Why you NEED to leave work at 5pm (and take your vacations!)

By Laine Himmelmann

Laine Himmelman
Laine Himmelman

Working in the development field for a major nonprofit, my (salaried and exempt) timecards haven’t seen a 40-hour workweek for several years.  I work nights, I work weekends, and if someone had told me a few months ago that I needed to leave the office at 5pm, I would’ve laughed in their face at how delusional they were.

Then several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by the incredible Penelope Burk (for those of you who may not be in the development field and/or familiar with her, Penelope Burk is a widely-acclaimed and highly entertaining and humorous author, trainer, and President of Cygnus Applied Research, Inc. which does cutting edge research on Donor-Centered Fundraising).

During a portion of her presentation, Penelope raised the point about how nonprofit and sales representatives rarely leave the office at 5pm, yet are the people who most need to in order to succeed in their jobs.  She continued on with this theory by telling us about a study her company did where they asked high level older donors how comfortable they would be if a nonprofit sent someone under 30 to talk to them about legacy gifts.

Apparently in the nonprofit community, the thought of sending a young person to talk to an old person about what they’ll do with their money when they die is akin to the thought of an open-casket ceremony for someone who died from a wood chipper accident.

Obviously, the audience thought that was not such a great idea.

“You’re wrong!” exclaimed Penelope.

She then went on to explain that nearly every single one of the elderly donors said they wouldn’t care at all if someone young came to talk to them about legacy gifts, with one caveat…the person had to be interesting.

Reason 1 why you need to leave the office at 5pm: People who never leave the office are not interesting.

Computer Screen

Maybe this doesn’t matter to you if your job consists of you working in a cave where you never have to associate with other people, but if you are in any kind of development, PR, political, sales position, etc. it’s probably imperative to your professional success that you can create and cultivate relationships with other people.

Cultivating relationships with other people requires dialog which requires having something to talk about.  The more you have to talk about and the more varied topics you have to talk about in your toolbox, the more likely you’ll be able to cultivate relationships with a wide variety of people.

Think about the most interesting person you know, they’re probably a pretty multi-faceted person and they doubtfully sit behind their computer screen until 8pm every night.

So leave the office at 5 and go do something you enjoy.  Try a new restaurant, join a new fitness studio, take a cooking class, do anything interesting so long as it isn’t work.

You hear it everywhere you go- relationships are the key to success in any business.  So think about it like this, the more things you have to talk about (whether it’s nearly dropping dead from trying Hot Pilates at P20 for the first time or how much fun you’ve been having attending Bogle Vineyards Alfresco Fridays ) the more interesting you are.  The more interesting you are, the more likely people will want to talk to you.  The more people that want to talk to you, the more people you’ll form relationships with (which we all know is the “key to success”).

Reason 2 why you need to leave the office at 5pm: People who never leave the office are not the best version of themselves.

Not the best version

Ever pulled a really late night at the office, woken up, and felt unreasonably disdainful towards your bright eyed roommate as she percolates to the front door read to take on the day?

The problem is not our bushy-tailed roommates or spouse or coworker, the problem is us.

People who leave work at 5pm, have a real life after work, go to bed at a normal hour, and come back the next morning are refreshed and ready to give their all.  (*Note, if you’re leaving work at 5, having a life, going to bed at a normal time, and still not coming to work ready to take on the day – it may just be time for a new job OR a vacation).

Energized at work

Likewise, people who come to work tired and haggard from not leaving work at 5pm, are not in the proper form to cultivate relationships.  Let’s face it, when give the option – would you want to form a relationship with someone who is well-rested and spritely or someone with red puffy eyes who is in desperate need of a solid spa treatment?

Reason 3 why you need to leave the office at 5pm: Not leaving the office at 5pm, sets an unfair precedent for the person who will precede you.

not fair

If like me, you’re constantly plagued by Catholic guilt, think about it this way.  You will (hopefully) not be in this position for the rest of your life.  If you work late every night and every weekend and hold 2 positions for the price of one, just think of the poor wretch who will eventually take over for you under the assumption from the higher-ups (which you are to blame for!) that they will do the same.

Even if you don’t think you deserve to have dinner with your family, don’t they?


Reason 4- the most important reason why you need to leave the office at 5pm: You deserve a life!  


This should be obvious, but in case it isn’t let me remind you that we only get one life people.

Leave the office at 5 and take your vacations because not only will it make you more dynamic and more effective at your job, but you deserve happiness too.

So, if you’re reading this from your desk at 5pm do yourself a favor and stop because it’s time to pack up and leave.

(*Please note, I do still work a lot of weekends and the occasional late nights, however since hearing Penelope’s speech I’ve made a drastic effort to decrease the amount of weekends and late nights to only when absolutely necessary.  I also have made a focus on taking as many vacations as humanly possible -and that my credit card travel rewards can afford.  I can attest that in the past few months, I’ve been acutely more productive in my job, brought in significantly more relationships/partnerships to my organization from having interesting things to talk about, and have been genuinely happier with life and my appearance/hygiene. So believe me, I know it’s hard, but give leaving at 5pm a try because it can work wonders).  



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