Why It’s Time to Ditch the 9-to-5

It’s been criticized for its inhumanity, and praised for its stability. But no matter your perspective, it’s hard to dispute that the eight-hour workday feels timeless—as if that’s how work has always been and how work will always be.

Like on-premise software and desk phones, however, even the 9-to-5 is coming to an end.

A little over a hundred years ago Henry Ford helped establish the 8-hour workday as a positive step away from the hellish hours worked during the Industrial Revolution. New machines and assembly lines always needed people to keep them humming, but pressure from the powerful labor movement led Ford, his business contemporaries, and public officials to gradually adopt the 8-hour workday.

Still, the number of hours proved arbitrary from the start. Why wasn’t it 6 hours? Or 10 hours? Business and labor leaders alike spent decades arguing the details, and today the debate has never been more pertinent.

 
 

In 2017, when knowledge workers don’t need to be physically present to get their work done, nothing feels quite as arbitrary as the 9-to-5. With mobile and cloud technologies allowing individuals and teams to connect and collaborate around the world at the times that deem best, the 9-to-5 feels downright archaic. The technology factor only adds to arguments that have existed for much longer: for example, in 46% of two-parent households, both parents work full-time, straining family relationships.

As anywhere workers increasingly realize that the 9-to-5 is a hindrance to their lives and work, CIOs and other key executives have likewise noted the negative impact a rigid, hourly-based schedule can have on their workforce. These include:

Creativity: Sleep deprivation may be costing employers an average of $2,000 a year per worker. Instead of working the typical 9-to-5, knowledge workers and creative professionals do better with a shorter workday starting in the late morning and ending in the early afternoon—about six hours per day. This minor shift in scheduling can help creatives effectively harness their brainpower for the projects that demand their complete attention.

Productivity: In fact, working fewer hours can actually improve productivity and health across the board. Our own research found that over 75% of workers (across industries and job roles) believe the independence and flexibility associated with remote working will improve their overall happiness, creativity, and productivity. And it’s not just a hunch: Tower Paddle Boards, as just one example, thrived by reducing all employee work days to five hours.  

Efficiency: It may seem contradictory that the 9-to-5 originally served to limit the number of hours an employee could work. But with 84% of Millennials checking work email in the off-hours, strict scheduling can unnecessarily increase the amount of hours they’re working. Many organizations have begun to shake things up: Reusser Design, a small app development company in Indiana, found that its flexible work schedule “motivates everyone to work faster and with greater focus.”

In just a few short years, modern business has transformed where and when work can happen. The shift has been so profound and swift, that many organizations have only begun to see how traditional modes of working may be holding them back. While the 9-to-5 used to be a mild annoyance or (at best) a necessary evil, today it is an outright impediment to business success.

Thankfully, there isn’t much keeping businesses tied to the 9-to-5. Over the past decade, forward-thinking CIOs and fellow executives have gradually shifted their IT stacks away from inflexible on-premise systems to the cloud, effectively freeing their people from constraints of place or time. These will be the companies that prosper in the next decade—those that act quickly to evaluate their internal policies, adapt to the needs of the modern workforce, and empower their anywhere workers with the tools and systems to work more efficiently.


To learn more about the history of the 9-to-5 and how workforces can adopt more modern ways of doing business, read our new ebook.

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