The unforgivable heresy of Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook COO leaves office at 5:30, and thinks you should too

It's the video many Silicon Valley power brokers would love to purge from the Internet. In an interview posted on Makers.com, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg uttered the equivalent of modern-workplace heresy:

“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. 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.”

Of course, it's easier to be brave when you're an all-but-certain billionaire, which we can assume Sandberg will be after Facebook's IPO next month. But Sandberg, a Harvard graduate who worked briefly in the Clinton Administration before embarking on an executive career in technology, said she hopes her example will serve as an inspiration to other technology professionals still playing the phony and soul-destroying "I work harder than you" game:

"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. And I hope that means other women and men -- importantly, and men -- feel comfortable going home to see their kids."

Sure, like that's going to happen. Even as you read this, thousands of tech workers at Facebook, Google, Zynga and elsewhere are playing the Sandberg card! And when I say "thousands," I mean none. Because no one who's putting in 50 or 60+ hours because they're afraid not to is going to stick out their neck and demand their lives back from the tech jobs that consume them or the venture capitalists who get wealthy on the backs of overworked and stressed-out technology employees. Not in this shaky economy. Even Sandberg, despite walking out of the office on the early side of rush hour, played that demeaning game earlier in her tech career, when she felt she had no choice:

“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.”

How truly sad that intelligent, capable people have to resort to this bogus crap, even after they put in a full day of hard work at the office. But that's where we're at these days, folks. For all the talk of ideas and inspiration in the technology world, those are just sparks. The real engines driving Silicon Valley are fear and greed: The fear of workers who are afraid to be seen as less than psychotically loyal to the company, and the greed of top executives and venture capitalists who see workers as replaceable cogs in a vast money-making machine. And while I implied at the top of this post that tech power brokers would prefer that the Facebook COO keep a lid on all this 5:30 talk, the truth is they have little to fear. Sandberg isn't going to kick off a tech-worker insurrection. Silicon Valley employees will continue to show up at ridiculously early hours, stay until even more ridiculous late hours, and then continue to work at home. Some of them may even be angling for Sandberg's job, because she's obviously such a slacker!

Chris Nerney writes ITworld's Tech Business Today blog. Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisNerney. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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