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Flex for success — why business thrives without 9-5

25th February 2019

Advances in tech have made global business more connected, convenient and agile.

Yet many companies stubbornly stick to traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday working patterns for no apparent reason.

If you want to flex for success, here’s why business thrives without 9-5.


Dolly Parton was crooning her complaint about the inequities of 9-5 work in 1980, but the origins of the 8-hour day stretch back much further.

By the early 19th century, the Industrial Revolution meant factory machinery could run for 24 hours per day — but visionary mill manager Robert Owen realised that the humans who monitored them couldn’t.

So he implemented ‘eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest’ at the model New Lanark site he managed between 1800 and 1825 — as well as innovations like an in-house infant school, free medical care and evening classes for adult workers.

The 8-hour day later spread to almost every sector, and the rest is history.


There are several reasons why Owen’s pioneering work day hasn’t dated well.

Firstly, the hours many of us officially spend working don’t equate to quantity or quality of output — research suggests that after various social and digital distractions, barely three of eight hours are genuinely productive, performance degrades severely towards the end of the day and we can only focus for between 60 to 90 minutes at a time.

Secondly, many modern roles require little or no direct contact with clients, with remote team members co-ordinating work in different time-zones and territories — so for operational delivery, imposing 9-5 is arbitrary. In this scenario, if you trust your employees to produce quality work to deadlines, allowing them to work when it suits makes sense.

And perhaps most importantly, while not every company can offer astronomical wages, flexible working can reduce stress, improve work/life balance and boost productivity and retention. This is especially important for parents and carers — in the UK, all employees now have a legal right to request flexible working and a government task force is dedicated to championing the cause.


A 4-day week is evolutionary rather than revolutionary — but after a 2018 trial run in collaboration with local academics, New Zealand personal finance firm Perpetual Guardian has adopted it permanently.

Employees can reduce their week from 37.5 to 30 hours by starting later, finishing earlier or opting for a full day off, there’s no reduction in wages and no reduction in productivity is permitted.

Study results make impressive reading — job performance was maintained, stress levels reduced by 7 per cent, commitment rose from 68 to 88 per cent and work/life balance from 54 to 78 per cent.

Wellcome Trust is now reportedly considering implementing a four-day week for its employees and Publicis Groupe recently announced it would abandon 9-5 working to focus on flexible hours and remote working in order to reduce presenteeism.

Meanwhile, in some respects, Virgin has been ahead of the curve with its long-established unlimited staff leave and financial giant Goldman Sachs already offers an onsite nursery for parents at its Square Mile office.

Next moves

Financial constraints might affect the amount and type of flexibility that organisations can offer employees — but reasonably minor tweaks to working culture can significantly improve motivation, engagement and productivity.

And with firms large and small catching on, business leaders who still insist employees sacrifice the most inconvenient slice of their day could soon consign themselves to corporate history.

If you’re interested in organisational behaviour, our online MBA could catapult your career to the next level.

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