Do you have a Moth Culture?

It is 6.30pm and we still have many employees sitting at their desks. George is online shopping.... Sarah is on Facebook organising dinner with friends. Like Sarah and George, no one else is working, they are waiting just like moths around the light. The moths are waiting for their boss to leave and the lights to go out.

Why is there a requirement from managers, whether implied or directive, to stay late for the sake of ‘putting in face time’? Some industries, like finance, are trapped in this moth culture where it is accepted, and in some countries like Japan, it is embedded. Employees compete on who can stay the latest or ‘pull an all-nighter’. The employee who stays the latest equates to the most committed and therefore the worthiest of praise, promotion or a pay rise.

As the moths leave they pass the stated company values, proudly mounted on the wall.

This culture is not only counterproductive and unhealthy; in most cases it is not consistent with the stated company values that often include integrity and honesty. It also goes against the consistently promoted work life balance espoused to new employees at their induction.

Robbie Rietbroek, Chief Executive of PepsiCo introduced a policy to counteract the moth culture and ensure flexibility for both men and women in the work place. He encourages his executive to ‘leave loudly’ – a philosophy PepsiCo created “to ensure that when team leaders leave, they feel comfortable doing so but also declare it to the broader team.”

If work is completed, clients are serviced and issues are resolved, managers should be encouraging staff to have a life outside of work and leave on time or occasionally early.

Managers should be encouraging employees to complete their work and put in the effort during the hours they are employed. Instead of praising someone for consistently working long hours perhaps managers need to question why they are working ridiculous hours. Is the employee poorly organised and unproductive, or has the manager failed to do their job, in planning and/or training their employee?

Promoting a culture where it is ok to leave on time doesn’t mean an employee’s commitment and dedication has diminished or the employees won’t do stay back when required. It is simply one way of providing a more flexible workplace at its basic level and in a cost effective manner.

So how do you ensure you are not cultivating a moth culture in your organisation?

No policy and procedure is required; behaviours just need to change.

The following are simple but effective steps that can be implemented in any organisation

  • Lead from the top

If the CEO doesn’t encourage the behaviour, then it won’t work. Employees need to feel supported, comfortable and confident they aren’t going to be penalised.

  • Set boundaries and build trust

Employees need to understand they can’t leave at 3pm every day if they are paid until 5pm. Ideally they should be flexible to respond to a client if required and then have the ability to attend a school assembly or doctor’s appointment when they occur.

  • Check in

Before the employee leaves encourage them to follow up and check if issues are resolved for the day or if required they are contactable.

  • Be visible

Say good bye when you leave.

Don’t let the moths eat away at the fabric of your business. Make simple changes and turn the lights off when the work is done.

Contact WCA - People & Culture Solutions if you require any assistance with managing your Industrial Relations and/ or general Human Resources on (08) 9383 3293 or   


West Perth
I totally agree. When I was a youngster, the senior partner of my old law firm (Jeremy) used to march around our very sprawling office building at 6pm each evening and told anyone he discovered working late to go home. "If you need to work late it means we need more staff. No-one should be here after 5.30pm," he would say. He was an amazing guy, a family man and cared for his staff like we were part of his extended family. We didn't earn the highest wages, but we didn't grumble because we had the best work-life balance. The majority of staff stayed at the firm until they retired; and there would have been about 70 of us at that stage. Work-life balance is important and workload needs to be structured in such a way that it enables people to enjoy their home life and enjoy their job. Great work-life balance leads to a happy, healthy workplace and loyal staff. And you're right, this type of environment can only occur where there is good leadership. Jeremy died a few years ago but he is fondly remembered as an incredible boss who really cared for his staff. I wonder how many other bosses will be remembered in this way?

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