Bosses need to catch up: the traditional nine-to-five-work day is dead

It's time to retire the traditional nine-to-five work day. Picture: iStock

It's time to retire the traditional nine-to-five work day. Picture: iStock

COMMENT

It's time to retire the traditional nine-to-five work day.

In most workplaces it's already dead and buried, but there are still a few lingering outposts of the 20th century.

The other day a friend of mine received a company-wide email from the chief executive about the importance of punctuality.

Hearing this story took me back many years to a previous job where my boss sat by the door and looked meaningfully at his watch as people arrived for the day. The hours were 8.45am to 5.30pm – and 8.55am to 6.20pm was definitely not OK.

I thought it was outdated thinking then, and it's even more ridiculous in 2016, when technology keeps us more connected than ever before.

Clearly there are many jobs where set working hours are important. If you work in a job where you are caring for other people, or serving customers, you need to stick to a schedule.

But most knowledge industry workers should be trusted to manage their own time, and judged on results rather than time in the office.

Many companies offer flexible working when employees ask for it. But to my mind, it's not truly "flexible" if you have to organise it in advance.

We could support the individual choices of workers by having a "core hours" concept and restricting work meetings to the middle of the day.

Trusting people to choose when and where to work and measuring them on results is good business and also essential to our mental health as a society. In a 24/7 culture, we all need time to breathe.

True flexibility gives people autonomy over their lives, while still making sure they stay accountable for the work they do. In other words, it's treating people like the grown-ups they are – and that can only boost performance.

Secondly, it allows companies to cut costs by reducing the layer of middle management that has time to sit around looking at their watch. It's still essential to monitor performance and provide feedback but this can be done by looking at outputs on a regular basis rather than tracking someone's daily movements.

Measuring results is a clear and fair way to gauge success that ensures you reward and promote the right people. Relying on hunch can lead to discrimination because we all suffer from bias without knowing it.

Thirdly, it allows people to balance work with their personal lives. It's well understood that flexibility helps parents juggle taking their children to school or daycare without forcing them to ask for special dispensation. That boosts women's workforce participation, and makes it socially acceptable for men to fulfil their role as equal parents.

But it's not just about parenting. We all have lives outside work, and it's always a juggle. I have a male colleague who has no children but he spends every morning before work caring for his mother. Another friend is up at 5am every morning to run 10km before prepping the evening's meal in the slow cooker.

Some people live 10 minutes walk from their place of work, others commute huge distances and are at the mercy of public transit or traffic.

Or you might just need to sleep.

How often have you heard people say they're "not a morning person"? Well it might actually be true.

I heard Fiona Kerr, neural and systems complexity specialist at the University of Adelaide, speak at a conference recently about the "social jetlag" that occurs when you force people into the office at an arbitrary time.

Kerr says biologically all people sit on a bell-curve from liking mornings (let's call them "larks") and performing better in the evenings (let's call them "owls"). About 10 per cent of the population are larks and 20 per cent are owls. The other 70 per cent sit somewhere in between, and can modify their sleeping patterns to some degree.

Larks generally report higher levels of happiness, health, productivity and well being, while owls are smarter, good humoured and outgoing, and more creative.

Kerr says 3 per cent of the population are genetically programmed to need less than six hours of sleep a night, but most of us need 7.5 hours.

Personally, 9 hours is optimal for me.

There's a moment from the 1994 film Reality Bites that resonated for me as a young adult.

It's Ethan Hawke's declaration that "one of these days I'm gonna wake up before noon" and Winona Ryder's dismissive response: "Yeah, right."

Let's just say I had trouble making any lectures before 10am when I was at university. The hardest two years of my working life were those in my early 20s when I started at 7.30am every day to do a breaking news shift.

These days I'm usually up when my children are up. The time I start work depends on whether I'm the one taking them to school, and whether I'm working from home or the office, but I'll often put in a second shift from home after they go to bed.

I'm less of an owl than I once was but I'm still grateful that I don't have to become a lark just to do my job.

smh.com.au

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop