The '9 to 5' job is going extinct

Even in industries with traditional schedules, workers are more likely to do their job outside regular office hours and respond to work e-mails off the clock. That flexibility can lead to better work/life balance, but at the risk of blurring the boundaries between an employee's job and personal life. 

Noah Berger/Retuers/File
Bonnie Burton, director of social media strategy for Revision3, works at her cubicle in San Francisco. The typical '9 to 5' workweek is becoming a rarity, even in industries with more traditional schedules.

A ‘9 to 5 job’ has been the default shorthand for a typical American office gig for generations, but the phrase is fast becoming more common than the people who actually have one. 

A study, released Thursday, asked 1,000 US employees in fields that typically have traditional work schedules, including IT and financial services, about their work habits. Even in those industries, 63 percent of survey respondents said they thought a fixed, 9 to 5 workday was an outdated concept.  Additionally, about half said that they check or respond to work e-mails outside of the office, and nearly two in five said they continue working when they leave the office.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that employees feel pressure from their higher-ups to do so, says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder, via e-mail. “Workers want more flexibility in their schedules, and there’s so much technology now that enables them to work remotely and check in.” 

Additionally, she says, increased globalization among companies means workers often need to stay connected outside of traditional US office hours, and that more flexible schedules could be an effective recruiting tool for companies hoping to attract in-demand talent and retain their best performers. 

Among all age groups, workers between ages 45 and 54 were the most likely to work outside regular office hours, and men were more prone to do so than women. Women, however, were more likely to say that work was the last thing they thought about before going to bed.

A more loosely-defined work schedule “can help [employees] build a better work/life balance,” Ms. Haefner says, but such flexibility comes with the risk that “the boundaries between work and personal lives can blur, which can cause stress.” Seventeen percent of those surveyed, she notes, said they had trouble enjoying leisure activities because they were too distracted thinking about work.

The findings line up with a slew of evidence supporting the notion that the typical workweek is vanishing. Full-time, salaried workers in the US log an average of 47 hours per week on the job, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.  Among all workers (full and part time) the average workweek is about 34.5 hours according to the Labor Department, suggesting wide variation in what it means to work a regular day job. 

To boot, having a fixed workweek at all is becoming a bit of a luxury. Nearly one in three workers in the US are now considered freelancers, many reliant on a rotating series of gigs that offer little consistency in hours or level of income – not to mention benefits like retirement accounts, health insurance, and paid vacation days.

Providing stability for workers on both ends of the employment spectrum is a burgeoning priority for the Obama administration. Last week, the Labor Department released a series of guidelines for determining whether or not a worker can legally be considered a contractor, coming to the conclusion that too many firms are using the distinction improperly to avoid the costs that come with designating someone a full-time employee. Earlier this month, the agency updated its rules regulating overtime pay for full-time salaried workers, raising the income threshold under which employees can earn overtime. 

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