I've never believed in the dreadful style of IT management that sees level of commitment as directly proportional to hours spent on the job, but I do expect my team to respond in critical situations at odd hours (fortunately, we've succeeded in creating a stable environment, so calls at odd hours are rare). A good night's sleep and relaxing weekends are the rewards for good planning and architecture - but everyone realises we might need to convene a SWAT team to solve unforeseen problems at any point.
That's just the way IT works. For most IT professionals, a generally flexible schedule and stimulating opportunities to solve problems and learn new things keeps the IT game interesting, despite the long hours. (And, of course, IT is fun.)
The dark side of this is that a job in IT can consume every waking hour if you let it. Successfully managing an IT career demands that you achieve a balance between personal life and career - and to a large extent, the example set by CTOs and CIOs within a company set the overall cultural tone that determines how IT staff approach the issue themselves.
Recently, I read the glowing profile of a prominent IT executive that outlined his typical day: 10 to 12 hours at the office, three to four hours online at home at night, usually followed by intense late night conference calls from home with developers. Although the piece painted a portrait of a real get-things-done IT mover-and-shaker who clearly met his performance goals, I found myself feeling anything but inspired by the story as a few details caught my eye.
The executive's wife had banned his use of the speakerphone for the late night developer conference calls so she and the kids could sleep. His assistant noted that during a recent family vacation, he had threatened to check his family out of their hotel because it didn't have broadband. For the late-night conference calls, developers in this IT organisation were expected to dial in unless they had a legitimate family excuse.
Presumably, winding down with a spouse after an already full workday would not pass the legitimacy test.
For me, these particulars add up to an aggressively unhealthy culture that views family as an impediment to IT success. I'm reminded of an old Loretta Lynn song called Success, with a fictional neglected wife singing the biting chorus, "Success has made a failure of our home".
It is true that, thanks to the march of globalisation, the sun never sets on IT. I suppose you could use that indisputable fact as a rationale for around-the-clock IT hours: When it's nighttime in New York, it's morning in Bangalore and there's work to be done.
I have a novel idea though, for the busy IT executives out there who are so narrowly focused on bottom-line ROI. Delegate some of the late-night work to a trusted lieutenant and use the time to help your kids with their math and science homework. You probably won't sacrifice any significant short-term ROI for your IT organisation, and the longer-term ROI for your family is incalculable.