Might Be Time to Tell Your Employees to Get a Life

What’s wrong with leaving work at 5:30 p.m.?

If you ask Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, and Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, nothing at all. The business leaders are heading major technology corporations, and see no reason to burn the midnight oil. Putting in an eight-hour day is enough, so long as their work is done.

Sandberg spoke out during an interview posted on Makers.com, saying, "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. Now I certainly wouldn't lie, but I wasn't running around giving speeches on it."

Likewise, in a recent article on CNN.com, Cashmore argues Sandberg’s stance on working a “normal” day should not be controversial, but should be acceptable for all employees—even those without families.

As Gen Y continues to infiltrate the workforce, having access to flex time and reasonable working hours is no longer a taboo, according to Polly Wright, senior consultant at HR Consults. In fact, if a business wants to remain competitive, offering this is almost expected.

Wright herself telecommutes for her job in order to balance raising her young children, and similar opportunities were offered to colleagues at times they needed flexibility, she said.

“I think what we are seeing is a change in the way work looks,” Wright said. “[Sandberg] indicated that if you get the work done, people don’t care so much about how many hours you put in to get it done, or where you did the work. At the end of the day, that becomes a more efficient practice for the entire working community.”

In the early days of a startup or new business venture, Wright said founders and employees are often expected to put in long hours and wear multiple hats. However, being a small company allows more opportunities for flexibility than larger corporations, and owners should take advantage of this and extend the offer to workers.

“People do respect hard work, but there’s also this notion that it’s okay to take a half-day on Friday because [employees] worked so hard all week and got so much done,” Wright said. “You’re not being in the office just to be there. Some people put in tons of hours just to look good, but they might be at the office not doing a whole lot. Others can get the same amount of work done in eight hours.”

If you are thinking of incorporating flex time into your employees’ benefits, or pushing more work-life balance on your team, Wright said the first step is letting go.

“This doesn’t work when managers are afraid to let go, and not see the person face-to-face all the time,” she said. “Trust has to be there on both sides, so this arrangement will work.”

Also, your techniques may have to be altered as far as reporting on statuses and holding meetings. Reports may have to be given and received via teleconference or Skype rather than in person, she said.

Focus more on the amount and quality of work getting done, rather than where and how it is getting done, Wright said.  As younger generations of workers enter the labor force, this notion of flexibility and hours worked will continue to evolve, and companies will be healthier for it, Wright said. As long as the day’s work is done, and done well, time shouldn’t be a concern.

“There are still biases in the workplace that a person who comes in at 9 and leaves at 5 isn’t a hard-working employee,” she said. “It will take employers looking at the facts, and they may have to reevaluate.”