By Pete Cashmore
Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular blog about tech news and digital culture. He writes regular columns about social media and tech for CNN.com.
(CNN) — Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently set off quite a debate in the tech world when she told an interviewer that she works a 9-to-5 schedule:
“I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids,” Sandberg said in a video posted on Makers.com. “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.”
Here’s the essential questions raised by the tech executive’s comments and the debate that followed: In a competitive industry where your work is never truly complete, has it become socially awkward to leave work at a time that used to be the standard?
And are those working eight-hour days that end at 5 p.m. being quietly judged by their co-workers? Whatever happened to “work-life balance”? Worse still: Are those who work these “standard” hours being overlooked for promotions?
Sandberg’s timing would suggest that such biases exist. She only felt comfortable talking about her work hours once she had entered the highest levels of management.
What’s clear is that many in the technology industry hope to take the shame out of having a balanced life. Mashable reader Dave Plantz said of Sandberg’s story:
“Good for her! Life is way more important than work and I refuse to have to go to a funeral for a loved one before remembering that. I’ll take family over developing the ‘next big thing’ anyway. I can always create new things, but I can’t keep people forever.”
Reader Jason Hunter added that we shouldn’t hold different social norms for single people:
“But, let’s forget about having family or being married for a minute. 5:30 as an on average time for going home should be acceptable for everyone — single or not single … family or no family — assuming you don’t come into the office everyday at 11 a.m.”
The conversation reminds me of media mogul Arianna Huffington’s thoughts on sleep: Not only do modern workers not get enough of it, but boasting about how little sleep you had last night has become a badge of honor. Those getting plenty of sleep must not be working hard enough, some assume.
And how about the blurred line between work and home life in the modern world? Sandberg admits that after dinner with her kids, she’s back to checking e-mail — it’s clear that “being at work” is no longer necessary for “doing work.”
The challenge here: Given that we’re able to check our e-mail at all times, we assume that working at all times is the new social norm.
Ultimately, I think the measure of our work is in our productivity, not the number of hours we put in. Alas, few of us are in a position to change perceptions — it’s up to both employers and employees to make living a healthy life socially acceptable again.