On average, Americans work 8.8 hours a day. This is undeniably the norm across most of the Western world. Most employers expect a 9-to-5 work schedule.
However, you might be surprised to learn the traditional 9-to-5 workday doesn’t always work, and has actually been shown to be more inefficient than a less structured schedule. Despite its popularity, there is nothing about the eight-hours a day, 9-to-5 work schedule that creates a more effective work environment.
You’re probably wondering, if the 9-to-5 schedule doesn’t always work, why it’s so mainstream. The answer lies in the history of the workday. The eight-hour workday wasn’t always the norm, and it was actually unheard of until the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800’s. During the Industrial Revolution, companies were laser-focused on increasing labor as much as possible, which often led to incredibly long workdays of up to 16 hours a day.
Unsurprisingly, it turned out that 16-hour workdays were not sustainable, and people began to protest these conditions. A man called Robert Owen started a campaign to have people work no more than eight hours a day. He determined this number by the reasoning that people should have eight hours of labor, eight hours of recreation, and eight hours of rest.
This formula, at the time, was thought to produce the best workers. The Ford Motor Company was the first to implement the eight-hour workday in 1914, and it has been accepted as standard ever since.
While Owen’s formula for the perfect worker sounds reasonable, there are actually many reasons why the 9-to-5 work schedule doesn’t always work, particularly in today’s digital world. In recent years, the workforce has changed at a breakneck pace as more and more people, particularly millennials, walk away from the standard workday.
In this post, I’ll look at the five main reasons why the 9-to-5 workday doesn’t always work and shouldn’t be accepted blindly – as represented in this infographic:
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1. Energy and time are not the same thing
Human beings are not machines. We are unable to focus on a single task for prolonged periods of time without succumbing to distractions. This doesn’t mean we can’t be skilled, successful workers, but we do need to recognize our natural rhythms.
Research shows that humans are unable to focus on things for more than 90-120 minutes without needing a 20-30 minute break. These breaks allow valuable time for recharging mental energy. In fact, without these breaks, performance lowers.
The 9-to-5 workday does not allow for these breaks every hour and a half, and people often find themselves distracted because of it.
2. Not all tasks are created equal
It goes without saying that some tasks are simply completed more quickly than others, regardless of what industry you work in. For some employees, they need an extended amount of time to work on a particular task. For others, they can complete it in under two hours. Does that mean one employee is more efficient than the other? Not necessarily, or not across all tasks.
The 9-to-5 workday does not accommodate for differences in task duration. Many employees complain of excessive downtime at work – or they struggle to understand why they must stay in the office until 5pm if they’ve already completed the day’s tasks. This is proof that the 9-to-5 schedule is increasingly becoming inefficient and obsolete.
3. The rise of freelancers has changed everything
By 2020, this study estimates that more than 40% of the American workforce will be independent employees working on a freelance, contract or temporary basis. More and more seasoned experts and millennial workers are choosing to work in this way and quit the corporate cycle.
An increase in technology is likely responsible for this rise in independent workers, as more and more networks are available to make freelance work accessible. There are a number of benefits to remote working for employers as well – such as cutting costs and maintaining higher levels of happiness and productivity amongst employees.
4. A lack of flexibility does not make for happy workers
The 9 to 5 workday leaves little to no room for flexibility. According to one study, 3 in 5 Australians struggle to find time for vacations or even sick days. This is also caused by work-related stress. This inflexible schedule simply does not make sense.
For instance, the majority of workers are confined to the 9 to 5 workday schedule, yet most doctors offices are only open during the same hours.
This is similar to a number of other resources such as post offices, dentists, and even most retail establishments. How are people expected to find time to go to the doctor if it’s always closed by the time they leave work?
Thus, the 9 to 5 schedule is incredibly ineffective and simply does not work in many instances.
5. Co-working is what promotes collaboration
Collaborative workspaces or co-working spaces are starting to become more and more popular in cities across America. A coworking space is a type of space that involves a shared working environment to encourage connectedness and interactivity. While the typical office usually is a collection of closed spaces and cubicles, co-working spaces feature long, connected tables and open spaces.
Co-working spaces can boost people’s productivity and happiness. These spaces also allow people from different industries and of different skill levels to interact and network. People who work in co-working spaces report feeling more productive and have a more positive experience at work.
These co-working spaces are the way of the future, and more companies and freelancers will be using them soon as the 9-to-5 workday continues to fall out of practice.
The 9-to-5 schedule simply isn’t for everyone, and in today’s digital world, many people are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with traditional corporate environments. They are seeking new, innovative ways to be more productive at work while still maintaining flexibility.
Indeed, the 9-to-5 work schedule might have been a solution to end the 16-hour workdays that reigned during the Industrial Revolution, but there is no question that they are growing more out of place in the modern world. As the number of freelancers and creative careers continues to rise, so too will the level of dissatisfaction with a rigid eight-hour workday.
More and more forward-thinking companies are turning to shared office spaces and freelance employees to battle the changing sentiment about work schedule flexibility. Human beings cannot function in the linear way machines can. We require breaks and flexibility in order to work effectively.
As the 9-to-5 schedule is structured with machines in mind, without taking into account people’s need for time to recharge their mental energy, hopefully it is soon to be a thing of the past.
Guest Author: Riya is an inspired writer who is passionate about traveling, lifestyle and encouraging startups, and always finding new ways to improve her work productivity. This time, she writes for Carter Capner Law, a progressive, innovative and strongly motivated law firm based in Queensland, Australia. Let’s connect with Riya on twitter, @sanderriya.