more mobile and able to find another client for whom their services can be valuable.

In my experience contractors, despite having less 'loyalty' to the company, are almost always the most productive and dedicated - and usually not the 'leave at 5pm on the dot' types.


Contractors are engaged to help deliver a result, not be 'at the desk' for a certain amount of time. The reality is, contractors will be expected to work late if it means achieving the result. Not each day of the week, but perhaps when a key deadline is present. Working late 1-3 times per month might be the ideal. 

Having a healthy lifestyle, achieving family balance, exercise and a social life are big components to consider for those that are in the habit of working past 7pm. At one stage, I was working late on 70% or more of the weekdays YTD (5-6 months worth of time) and worked weekends (4-6 hours) on Sundays and Saturdays. That amounted to tens of thousands of dollars of free work gifted to the company. It was recognised (thankfully) and resulted in a promotion. Sometimes, if you are looking to take another step up at work, you'll need to take on the responsibility before they give you that next level of pay. The way I saw it, I was being remunerated for the efforts already delivered, having proven I was capable and dedicated to delivering them.

According to Silicon Valley executive, Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook), it is OK to leave at 5pm - she professes 5.30pm is when she leaves the office most days. And thats a very successful global executive. So there are definitely ways in which you can still be successful, and achieve a balance with the other areas of your life.


Below are some further tips for managing your exits from work that have worked well for me in the past.

  1. Agree a Half Day or Work From Home Day/s to compensate: If you have worked way past what is expected, agree with your manager a WFH day or a half day, which can still be charged as a full day. It can be a once off occasion, or look at agreeing to have it set as a regular thing if it suits the needs of the client. Nicer managers will look out for you an suggest this proactively when they can see you have gone above and beyond.

  2. Be culturally aware: Public sector companies or state owned enterprises are often culturally more lax on start and leave times - whereas private sector corporations are typically far more perception driven regarding employee start and finish times. You might be frowned on at a major consulting firm for keeping 9-5 hours religiously. Something to be aware of. 

  3. Don't leave first: wait it out: Let a couple of keen 5pm-ers get away first. At 5.15pm, make your exit. The office will be almost entirely dead by 5.30pm.

  4. Schedule the next day at 5pm: At 5pm, pull out your compendium or your Moleskin, and write up your schedule for the next day. Note down where you have left off with items of work, so you can step straight back into them with no 'reboot' necessary the next day - and when you get in the next morning or on Monday, just check your notes from the night before and you can crack straight in.

  5. Agree to charge extra hours if they are expected in the long term: If you are having to work more than 45 hours per week each week for months of time ahead, and you are in an more junior, or analyst-level or lower level manager role, agree to be able to charge those extra hours above 45 hours per week. You will be able to pro-rata your daily rate to have this recognised.