“I started a new job where it’s common for employees to work late. I can’t stay past 5 p.m. because I need to pick up my kids, but I’m worried my new co-workers won’t think I’m a team player because of my schedule. Should I tell my colleagues why I don’t stay late? Anything I should try to get on their good side?”
The best thing to do: Be upfront and honest with them. Tell them your schedule and explain why it’s nonnegotiable, in most cases. If your work calendar is visible to your colleagues, mark when you leave as “busy” to remind them not to schedule any 5 p.m. meetings. If you’re so inclined, you can log back in later and work remotely. “A simple ‘Leaving now to pick up the kids, but I’ll be back online at 7 p.m. to see what I’ve missed’ will go a long way to making your fellow workers know you are a team player,” says Addie Swartz, the CEO of reacHIRE, an organization that assists women returning to the workforce.
It’s also a smart idea to get to know your co-workers better. Participate as much as you can in team-building activities, or just chat with them when possible. “Then it might naturally come up that you have children who you are responsible for picking up every day so you can’t stay late,” says career transition coach Jane Scudder. “In this construct, you’re not making an awkwardly timed excuse; rather, you’re just living a life in which your job and your team—these other humans who you spend thousands of hours with each year—really matter.”
After all, the ideal way to truly be a “team player” is for you to do top-notch work and be dependable—no matter what time of day it is. “The best reputations are often those of people who produce strong, impactful work,” Scudder adds.