The 9-to-5 doesn’t exist anymore

Recently there’s been lots of coverage on Sheryl Sandberg’s public admission that she leaves work at 5.30pm. The COO of Facebook has been doing this ever since she had kids, but only now does she feel comfortable to talk about it. Cue the stories of work/life balance – stop working more than 40 hours a week – and commentary on why we should leave work bang on time.

The difficulty is, the 9-to-5 really doesn’t exist and here’s why:

Productivity ebbs and flows throughout the day

‘It’s because people want to keep face at work and look like they’re giving it their all’ – wrong. I really think that deep down, employees don’t want to eat all of their meals at their desk. The main reason why the 9-to-5 doesn’t exist is because we are productive at different points during the day. I’m personally a morning worker; 8 to 11 will be my most productive hours before the e-mails pile up. Inevitably the afternoon slump will kick in, and there are lots of articles on how to ‘avoid the afternoon slump’. Why try and avoid it? Why not just accept it and fit it into your day.

In PR in particular, just stepping away and realising that productivity might not be at its best at certain points in the day can provide the best time for creativity. ‘Well, you can’t just stop because you’re tired!’ – surely it’s better to take your foot off the accelerator for an hour and come back to it feeling slightly more refreshed?

To take advantage of this, structuring a to-do list so that the more demanding and urgent tasks are scheduled during productive times makes sense. This is a great way to actually march through a to-do list and also keep time for some creativity and ensure that all the time is accounted for at the end of the day.

Technology has unchained Generation Y from our desks

I’ve had a few conversations recently about ‘the good old days’ before e-mail and computers dominated the workplace. The first thing I do when entering work is turn on the laptop, but I’d love to experience a day in the office before our working lives revolved around technology – hence my tweet this week: ‘Inbox (26) :-\ I’d love to live just one day in the pre-email-era. Fax machine ahoy!’ 

There’s always debate on ‘Generation Y’ and how they’re going to change the workplace. Here is, for me, the biggest area: Generation Y don’t, and won’t ever, know the way of working without technology. We used e-mails to submit university assignments, Facebook to keep friendships and text messages to share jokes. The common factor is that any of these tasks can be carried out at any point during the day. I challenge you to find a post-2005 university student who hasn’t submitted an essay at 23.59, 1 minute before their midnight deadline. In the pre-Internet era, office hours were exactly that: hours when the office was open but now the office is open for however long your laptop is on.

‘It’s awful! The work/life balance will be affected!’ But how exactly? Growing up with technology means it was never a balance – it is just a matter of convenience. Whilst Volkswagen resorted to turning off their workers’ Blackberrys outside of office hours, I wonder how many younger employees felt inconvenienced by this?

Consumers are always online

Following on from this, and in a more PR-specific matter, consumers are now always online so you need to be too. Gone are the days of shopping only being possible between the hours of 9 and 5. Particularly with online brands there is an opportunity to see when the majority of enquires and sales are made and adjust workflows around this. (Something you’d hope they’re taking on board at Heathrow airport right now).

Are your consumers buying during their commute home? If so, why not run flash sales and Twitter campaigns from 5pm to 8pm? It might mean being at the office late, but if sales are low between 1-4, it makes sense to take that time off. When it comes to CRM, I think there’s definitely a case to be made for making it clear when you’ll be answering questions and complaints, but in pure sales-generation terms, adjusting working hours makes business sense.

I could keep going, but these are three of the core reasons why I strongly believe the 9-to-5 is an outdated working lifestyle. Whilst I agree with Sheryl Sandberg that it’s great to leave at 5, it only works if compliments your productivity levels and consumers’ habits. Growing up with technology means that Generation Y will (I hope) continue to challenge what ‘office hours’ are and define a new working lifestyle. As Dolly Parton sang, ‘workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’.

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