Ditch the 9-to-5: It’s Hurting Innovation

Belma McCaffrey over at “Redefining What We Call Work” asked this week “Why isn’t the ‘9 to 5’  serving us anymore?”  Henry Ford and Teddy Roosevelt brought in this 8-hour work day model over a century ago. Before that, in the first phase of industrialization, people were working 10-16 hour shifts. The model broke.

Guess what happened when Ford’s employees reduced their hours? While workers spent less time at work than before, they were more producing more.

So what isn’t working about the 9-to-5 today?

As technology increases our ever-connectedness, we are seeing the demise of the 8 hour workday, and a shift to working over 40 hour weeks, being available on nights and weekends with amorphous or nonexistent defined “shifts” of work. The average person is not working with their natural rhythms

People are stressed, unhappy and accepting some form of low-level depression because it’s “called work for a reason”. Their free time is co-opted by work e-mail, emergency deadlines, and fire drills, yet they are still expected to be at their desk at 9 am Monday morning.

Why is the 9-to-5 no longer working?

The 9-to-5 ideal is not working because we’re no longer working only 9-to-5. Being overworked and unhappy leads to less productivity and less happiness.

Why should leaders care about their employees’ happiness? A happy mind comes from calm and clarity, not urgency and chaos. When people are happy, they can learn. Learning turns into new ideas, and new ideas turn into innovation. Ground breaking innovation does not come from adding a ping pong table while still subscribing to the 9-to-5, always connected workday model.

What does this boil down to?

These days, creativity and innovation seem to be defined by speed-to-market, fuck-it-ship-it and an unnerving sense of urgency to jump to a solution. People are working harder, longer and leaner, and we’re still seeing the same software project failure rates as we have seen over the past 30 years.

This “fail fast” / work hard mentality drives teams, startups and large corporations to continue to make the same fatal flaw: Jumping into a solution before first sitting with the problem. Product oriented companies often design their products with little or no customer input, because THERE IS NO TIME to slow down, sit with the customer, and analyze the problems they experience.

Let’s start a movement towards a Progressive Work Environment

I would like to propose that we all take a step back so we can realize the same benefits Henry Ford did when he reduced work hours and shifts.

I believe discipline and structure are good, but ownership and responsibility are better. I agree with Belma: The “9 to 5” is broken, and we can design and build a more progressive work environment for ourselves. First we just need to slow down, and understand how our inside organization affects our outside innovation.

Your organization and operations could very well be causing you more pain in delivering great products, services and experiences to your customers. It’s true, you are what you eat.

But how can I do my most powerful while still working on someone else’s terms?

If you are currently in a traditional work environment, here are two action steps to try:

  • Figure out what time of day you are most productive. 
    • If you are productive in the early hours, skip morning rush hour to get to work early. Use the quiet time to accomplish the most important tasks.
    • If you are productive alone for some hours during the 9-to-5, try to block off those hours everyday on your calendar. This will keep your co-workers from scheduling you for meetings during your most valuable time.
  • For collaborative work, survey your team for the optimal time.
    • Not everyone is the most productive at the same times of days, but with open communication, you and your team can find times that work for everyone’s rhythm, not just their schedule openings.
    • For instance, many developers would like to have several hours of uninterrupted work so that they can solve problems and solve code. At one point, we only scheduled collaboration meetings with them first thing in the morning or at the close of each day.
    • You may also find compromise among extroverts and introverts. I do my best work in the morning, flying solo, and I get tired during the afternoon. Sound familiar? What I have learned as an extrovert is that I am reinvigorated when working with others. If I collaborate in the afternoon, I’ll continue to be productive on my terms and others’.

Work with Tabas

If you’re the kind of leader that understands your team faces obstacles to come, and that you can create an improved environment that fosters innovation and creativity while still succeeding in your business goals, I would love to work with you. Let’s create this new reality together.

“A company can seize extra-ordinary opportunities only if it is very good at the ordinary operations.” – Marcel Telles


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