• James Cullen

Working 9 to 5 - What a Way to Make a Living?


Not one to criticize the immortal words of Dolly Parton, is working 9 to 5 really the best way to make a living? Although I'm fairly sure that the song is a lampoon of actually having to work from 9 to 5 and that perhaps that isn't the best way to make a living. Times have well and truly changed since 1980, but one thing remains resolute: the working day.

There are some practicalities to working from 9am until 5pm. I suppose that other companies generally work from these hours so contacting one another is best under the eight hour window. Although the advent of the email and the ditching of the rotary would perhaps make this redundant. Maybe childcare arrangements are also an argument for the 9 to 5 working day? Though flexible starting and finishing times could provide a better solution to the childcare issue? Aside from this, I cannot fathom why most jobs are strict 9 to 5's (or 5:30 as it has now extended to).

The work week as it stands now (35-37.5 hours in most Western countries) came about as a compromise to reduce the hours worked from the mills, the workhouses, and the factories. The desire to maximize output in industry resulted in hazardously overworked employees (who earned but a pittance). The work day lasted between 10-18 hours and for six days a week. In 1817, Robert Owen begun the movement to work an 8:8:8 split - almost the founder of Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat - but it didn't catch on for many years. Progress did occur. For example, The Factories Act of 1847 ensured women and children (!) worked only a 60-hour week. Almost 100 years later, the rolling out of the 8-hour working day began. In fact, the Ford factory in America was one of the first to incorporate it and dropped the sixth working day so that the employees actually had time to go out and buy and use the cars they were churning out - and found that employees increased their productivity.

Wiping the cotton fibres and churned legs from the history books, what relevance does this have for today? Well 100 years have past again and the working hours have remained the same (though with the commute, the balance skews). Surely in order to maintain productivity working to projects is a better idea than working to arbitrarily set hours? The incentive of finishing and leaving will prevent employees clock-watching the time away and, in the most part, will probably increase productivity. Choosing work start times that span 7 - 11 lets say will reduce the hectic commute that is causing tremendous problems. And with more control over their own job, employees will likely perform better. The argument for some jobs to be fitting with the set time only stands to keep the rank and file indoctrinated into the corporate culture. God forbid a lowly desk jockey feels empowered by choosing when to clock in and out as long as he completes his tasks.

Paired with the working day is the wage per hour issue. Everyone - from the government to Alan Sugar to Esther Rantzen - reinforces the ideal of the hard-working citizen. But if you are being paid per hour, as long as you are there for that hour and complete the minimum required, hard work remains a myth. If instead you were paid on task and the more you completed in the set time, the more money you could make, working harder is simply futile. Sure, people hire good workers, but also people don't hire the best workers. Nobody wants to promote the hardest workers - they're too useful to leave the hard work they're doing.

Sweden have recently trialed a 6-hour working day and found that productivity increased - although calls that it is too expensive to keep can be heard.

This is a contentious issue and no doubt one heavily subjective in polarity. But it was also a contentious issues when Robert Owen stopped working his loom and said 'Hang on chaps, maybe there is more to working every waking hour in order to feed ourselves in order to work every waking hour..."

Let me know if you have any burning agreements - or disagreements - or simply want to add to the debate. And feel free to contact me with any content marketing queries - any time of the day as I don't currently subscribe to the standard 8-hour working day.

#9to5 #workingweek #employeeissues #employer #corporateculture #workreform

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James Cullen the Writer - freelance copywriter in Leeds