Clock Watchers -- Employee Behaviors Managers Hate #8

This final disliked behavior needs limited explanation.  Based on my observations, it probably rises to a higher level than #8 for some managers, so the reader should be aware -- just because it's at the bottom of my list, doesn't mean it's at the bottom of everyone's.

Traditionally, the term Clock Watcher describes an employee who is out the front doors of their workplace within seconds (really, within a few minutes) of the end of the day.  And truly, I've seen this exact behavior often enough to know it is widely practiced, and widely dispised.  But a Clock Watcher can also be someone who doesn't arrive until the exact first minute of the day (or later), or insists on stretching breaks.  Generally, a clock watcher is someone who gives off a palpable sense of Not Wanting to Be Here.

Managers often expect this from lower level employees, and are pleasantly surprised when they find employees at those levels who don't do it.  For professionals, or, heaven forbid, other manager, clock watching will definitely get you downgraded.  Even if you get all your work done.  Even if you avoid all the other hated behaviors.  Even if you're a star in other respects.  And it also irritates your peers who aren't clock watchers themselves.

The only way you get a (partial) pass on the judgment, is if your direct supervisor is a clock watcher, too.  Even then, there's probably danger in the behavior -- your manager probably rationalizes his or her behavior, but is much more likely to condemn yours.  And your manager isn't the only person watching, either.  Some of those other people, like a boss'es boss, or a current peer but future manager, will have an impact on your career.

The clock watcher label may be a bit unfair.  There may be legitimate reasons you leave work at precisely 5:00:02 every day.  Perhaps you have to pick up children.  Or maybe there is a recurring doctor's appointment.  Most people will cut you some slack for occassional on-time (or even early) departures.  The label usually comes from repeated observations.  And a the more tightly timed the incidents are, the more likely someone will connect them and label the person as a clock watcher.

If you really are a clock watcher, you have two choices -- accept that the behavior will impact perceptions of your value as an employee and move on, or stop doing it.  You aren't likely to convince people you've reformed without completely erradicating the behavior.  But getting rid of it should be fairly easy -- don't rush out the door, stay an extra five minutes or more.  Don't abruptly end activities or conversations just because it almost time to go.  Drop by your manager's office a few minutes after quitting time, just to make sure he see's you're there.

If you aren't a clock watcher in your heart, but are worried you might be labeled as such because of some outside obligation, there are some things you can do to help your reputation.

  1. Let everyone know why you have to leave, and express the fact that you don't like it.
  2. Put in some extra time -- breaks, lunch, early arrival, Saturday, something.
  3. Send some work emails from home, particularly at late or off hours -- it helps communicate your commitment to the company.
  4. When you can, stay late.  Make sure people see you (particularly your supervisor), when you do so.
  5. When you must leave early, park somewhere where people won't see you walking to the vehicle or driving away -- this is a major irritant to many people.
  6. Don't make it obvious at your workspace that you've gone -- keep your briefcase/purse/lunchbox or other personal items you carry every day stashed in a drawer so it isn't obvious you've left.  Give your workspace a permanent work-in-progress look whether you're in or not.  Leave your computer on with something up on the screen all the time.

While some of these tips might seem a little deceptive, they're fair if you truly are at risk of being mislabeled.  Managers are looking for dedication, commitment and horsepower from their employees.  Those willing to go the extra mile, and put in the necessary time without complaint or pre-condition are positively perceived.  Those who clearly don't want to be there, will be downgraded quickly.

Note added 4-4-14

Surprisingly, this post has become possibly the most controversial of all the ones I've published.  I suppose this is because while person can be in denial over whether they're "clueless" or not, clock watchers know exactly what they're doing.  One or two people that I'm aware of were actually angered by what I wrote above -- probably more were, as most people who don't like what they see just move on.  As a result of the "controversy," I recently added a new post called Clock Watchers Redux, which expands upon this subject.