Good and bad excuses for leaving work early

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It happens to all of us.

We need to leave work early, or even during the day, to attend to something.

But what are the good excuses, or perhaps ‘reasons’ is a better word, after all we’re not children trying to get out of school (or are we?).

According to Ros Toynbee, founder and lead coach at The Career Coach, the only good excuses are medical and dental appointments and children and caring responsibilities. “These should be cleared with your manager. You have a contractual obligation to work a certain number of hours and you should not make a habit of leaving early as it will damage your reputation with your manager and your team who are working full hours.”

But if you do find yourself needing to leave early regularly, perhaps there is a lifestyle issue you need to attend to, one that could use some flexibility.

“You may need flexi-time if you are in danger of your appointments or caring responsibilities being on a regular basis,” says Ros. “If you have been diagnosed with a condition you need to talk through what this means for your manager and the team honestly and openly. If it’s a protected condition in law your employer should be working with you to find an acceptable solution and manage your workload. Whether you have children or not, all employees now have a right to ask for flexible working. However, note that the right relates to the making of the request only. Your employer is not forced to accept your proposal if it will jeopardise the functioning of the business in any way.”

You could also suggest a four-day condensed working week, but be prepared to make a business case, including how you will overcome the issue of a client calling you and needing work on the fifth day, says Ros. “Will you be available at home to take calls? How practically will you do the work? It will not be considered fair on the team to work on your behalf so imagine you are in the shoes of your clients and your team and come up with practical win-win solutions.”

Good reasons to leave work early

But if you just need to leave work early (occasionally), there are (genuine) reasons you can present to your employer. But first consider the flexibility of your employer and their view of you – are you considered a hard-working and reliable employee. Also, key to remember that no matter how well-favoured you are, asking to leave early (especially if it becomes a pattern) can affect your reputation, how you’re viewed not only by your boss, but by colleagues and subordinates – often no matter the good reason – so use sparingly.

  • Religious obligations or community-related work
  • Business networking activities
  • Client-related obligations, such as travelling or entertaining
  • Professional development pursuits – attending workshops or going to class
  • Productivity-related requests – working outside the office, or working late to a deadline and asking to leave early the next day
  • Job interviews – only if you’re being laid off by your current employer
  • Family obligations – attending to illnesses, accidents and deaths. Doctors and dentist appointments.
  • Your own personal reasons – illnesses, doctors and dentist appointments.
  • Buying or renting a house

Bad excuses for leaving work early

Many of these can be avoided by being mature enough to know that they’re just not a good reason, and forward thinking and booking an annual leave day.

  • Feeling bored or complaining of being underutilised – shows lack of motivation and ingenuity
  • Being hungover – even if it’s you’re suffering from a night out entertaining clients, or it’s the day after the works Christmas party, or your birthday, whatever, you just have to put up with this one
  • Spending time with friends, even if it’s your best friend’s 30th, or they’re only in the country for a day
  • A job interview – if you’re not being laid off
  • Sulking because you didn’t get a promotion or salary bump
  • Manicures, hair-dressers, pet-grooming, hunger, shopping

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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