The Death of the 9-to-5: Why We’ll All Work Flex Schedules Soon
For the last two years, my friend Mike has worked as a content writer for a digital advertising agency. There is something about Mike’s job that I admire. Despite being employed full time, Mike’s job is not your ordinary job. Since Mike can do and submit his work from anywhere, there is no need for him to go to the office.
Mike works from his home office. He sets his own schedule, which allows him to work whenever he needs and take a break when he wants. Instead of tracking his time, the agency assigns Mike projects to work on and deadlines for the submission of these projects.
Provided the projects are delivered on time, the agency doesn’t care when or where he works from. The agency holds a team meeting every Wednesday, which is the only day Mike is expected to show up at the office.
Mike’s job sounds like the dream job everyone would wish to have. However, this kind of working schedule is becoming more of a reality than a dream. The proliferation of technology in the workplace and the increasing number of millennials in the workforce have laid the groundwork for the shift from the traditional 9to5 working schedule to a more fluid and flexible working schedule that allows employees to choose their own working hours.
As more and more millennials join the workforce, the 9to5 will continue losing its position as the dominant working model. Some HR experts have even predicted that the 9to5 model might become completely obsolete by 2030, when millennials will make up the largest portion of the workforce.
The traditional 9to5 workday is already on its deathbed. A research carried out by CareerBuilder found that 73% of workers in Washington DC believe that the 9to5 model has no place in the future. This view is not restricted to workers in DC.
The same research found out that the same view is held by 68% of workers in Los Angeles and Boston and 66% of workers in New York. Overall, 61% of workers believe that the traditional 9to5 workday is outdated.
Another study by Bentley University found that 77% of millennials believe that people their age will be more productive at workplaces that support flexible hours. According to this research by the Griffith Insurance Education Foundation, millennials are even willing to sacrifice some pay in order to get flexible working schedules.
WHY THE TRADITIONAL 9 TO 5 MODEL IS DYING
The 9to5 model came as a solution to the oppressive working environments of the 19th century. Following the industrial revolution, there were no laws to regulate the number of hours employers required of their employees. Hellish 16hour work days were pretty commonplace. Noticing the unsustainability of this system, a Welsh social reformer by the name Robert Owen started campaigning for the 8 hour work day.
Owen proposed that the 24 hours in a day should be divided equally between working, resting and recreation. The 8 hour 5 day work week was popularized by Henry Ford, who was among the first people to implement the 8 hour model in his company in 1914. The 8 hour work week was a success for Henry Ford, thereby prompting other companies to follow suit. In 1938, the government caught up and passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which made the 40 hour work week standard and required workers to be paid overtime if they exceeded 40 hours at work every week.
The success of the 8 hour workday seemed to be the start of a trend that would see continued reduction in working hours. Economist John Maynard Keynes even predicted that people would be working 15 hours a week by the turn of the 21st century, thanks to technological advancement. While the technology has greatly advanced since the days of John Maynard Keynes, his predictions of reduced working hours did not come true. The 40 hour work week has remained standard. But is this model the best one for today’s workplace?
If employee behavior and attitudes are anything to go by, the 9to5 model is not very effective. Most employees hate it, which is ironic considering that this model was introduced to protect employees from exploitation. If you listen around the office or look at social media, you will find enough evidence that no one likes the 9to5.
Monday blues is a thing. Employees are always looking forward to the weekend.
Every worker knows the meaning of and identifies with TGIF. Clearly, the 9to5 model is not doing its job. More specifically, below are some reasons why the 9to5 model is on its deathbed:
Technology is one of the major factors dealing death blows to the 9to5 workday. Technology is changing the game in two ways. First, advances in technology have allowed workers to work from anywhere, at any time. In the days of Owen, Ford and Keynes when the 9to5 model was introduced, most workers performed manual labor, which meant physical presence was necessary for them to do their job.
Today, technology has changed this. With a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone and an internet connection, workers can access their mail and do work related tasks from anywhere. According to a survey by Pew Research Center, roughly 77% of Americans owned a smartphone, while nearly three quarters of adults in the US owned a desktop or laptop computer at home by the end of 2017. 80% of adults in the US also have access to broadband at home.
Such a high penetration of informational devices and broadband internet means that most workers can still be productive without having to be in the office every time. In fact, a poll by Gallup found that 43% of workers have spent some time working outside the office.
Second, technology has also extended working hours beyond the office. Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have blurred the lines between working hours and personal time. A survey found that four in five UK office workers check their work emails beyond office hours, with a third doing this even before they leave bed in the morning.
Another white paper noted that professionals who use smartphones for work may end up interacting with work for up to 13.5 hours each day, or 72 hours a week (including weekends). In such an environment where people have access to work beyond office hours, quantifying the number of hours a person has worked can be a challenge, which makes it archaic to stipulate a number of “fixed hours” when people are supposed be working in the office.
Demand For A Work-Life Balance
In the past, it was normal for people to give up all of their personal life to focus on work, with the hope that they would make enough to allow them enjoy life after retirement.
This is an outdated model, at least for millennials, who are set to make up majority of the workforce in less than ten years. Millennials care about their work-life balance.
They want jobs that allow them to spend time with their loved ones and pursue other interests outside work. For them, the traditional 9to5 just doesn’t cut it. Instead of planning their lives around their work, they want jobs that will allow them to plan their work around their lives. They don’t care about answering emails and working on a work project at home on Saturday if it means they will have more time to spend with their kids over the course of the week.
Flexibility and a good work-life balance are so important that this Deloitte survey found that millennials care more about flexibility than pay, while this report by the US Chamber of Commerce found that 75% of millennials claim that a good work-life balance is the key consideration before taking up a new job.
Rise Of The Gig Economy
A few decades ago, the only way to earn an income was to get employed or start a business. The rise of the internet has brought about a new model where people can earn an income as freelancers and contractors, creating what has come to be known as the gig economy.
Today, working for yourself is a lot of easier and less risky. There are several freelancing websites that allow professionals to find clients looking for their specific talents. Freelancing has one key advantage that has made it an attractive model.
Freelancers have total control over their jobs. They have the freedom to choose when to work, where to work from and the projects they want to work on.
At a time when people can earn more and at the same time enjoy flexible schedules working for themselves, businesses have realized that offering flexibility is a key strategy to attracting talent.
The Disappearing Corporate Office
We have already seen that technology advancement has made it possible for workers to remain productive without having to be physically present in the office. With globalization, companies are serving customers from all over the world and employing workers from all over the world. Meetings are taking place in virtual boardrooms, across time and geographical zones.
All this is diminishing the importance of having a physical office. Why have an office when all your employees are from different countries and will never set foot in the office? And if businesses no longer need a physical office, is it really logical to have concrete office hours?
Doing away with the 9to5 also has several financial incentives. Working from home translates into financial savings for employees. They spend less on commuting, professional attire and dry cleaning, lunch, and so on.
According to mint.com, working from home can result in savings of up to $10,000 per year. The financial incentives of flexible schedules are not restricted to employees alone.
With flexible schedules, employees can share some office equipment like desks and computers, which means less money spent on equipment and office space. For instance, a global accounting firm was able to save over $1 million annually by allowing its employees to occasionally work from home. Allowing employees to telecommute also saves businesses the costs of relocating employees.
Finally, a flexible schedule makes employees more productive, which is good for the company’s bottom line. A research by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom found that telecommuting saves companies an average of $1,900 per employee. Without the need to physically commute to work and the distractions of the office environment, employees who work from home complete more calls and increase their productivity by 13%.
Millennials expect more than a salary from their employers. They also expect to invest in their training and development. A research by The Hartford found that 50% of millennials want their employers to provide training and development.
This means attending classes, workshops and seminars. Attending some of these classes, workshops and seminars might be impossible if the employee is required to be at the office from 9to5, creating the need for flexible schedules that allow employees to continue with their training and development without interfering with their performance at work.
Culture And Competition
Globalization has turned the world a global village where businesses in one end of the world serve customers in another end of the world, with huge time differences between the business and its customers.
The internet, on the other hand, has taught customers to expect services on-demand.
This means that customers from another part of the world can reach out to your business after office hours, and they expect the business to get back to them immediately.
Expecting customers to wait till the next day is akin to driving them to competitors. This has forced businesses to rethink the whole 9to5 philosophy in favor of more fluid schedules where the business is available to customers even outside conventional office hours.
The Changing Nature Of Work
Remember, the 9 to 5 was introduced at a time when much of the work done by employees was manual. If 20 employees assembled one car on average in 8 hours, Ford knew that if the 20 employees clocked 20 hours each day, there would be a complete car at the end of each day. Today, the nature of work has changed greatly.
Work has become more of a cognitive activity than a manual activity, which means that tracking productivity has become a lot more challenging. An employee can spend 8 hours at the office and achieve very little. Today, keeping track of time spent at the office is a very poor measure of productivity.
The fact that most work requires cognitive skills also means that people need to be alert and focused when working. Unfortunately, the 9 to 5 model does not take stock of the fact that different people are most alert at different times of the day. Whereas some people are morning larks who are more productive in the morning, others are night owls who are most productive at night.
Bundling them all within the same working hours means you are going to be getting less-than-optimal productivity from some of your workers. Shifting to a more flexible schedule would allow employees to work when they are most alert and focused, which would lead to an increase in productivity.
HOW TO MAKE FLEX SCHEDULES WORK FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION
From the points discussed above, it is clear that the death of the 9 to 5 is a matter of when, not if. Flex schedules are the future. With the percentage of millennials – who value flexibility even more than pay – in the workforce increasing rapidly, flex schedules will move from being a feel-good trend to a necessity that has a significant effect on an organization’s bottom line.
A report by Gallup shows that 43% of Americans have spent at least some time working from home, while another survey anticipates that 50% of workers will be spending some time working remotely by 2020. 76% of US workers also said they prefer doing important tasks outside the office. These numbers are definitely going to increase in the near future, which means that organizations should incorporating flex schedules. Question is, how do organizations ensure that flex schedules work for them?
Below are some tips on how to make flex schedules work:
Develop some rules and common practices: Flex rules does not mean that rules should be thrown out of the window. Creating some rules and common practices will make things run smoothly. For instance, organizations can implement core hours, where employees are expected to be in the office at certain times, say from 11 AM to 3 PM. Employees can arrive earlier than 9 AM or leave after 5 PM, provided that they clock their 8 hours and that they are in the office between 11 AM and 3 PM. If employees are allowed to work from home, you can also set rules to guide how this happens. For instance, each employee might be allowed to work from home two times a week. Alternatively, you can have employees work entirely from home but schedule one day each week where every employee is supposed to come to the office. Having times when everyone is in the office is important since it allows employees to collaborate on projects that need the inputs of different teams.
Get everyone involved in the change process: Like any other change in an organization, developing and implementing a flex schedule is more likely to succeed if employees are involved in the process, instead of having it imposed on them. Involving employees in the process makes them invested in the change and ensures that their needs are considered. Imposing something on employees without consulting them can end up robbing them of the flexibility you were trying to provide in the first place.
Determine metrics to measure productivity: Allowing employees to work remotely means that they will be working without supervision. Some lazy employees might decide to spend the day watching movies on Netflix instead of actually working. To avoid this, you need to determine the metrics that will show you that work is actually being done. Set specific and action oriented goals for employees and give them deadlines. You can then look at these metrics at the end of each work period (say at the end of each week) to determine whether an employee is actually performing his or her duties.
Agree on frequency and preferred modes of communication: Before you start offering flex schedules, determine how you will be getting in contact with employees, the required frequency of communication and the preferred mode of communication. For instance, some employers might expect telecommuting employees to submit a report at the beginning of the week detailing what the employee did over the previous week. Others might require employees to come to the office for a face to face meeting, while others might be satisfied with a phone call. Being clear on the frequency and preferred mode of communication will prevent frictions once employees start utilizing their flex schedules.
Use technology to ensure connectivity: Before you implement a flex schedule, you also need to ensure that all the technology required for remote working are in place. Ensure that employees have laptops, smartphones and internet access, and ensure that business systems are configured for remote access. You don’t want an employee claiming that they cannot access the system when they urgently need to do something on the system.
From the industrial revolution to date, the 9 to 5 workday has been the dominant model for managing employees.
However, the changes in the nature of today’s work have posed threat to the validity of this model. The shift from the 9 to 5 model to more flexible schedules has already began, and with more millennials set to enter the workforce, it is inevitable that the 9 to 5 model won’t make it to the next century.
It is already clear that the rigid hours of the 9 to 5 model have a lot of limitations and do not work for everyone. Unless your organization is providing a service that requires employees to be physically present at the office between these hours, it might be a wise decision to start thinking of implementing flex schedules.
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