Is 9 to 5 Really the Best Time for Employees to Work?

By Kayla Matthews on 23 March 2020

During the Industrial Revolution, workers toiled away for up to 16 hours a day, six days a week. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone as young as 10 next to you on the line. By 1817, Robert Owen, a Welsh reformist, began to lobby for an eight-hour workday. More than a century later, Henry Ford implemented the policy at his factory, cutting hours and doubling pay. As a result, he improved productivity and increased his profit margins.

In 1938, 12 years after Ford’s changes, the U.S. passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which regulated employee hours and wages. As a result, most modern workers have a standard eight-hour workday, typically from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Nevertheless, why do we pay employees based on the hours they put in instead of the amount of work they produce? It may stem from a push by the legal profession in the 1950s. During that time, litigators were paid a fixed rate for their services, instead of by the amount of time spent with clients. The concept of billable hours boosted salaries and, by the 1970s, became the norm. It’s a technique used in nearly every industry today.

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The Benefits of the 9-to-5 Workday

Modern workers slave away at their desks and workstations for a grueling eight hours. After waking up early in the morning, many are unable to focus on complex tasks until they’ve had their coffee. Some feel ready to hit the haystack after a couple of hours of concentration.

It stands to reason that productivity is low during these times, and neither workers nor employers benefit. Therefore, why do we still maintain this outdated system?

While many people dread putting in standard hours, the schedule comes with some benefits.

Work-Life Balance

When you have a job with normal working hours, it regulates the amount of time you spend at the office. While employees still need to set boundaries, such as no emails at home or turning off cellphones, it’s easier to achieve work-life balance. With this routine, you can leave in the evening and forget about your duties until the next day.

When you break the standard mold, achieving this stability becomes more challenging — especially for those who telecommute. Remote workers log an extra five to seven hours more per week than in-office employees, often clocking in when they’re sick or on vacation.

Access to Community 

Working an established schedule provides access to a workplace community, one where employees can network, foster relationships, learn new skills and more. Many people become friends with their co-workers, using them as an outlet to talk and destress throughout the day.

With an irregular routine, workers may not have the same opportunities to meet others in the company and connect. Likewise, telecommuters may work alone each day, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

An Established Routine

Arranging to meet up with acquaintances, such as friends and family, can be difficult when you work strange hours. By sticking to the standard 9-to-5 workday, however, you know what your schedule will be each day. As a result, you can make plans and coordinate with those on the same timeline.

With the typical eight-hour shift, you know which stores and restaurants will be open when you clock out. Plus, you get two consecutive days off each week — an ideal time to take a mini-vacation or visit your parents.

The Drawbacks of the 9-to-5 Workday

The standard 9-to-5 schedule works for many people. It can also be a great proxy for work ethic and dedication to a career while allowing one to earn a relatively good living.

Yet, it can also prove disadvantageous to health, productivity, workflow and more. Many argue that this method of work may be outdated for modern workers since its introduction to the economy in 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act. So, we’ll take a look at the negative aspects of the 9-to-5 workday.

Commute Times

With everyone working at the same time each day, many get stuck in long, arduous commutes. According to experts, longer travel times link to poor health. In one survey of 173,000 Americans, 33% of respondents with a commute of more than 90 minutes had neck or back problems. They were also more likely to experience high cholesterol and BMI.

With flexible hours or telecommuting options, on the other hand, workers can choose to come to the office when traffic is light. Alternatively, they can skip the commute altogether and hop on their home computer.

Productivity Loss

The standard work schedule doesn’t conform to most people’s lives. If you wake up at 8 a.m. and feel exhausted, for example, you don’t have the option to stay in bed and start later. Forcing yourself to work when you’re not at your peak leads to lower quality performance and decreased productivity.

Those on this schedule don’t get a say in when they take breaks, either. While you get a short lunch and a few minutes by the water cooler, you can’t clock out to take a nap or run time-sensitive errands. Research shows your brain can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it requires a break.

Decreased Talent

Top employees flock to companies that offer perks, such as flexible work hours. In one poll, 57% of workers revealed that finding great benefits is a top deciding factor during the job search. Employees restricted to a specific schedule, such as 9 to 5, may face dissatisfaction with their jobs, leading to weakened morale and performance.

By stepping away from the standard schedule, workers feel they have more control over their lives and free time. As a result, many specifically search for jobs that can accommodate their wants and needs.

Outdated Ideas

The concept of a 40-hour workweek, punching in eight hours per day, was established long ago. Now, it doesn’t keep up with the current state of affairs. Employees often express their frustration with this system using phrases like, “Everybody hates Mondays,” and “Thank God it’s Friday.”

Some organizations have already taken steps to reduce their working hours, and they’re reaping the benefits. Perpetual Guardian, for example, is a New Zealand firm that implemented a 32-hour workweek while paying employees for 40 hours. As a result, the staff was more creative, showed improved attendance and gave up taking long breaks.

The 9-to-5 Workday — Is It the Best Option for Employees?

It is the age-old question — is the standard 9-to-5 schedule working? Unfortunately, there is no single answer, as results vary from employee to employee.

Many people thrive in the environment a strict workweek provides, including a set work-life balance and professional community. Others, however, require flexibility and modernized options. Those who create their schedules often see improved productivity and greater satisfaction.