Dec 17, 2018

The movement against the 9 to 5

An illustration of cutouts of employees working at an office

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

It's no secret Americans work their tails off, but there's a growing movement for work arrangements that would have made our grandparents blanch.

The big picture: The days of showing up at the office five mornings a week are coming to an end, and companies and workers are rushing to adapt while remaining productive.

  • "A recent survey ... found that nearly half thought they could easily finish their tasks in five hours a day if they did not have interruptions, but many are exceeding 40 hours a week anyway — with the United States leading the way," Reuters reports.

Three ways people are backing away from the 9 to 5 grind:

  1. Four-day work weeks
  2. Remote work, even on an unlimited basis
  3. Flex time

Between the lines: None of these options are really new, but what's driving them is a mix of cultural need and technological progress, including:

  • Young parents who want to put in time with kids, especially the women who disproportionately bear the career costs of having kids.
  • Young workers who want to work where they choose, from wherever they want, without exposing themselves to the risks of the gig economy.
  • Older workers looking to reduce burnout: "In New Zealand, insurance company Perpetual Guardian reported a fall in stress and a jump in staff engagement after it tested a 32-hour week earlier this year," Reuters adds.

The other side: "There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week," Elon Musk tweeted in November.

  • Musk to "Axios on HBO," just days before the tweet: "No one should put this many hours into your work. This is not recommended for anyone."

It's also the case that some of these experiments fade away. IBM, which helped pioneer remote work, is among the companies that have backed away in search of putting employees together in offices.

The bottom line: Don't expect the long hours and hard work to go away anytime soon. Do expect, however, that talented workers will keep coming up with new ways to work, including these.

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