Sure, it’s OK to leave a tech job at 5 pm, especially if you’re in management

Apparently, not everyone thinks it’s OK that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg leaves her job at 5:30. To me, this is very strange.
At my first job, my boss left at 5. Sometimes earlier, if he had errands he had to run. Nobody thought anything of it. If an emergency came up, we’d call him.

At my second job, I worked for a guy who had a regular habit of leaving at 3, and a semi-regular habit of leaving at 2:30, and he made no secret of his golf habit. He claimed he arrived at work around 6:30 am. I was suspicious of that but never checked to see what time he was logging in. Since his boss was OK with the hours he kept, that was all that mattered.

At my third job, I worked for exactly the same kind of guy. But he knew some of us worked a lot later than he stayed, and he gave all of us his cell phone number and he carried a Blackberry and checked his e-mail regularly. On those occasions when there was an emergency, he stayed in contact with me. None of us had a problem with this arrangement at all.

At my fourth and fifth jobs, I worked for a guy–the same guy both times–who rarely strolled in to work before 9, but it took an act of Congress or a family emergency to make him go home after a mere 8 hours. More typically, he’d work 10, 11, or 12 hours, then go home, VPN in, and mess around another hour or two. There were a few times he’d get in over his head, and I’d get a phone call in the late evening, and two or three (or more) of us would work through the problem via teleconference.

I want to stress that none of us thought this was normal behavior. He was a workaholic whose job just happened to be running a computer network. I never got the impression that he had any great love for computers. He was addicted to work, and if he’d done anything else for a living, he would have been the last guy leaving that office building instead.

At my current job, we’re expected to get our work done and be reachable when needed. We occasionally end up putting in extra hours, but it’s not a regular occurrence. Usually I leave between 5 and 5:30. And I take the occasional after-hours (or before-hours) phone call, and sometimes do some work at home, usually after my two sons are in bed. I don’t mind, because there are a couple of times a year that our boss tells us at noon to go home, so it probably evens out.

So why is it that working all hours of the day and night is the norm, rather than the exception in dire emergencies? I have colleagues who are expected to be reachable 24 hours a day, and I know they don’t make what a 24-hour plumber makes in spite of all the specialized knowledge they carry in their heads. And that, frankly, is ridiculous.

I’ve been there, done that. In my earlier years, there were days I was sick but ended up spending 3-4 hours on the phone with the office anyway. I was interrupted with three phone calls on my first date with my wife because a tape drive failed. Stereotypes aside, tech people want to have lives too, and outside of tech.

It’s about time a high-ranking executive at a well-known tech firm stood up and admitted that.

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