Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Leaving Work at 5:00


By Frances Du

It’s important to work hard but it’s even more important to work smart.

A couple of months ago, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg openly stated that she leaves work every day at 5:30 p.m. on the dot so she can be home to have dinner with her kids. She said it took her a while to feel “brave enough” to talk about her work habits since we often associate working longer hours with being a better, more productive worker.

It’s been difficult to kill this long-standing workplace stigma, as we all know the person who leaves work first is usually gossiped about, given the stink eye, and secretly anointed as the office loser. And it’s silly isn’t it? Yet, in many offices, making it home in time to have dinner with the kids somehow equates to being a bad employee.

Alternatively, being a workaholic doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the best worker bee out there, it simply means you may have a problem with separating work from your personal life.

In 2010, a study on “The Importance of Family Dinners” was published by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. In their findings, researchers discovered that teens who actually sit down to have dinner with their families on a regular basis were twice as likely to receive higher grades in school within the A and B range, and also three times more likely to say they had a great relationship with their parents. These teens also had fewer run-ins with substance abuse and were less prone to developing eating disorders.

And the benefits of keeping to a normal workday don’t end at a healthy family life. According to “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” a study conducted by Dr. K. Anders Ericcson, working in shorter time segments actually increases performance.

By evaluating a group of violinists, Ericcson found that those who practiced for less time but with a specific purpose and outlined goals were more productive than the violinists who practiced for a longer period of time but had mentally checked out.

Other than “checking out,” neglecting the kids and becoming a neurotic workaholic, you’ll most likely have higher stress levels than your colleague who is walking out the door while the sun is still shining. When most of our life is spent at work with little time spent being separated from that environment, we tend to take the office and its problems with us wherever we go. Anxiety, moodiness and insomnia are common side effects of high levels of stress and can eventually lead to serious health problems.

Adopting a healthy work life balance enhances productivity and an overall positive experience in the workplace. When your mind, body and spirit are well rested you are more likely to perform better and deal with stressful situations in a professional and thoughtful manner.

And if that still doesn’t encourage you to stick with an eight-hour workday, maybe this will: A recent study conducted by scientists at the Finish Institute of Occupational Health discovered that workers who were prone to working overtime (more than eight hours per day) had a 40-80 percent greater chance of developing heart disease. So forget feeling guilty and stick with a 9-5 ““ you and everyone around you will be better for it.


frances duAbout Frances Du
Frances Du is a freelance writer and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario. She’s an English teacher by day and a city explorer by night, but her goal is to travel all over the world before settling down in NYC.  She blogs about twenty-something culture, ideas, and concerns at franny glass strikes back. You can follow her on Twitter @frannyglass22



Photo: Kheel Center, Cornell University


  1. Thank you for this! I work in a small office so my leaving at 5:00pm definitely gets noticed. But if I’m not getting paid overtime, and if I get all of my work done, why shouldn’t I leave on time? There are women here who come in at 7:00am and leave at 7:30pm who STILL have the same amount of work to do the next day, so clearly, working overtime does not equate working well. I will keep this in mind when I’m having a guilty day, thank you so much for making me feel like I’m not crazy!

  2. This article really resonates well with me. I’m currently teaching overseas and pursuing earnings online. In total I sometimes spend up to 80-100 hours working at both jobs. It’s taken a toll on my health this year and I’ve found that I’m less productive. I’m actively seeking to reduce my total working hours while improving efficiency for a better quality of life. Luckily my teaching contract will soon be over, so that will help out immensely.

  3. Truth hurts. I feel quite ashamed, because I work for like 12 to 14 hours a day and it feels like that the cycle would never ever stop. It seemed to me, that everything I’m doing at work is not enough, not improving, not getting better. I struggled with anxiety and depression. I keep worrying too much. But I’m working it out, trying the best that I can to stick with 8 hours work, and never feeling guilty about it. Thanks for this topic!

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