Why 9 to 5 Monday to Friday is Broken

I’ll soon be making my way back to the UK where I’ll be looking for work. I’ll be honest. I’m dreading it. Some people love working in an office.  Sadly, I’m not one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy most of my work, and I’ve been lucky to work with some great people who have become life long friends.

However, the more I work, the more I realise that 9-5 is broken.

Where did 9 to 5 come from?

Why 8 Hours a Day?

During the Industrial Revolution, it was common for people to work 12 to 14 hour days.  Back then a lot of labour was physical.  Employees needed regular rest for their bodies to physically recover.

Workers campaigned for 8 hours of rest, 8 hours of recreation and 8 hours of sleep.  After several strikes, concessions were made and the 8 hour day/40 hour week became the norm.

Why 9 to 5?

Historically most businesses operated locally, sometimes nationally.  Most business was done when everyone else was awake.

There was no electricity, and employees needed daylight in order to safely get to and from the office or factory.

Why Monday to Friday?

Religion used to play a big part in people’s lives.  People didn’t traditionally work on the Sabbath day.  Depending on your religion, this was Saturday or Sunday in most Western countries.

People needed other people to do business with so Monday to Friday became the norm.

What’s changed?

Do you really need exactly 40 hours, all spent between 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, to get your work done?

Nature of our work

The nature of our work has changed.  It’s less physical than it used to be.  Less of us are involved in manual labour. Work isn’t about the number of hours that our body and minds can produce in one go anymore.

Nowadays, most of us work alone.  We don’t need to work with others to operate complex pieces of machinery or do manual labour.  Even if we work in teams or collaborate with others, the bulk of our work is spent working on things alone.

Tools and Technology

Our work tools have changed.  We use the same computers at home and in the office.  We don’t need to work in a factory, or use expensive machinery that are only available in our work places.   We have electricity, technology and the internet which means that we can work remotely from anywhere.

Socio-economic changes

Most of us no longer have a wife/elderly parent/older child at home taking care of the house, shopping, washing and taking the kids to school.

Religion is less important to many of us than it used to be.  Few of us go to Church or the Synagogue on the weekend.  We are just as likely to want to take time off on a Wednesday and work a few hours on a Saturday.

During the Industrial Revolution, school was a luxury.  Many kids left school when they were 12 to 14 years of age.  Now all children go to school until they are at least 16 years old.

Most people are forced to juggle these responsibilities within the nonsensical constraints of 9 to 5. They often fail, leading them to feel even worse about their lives.

Adam Smiley writes in The Quarter-Life Breakthrough about how more than 70% of American employees feel dis-engaged from their jobs. In some cases, employees go out of their way to undermine their colleagues’ work. Do you really want to be paying for that kind of employee?


Here’s why:

1. People rarely work between 9 and 5

Just because your employee is in the office, sitting at a desk, doesn’t mean that they are working.

I’ve worked in offices where people have watched whole TV box sets in between open Word documents while “working”. (I understand the benefits of listening to background music, but watching television while you are negotiating contracts seems a step too far…).

Many people don’t just work 8 hours, they work 12-16.  For many professionals, starting at 9 and finishing at 5 would feel like a half day.  For them 9 to 5 doesn’t exist, it’s a joke.  I’m not saying that this is a good thing but if you’re going to have to work long hours, doesn’t it make sense to do so in the most productive way possible?

2. Most people do not need to be in the office

I get it, some people need to work on-site.  Receptionists for example, life guards, photographers, videographers, fire fighters, child minders, surgeons, nurses, chefs, cleaners, construction workers.  Work that involves direct physical contact of some kind.

If your job involves collaborating with others, and you find that doing that in person is the best way to do that, then go to the office.

Most professionals however, are not responsible for innovation in their company. Most traditional “office” work, doesn’t need to be done in an office.

Sure you may need to attend a few meetings or discuss things with people with you you’re working with. But unless you’ll be doing that every day all day, you don’t need to be in the office.

Every IT department can set up a remote working environment. Most work involving a computer can be done at home or anywhere else where you have access to a laptop and the internet.

Most legal and commercial work for example is done over the phone or by e-mail.  Instruct a lawyer and chances are that you’ll be doing so over the phone or by e-mail.  The lawyer will work in a different building/city/country to you.  Even in-house lawyers tend to work in an office with other lawyers rather than with their in-house clients.

3. You become your colleagues

As Jim Rohn taught us, it’s generally considered that you become the average of the 5 people you see most often.  For most of us who work long hours, that tends to be our colleagues.

This is fabulous if you have great, healthy colleagues.  Ones that you can learn from and aspire to be like. Inspiring people, like Martin Sheen as the President in the West Wing.  If this is the case, then going to work in an office is fabulous. You will learn a lot and it will enhance your quality of life.

If you have colleagues who are perpetually miserable, overweight, unhealthy, dislike their jobs, and bitch profusely, then going to work can be a toxic experience.

Your boss who’s wife is having an affair, who is depressed and never sees his kids. Guess what – surround yourself with people like that, and you’re more than likely going to end up on the same road to nervous breakdown.  I’ve seen it happen.

4. The commute is insane

In London where I live, most people have to spend at least 45 minutes getting to work each day.  Door to door journeys for most are much longer.

That means that more than 1.5 hours of each person’s day consists of being in an unpleasant and uncomfortable environment.  Packed like sardines with no space to even read a book. They turn up to work, bedraggled, annoyed and dripping with sweat.

Working 9-5 means that employees are forced to commute during rush hour when the trains and buses are more congested than usual.  Traffic jams and signal failures are abundant.  Journeys take longer as a result.

Let’s just take a moment and consider the sacrifice of time that this actually is.

Assuming that you will spend a minimum of 90 minutes a day commuting to and from work, (and remember, most people spend longer), that means that you spend 7.5 waking hours each week commuting.

Over the course of a year, assuming you work the standard (for Europeans) 225 days a year, that time amounts to 337.5 hours of your annual waking life.

To put that in to perspective, that is the equivalent of 45 standard 7.5 hour working days a year. That is 9 working weeks.  2 solid months of dead work time, that you spend wasting your life on a train.


It gets worse when there’s a tube strike, or snow brings transport to a halt.  It’s not uncommon for people to start their journeys at 5am in an effort to get to work by 9am.  You’ll be periodically interrupted by your colleagues’ running commentary of their journey as and when they get a phone signal – “I’ve been waiting on the platform for two hours”, “I’m on the train now”, “the train has stopped”, “they say we’ll be stuck here for an hour”, “at the station now”, “will be in the office by 10.30”.

They then leave at 3pm to get home by 11pm…


Give your employees a break! Just let them work from home.

5. Technology has developed

Decades ago, the tools people needed to carry out their work were not in people’s homes.  They were large pieces of machinery or typewriters and phones that were stuck in an office.  Now everyone has a laptop and mobile phone.

You used to have to be in the same physical location as your colleagues if you wanted to talk to them.  Now we have Slack, instant messaging, email, video conferencing and the phone.

6. Face to Face Meetings are no longer needed

We are no longer in 1955, it’s 2015.

The people you do business with are just as likely to live in China as they are to live in Birmingham.  Your colleagues are just as likely to be based in LA as in London. It’s the same with your customers.  Your potential market no longer just consists of the people you know or can meet in person.  With the internet, it’s the whole world.

A hundred years ago meeting someone in person made a huge difference.  If you didn’t meet them you had to rely on communicating by mail which could take months.

Since most deals are now done between people in different locations, face to face meetings are less frequent. Most of the time they are not practical, and with email, telephones and video conferencing, often not needed.

Face to face meetings do help.  Especially with internal colleagues.  I get it. You can read someone’s body language, deepen connections, go for lunch, have coffee, get to know someone easier than you can do on the phone.

However, you can always arrange these meetings to occur when and if you do visit the office. Once a week or month maybe.  They are not requirements for having to go to an office 5 days a week.

If there’s an emergency and you really need to be in the office then you can get there.  People can call you. Just because you are not in the office doesn’t mean that you are not contactable.

7. Working in an office is not always productive

After dealing with the stress of getting up early and the crazy commute, most employees arrive in the office, drained and stressed.  That’s not the most productive start to the day, and work hasn’t even started yet!

The office is full of distractions, gossip, bitching.  It’s time consuming and disruptive. Interruptions are frequent, the phone rings, people come over to you expecting you to have read the email they sent you two minutes ago.  It’s easy to shuffle paper, interacting with people but not getting any meaningful work done. You shouldn’t be paid for that.

Some people prefer going to an office.  They like the discipline of having to turn up by a certain time, and would freely admit that they would be distracted if they worked anywhere else.  If that’s you, that’s cool. Continue going to the office, but don’t begrudge those who are more productive elsewhere.

8. It encourages sick days and wasted time

People take sick days for lots of reasons.

Hangovers, interviews, late nights, trips to Monaco, sex, shopping, apathy, oh and they might be ill too.

People call in sick.  They are “ill”.  They can’t make it to the office.  So they go shopping on Bond Street or to the cinema instead.  It’s not great, but trust me, it goes on everywhere. They’ve been working hard and don’t want to use annual leave, they’re entitled to a “duvet day”.

Your employees are going to make mistakes, they’re going to stay up late, drink too much, and wake up with hangovers.  They might have a bad cold but can technically still work.  They are going to have to decide between dragging themselves to work or calling in sick.

If you’re not feeling well but can still work, wouldn’t it be better if you just worked from the comfort of your own home rather than dragging yourself to the office spluttering and spreading germs over everyone else?

If you didn’t get to sleep in time or can’t be bothered to face the 7am commute, wouldn’t it be better if you had a lie in and just started work a bit later?

Those who don’t care about taking sick days will just take them. Others will drag themselves to work and spend most of the day trying to not throw up.

Don’t make your employees choose between hauling themselves to work when they feel dreadful only to waste that day and make themselves resent their employer even more. There’s a better way.

If employees need to go to the post office or want to go to the cinema in the middle of the day, let them.

So long as they’re presence isn’t critical for a key meeting/call/deadline, it shouldn’t matter what they do or when they do it, so long as they get their work done.

9. It inhibits health and productivity

9 to 5 doesn’t allow people to work when they feel most productive and it makes it harder for employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working is an excellent book about managing energy and working when you’re most productive.

Most people tend to be more productive either earlier or later in the day.  Working 9 to 5 doesn’t allow for this.  It demands that you get to work by 9am and turn yourself on like a machine.  Humans are not engines.  They are messy complex living things.

Exercise has been proven to make employees more productive and healthier workers.  But, it’s hard to successfully integrate exercise into your working day unless you exercise in the morning or during your lunch hour. After work appointments tend to get cancelled if you have a terrible day, work late, or pick up the kids from school.

It’s harder to plan healthier meals when you’re exhausted.  It’s late, and all you can only muster the energy to turn on the microwave for 3.5 minutes.

Sleep is crucial for high performance.  Yet if you have to get up at 6.30am (to exercise, do your admin, and get the kids to school), but didn’t get to sleep until 2am, you’re not going to be at your best.  Employees should be able to sleep until they wake up without an alarm clock as Nicholas Bate recommends. If this means starting work later, then so be it, provided that they get the work done in time, why is it an issue?

Humans have off days and periods.  You might be hit by a migraine or morning sickness that temporarily inhibits you from working effectively.

You may be kept up all night by a screaming baby or neighbour who plays loud reggae until 3am.

You might benefit massively from a twenty minute nap in the afternoon.

None of this is made possible in a 9-5 office environment.  You can’t nap properly at your desk, exercising in the middle of the day isn’t encouraged, and if you’re not feeling well, then you need to take a sick day or sit in the office feeling dreadful.

No wonder people are feeling disengaged from their jobs.

10. It’s inconvenient and creates extra stress for employees

Okay so work isn’t supposed to be convenient.  But let’s just remind ourselves that “9 to 5 – Monday to Friday” was imposed on us at a time when it was the norm for people to have at least one person, be it a wife, elderly relative, older child, someone at home who could take care of chores, shopping, and the children. Not all children went to school a hundred years ago, now they all do.

Most families need to have both parents working and chances are that those parents are working longer hours too.

This isn’t convenient.  People need to do their laundry, have haircuts, do their grocery shopping, pick up their kids, take care of their elderly parents who don’t live with them, work their 40+ hours, and fit in the crazy commute.

11. It no longer makes sense with globalisation and multiple time zones

If you’re working for an international company, 9-5 makes even less sense. Work is done by people around the clock in completely different time zones and countries.

There’ll often be times when you will be taking late night or early morning calls with someone in the LA office or in Sydney.   If you have an important call with LA, does it make sense to really schedule that at the end of the day when you are tired and sluggish.  Wouldn’t it make sense to start and finish your day later?

Also, in some countries, 9 to 5 isn’t the norm. In hot countries, people start and finish work earlier.  They often take an extended break in the afternoon (which was traditionally for siesta) or take a longer lunch.

12. It creates a culture of presenteeism rather than one based on results

9-5 pays people for just being in the office.  It doesn’t matter about the quality of their work or what they contribute to the business.

Clock watching, being the last to leave the office, the latest to respond to an email, showing people how dedicated to the company they are – that’s what matters.

It doesn’t matter if they’re getting no sleep, taking 3 hours to do tasks that can be done in 45 minutes.  It doesn’t matter if they’re sacrificing their kids and personal relationships.  It doesn’t matter if they have no interests outside of work.  It doesn’t matter if they take sick days from being burnt out or because they don’t care about their work.  They’re in the office most of the time between 9 and 5 right?

That’s madness. Employees should be appraised on the results and quality of work that they deliver. Not on the hours that they are in an office.

So, if it’s broken, what are the objections to giving employees the freedom to work outside of the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday structure?

A. Employees who are not in the office between 9 and 5 will just skive

Believe me, it’s pretty easy to “skive” when you are in the office, never mind being at home or anywhere else.

People spend hours surfing the internet, sleeping at their desks, go for “meetings” at the local coffee shop, and generally waste time.  Why should merely being in the office excuse doing hardly any work?

Just because your employees are sitting in front of a desk, “looking busy” does not mean that they are productive or effective in any way.

I strongly believe that people should be pushed to produce results.  Isn’t that what we’re all being paid for?

If you can’t trust your colleagues to come up with results outside of the office, you shouldn’t be employing them.

Sure, they might sit at home doing nothing. They might go shopping or get their haircut instead. Or they could outsource their work to a third world country employee for 2% of their salary, (which you can also do in the office to be fair).

Results and performance should be measured.  If a remote or flexible working arrangement isn’t working for the company or the employee then it shouldn’t be tolerated.

B. Security risks

Sure there are, but there are also security risks for office systems too.

With developments in cloud technology and encryption, most IT departments can now create secure remote working environments.

Execs and sales people travel frequently and have to be able to work on the move.  IT can create secure remote working conditions for them, they can do it for the rest of the work force.

Sure, laptops can be stolen but so can work phones which are ubiquitous.

C. You will reduce the chances of serendipitous encounters that lead to the new iphone

I.e. Apple and Google need people to work in the office so if you want to be the next Google or Apple you should do the same.

But, Apple and Google have stringent recruiting policies.  They have amazing offices and good compensation packages.  If you were working with the best in your field and could learn a ton from the people around you, then you would want to go to the office too.  Sadly, most office environments are not like the ones at Apple or Google.

I also wonder how common any valuable serendipitous encounters are.  In most offices most people tend to congregate serendipitously to bitch or gossip rather than to discuss work or ideas.

The most productive encounters are often those that are actually planned.  Lunch or coffee with someone you are working with or a friend of a friend who thought it might be useful for you to meet.

D. You won’t be able to switch off

Most professionals I know never switch off.  Most have work phones or check email at home anyway.

A lot of companies expect their employees to check their email before going to sleep, despite the futility of doing so.  (Apart from making it harder for employees to go to sleep, it shows that the employee is “devoted” to the company and “responding” to the business.)

Sure it might be tempting to work longer hours if you are working from home, but it’s also difficult to leave the office when you are there. If you’re at home you can at least take twenty minutes out to read your daughter a bed time story or have dinner with your wife.

Working from home is different to being in an office, but there’s lots that you can do to make it work for you. Having a routine, a separate work space, and being an effective online communicator.

E. You’ll be get passed over for promotion 

Sadly this is probably true.  Despite what most companies claim about their culture, most promotions are given to people who are “seen” to be working hard.  To the people who are “devoted” to the company and draw praise for doing so.  This kind of culture is endemic.  I recommend reading HBR’s “Why Some Men Pretend to Work 80 Hours a Week“.

Most managers had to work long hours to get to where they are.  Many prefer to reward the ones that have paid the same dues, made the same sacrifices.

F. You can use your annual leave for your children’s plays/anything not related to work

Sure you can.  But isn’t annual leave supposed to be used for rest and relaxation? Activities that renew or excite your soul and help you switch off, rather than compulsory/admin type activities.

You might need to go to the Russian embassy to deliver your passport and visa application which can only be done between 2 and 4pm, should you really be using your annual leave for those types of things?

G. You will get lonely

This is true. It’s not all fun and games. A friend of mine who worked remotely said he actually got depressed when he started working from home.  He didn’t enjoy working in his office but he missed interacting with people.

Choose your working environment carefully.  Don’t work at home or a coffee shop if you’re going to be constantly distracted or if you get depressed.  A plethora of co-working spaces have sprung up in recent years.  They are full of interesting and innovative people that you can learn from.

So, why does it make sense for employers to give their employees the freedom to do their work where and when they want?

Many companies that are starting now choose to give their employees the freedom to work when and where they want.  Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals) built Basecamp this way. Their only rule is that there must be at least one hour where everyone is online at the same time. Automattic, one of the most successful companies in the world has a completely remote workforce.

It seems that more and more successful new companies are abandoning conventional office hours as they realise the benefits of doing so can bring.

Here’s why:

i. Employers have more employees to choose from

If your employees can work from anywhere in their own time, employers will have a far greater selection of candidates. They are not confined to the ones that live within commuting distance.

ii. Employees will be happier

Employees will have the freedom to create a schedule that works for them. Your employees will be healthier and more productive

They will have the freedom and time to create a schedule that allows them to exercise, eat healthily, and interact with people who have a positive impact on their lives.

Parents can improve their relationship with their children by spending more time with their kids, picking them up from school and attending school events.

iii. Employee retention will go up

Anyone can get a pay rise.  You can negotiate, threaten to leave, or go work for somebody else.

The kind of flexibility remote working creates significantly increases one’s quality of life. That’s difficult to replace, especially at the moment when working 9 to 5 is the norm.

Giving your employees the flexibility to produce their best work will be a huge competitive advantage.

iv. It reduces your office overhead

Companies like the BBC don’t actually have enough office space to house all their employees at once.  Employees are asked to work a day or two from home.  It makes sense, most people can work just as efficiently from home, why pay for the extra office space if you don’t need it?

Companies will also be able to pay people less depending on their geographical location.  A competitive salary in Bangaldesh is going to be less than in New York.

Why do I want the freedom to work remotely

It makes sense.

I don’t want to sit at home with a can of Stella watching Jeremy Kyle, I just want to work as productively and effectively as possible.

Sometimes I can’t sleep until 5am.  On those days I want to be able to lie in and work late, when I generally produce my best work.  I want to be able to do my washing and go for a run at 11am without upsetting my colleagues because I’m not going before or after I “start work”.

If someone told me that they were going to spend 7 weeks of each year working by sitting on a packed uncomfortable hot train, I would tell them that it was insane.  Yet that’s what the conventional 9 to 5 office schedule is forcing me to do.

Life is short guys, do you really want to live that way?  Just because “that’s the way it is” doesn’t make it right or the best way forward.

Technology has advanced enough that we do not need to be in an office to do most of our work.  Let’s take advantage of that sooner rather than later.

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