Sheryl Sandberg Leaves Work at 5:30. Why Can't You?
Long hours are a badge of honor among start-up founders and employees. Bragging about your insanely long workweeks (whether you actually work that many hours in reality or not) is usually a public statement of your importance, dedication, and work ethic. But recently Sheryl Sandberg, ex-Google exec and current COO of Facebook, came out with a very different sort of public declaration about how she uses her time—and it's one that might cause you to reevaluate the necessity of your long work weeks and reconsider what you're inadvertently saying about your values when you tout your 12-hour days.
In a video for Makers.com, a video project compiling videos of accomplished women, Sandberg braves the stereotypical worry that women aren't as dedicated to their careers as men and proudly declares that she leaves the office nearly every day at 5:30:
I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I'm home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I've been doing that since I had kids. I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it's not until the last year, two years, that I'm brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn't lie, but I wasn't running around giving speeches on it.
But even for a women as obviously as high-achieving as Sandberg, publicly admitting that she was working fewer hours to be with her family was at first a challenge:
I was showing everyone I worked for that, I worked just as hard. I was getting up earlier to make sure they saw my emails at 5:30, staying up later to make sure they saw my emails late. But now I'm much more confident in where I am and so I'm able to say, "Hey! I am leaving work at 5:30." And I say it very publicly, both internally and externally.
Coming out of the closet and declaring who you are publicly is the first step to ending stigma and reclaiming pride. By loudly owning her choices, Sandberg makes it a little safer for the rest of us to declare that parents working late into the night is killer on families (Mashable points to research "that children are healthier, happier and better performing students when they eat with their families") and on personal productivity and health, making it a bit easier for those of us with less lofty positions to take back our schedules and admit that we need to work saner hours.
Of course, as much as Sandberg deserves three cheers for raising the issue, as Jezebel puts it: "the reality is, for many women—and men, for that matter—who work in competitive environments, this just simply isn't an option." A short video from one female executive won't change that, but hopefully a lot more women in positions of power and a growing awareness that burning the midnight oil takes a serious toll on families, relationships and even individuals (not to mention a more equitable sharing of housework and childcare between the sexes) will slowly make it safe for more of us to say to our bosses—or admit to ourselves—what Sandberg has just said publicly.
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.