I worry that people are staring at me when I leave the office.
They're still generally sitting at their desks getting on with stuff when I stand up, pack everything away and depart for the day. I am perfectly within my rights to do so, because I've completed the day's work and done my time. But they've not managed either by this time, which is still relatively early in the afternoon, hence I get looks which I translate as "lazy", "skiver" and "what the hell does that slacker think he's doing?"
Allow me to clarify a few things. I get into work early, generally eight o'clock, pretty much every day. It keeps me off the most crowded trains in the morning, and I don't mind waking up early for the privilege of sitting at my desk uninterrupted before the rest of the team arrive. Never underestimate how much more you can do before the smalltalk begins. A few other people get in at eight, though not many, and they all sit some distance away. But generally the rest of the office arrives at nearer nine, with a few ambling in closer to ten.
So at the other end of the day you'd expect it to be first in first out. Those of us in at eight should be departing first, and those in at ten departing rather later. But when my contractual hometime comes round and my working hours are up, nobody else is ready to go. If I shut my computer down, they carry on tapping into theirs. If I walk over to the coat cupboard, their eyes follow me but their bums stay firmly in their seats. And as I button up and exit towards the stairs, I can sense them wondering what gives me the right?
This awkwardness arises because my employment terms are not the same as theirs. My team got swallowed up by a much bigger one a while back, and we kept our terms and conditions rather than taking on theirs. I'm not actually sure what their contracts say, nobody's ever revealed them because to us they're irrelevant. But I'm fairly convinced that I'm allowed to be much more flexible in my comings and goings than the the other two hundred people on my floor. And I'm also fairly convinced that my contracted working week is shorter than theirs, probably by at least a couple of hours, maybe more. I know, lucky me.
If I've got this right, everyone else on my floor has a set start time at which they have to be in, and a set departure time after which they can leave. It varies from person to person, but everyone else's entrances and exit times are fixed. And these fixed points tend to elongate their day, because to be certain to arrive on time they have to add a bit of contingency and arrive early. Alas this extra time can't then be deducted at the end of the day because they have to stay until the allotted hour, so they all end up doing more than they should, which in itself is more than I get to do. I hope you're following.
Alas nobody else knows that my terms and conditions are different. My team's only minor and was absorbed some time ago, so there's no reason for anyone else on the floor to realise I might be special. So when they see me leaving, the early ones are thinking "Hang on, he got in at the same time as me, what's he doing leaving now?" And the ones who got in later are thinking "Sheesh that's early, indeed impossibly early, and I'm not going home for ages". What I'm doing, repeatedly, must look genuinely like I'm bunking off.
I now try to leave the building without passing the senior management team's suite of desks, because even they're not aware of the quirk in my terms and conditions. I failed last night, passing every single one of them on the stairs, in turn, with them clutching files and notebooks and me in my coat. "See you," they said, every single one of them, with an imperceptible sneer that I know meant "I'm working harder for my money than you." I knew I was in the right, but it genuinely didn't feel good.
I'm not trying to climb my way up the organisation, so it doesn't bother me that I'm scuppering my chances of ascent. And I do stay a lot later when the work requires, obviously, I'm not a clockwatching jobsworth or anything. But I do feel highly uncomfortable every time I go to leave the office 'early' (which is on time), and have to do the walk of shame. And I've now started staying 'late' by several minutes just so as not to appear quite so appallingly premature, which can only mean the others have unknowingly won. I'll get my coat.