Is the ‘9 to 5’ staying alive?

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Back in the 80’s Dolly Parton famously sang ‘Working 9 to 5 – what a way to make a living’.

The question we ask ourselves today though; is this still the best way to make a living thirty plus years on?

Historically, traditional working environments have dictated a 9 to 5 week across most business sectors and especially in banking/financial services and retail businesses.

Offering working practises outside of the standard ‘9 to 5’ contract is becoming more essential at work as an option, in an ever evolving environment of improved communication and technology that are opportunistic for businesses to support customer demand 24/7 and also assist improved employee work/life balances.

How realistic is this to put into place and how can productivity be measured objectively and consistently? There is not an easy answer!

So what are the pros and cons?

Well, a 9 to 5 structured and set working week offers a pattern of consistency, regularity and sense of security for employees with receiving a regular income. For the employer, it allows a time period each week of employment, where the business is supported by manpower to achieve its goals and support productivity.

Whilst this approach is generally accepted as the ‘norm’ do we know if employees consciously or subconsciously plan their day into 8 hours? Is the time spent not only productive but used efficiently? Do they feel pressured to always ‘look busy’?

How can we be confident that everyone is working to their best and fully committed to delivering 100%?

In a 9 to 5 role, Monday is generally the ‘gently starting the week’ day and Friday is the ‘winding down for the weekend’ day when productivity is generally questioned.

Most businesses have always had concern to question whether the set hours each day at work are being used for maximum productivity, but more often than not it hasn’t been a priority to measure productivity at a department, team or individual level, proactively and has been left to ‘performance managing’ individuals if it was felt their productivity was falling due to the quality or quantity of work.

Entrepreneurial businesses and ‘start ups’ by nature may have set hours per week contractually set with their employee, but are much less ridged to set hours or and routines of working practises, with having to be flexible and supportive of changing priorities.

Unless tried and tested ways of measuring productivity are stringently applied, having anything set outside of the 9 to 5 can prove difficult to implement.

An alternative consideration is to pay by project based time allocated for completion of a specific task or job by week, month but this isn’t an attractive employment proposition for most people as an option.

However, this can also prove difficult to measure fairly and consistently. For example, in a creative design role, how do you measure creativity?

Then there’s customer demand and expectation which dictate a 9 to 5 work pattern.

A possible alternative would be to hire employees on part time hours covering the busier middle part of the day. For example 10AM to 4PM can be covered whilst fewer employees are working at the beginning and end of each day. The busier time of the day supported by core volume of employees would naturally attract higher productivity to meet customer demand.

On the flip side, we can’t forget that recent statistics show that a majority of employees work longer than their contractual hours and often skip or have a reduced lunch break to cope with the volumes of work and customer demands.

Each business will adopt working practises that suit them best. There are too many variables of ‘what if…’ to adapt ways of working outside the 9 to 5 into many businesses and currently the topic provokes more questions than provides practical solutions.

This topic is still a work in progress for many businesses and due to the legacy of 9 to 5, it will take some time to no longer be the ‘norm’ to offering anything else.

Overall, whether you agree a 9 to 5 is still a valid pattern of working or not,  the most effective way of measuring performance and productivity comes down to effective employee management, SMART objectives and individual accountability.

So consider; do you have SMART objectives and a robust performance management process in place to allow the effective control and review of productivity and performance, regardless of what the work pattern is?

That’s a great place to start.

Scott Maddy MCIPD

HR gone Mad

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