5 Reasons the 9 to 5 Workday is Obsolete

5 Reasons the 9 to 5 Workday is Obsolete feature image

There is a whole contingent of companies that cling to their business week schedule for a variety of reasons, the biggest one being a fear that too much is changing in their industries. Innovative companies, however, are noticing that the 9-to-5, 5-day-a-week schedule makes less and less sense for them. Part of staying ahead of business trends is evaluating what structures are serving you, and you might be surprised to see how much has changed, making the 9-to-5 make less sense than ever before. Here are five reasons to revise how you think about the work week.

Dual Income Families Are the Norm Now

When the 9-to-5 workday grew to popularity, it was actually a workplace reform: longer hours were expected in many factory jobs, which wasn't really good for anyone involved. However, at the time, there was a pretty profound division of labor: a larger percentage of families had a single income, while the other parent of the children stayed home with them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 60% of families now are dual-income households. These households must rely on expensive childcare if both of the incomes come from 9-to-5 jobs.

By contrast, flexible work or the ability to choose one's own schedule would allow dual-income families to stagger their hours, paying for less childcare and getting more time with their children as well. This major shift in the way that families work makes it clear that a 9-to-5 workday isn't essential any more.

Millennials Are Driving Values of Flexibility and Autonomy

Millennials, born in the 80s and early 90s, are now the largest percentage of the workforce. Retaining workers from the millennial generation isn't as driven by steady work or even by the highest possible pay. Millennials, more than other generations, value jobs that exercise their minds and provide them with flexibility and autonomy. Not every job can meet this ambitious list, of course, but giving workers whose work isn't business-hours-dependent the freedom to choose their schedule or flex their time is a big deal. By offering this "perk," employers see less turnover and greater job satisfaction, which leads to much higher performance from employees.

As millennials have entered their 30s and soon, 40s, their need for childcare (mentioned already) creates a further need for options beyond the 9-to-5 workday. Millennials tend to value work-life balance, and so concepts like the 4 day work week are also drawing in lots of attention, placing them in control of more hours of their weeks.

Creative, Brain-Focused Work Requires Different Rhythms

When the 9-to-5 workday came into existence, a much higher percentage of jobs contained rote elements: calculations, factory work, and typing jobs abounded for the early decades of the 20th century. These days, companies have automated so many of the rote elements of work that most workers are doing much more complex problem-solving during their workdays. This is mirrored by the rise of a college education as a prerequisite for many white-collar jobs. Unfortunately, while one can be a little drowsy or distracted and still accurately assemble on an assembly line, the work output of drowsy, distracted workers in the creative sector is low. When you want creative output, you have to give the brain space to come up with those creative solutions, which involves adjusting to the mental energy rhythms of the individual.

A variety of productivity experts are recognizing that we must adjust many aspects of our environment to get ideal working conditions. One simple way to do that is to let your creative workers work when the urge strikes them at 6am in the morning or 10pm at night. This doesn't mean that you have no rules, but giving flexibility within the rules tends to create a happier, more creative workforce.

Electronic, Asynchronous Communication Renders "Business Hours" Less Helpful

One of the most persistent myths about the workday is the idea that having individuals work during that time provides "coverage," people to answer the phone or speak to individuals who walk into a business. Certainly, there are jobs like this, but there are fewer than you might think. Consider: how often are you in a meeting and have to return a phone call later? Think about your actual response time to things like email - it's not bad, but it isn't instant. The norm of many workplaces has shifted from "answer the phone right now and answer my questions" to "email me back within 24-48 hours." The existence of a useful, electronic, asynchronous method of communication has created a world where we can communicate 24/7, but we don't have to answer immediately at any one moment.

This contributes to the CareerBuilder study that shows the 9-to-5 to be a thing of the past. With email, people believe they can work anywhere. New features like "schedule send" make it even easier to work at your preferred hours, even if it is at 3am because the baby woke you up, and send the email at an hour that most people are awake. The many internet-based forms of communication make it possible to get back to people quickly, establish a paper trail efficiently, and never coincide at work at the same time.

Why Pay For The "Wrong" Hours?

All of these are societal forces moving against the 9-to-5 workday, and they may be enough to render it obsolete. However, there is one more compelling point that particularly appeals to business owners. Business owners assume that flexibility in their workplace arrangements will cause chaos and frustration, but in reality, the one-size-fits-all model of full-time employment actually harms the business owner. If what you really need is 4.33 workers for half the year and 5.5 the rest, how frustrating is it to have 6 people working full-time all the time?

Creating schedule flexibility prompts conversations about hours-per-week as well, offering you and your employees the chance to work exactly what is needed rather than some rote business week. If your employees only need 30 hours a week, chosen from their daily schedules, to accomplish their tasks, why would you make them stay chained to their desks for 10 extra hours? If your workers are creative and thoughtful at 6am, why force them to wait 3 hours till their first slump of the day to start working? Pay for the actual right hours, and you'll see productivity rise, allowing you to reward the employees while generating additional profits yourself.

Nicholas Rempel

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