It seems the "9 to 5" workday is just as retro as the 1980 Jane Fonda film and Dolly Parton theme song by the same name. (Too young to remember either one? Amazon Instant Video can remedy that.)
Today's white-collar workers might even hear the lyrics, "9 to 5, what a way to make a living!" without a trace of irony. Yeah, it really would be nice to leave work at 5:00 every night--and even nicer to be able to leave the work at work.
According to Workfront's annual State of Enterprise Work survey, only a third of workers report sticking to a standard 40-hour week, while a full 50% say they work between 41 and 80 hours per week. These statistics are even higher for marketing teams: 21% work 40 hours per week, while 60% toil away for up to 80 hours weekly.
Likewise, the "lunch hour" is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, with 57% of office workers reporting that they spend 30 minutes or less grabbing a bite to eat, if they break for lunch at all.
So what's going on? As countless tools have arisen in recent decades to streamline work and make workers more efficient, why aren't we taking advantage of the opportunity to go home earlier at night--or stop for a decent meal at midday?
Blame it On Technology
Technology is almost always a double-edged sword. The rise of the Internet has magnified our collective virtues as well as our vices. Social media sites make it easy to keep connected with friends all over the world, while also creating a new epidemic of anxiety and inadequacy known as "FoMO," or the "fear of missing out."
In the workplace, technology offers the convenience of communicating with our colleagues at any time of day from almost anywhere. But it has also fostered an always-at-work mentality that means we never fully unplug.
The State of Enterprise Work survey reports that 82% of office workers log into work outside of standard business hours during a typical work week, and more than half (52%) log in every single day.
Gone are the days when you'd have to physically stay at the office for 40+ hours a week in order to work overtime. Now you can check a mobile device from a restaurant, airplane, child's soccer game, or even from the comfort of your bed at midnight.
But here's the upside: the tech revolution has put more power into the hands of employees than ever before. Rather than using every possible opportunity to stay connected to the office, I think it's time we all embraced the fact that because we can work from home late at night, it's okay to put the smartphone away and be fully present at that soccer game.
A New Norm
It wouldn't be unreasonable to say that we're now 40% more efficient than we were 25 years ago, from simple upgrades in digital infrastructure alone.
Just imagine how many minutes and hours we save sending email instead of snail mail, faxes, and interoffice memos from the past. Or how much time is conserved now that we can check an online dashboard to see immediate, up-to-date numbers about almost anything we're trying to measure--rather than manually creating spreadsheets and reports and comparing them in meetings.
Rather than collectively deciding to use the saved time to work 40% fewer hours, we've just found more things to do. Technology has increased the pace of business and created a new norm in the way people work.
It's like we're all on one of those moving walkways at the airport. Nobody notices how fast it's going, because everyone else is moving at the same pace. Even if the speed of that walkway continues to increase indefinitely, the solution is not for the individuals to keep running faster and faster until they collapse, but instead to invite more workers onto the walkway to share the load.
Whether you're facing ever-increasing competition in your industry or you're getting squeezed on costs and trying to do more with less, expectations are on the rise across the board.
As it gets easier to measure everything, view business insights at any time from anywhere, make projections, and set goals according to those projections, aspirations continue to grow. If you see the business down the street doing it, you have to do it too.
A generation or two ago, someone who was starting a small business would be happy if they could manage to make a living. These days, it's about becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg--not about being able to pay the mortgage.
When asked why they're working such long hours (72% say they log in to work email on the weekend), the number one reason was "to get ahead of my work," followed by "too much work to do" at a distant second. It seems the personal, competitive drive to get ahead is more important than the work itself or the expectations handed down by bosses and managers.
If that's true, here's the good news: it means the individual also has the power to realize that an increase in personal productivity will yield greater overall returns than an increase in hours worked.
Quality Not Quantity
As a culture, we've figured out how to increase the amount of time we put into work without being physically in the office. If individuals and companies would like to benefit from that discovery, we also need to optimize how we're spending that time.
The survey says that office workers spend only 46% of their workday performing the primary duties of their jobs. (For marketers, that number dips to 36%). The rest of the time is devoted to meetings (17%), email (12%), administrative tasks (10%), interruptions (8%), and everything else (7%).
Take a look again at those percentages. After their primary job duties, workers spend most of their remaining time in meetings and on email, which are not famous for their effectiveness. In another part of the survey, 57% of the respondents said that wasteful meetings (defined as not needed, not engaging or inefficient) get in the way of getting work done, while 40% said excessive emails are a problem.
If you're looking to increase productivity, the solution is clear: put meeting etiquette and email practices in your crosshairs. If you could increase the efficiency of both by as little as 10%, imagine the time you could free up for primary job duties. Or maybe a few email-free evenings.
Stopping the Vicious Cycle
As technological advances make us more efficient, we take on more work. The more work we take on, the greater our expectations grow for ourselves as well as our teams. As expectations increase, we start working far beyond the traditional "9 to 5" workday--enabled by the capability to work anywhere and everywhere.
This can turn into a vicious cycle. But it can also be an opportunity to approach work more mindfully. Luckily, there are dozens upon dozens of time-management and work-management software solutions designed to help us do just that, both on the individual level and across entire teams and organizations. Technology has a way of providing solutions to the problems technology creates. The double-edged sword strikes again.