The 9-to-5 Job (Dolly Parton, Where Are You?)

Do you work a regular job? Is it 9-to-5? An office job?

Would anyone else care to belt out a refrain from the movie in which Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda romped around the Xerox machine? Doesn’t that seem like 100 years ago – and not just over 30?

Room for Debate is discussing the 9-to-5 life today. More specifically, they are considering our 40-hour work week, presumably to help us shed light on the length of time we work, the way we work, and if there aren’t better ways to address our historical views.

Is the 40-hour Work Week Still Possible?

I find myself miffed at this entire subject, as the 40-hour work week – with an employment relationship and benefits – seems like Lost World for some and a pipe dream for others.

At least the Times has the good sense to cut to the (irritating) chase in its opening remarks:

Technology has altered the traditional eight-hour day for many workers, giving them greater flexibility but no official cut-off point for work…


Available 24/7?

We are expected to be accessible 24/7, though most of us aren’t brain surgeons with lives hanging in the balance if we don’t make an appearance. And unfortunately, we ourselves have gradually given over this control and continue to accept this expectation.

I’m as guilty as anyone. When a client calls or emails, I answer. I’m working on clearer boundaries, for my sanity as well as work product, but in a tough economy, it’s hard to say no.

Then again, who can live on one salary these days? Can you? Do you? And given all the single parent households, particularly headed by women (earning less than men, on average), isn’t it that much more financially challenging?

Lower Hours Mean No Benefits

Also pointed out in the summary is the issue of benefits. When employers reduce hours, say bye-bye to your benefits. This cuts labor costs dramatically, and what may seem like an advantage at first – more time for family, for example – quickly proves otherwise if you are a single parent or your partner finds himself or herself unemployed.

And while we’re on the subject of benefits tied to employment, let’s remember that millions remain unemployed and underemployed, with millions more who are independent workers, sometimes overlapping with the term “portfolio” workers.

In other words, without the status of an employment relationship, they essentially enjoy no employment protections.

Are There Still 9-to-5 Jobs? Maybe…

Setting aside those numbers, I can’t recall the last time I talked to a friend who was actually working a 9-to-5 job, or even a four-day shift job.

Sure, that’s a function of the people I know and stay in contact with. They are in professions – physicians, nurses, lawyers – or they are in education (depending on the level and location, those can be exceptionally grueling work weeks) – or they are in the corporate world.

In more years of corporate life than I care to admit to, only one job (at an insurance company) qualified as 9-to-5. Every other position I held, from beginning roles to management, involved 50 hours per week at a minimum. More usual? 60 hours, and then some.

By way of additional (anecdotal) illustration, several friends, “women of a certain age,” have managed to periodically get retail jobs. These have been in the 20 hours/week range, not because that’s all the time they wanted to work, but because it was all they could get.

High Earners vs Low Wage Workers

To the issue of professionals who are expected to work long hours (don’t assume there’s financial gain in doing so), one of the debate contributors has interesting words.

Labor economist Fernando Lozano writes:

The probability that someone works more than 50 hours a week has increased over the last 30 years. But this increase is concentrated among highly educated workers in occupations and industries where working long hours is associated with the greatest financial benefits.

He points out that among low-wage workers, hours are reduced, which of course knocks out not only the pay that is needed but again, the benefits.

I am curious how he sees the growing blending of the formerly middle-income who appear(ed) to fit in his former (high earning, 50+ hours) category, but may just as easily be doubling or tripling up on low(er) wage jobs to keep a roof over their heads.

Room for Debate? Room for Improvement

The Room for Debate discussion is nonetheless interesting, when I can set aside my annoyance, that is, while admitting to the importance of keeping these issues front and center. Wouldn’t millions of us love to be able to enjoy a little more life rather than devoting so many waking hours to the pursuit of the almighty dollar?

We should also remember that the debate taking place among these columnists makes sense in a certain context (potentially, the white collar environments). Moreover, while technology is offered up as the means by which more people could effectively work from home, with many benefits not only to their family lives but for the planet (by way of reducing commutes), few are addressing training our managers to deal with a remote workforce.

This is, to me, the same-old same-old; these issues existed 25 years ago. Happily, there are an increasing number of individuals who understand that these are multidimensional issues requiring multidimensional responses. Whether or not we’ve made progress as a result, I suppose, is open for debate.

But the 9-to-5 job? The concept that now seems so innocent? Personally, I hardly remember what it was like. Do you?