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The Death of the Workday: Is 9-to-5 Working Obsolete?

Jamie Johnson
Jamie Johnson
business.com Contributing Writer
Updated Jul 22, 2022

Is the 9-to-5 working model still relevant – and does it have a future? Or are technical and cultural changes slowly rendering it obsolete?


The 9-to-5 workday used to be standard for all employees, but that’s quickly changing. Freelancing and self-employment are on the rise, and there’s been a rapid shift toward remote work. 

According to Gallup, at least 45% of full-time employees work remotely at least part of the time. This shift has forced many companies to rethink the 9-to-5 workday and whether it’s possible given the level of flexibility many employees expect. 

Is the 9-to-5 workday becoming obsolete, or does it still have a future? We’ll explore the pros and cons of this traditional work structure and what’s ahead.

What is a 9-to-5 workday? 

A 9-to-5 workday assumes that employees log a standard 40-hour workweek. They start working at 9 a.m. and, other than a few short breaks, don’t stop until 5 p.m. 

While this schedule may sound rigid to some people, 16-hour workdays were the norm during the Industrial Revolution. Welsh social reformer Richard Owen saw that this was unsustainable and began to campaign for the eight-hour workday. The rationale was that there are 24 hours available in a day, so we should aim to apportion them equally between work, leisure, and rest.

Henry Ford was among the first to introduce the eight-hour workday back in 1914. It proved to be a roaring success for the Ford Motor Company in terms of both productivity and profitability. Of course, other companies quickly followed suit.

It seemed that this was the beginning of an inexorable trend toward working less. In 1930, John Maynard Keynes claimed that his grandchildren would have to work only 15 hours per week thanks to technology. 

Clearly, Keynes’ prediction didn’t come to fruition, as the 40-hour workweek has remained essentially unchanged for decades. And in many countries, people routinely work longer hours than that.

Keynes was right to expect profound cultural and technological changes, however. And increasingly, many people are asking whether the 9-to-5 workday is still the way to go. 

Pros of a 9-to-5 workday

Despite its critics, there are still some advantages to the 9-to-5 working model. While it does limit your flexibility, it can be a helpful way to draw a line in the sand between work and leisure time. 

The problem with flexible working situations is that “flexible” has become a code word for working more hours. It means people are still working their regular hours and taking work home. This trend may be contributing to overworking, increased stress and the mental health crisis. Many employers expect their employees to be more available for work without providing much work-life balance in return.

As Ricardo Semler said in his TED Talk, “We’ve all learned how to go on Sunday night to email and work from home. But very few of us have learned how to go to the movies on Monday afternoon.”

To some extent, the 9-to-5 working model is a good antidote to the problem of overworking. 

Did you know?Did you know? Practicing self-care in the workplace can help you achieve greater productivity, fulfillment in your job and workplace success.

Cons of a 9-to-5 workday

However, there are plenty of problems with the 9-to-5 model. The most glaring one is that working for eight hours a day is no guarantee of productivity. You can make employees stay at their desks all day, but a lot of that time will be wasted.

The 9-to-5 model also fails to take stock of when people work best. Human beings are a diverse bunch, and we often work very differently.

Some people are night owls and prefer to hammer out the work when others are still asleep. Others are early risers, ready to get started the second their heads leave the pillow – but who are burned out by midafternoon. 

There’s also the fact that 9 to 5 is, by definition, rigid and inflexible. This rigidity can be detrimental to employee morale as well as hiring and retaining employees. 

Millennials particularly value the idea of flexibility, with many saying it takes precedence over pay when choosing a new job. Stats like this are creating a pressing need for companies to be flexible to some extent.

FYIFYI: Microsoft found that 30% of its 180,000 employees log most of their working hours at night. This demonstrates that many people are more productive outside of the typical 9-to-5 hours.

Has remote working put an end to the 9-to-5 workday? 

Advances in online technology and cultural shifts have changed the way we work. Do these changes spell the end of the 9-to-5 workday?

  • Employees can access their work remotely. With secure remote access solutions, employees can securely access their work whenever and wherever they need to, resulting in an unprecedented rise in the number of people working from home. In the days of Owen, Ford and Keynes, workers were required to be physically present to do their jobs. But with people working remotely, the idea of setting fixed hours when they should be doing their work seems outdated.
  • Technology makes work accessible 24/7. Technological advancements have prompted a disconcerting rise in the number of office workers taking work home with them. Many professionals say they check their work email after leaving the office – and a third log on before they even get out of bed in the morning. It’s challenging to quantify exactly how many hours people work. Even if they’re in an office from 9 to 5, their free time may be swallowed up by work demands outside those hours.
  • Consumers demand immediacy. Cultural and generational changes have brought about a demand for immediacy among consumers. It’s now incredibly difficult for companies to simply “switch off” after hours. Most consumers expect answers to their questions and problems immediately – a significant challenge to the 9-to-5 philosophy. As a result, businesses – particularly digital companies – find themselves under pressure to expand their hours of availability.
  • Employees are willing to work more. Employees are also feeling the pressure to expand their availability. Many professionals are concerned about job security and advancement, making them willing to go the extra mile – often risking burnout – to try to stay ahead.

The 9-to-5 model may be an organization’s choice

Experts are divided over whether the 9-to-5 model has a long-term future, and it’s challenging to reach any definitive conclusions at this point. Despite all the technological changes and cultural upheaval, an idea that seems totally antiquated still has its merits for some organizations and industries.

What do you think? Does 9 to 5 still fit the bill for your company? Will it remain the default model, or will it slowly become obsolete?

Matt Byrom contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. 

 

Image Credit:

photofriday / Getty Images

Jamie Johnson
Jamie Johnson
business.com Contributing Writer
Jamie Johnson is a Kansas City-based freelance writer who writes about finance and business. She has also written for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Fox Business and Business Insider. Jamie has written about a variety of B2B topics like finance, business funding options and accounting. She also writes about how businesses can grow through effective social media and email marketing strategies.