There’s something to be said about the current eight-hour employment routine; it’s a workday time frame so uniformly shared among employers that the term “9-to-5” has established itself within our vocabulary. After the tantalizingly short taste of freedom we call a weekend, you’re either spending your Sunday evenings dreading the next five days of waking up at 7:30 a.m. or you’re lying to yourself. And yet, every morning, everyone rises from the dead and pounds their stimulant of choice to remain mostly conscious for the next eight hours without a second thought. Somewhere along the way, this arbitrary frame of hours was set on the better part of the majority of our working population, and everyone just kind of begrudgingly accepted it.
As it turns out, the 9-to-5 system feels overly grueling for a reason: It is. Studies show that on average, people spend more than 40 percent of their daily work hours not actually working. Among the biggest culprits of wasted work time are checking emails, web browsing and meetings. This means that nearly half the time spent during a 9-to-5 period, theoretically, might as well have not been spent working at all. It’s wasteful of both the employers’ and employees’ time, not to mention company resources. Studies indicate that the average human is only productive for about three hours a day before burnout occurs when performing mentally based tasks. This makes sense, as it correlates with the fact that on average, only about four out of eight hours of each day are spent working.
Yes, one can make the argument that reducing the workday would result in the same levels of procrastination proportionate to the revised time. But having such disproportionately long work hours compared to realistically achievable levels of productivity can be discouraging toward one’s work ethic to begin with. Clearly, if 100 percent of work hours were truly spent working, the fact that the average person wastes nearly half their work hours would be an unsustainably low statistic for employers to face. This should be damaging companies, but no one’s being fired for it. Companies surely must be acknowledging the gap between hours and productivity, yet nothing’s changed.
So why do we still blindly follow this arbitrarily imposed work schedule? How did the 9-to-5 system even come about in the first place? As it turns out, the reasons are a lot more socially charged than practical. Historically, labor hours were actually a lot worse, as there used to be no regulations at all. It wasn’t until 1938 that eight-hour workdays were officially implemented by Congress, which were actually modeled after Ford’s labor schedule, which was seen as a game-changing first step toward a better balance between hours and productivity. The problem is that since then, there hasn’t been a second step. Essentially, the 9-to-5 model is a product of Congress making a single attempt at mandating a universal work schedule entirely based off one company’s nearly a century ago. It doesn’t exactly sound like it has to be a be-all and end-all labor regime.
If daily work hours were reduced to even five or six a day, and started even an hour after nine, I believe it would actually promote higher productivity. Employees would be allowed more sleep for a better mental performance, and the crunching of work time would pressure workers to get more done instead of instilling the procrastination-perpetuating mentality that workers have a full eight hours to complete their daily tasks. I am not necessarily pushing for four-day workweeks, but I believe even reducing daily work hours by a two- or three-hour margin would be a much more efficient use of productivity and company resources.
Sean Morton is a senior majoring in English.