Why You’re Never Going to Leave a Healthcare IT Job at 5:30

Anybody catch the recent Mashable.com or CNN articles on the feedback Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has received because she makes it a point to leave work at 5:30 pm every day? (You can read them here and here.) In a nutshell, Sandberg has always left the office around that time – a practice she started when she first had kids, but has only felt comfortable talking about it now that she is in upper management and (presumably) somewhat immune to corporate push back. ( Don’t confuse leaving work with not working, by the way. Sandberg, like many others, checks email at all hours.)

Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore, who authored the CNN.com story, summarizes the mini-controversy that has evolved in the tech world as a result of Sandberg’s coming clean: “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? And are those working eight-hour days that end at 5 p.m. being quietly judged by their co-workers? Whatever happened to “work-life balance”?

Good questions, to be sure. So good, in fact, that I felt compelled to pose a similar query to a panel of current and former healthcare CIOs – all guys, by the way – at the recent Women in Technology International (WITI) / GAHIMSS event, “Women in Healthcare IT Talk.”

Piedmont Healthcare CIO Mark Pasquale was refreshingly candid in his response: “I don’t have a work-life balance.” His point being that, as a CIO overseeing a near-future EPIC ERP system go-live, his work day never really ends, especially given how connected he is via multiple mobile devices. He also pointed out that, as 85% of Piedmont’s install team is internal, Piedmont spent copious amounts of time preparing that staff for the time commitment required to travel to Epic headquarters in Madison, Wisc., for training. Pasquale kept an open door, and said many staff members came by multiple times to hash out whether committing to such an intense project was the right move for them.

From left to right: Christopher Kunney, The BAE Company; Sonny Munter, Georgia Dept. of Community Health; Mark Pasquale, Piedmont Healthcare; Praveen Chopra, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Fellow panelist Christopher Kunney, HIT Strategist at the BAE Company and former CIO of Piedmont, made the point that you have to be aware of what you’re signing up for when you enter healthcare’s executive ranks. Long days aren’t unusual; they are the norm. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta CIO Praveen Chopra concurred, adding that his wife makes him limit use of his Blackberry on vacation to just one hour a day. Sonny Munter, CIO of Georgia’s Dept. of Community Health, joked that he leaves his job everyday at 4pm – but gets going around 6 in the morning. Munter added that he makes it a point to surround himself with good staff members, which also helps in balancing his work and family obligations.

From left to right: Lisa McVey, McKesson; Gretchen Tegethoff, Athens Regional Medical Center; Patty Lavely, CIO Consulting LLC; Deborah Cancilla, Grady Health System

A second panel of healthcare executives – all female – pretty much agreed with their male counterparts. Patty Lavely, founder of CIO Consulting LLC and former CIO of three different health systems, did echo Facebook’s Sandberg just a bit in her comment on the subject: “There comes a time when you have to say, ‘This [work] will be here for me tomorrow. I need to go home and have dinner with my family tonight.”

All of the panelists mentioned the need to prioritize workplace projects and challenges in a way that is suitable to the particular balance they need in their lives. They have triaged, so to speak, their commitments, priorities, deadlines, etc. to fit their schedules.

So, can healthcare IT folks – providers or vendors, executives or otherwise – ever be off the clock, never mind leave the office between 5 and 6? Share your stories and advice in the comments below.

About the author

Jennifer Dennard

Jennifer Dennard

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.


  • The problem with many Healthcare IT jobs is that they work for organizations that are open 24/7. This means that you have to provide support 24/7. Although, not all healthcare IT jobs are this way. I worked for a clinic that basically worked 8-5 and so I worked the same hours with few exceptions. Now as a blogger I still try to keep the 8-5 as well. I think it’s important.

    One of my favorite books on entrepreneurship talks about the value of having a life outside of your business. I think this is true for any job. Having a life outside of your regular job provides some much needed perspective and insight which makes you better at your job.

    The key for Hospital CIO’s is to find people they trust and then trust them. Then, going home at 5 isn’t such a bad thing.

  • I was at the conference and have a couple of comments I wanted to share.

    1. When did work/life balance become a requirement? For those of us who our work is like play, we may enjoy putting in the extra hours. However, I do not expect my team to work more than 40.

    2. It’s difficult to do everything at once. When I was younger I tried to do everything at once and by myself. It is quite difficult. It is much easier for me to work longer hours now than when I was married and had children at home. Now that I am single and have adult children, I would often rather work longer hours. This doesn’t mean I don’t have a life outside of work, it’s not “balanced” just as it was not “balanced” at other times in my life where my family and social obligations demanded more time that I could devote to my career.

    As I tell the younger people I mentor: You can have it all (or most of it) but is difficult and/or expensive to try to have it all at once.


    PS 45-50 hours per week at my current job is a walk in the park compared to working 7pm to 7:30 am (or later) in a neonatal intensive care unit, raising two kids and being a military wife.

  • Deb,
    Work life balance has always mattered. The key is that everyone’s balance is different for all the reasons you state (family situation, how much you enjoy your job, etc.). Plus, a lot of people have always been out of balance and so they’ve never known any difference.

  • I also was very fortunate in my last job, which provided much flexibility. I rarely was in the office past 5p, but I made myself available nights & weekends to read release notes, respond to requests for help etc. I think the distinguishing factor is being asked or demanded by an employer to work extra/flexible hours rather than volunteering to do so, especially if this isn’t discussed prior to hire.

  • Interesting topic, Jennifer. I actually work for one such company, where during my interview my present manager actually told me she didn’t want people that didn’t have a life beyond work.

    We routinely have 9a-5p (or in my case 8a-4p) work days. There are one off days when we do have to login remotely and put in extra hours. But I have had more fun at this one job than any place else in my career.

  • I think this becomes a personal decision, and requires management support of your work quality and ethic regardless of the length of hours as long as appropriate coverage is met. I was proud of Sandberg for broaching the topic. If we were in Europe we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but then again Europe isn’t exactly blowing the world away in technology productivity or innovation these days either.

  • I think for those working in the healthcare industry, it indeed hard to leave work by that time. I mean there can no fixed working schedules.

  • I try to make it a point to leave the office on time everyday. Try, being the keyword. Fortunately, I have the option of going in later, or leaving earlier, however I am always connected.

  • I’m on the sales side supporting healthcare organizations and thus healthcare IT professionals. I can attest that in many cases there is little “balance” in the work-life equation.

    My company’s policy is a 7-4 work day, but I choose to make myself available to my customers at all hours. Folks who support healthcare organizations deserve an equal level support. My policy means I’ll likely never have a balance either, but that’s the nature of the industry today and I’ve accepted that.

  • I’ve liked the recent discussions that I’ve seen happening that shift away from work life balance to work life integration. When you’re doing something you love, then having work an integral part of your life is not a bad thing. It’s doing something you love.

  • I am a remote, Sr. Technical Consultant and have a healthcare provider as a client. I find them excellent to work with and as one of for clients I support, I’ve never found them any more demanding of my after hours time. I work from home and work 40 hr’s per week for my employer and another in support of my local user group, presenting at conferences and now working with WIT programs. I believe work-life balance has much to do with the good company you keep. Extra hours one week pays forward to less on a week I may have family responsibilities/appointments. We should view it as a partnership ensuring each employee being their best and the employer in turn supporting what drives each employee.

  • Kellyn, I completely agree with you regarding “extra hours one week pays forward to less on a week filled with family responsibilities/appointments.” Employers that recognize the necessity of work/life balance will ultimately reap the benefit of more productive employees. That’s been my experience, at least.

  • It’s not about HOW MANY hours, what times, and etc.
    It’s about “balance” and balance is a very personal thing.
    I obviously require the minimum (40 hours per week/80 hours per 2-week pay period), but am very flexible about how those hours are spread out across the pay period.
    Some days are high (projects, down-times, etc)…..some days are low (sick kids, school conferences, doctor appointments, etc).
    The important thing to remember is that employees are PEOPLE and they have lives outside of work….and to the extent you forget that and/or take advantage of that by over-asking of them, the sooner they’ll leave and the sooner you’ll miss their experience and knowledge.

    Most of my team puts in MORE than they’re asked to…because their work environment is rewarding and satisfying and they WANT to…..but when someone goes TOO FAR out, putting in too many hours, I warn them that they’ll become fatigued and burned out and become less and less of an asset to the team and they’ll be doing more harm than good.

    Again, it’s a balance…and there’s NO magic answer.

    It’s completely fluid and entirely dependent on each team member.
    And if you don’t KNOW a team member and you don’t KNOW their “balance”…then you’re forgetting that they’re a person and your not remembering to VALUE them….and in my humble opinion, you’re not being a good manager.

  • It is hard to work 9-to-5 when you work for a large health network. I work at NewYork-Presbyterian and I work long hours and sometimes weekends. It isn’t expected of me, and my bosses don’t demand extra hours. Rather, I care about the hospital and the services we provide. And it is a 24/7 operation that requires a team effort to sustain. So I always ensure I do my work, and look at ways of adding value to my team and to the hospital. Again, it is my choice. I have a family, and NYP and my bosses give me great flexibility to spend time with my kids, to be a parent. I consider myself fortunate. It isn’t easy, but at the end of the day I know I am helping NYP improve public health. I am sure others in other health care institutions feel similarly.

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