Is it Time to Retire the Nine to Five Scam?

Do you work a nine-to-five workday? 

The numbers are fluid. You might work from eight to four or seven or three instead. A nine-to-five job is any job with a set Monday through Friday schedule and a 40-hour work week, not including mandatory lunch breaks or commute times. 

Though a nine-to-five job was celebrated as a luxury at one point, we now realize the truth. It’s not the epitome of a fantastic career. Some even consider the nine-to-five a scam!

What Does a 9 to 5 Mean?

When talking about a nine-to-five, we refer to the typical eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week workday, adding up to a forty-hour-per-week workweek. Most nine-to-fivers only work during the week and have weekends off. 

It’s called a nine-to-five because traditionally, those were banking hours. Banks were open between 9 AM and 5 PM Monday through Friday.

A lot of other businesses followed that same model. Now, most office jobs are considered nine-to-five jobs, even if they start at varying times. 

Now, we call a job a nine-to-five if it has a set schedule from Monday to Friday, with eight hours per day starting in the morning and ending in the afternoon. 

On the surface, it seems like a sweet gig. 

What is the Nine to Five Scam?

The mirage that a nine-to-five is a sweet gig, a job to aspire to, is what makes it so sinister. 

In practice, the nine-to-five scam is a cultural phenomenon that keeps people stuck. It forces people to buy into the idea that they must sell nearly a third of their time to a company for the privilege of living and surviving in our world. 

The scam is that they lied to you. Corporations sold us the line that a nine-to-five job is a good thing. Scoring a sweet office job with nights and weekends off is a dream for many people.

However, it’s only idealized because all the other options are awful. The nine-to-five is one of the best work schedules society offers, making the nine-to-five scam so insidious. 

We feel lucky to score a set schedule in today’s work environment!

Work Schedules that Make the 9 to 5 Look Good

Shift Work

Shift work is the typical schedule for factories and other “blue-collar” jobs. Factories run for 24 hours a day, divided into three shifts. The morning is 1st shift, the afternoon is 2nd, and the evening is 3rd.

Many companies rotate their people through these shifts, so you will spend a few months working one and then have to adjust to another. 

Imagine working from 4 am until 1 pm one month, then switching to a 1 pm to 10 pm shift next month. You’d constantly be tired, and it would be difficult to plan anything outside of sleep. 

Some companies allow their employees to bid for specific shifts, which they then get to keep throughout the year. Although this system is helpful for seasoned employees, newer employees may get stuck working nights for a very long time. 

Part-Time Work

Many companies have shifted away from 8-hour workdays to list their employees as part-time. Some of this had to do with the Affordable Care Act requirement that full-time employees receive benefits, and some of it is just because there isn’t enough work for full-time employees.

Working part-time is excellent for those with a barista-fire lifestyle. It allows you more free time to pursue your interests and gives you spending money

 Unfortunately, most part-time workers can’t afford it and would prefer to be full-time. Some even have to work two part-time jobs to make ends meet, a challenging feat considering that most part-time schedules vary weekly. 

Varying Schedules

Most people strive for the stability of a nine-to-five office job because their positions don’t offer any semblance of stability. One week you might be working four evenings in a row, while the next, you are working all mornings. Generally, your schedule gets split between morning, afternoon, and evening shifts.

This varying schedule makes it incredibly difficult to plan any sort of life. How can you plan things if you don’t know what your work schedule will be from one week to the next?

Gig Economy

The idea of the gig economy is promising. In theory, it allows workers to choose their work and hours. Unfortunately, the gig economy only works for employees in an idealistic world. 

In reality, companies take advantage of gig workers. Many rely on their gig to pay the bills but work atrocious hours to make ends meet. Since they are considered independent contractors, they have no recourse for labor disputes and don’t receive the protections that other workers have access to.

Why is the Nine to Five So Bad?

The nine-to-five schedule is one of the best available options, but that doesn’t mean it’s good or something to celebrate. 

Instead, we can change our culture around work and attempt different options. We don’t have to be tied to the least bad choice.

Here are three ideas companies have been flirting with that would allow employees more freedom and flexibility than the traditional nine-to-five. 

Different Scheduling Options

Flexible Schedules

Flexible schedules are very similar to the varying schedules mentioned above. With a flex schedule, you may not work the same shift every day.

The significant difference is that flex schedules are the employees’ choice, not their boss’s. When discussing flexibility in scheduling, we center the conversation on the employee’s perspective.

Instead of being assigned random shifts, you decide when to come to work. Flexibility can help employees schedule doctor’s appointments, child care needs, and other vital tasks. 

With most office work, does it matter if an employee is there from nine to five, eight to four, or even ten to six? 

Typically, the answer is no. As long as the work gets done, it shouldn’t matter if employees enjoy more flexibility about when they work. 

Compressed Schedules

Compressed schedules put forty hours per week into less than five days. The most common example is a 4-10 shift, where employees work 10 hours per day, four days a week.

Although a ten-hour work day can be long, the bonus day off each week more than makes up for it. Many employees enjoy working 4-10s because the extra two hours don’t seem so bad once they are at work. 

Remote Work

Another great option that we saw success with in response to Covid-19 is remote work. We learned that all workers don’t have to be in the office at all times to achieve maximum productivity. In fact, many employees are even more productive when they are working remotely.

Remote work gives employees more free time. Removing commutes can give employees up to ten hours of their lives back per week, assuming a 30 minutes commute in each direction. It also allows more work-life balance, as employees can throw a load of laundry in the wash or walk their dogs during breaks. 

Modern Problems Require Modern Solutions

The problem with the above scheduling options is that although they are better than traditional nine-to-five schedules, they still promote the 40-hour work week. 

Some countries are experimenting with new ideas to improve their citizens’ work-life balance and acknowledge the realities of the future of work. Some countries are testing a four-day work week, while others are exploring UBI programs

Why Do We Have Nine to Fives and 40-Hour Work Weeks?

When discussing nine to five schedules and 40-hour workweeks, it’s essential to acknowledge how they came about in the first place. 

The forty-hour workweek was a hard-fought battle. It significantly improved the lives and working conditions of millions of people, who, during the industrial revolution, were forced to work until they dropped. 

Workers rose up to fight these injustices, formed unions, and won the right to free time. Thus, the forty-hour workweek was born. As the slogan goes, eight hours of work, eight hours of rest, and eight hours to what we will.

Nine to Five Trap in Today’s World

In today’s world, it’s more of a trap than anything. Eight hours of work quickly morphs into 10 or 12 hours when you include commute times and required but unpaid breaks. 

In addition, many employers have found a way around the 40-hour requirement with salary work. Workers receive a “salary” to be available when needed, which usually means more than the standard forty hours. Salaried employees aren’t eligible for overtime pay. 

Though the federal government provides rules regarding who can qualify as a salaried employee, many businesses find ways to ensure their workers meet the requirements. 

In practice, employees on salary end up working longer hours for less pay. 

It isn’t necessary to be tied to a job for all waking hours, and the sooner we realize that and say we’ve had enough, the better.

The 9 to 5 Movie 

The nine-to-five work week is so ingrained in our work culture that it spawned a movie. Dolly Parton’s big screen debut graced theaters over forty years ago, a testament to how long the forty-hour work week has been entrenched in our society. 

Back in the 80s, the nine-to-five job was something to strive for. But times have changed, and our ideas around work should change with them.

Why the 40-Hour Work Week Doesn’t Work Anymore

We need to reconsider the 40-hour workweek and change our attitudes about work. With the advent of technology and the imminent threat of automation, a 40-hour workweek will no longer be needed.

We won’t need to toil for extended periods to meet our needs. Culture is slow to adapt, but it needs to. 

Here’s why the 40-hour workweek and nine-to-five schedule are outdated. 

Technological Advances

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace. We can get the same work done in far less time. If employees can get all their work done in four hours, why do they need to stay on the clock for eight hours?

The answer is that the folks on top want to maximize profits and thus expect workers to double and triple productivity with technology rather than allow extra free time. 

It might take a substantial cultural shift to change this attitude, but it needs to be done for the betterment of everyone. 

Work-Life Balance

The nine-to-five doesn’t leave a lot of room for work-life balance. The theory that a person would have eight hours a day for leisure activity breaks down when you remember that a workday is closer to 10 hours once you add in commute times and unpaid breaks. 

This system also leaves little room for chores and errands. It was developed when someone, whether a mother, grandparent or older child, was tending to the home.

In our current system, most families can’t afford to have someone stay home, so all this work needs to be done after work hours, leaving little time for leisure. 

I’m not advocating for a return to gender-based workplace discrimination so that women can take care of the home. Instead, we should move forward and find a system that works for everyone while allowing everyone the freedom to choose their own paths in life. 

Productivity Gap

A final reason to abolish the nine-to-five is the productivity gap. Simply put, people aren’t productive for eight hours straight. Research suggests that five-hour workdays would be far better for productivity. 

If people work less, they will get more done at work and be happier at home, which is better for society overall. 

It’s Time to Retire the Nine-to-Five Scam

Although not a typical scam in that they offer what they claim to, the nine-to-five workday is a scam because it prevents workers from living a fulfilled life while pretending to do the opposite. 

Nine-to-five jobs are no longer something to strive for, and we need to stop pretending they are. 

8 thoughts on “Is it Time to Retire the Nine to Five Scam?”

  1. I ran a large chemical complex with hourly union workers and salaried engineers, chemists and accountants. Salaried people worked 8 to 5 with a one hour unpaid lunch hour. Union workers were on the old style 8 hour shifts for the first part of my career and then negotiated to move to 12 hour shifts. Remote work doesn’t work, of course, for running a manufacturing complex producing hazardous chemicals, that would be incredibly unsafe. Generally speaking our hourly workers greatly preferred 12 hour shifts because they got so many more days off that way. They also ended up with less than a 40 hour work week on average but continued to get paid for 40 hours. The downside is 12 hour work shifts are demanding and can be extremely tedious. Flexible work generally wasn’t an option because every job has to be filled every hour of every day in a manufacturing chemical complex, you can’t operate safely unless everyone is present who is actually controlling equipment. On the plus side we paid very well and many of my high school graduate employees with no college made over $100,000 a year in a low cost of living rural area. And that was five to ten years ago, now they are being paid even more. These jobs were highly sought after and we had zero turnover. We also had no commute at all, no traffic and unlimited uncrowded and unspoiled outdoor recreation. As an engineer turned manager I was paid more and probably averaged 45 hours a week normally. But with no commute time that never seemed onerous to me and the pay was very good. I enjoyed the work as did most of my coworkers. I did envy the 12 hour shift workers sometimes though because they had frequent three and four day weekends due to the nature of their schedules.

    • I get that flexible work wouldn’t work for everyone. There are tons of jobs that require you to physically be there for hours at a time. But those jobs should be well compensated (which it sounds like they were!). I think 12 hour days would be too much for me -but I could get on board with 4-10s!

  2. This is fascinating! I really appreciate that you’ve acknowledged that the 9-5 is presented as a good thing in comparison to how tough other jobs can be. I did shift work for a long time and there’s nothing more tiring than a lack of routine and stability in your job. You’re also right that there is no reason as to why we should expect a 40 hour week to return a good life!

    Really enjoyed the nuance in this post – thoroughly enjoyable read!

  3. I hope one of the boons that will shake out of this Rona bust is that work will become more flexible. That stay-at-home work will become an option. I wont benefit from this (still love my job) but I like the idea of people being happier at home than grumpy at work. Time will tell!

    • I totally agree. I think if people show that they can be productive while working from home, it can become a more viable option.

  4. I am definitely one of those for whom a 9-5 shift would be a step up. My schedule is more flexible than that – it means sometimes I am at meetings until 10-11 pm, or as early as 7:30 am (though I skip those as often as I can. At the present I’m limited to 40 hours per week on the button, and my week is usually front loaded, so often I am running out of hours by the time Friday rolls around. I’ve taken an hour off in the middle of the day to meet a friend for coffee. It also means I often work late at night, especially early in the week.

    I think calling 9-5 a “scam” is a little over-stated – but it’s probably outmoded for many jobs. For others, it’s barely scratching the surface of the work that needs to be done. I agree that sometimes companies adopt these paradigms because “That’s the way it’s always been done” without fully considering what is best for each company and its workforce. Rather than focusing on hours, companies would be better served to be outcome based. In other words, I don’t care how many hours you work, or when, as long as the work gets done. That’s not going to work for everyone, of course, but I think it can work for most people. My job is pretty much like that, and I switch between the office and home a lot. My boss knows I know what needs to get done and that I will get it done.

    • Well you have to be a little over stated to get views sometimes, don’t you? haha. But I do think it’s outdated and time to change. Though I don’t think I’d enjoy your schedule either. I think we should look at reducing work weeks to give people more free time.

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