Sunday, July 07

The Nine to Five Debate

It’s 2019, and needless to say, the world and its rules are changing. Beyond technological advancements, there have also been philosophical advancements that’s caused us as humans to question certain societal norms. In other words, everyone’s now ‘woke’. And why not? We’re here for a limited time, and we should spend that time doing the things that are important, things that make sense; and questioning the things that don’t.

One of such things is the 9-hour work day.

The standard corporate job in Nigeria stipulates working from 8am – 5pm, with an hour long lunch break. At least on paper. In reality for a lot of people, it’s 8am till whenever the work finishes with lunch had at your desk. But the question is, are workers productive for all of these 9 hours? Research says no. So why then do we stick to it? And importantly, where did it come from?

In 18th century America, when companies started to maximize the output of their factories, getting to running them 24/7 was key, so people had to work as much as 10-16 hour days. These long work days weren’t sustainable and soon a man called Robert Owen started a campaign to have people work no more than 8 hours per day.  His slogan was “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” Finally, in 1914, the Ford Motor Company implemented the 8-hour work day and also doubled their workers’ pay at the time.  This resulted in Ford’s productivity actually increasing significantly and Ford’s profit margins doubled within two years.  This encouraged other companies to adopt the shorter, eight hour work day as a standard for their employees.

So, not only is the 8-hour work day an imported concept, it isn’t even scientific. It’s purely a century old norm for running factories most efficiently. And of course, as is our way, we didn’t import the standard 9am-5pm; we added an extra hour for effect, hence, 8am- 5pm.

Think for a minute though, what if this could change? Studies have already shown that most people are not productive for the entire duration, so ideally, instead of focusing on duration, we should focus on tasks and productive energies. I can already see HR hyperventilating and ‘spazzing out’ at the ‘extra work’ this kind of structure would create, so without even going that far, how about we consider same durations, but flexible timings? Some people function well in the mornings, while some others struggle, but come alive much later. Combined with the hassle of rush hour traffic in the mornings, same duration and flexible timing will not only be helpful to the individual, but also to other road users. If we must insist on 9-hour work days, individuals should be able to decide which 9 hours they want to work. So 9am- 6pm? 10am- 7pm? Or for those who are at work early anyway, in a bid to avoid traffic, 7am- 4pm? Obviously, this may not work for all roles, as some roles are dependent on others, but for roles that largely function independently, why not? Perhaps there could be a stipulation that individuals must be reachable on their mobile phones from 8am, as well.

Bottom line is, we should begin to rethink our employee value proposition along these lines, as who knows, it might actually lead to more productive employees. Personally, I think that some organisations know the facts and stats, but are so afraid of ‘rocking the boat’, so they don’t make any changes.

Imagine if Robert Owen or Henry Ford had been afraid?