“Workin’ 9 to 5 / What a way to make a livin’ / Barely getting’ by / It’s all takin’ and no givin” – (Dolly Parton, 9 to 5, 1980)
It’s almost 40 years since Dolly Parton’s cult classic 9 to 5 hit the airwaves and while it’s fair to say flexible working patterns weren’t on the leading lady of country’s mind as she penned the hit (it’s actually about fair pay and equal treatment for women in the workplace), it shows how ingrained traditional working hours have always been in society.
While some professions have long embraced shift work including overnight stints, these hours have usually been dictated by employer requirements rather than worker whim, meaning we remain largely wedded to the nine-to-five, five-days-a-week structure. But just because something has always been done, it doesn’t mean it remains the most suitable option as a generation of workers are increasingly proving.
Recent research suggests that more than a third of permanent workers in the UK want a more accommodating role, with flexibility particularly important to the 18-24 age bracket where the figure rises to 52%. The study also found that three-quarters of the workforce would favour a move to a four-day working week, even if they still had to fit the same amount of hours into fewer days.
Technology has made it that much easier to work remotely in the past decade or so, meaning there are few tasks modern workers can’t perform outside the office (recreating Ben Stokes’ match-winning boundary at Headingley by the water cooler aside). Despite this, some employers don’t fully trust their employees not to ‘shirk from home’, despite the raft of research showing how productivity levels actually increase when employees are given autonomy (and trust).
There are a number of reasons why people prefer flexible working arrangements, be it fitting their employment around family, study or busy lives; to wanting to strike a fairer work-life balance that prevents stress or burn out. Mental health has long been marginalised and stigmatised, but now it is becoming a more widely discussed issue, employees are feeling more empowered to put their own welfare first.
In addition to full-time employers offering more flexible arrangements, there are of course a whole swathe of workers who have taken control of their own destiny by becoming their own boss; whether that means starting their own business, freelancing or independent contracting. While this obviously affords far greater control over working hours (not to mention where said work is completed), it also presents its own challenges such as job security, chasing payment and navigating a complex taxation system (set to get even trickier once further changes to IR35 are implemented next year).
Flexible working isn’t for everyone and some staff savour the straightforward routine of traditional hours, but employers will need to rethink how they approach the needs of younger generations who expect their jobs to fit round their lives – not the other way round. Last word must go to the Queen of Nashville with some more lyrics from 9 to 5 which prove particularly prescient when it comes to this shift in attitudes.
“9 to 5 / Yeah, they got you were they want you / There’s a better life / And you think about it, don’t you?” – (Dolly Parton, 9 to 5, 1980)