There was an article floating around the tech world, recently. Maybe you saw it. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg stated in an interview that she *GASP!* “walk[s] out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6.”
OH. MY. GOD!!! How did this woman get to be COO? Everyone in the tech industry knows you don’t go home at 5:00! How does she expect to be successful? Why do you think companies like Google or Zynga offer you free dinner every night? It’s because you butt is stuck at your desk (unlike at Microsoft where work life balance is amazing…e-mail me for details). Her career is OV-AH!
This mentality is obvious. Ever since the dawn of the computer age, tech companies have been hard at work innovating, inventing, and constantly improving what is already out there. I have heard people joke about how their brand-spanking-new computer is obsolete before they finished unpacking it. It’s a joke, but it’s not far from the truth. Do you realize that the original iPad only came out 2 years ago? We’re now on version 3. This doesn’t happen because technology companies work a standard 9-5 with mandatory smoke breaks. This happens because employees at technology companies are working all…the…time.
I am not happy with this. I’m like Sheryl (we’re on a first name basis, you know). I have a family at home that I like to see. I like to cook dinner, I don’t want it at work. I like to read my son a story and tuck him in at night. I am a guy who leaves at 5:30 (actually…4:45 as I ride a vanpool. I’m green like that).
Here’s how I see it. There are three courses for technology companies:
A) The Microsoft/Google/Amazon way: Company starts. Company creates something cool and finds HUGE success. Company rapidly grows hiring many new developers and buying up smaller firms with relevant or needed IP. Company goes public, people get rich, company lives forever. Or…until the next revolution. New employees don’t get rich anymore.
B) The Zappos/Skype/YouTube way: Company starts. Company creates something cool and finds significant success. Company from pattern A swoops in and purchases said company making people get rich and then welcoming them into the fold of the company that will live forever. After the buyout, the getting rich goes away.
C) The almost everybody else way: Company starts. Company closes.
In the initial stages of the company, it’s common for people to work long hours with very little time off. You’re doing this hoping that the success your product finds will one day lead to wealth and financial happiness. It’s a gamble, and the people taking these jobs know it. Until you create something and get people to start buying it, the money doesn’t happen. You’re willing to work because you know, deep down, that you will succeed!
But, here’s the problem…companies are forgetting to stop expecting this when they pass the start-up stage. Google, Amazon, Microsoft…nobody is getting rich here, anymore. People are doing well for themselves. They are paid exceptionally well compared to people in some other industries. But, they are not becoming millionaires. Still…some of these companies continue expecting you to work like you will become a millionaire. How do we kill this expectation that work is more important than time with our families? Or time with our friends! There is no reason why work life balance should be exclusive to people who are married with children. You should be free to spend the weekend snowboarding without checking e-mail. How do we begin changing this paradigm?
Simple…we need more people like Sheryl. Facebook isn’t at the Microsoft/Google/Amazon place, yet. Facebook is still (potentially) making millionaires. She just made a very big statement. We need more executives to stand up and publicly acknowledge that work life balance is important. We need more leaders to say, “Hey…it’s Friday. It’s 5:00. Why are you still here? That project can wait until Monday.” And, we need more HR people to motivate our leaders to do so.
Now…if you’ll excuse me. It’s beer thirty. I’m leaving.