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Redefining the Workday Norm

March 28, 2022

Gaston Business Association

Covid-19 redefined the 9 to 5 workday. Here’s what’s next.

By   –  Senior Reporter, The Playbook,

The Covid-19 pandemic may have permanently disrupted the traditional 9 to 5 workday.

The standard “workday” defined white-collar work over the last few decades, but the idea that workers should be sitting in their seats and, well, working for eight continuous hours is giving way to a new reality of asynchronous and “after-hours” work made possible by the increased adoption of remote and hybrid work.

But while the shift has led to coveted flexibility for workers, it's also left many feeling chained to their home offices or phones at all hours of the day — a factor contributing to burnout, reduced engagement and turnover.

Research from Microsoft shows that Microsoft Teams chats outside of the typical 9 to 5 workday increased over the course of the pandemic, and particularly in the hours between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. While knowledge workers traditionally had two productivity peaks — before lunch and after lunch — Microsoft researchers have found a third peak in the hours before bedtime.

“The 9 to 5 workday, a relic of the post-war era, will not persist," said Gena Cox, head of advisory and research at Feels Hyman Inc. “Future business leaders (generation Z, for example) have no patience for one-size-fits-all and current leaders have figured out that productivity may increase when workers have greater flexibility. As a result, the future workplace will have more technology-enabled asynchronous work.”

Companies that are scrambling for workers will need to be more flexible about when people work to cope with a shortage of workers exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and worsened by long-term demographic shifts.  As long as they are getting their objectives done, it really shouldn’t matter as much said Emsi Burning Glass Senior Labor Economist Ron Hetrick.

Hetrick said companies need to ask potential workers how many hours they can commit during the week — whether its a couple of hours before a worker’s kids go to school and a couple of hours after they go to bed or some partial number of hours on the weekend.

“How much work can we get from people?” Hetrick said, adding there are people willing to work but not commit to a traditional 9 to 5 job. “There are a lot of companies out there that are veering off of that path and have offered more creative solutions.”

For companies looking to hire talent and manage remote workforces, the 9 to 5 workday is increasingly an outdated concept, said Abakar Saidov, CEO and co-founder of Talent Lifecycle Management company Beamery, headquartered in London with a fully remote workforce in the United States.

“The pandemic has changed the way we work forever. Flexibility and the asynchronous working week have become the norm,” Saidov said, adding that this method of work could also mean more hours. “The future of work, to some degree, endeavors to give employees a level of freedom to determine their working hours, as long as deadlines and productivity levels are met. However, with working hours varying greatly across teams, it's becoming increasingly hard for employees to push back on their availability.”

Beamery recently surveyed 2,500 workers across the United States with the help of Atomic Research, and found 64% said they had received work-related notifications on their personal mobile phone during non-work hours. An additional 32% said they felt pressured to be online and available outside of normal work hours.

But this shift away from the 9 to 5 workday is just the latest adaptation for the traditional office, which has expanded to include workers across time zones, according to Zach Dunn, co-founder and vice president of customer experience at workplace solution company Robin.

"The real issue isn't, "Is the workday dead or not?" but whether or not hybrid will be the tipping point for folks understanding the workday is fluid. Work has always evolved over time towards flexibility,” Dunn said in an email. “If you view it as '9 to 5 Eastern Standard Time,' did we call time of death with globalization? How about when you opened offices in other time zones? Hybrid is just the latest iteration towards more flexible workplaces by default.”

And workers feel strongly about work infringing on their free time, even if they often answer the call. A majority of workers think it should be illegal for their bosses to contact them outside of work hours — and many think the companies should be fined if they do so, according to a survey of 1,000 employed Americans, conducted by invoicing software firm Skynova,

The survey found 63.3% of employed Americans believe it should be illegal for bosses to call, text or email outside of their scheduled hours, and 45% of workers believe the employer should pay the employee a fine for doing so. The only time a majority of workers agreed it was OK to contact an employee outside of normal working hours was for a work emergency, with 63.4% agreeing.

Meanwhile a deep divide exists between managers who mostly want to work full time onsite, compared to nearly half of workers who said they would look for a new job if they were required to do so. 

And work is increasingly becoming less important in the lives of workers, with a survey from Prudential in which 70% of workers say they have prioritized, or are considering prioritizing their personal lives, over their jobs and careers, while 20% said they were willing to take pay cuts if it means they could have a better balance with their personal life.

Another survey found that most workers would rather have remote work than a promotion.



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