Do You Stop Working at 5:30? What? Half-Day Today? How Tech is Making us Forced Workaholics

Whenever I hear business consultants chatter at meetings — and I try to subject myself to this as little as possible – I hear the mantra over and over of “Don’t work harder, work smarter.”

When I hear it, I have to restrain myself from zapping someone with the taser app on my smartphone (okay, they don’t make one of those, yet, but when they do, I am SO downloading it!). The fact is, that mythical work-life balance that all the motivational speakers like to muse about has been hampered by the fact the Internet is everywhere. As a result, so are our jobs.

That’s why it was near heresy when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently told an interviewer that she works a 9-5 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.”

The irony in that quote is that it sounded more like a confession than a statement of simple fact, and that in this day and age she felt she had to hide it to some extent, as if working the traditional 8-hour workday that has been a standard for more than a century was some kind of crime. I don’t think someone should feel they have to be brave to admit they work a normal workday. They are brave when they confess a crime, or admit to a past trauma or reveal they had an affair or something else equally shocking or usual. To admit you come to work on time and go to work on time should be a source of pride to the “work smarter work-life balance” set.

But what do most of us do? We might work an 8-hour day, but many of us will excuse ourselves from the dinner table to check our work email, and many will even work on into the night so we can get a jump on the next day’s agenda. We work late not because we can, but because we feel we SHOULD because we can.

But I am relieved by Sandberg’s interview, because she took a stand for sense and sensibility. There is a reason the 8-hour workday prevailed for so many years — it made sense. We need a certain amount of down-time every day to maintain our balance, health and energy. Working all the time makes us less happy, which means we are less productive in the longrun.

When we look around the world and see that the Spanish typically work four 10-hour days each week, with a two to three-hour break in the middle of each day, we think how odd. But their productivity is usually greater than our rate of productivity, and it’s no secret why. Rested, refreshed workers produce more work.

As time and money become commodities that seem to dwindle in our lives, we should think about Sandberg’s philosophy and do what we can to make it our own. Tech and the availability of tech should not guilt us into working longer hours. Tech should be our tool, and not the other way around.

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