Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If that's what it takes, so be it

I found this article funny; here's an excerpt:

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?

5 PM is "the standard"? In whose world?

That wasn't "the standard" in the rabbinate for me, and it isn't the standard for any synagogue rabbi I know. Even in a hypothetical, most accomodating congregation, where family dinner is respected and rabbis are encouraged to use their vacation days to recharge, I can't see anyone exempting the rabbi from nightly meetings and/or shiurim, from late night and early morning calls, and from the type of schedule which requires that he work well into the night to keep up the pace of classes and speeches.

It's not only the rabbinate, of course; other professions also demand absurd hours. Politicians. Young associates at law firms. Teachers. Plumbers. Medical residents. Accountants, in tax season. Professional sports. Private detectives. And, it appears, the tech industry.

Why should it be the standard, anyway? If you enter a profession then you accept the rules of the game, which need no justification other than, "This is the way the game is played." If you don't like it, get out of the field, but this is part of the job description, because that's what it takes to get the job done in the way the employers want it done.

To take my own former field: Looking after the spiritual needs of hundreds of families, teaching classes, researching halachic questions, functioning as administrator and officiant and publicist for the Jewish community, these take that kind of time, and that's just the way it is.

Frankly, the same is true in my current field; there is no way to do my job without investing 13-16 hours each day; it's just not possible.

And if the same is true in politics, law, or a start-up business, so be it.

Which is why I found that article funny; why should tech be any different?


  1. Taking breaks and meals makes for better work. The proof is that she has succeeded in her career.

    I have a Torah-observant friend who is a judge. She claims that without her Shabat break, she wouldn't survive, while the non-observant judges wonder how she can do the work in only six days. They use the full seven.

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  3. Yeshiva learning for me started at about 9:15 A.M. and ended 11:00 P.M.
    However the fact is that my Dad got off his work at a fixed time every day. He invented the laser beam communication between USA satellites for the SDI (Star Wars) when we were in competition with the USSR. (I actually saw the laser at his lab at TRW) When we stated out with SDI, the the USSR was way ahead of the Americans. In the late 1960's the Americans caught up and surpassed the USSR. This work was done by private corporations like Hycon and TRW until a complete workable program could be presented to Regan at which point he announced that America would pursue the SDI. Despite this pressure and intense atmosphere my Dad picked me up after high school every day.

  4. When rabbis or their proxies do the math, I think it needs to be kept in mind that if a lay person in working 9-5, he has to do minyan and shiurim and bikur cholim and whatnot on top of that. For rabbis with very long days, they are including all that in their work day hours. It's really not fair to make those sorts of comparisons and claim the rabbis have such long hours relative to lay persons.

  5. Batya, Adam-
    I think it's possible to work many, many hours with breaks; indeed, that's what I do. I do homework with my youngest and learn with my oldest, and so on. It's possible, so long as one is willing to get up early, go to sleep late, and stint on a few other things.

    Sorry, but I'm not buying it, not unless your hypothetical layperson is doing the shiurim and bikur cholim every night, along with a whole host of other tasks. It's just not so.

  6. You still can't count minyan time as work time. And yes, I see guys at daf yomi and/or otherwise learning every single day.

    So while daf yomi prep time can be counted as work time by the rabbi, daf yomi shiur time itself cannot. Nor can minyan time.

    And all the lay people who prepare shiurim. Or who volunteer at their shul with zero remuneration. That should be added to the lay person's ledger.

    What is the argument, that rabbis have really long hours? That chagim are work days? Fine. Rabbis work long hours. But so do lay persons who work 9-5 but who come to minyan and shiurim and countless shul committee meetings and who otherwise volunteer.

    You are comparing a lay person's 9-5 job to a rabbi's 16 hour day but are including minyan etc. in the rabbi's hours and excluding the lay person's minyan, shiur, and volunteer hours. And the lay person isn't getting paid to attend minyan.

  7. What you seem to have missed Rabbi is the tag line under the photo of Ms. Sandberg. In it she admits that after dinner she checks her work email. And I'd be quite willing to bet that "checking" includes answering as well as initiating emails of her own. And it just might be that she also does some planning for things she has to take care of in the office. And does thinking about a work project or problem not fall under the category of working?

    Thanks to computers and the Internet, being in the office from "only" 9-5 does not mean that a lot of people stop working after 5:00. That might answer your question of "why should tech be any different?" It's not, but where and when the work gets done has now become easier. My husband is a Systems Architect. In the early days of only mainframes and no PCs all the work had to be done in the office. It was not at all unusual for him to leave for work at 7:00 in the morning, and if he got home before 9:00 it was an early night. He frequently worked 6 days a week, and yes, there were times when he had to go in on a Motzoai Shabbos also. It wasn't unusual to leave on one morning and first return the next morning. Sure, there are still times now when he has to put in more hours than the standard, but thanks to PCs that work gets done at home.

    There still are some jobs that are strictly 9-5ish, but there have always been and still are many fields where the work hours are longer or spaced out differently during the day or have been extended to outside of the office because of computers. The rabbinate is hardly the only field that has both daytime and evening responsibilities attendant with it. My last class twice a week goes until 10:35pm. If I'm really lucky and the weather is clear and there is no traffic, I get home at 11:15 and hopefully am having dinner by 11:30. In addition to regular office hours for students during the day, I am available via email, and the students use it faithfully for questions and discussions. And in addition to work hours there are also the multiple hours of tending to a home and family and the outside errands that are part of my home "job" that also take up hours during the day.

    Trying to compare the work hours across different fields would require a lot more than just adding up the hours in the office. And yes, it's a whole lot like comparing apples and oranges.

  8. There is a legitimate question to be asked here about whether all of that time at the office is being used effectively or not.

    I am willing to bet that many of those that scoff at the 9-5 are not using all of the "extra time" they put in for work purposes.

  9. Melech-
    Sorry, but your comparison just doesn't hold. Comparing someone who learns daf yomi with someone who puts in the work to teach it - and to teach it twice daily in your shul - is inadequate. Then add in his additional 3-5 shiurim per week. Plus derashah.

    Then add in that it's mandatory for him.

    But this is all beside the point, in truth, because the shiurim are a small part. At least, those take place during sane hours. What about the calls at 1, 2 or 3 AM? And yes, they do happen. And I can't speak for the Rabbi of your shul, but I know from my own experience in a shul 1/3 the size that they happen more frequently than anyone realizes.

    Then add in the time spent with aveilim, far more than the normal shiva visit. And with cholim, far more than the normal bikkur cholim and far more intense. And with people who are dealing with mental illness, or whose spouses or children or parents are going through same. Or people in general crisis. These things don't happen during 'normal business hours', either. I am familiar with another Rabbi in the city who spends nights sleeping in hospital wards when his congregants need him there.

    I have no particular concern regarding who works longer hours; there is no machismo involved. As I said in my post, many careers require long hours. I just think that the comparison to someone who works 9-5, goes to minyan, is a good community volunteer and learns daf yomi is inappropriate.

    All agreed. As I said to Melech, many careers require long hours, and I have no particular stake in saying the rabbinate's hours are longer.

    Very much agreed.

  10. Some people in some jobs are efficient/productive enough to get things done in a typical day by 5 pm. Some who work the extra long hours manage their time poorly and are less productive overall.

  11. Bob-
    True. ALthough, note that in some jobs the time itself is often what matters. Think of a rabbi visiting a shut-in, for example.

  12. Nobody is denying that rabbis work hard and have long hours, especially when their jobs combine rabbinic, teaching, pastoral, administrative, and fundraising aspects.

    But the flip side is everyone else isn't working a 9 to 5 job either with no responsibilities before 9 or after 5.

    Take a simple matter of commute for instance. Most rabbis (if we are talking congregational) live within an 18 minute walk to work, and a much shorter drive. Many 9to5'ers have up to an hour commute, so already we are talking 8 to 6.

    And like I said, the long rabbinic day includes minyan, so add that to the 8to6'ers hours as well.

    Yes, rabbis work long and hard hours, and on shabbat and chagim as well. But as I've said before, they also get the big bucks, unlimited kavod, and the best shidduchim. Not to mention enormous job satisfaction with their most meaningful job, and in spite of concerns on this blog site about giving a wrong psak, rabbis also have the best chelek in olam haba waiting for them.