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Last in, First out

I don’t think I’ve used the term since that operations course I took as an undergrad. But this week, I thought I’d dust it off and apply it to the workplace. Is being the last one in the office in the morning and the first one to leave in the afternoon a problem?  

I don’t think I’ve used the term since that operations course I took as an undergrad. But this week, I thought I’d dust it off and apply it to the workplace. Is being the last one in the office in the morning and the first one to leave in the afternoon a problem?  

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If you’re in a client-facing business, there’s an expectation that you’ll be ready, willing, and able to offer your assistance during your stated business hours. With all the time and energy spent on attracting and retaining customers, the last thing you want to do is turn them away when they’re already at your doorstep. 

Beyond running the risk of losing customers, frequent absenteeism will hurt the cohesiveness of your team and, ultimately you. Over time, coworkers will either follow your lead and start working fewer hours, or they’ll roll their eyes and resent you for not working at least a 40 hour work week. Either way, at some point things in your department are bound to boil over. I’m not saying you have to become the tardiness police; in fact, quite the contrary. I once worked in a department where we had to sign in and out every time we left our desks for more than two seconds and, trust me, that had an equally negative affect on our morale. 

Productivity matters. Bosses are sometimes more lenient on your occasional coming in late and leaving early if you’re hitting your deadlines and churning out great work. But, if because of your absence, others are picking up the slack, this could not only impact your performance review, but could also cost you your job. If you know you’re going to be late on a particular day, make sure you wrap everything up before you leave to ensure everything is on target. If you’re working on a project, ask a coworker to be your backup. Also, and I know should go without saying, but try not to be out of the office when you’re expected to produce a key deliverable. I know things come up unexpectedly that are out of your control and that’s fine. But for the other times, plan accordingly. 

Your commute time doesn’t really matter. Again, if you’re in a client-facing business, you need to be there. If your commute is too long, you either need to get up a little bit early or look for a new place to live that’s closer to your office. Commute time usually isn’t a justifiable defense to your customers or to your boss—especially if your boss has a longer commute and still gets in before and leaves after you. 

“Do as I say, not as I do.” A lot of times, we mistakenly take signals from the boss about absenteeism. Make no mistake about it–the boss can be the last in and the first out because he or she is the boss. It might not be fair, but with the title comes the benefit.  The last thing you ever want to do is defend your work hours by questioning your boss’s work schedule. That is a potential career killer. 

As a junior employee, being last in, first out isn’t the best idea. Look for subtle and not so subtle cues from management and coworkers about work schedules and coverage. And, if all else fails, make sure you have a good excuse. 

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Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).

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About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning

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