Last night I was talking to someone on their way home from work. It was pretty late so I asked why they were just coming home now. Their response was that they like to be the last to leave so it gives the impression that they are working hard and are committed to the company. This person had mentioned before that they were afraid of losing their job and thought this was a way to show their dedication.
I used to believe the same thing, but after having lived in Switzerland for 16 years, this has changed. Before I left in 1994, my colleagues and I did the same thing at JP Morgan. We stayed late every night. When I lived in Zurich, I found the work place emptied out at 6 pm. It actually felt almost like a half day to me, especially in the summer when it was light until 10 pm. I did not know what to do with myself at first as I was not used to having so much free time. However, it turned out to be great! I could actually have a life outside of work, go for a bike ride, a walk, or do something fun and recharge my batteries. As you can imagine, I quickly came to like this lifestyle. I came to realize that the Swiss are very family focused and in general they do not believe in face time.
Funny enough, I was just hired to coach someone on time management within a Swiss organization in Zurich. The man I am coaching was taking on too much and was working very long hours (to the point of jeopardizing his health). His boss hired me to coach the man to be more strategic in his thinking, how to prioritize his work and more importantly to say no to extra tasks. The boss told me that this man will only receive his raise and gain the respect of his boss if he learns to work less and more effeciently. How is that for a difference in culture!