Will the 9 to 5 Disappear?
It’s sort of a trick question. The 9 to 5 may already be gone. And if you’re like most of the American workforce, you’ll be happy to see it go.
It’s well known that working long hours can be a huge detriment to our health, productivity, and work/life balance. Heck, the CDC has a whole page on the deleterious health effects caused by long and demanding work schedules.
And while American work days are certainly more manageable than they used to be, don’t expect things to stay static for too long. For many of us, the 9 to 5 is already gone, and for the rest, it may be gone sooner than you think.
Who Started the 9 to 5?
While the 40 hour work week feels like an immutable part of the American work culture, it actually hasn’t been around that long.
In the late 19th century, America was just coming off the industrial revolution. Conditions were hard, and workers didn’t have the protections they enjoy today. It was common for industrial and manufacturing workers to put in 60, 80, even 100 hour weeks—and nobody batted an eye.
It was an unquestionably terrible system for the workers, but it was great for the companies. Industrial manufacturers needed bodies on the line at the same time each day to maximize efficiency, and they kept them there as long as they could. But after nearly a century of lobbying from labor unions and ongoing political activism from both sides of the aisle, things were set to change.
On October 24th, 1940, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to guarantee 40-hour workweeks for employees—a huge paradigm shift from the status quo. And for a while, this new system was fine. That is until the digital economy entered the picture.
Shifting Goalposts: We Don’t Need Schedules
As soon as personal computing entered the mainstream and the digital economy began to grow, things began changing even faster than they did in the 1800s. Computerization was the name of the game, and new opportunities were appearing everywhere as digital enterprise gained steam.
Today, we have a full-fledged digital economy that provides unprecedented flexibility in how we work. The gig economy is a great example of this.
More people than ever are taking on contract work without committing to a company full-time, giving them the freedom to work when and how they want. You’ll see these types of gig-based roles in all industries, but they’re most prevalent in digitally-enabled jobs. Think online consulting, creative freelancing, or ridesharing.
The primary benefit of these jobs is that workers have the power to self-manage. The gig economy gives workers more choice in when to work and what to work on, allowing them to get things done on their own schedule. Rather than forcing every employee to punch-in at the same time and work the same hours, the digital economy lets us customize our work schedules to our personal rhythms and maximize our productivity.
Work Less and Accomplish More
It’s clear that the American work culture is seeing a renaissance of “work smarter, not harder”—but these types of things are slow to change. A 2014 Gallup poll found that 39 percent of Americans still worked more than 50 hours per week, with 18 percent clocking more than 60.
Obviously, we still have a long way to go before the established 9 to 5 dies off completely. Industry trends are slow to change, and we’re sure to see more pushback from companies scared of what shorter work windows might bring. Nevertheless, it’s a battle worth fighting. And as we’re seeing in the industry at large, those advocating for smarter—not harder—work are on the winning side.