By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The return of nine-to-five?

overworked man

Lucy Kellaway, the excellent workplace management columnist for London's excellent Financial Times, has written a fascinating little piece called "The Return of Nine-to-Five." In the article -- which actually appeared in the "World in 2015" supplement of the paper's corporate sibling, The Economist -- she predicts that "after nearly 20 years of boasting about how busy they are, senior businesspeople will start to look for new ways to impress. The punishing CEO schedules that started at 4 am with pre-dawn e-mails sent while running on a treadmill will start to look uncool, inefficient – and borderline insane."

Kellaway continues: "To get your work done by a reasonable hour will not be a sign that you are a slacker, but that you are working efficiently. Addicts may still check e-mail before they get out of bed in the morning, but when challenged they will lie about it in just the same way they do about their weekly consumption of alcohol."

I found Kellaway's column intriguing, and I decided to write this blog post to see if her ideas ring a bell or resonate with what you blog readers, either government or private sector, are experiencing in your workplaces.

The only empirical evidence Kellaway cites for the trend she believes is hitting us are that the Dublin office of Google has started confiscating employee devices when they leave the office, and that Daimler-Benz (the folks who make Mercedes cars) have started deleting messages arriving in the inboxes of vacationing staff. However, both of these examples come from Europe, land of month-long vacations where being on-call 24/7 probably never took hold the same way as in the United States.

So I am curious what readers think. For those in government, consider the climate of the last 5-10 years: On the one hand there is a stereotype, which is surely exaggerated but also surely applies to some employees, that getting feds to actually work from 9 to 5 would significantly up their work effort. On the other hand, budget cutbacks have left workers in many agencies feeling that they are dramatically understaffed for their workload and slowly (and sometimes quickly) getting burnt out. And certainly there are a significant number of senior government officials, both political appointees and career people, who fit the 24/7 stereotype of corporate executives. (Even in the 1990s, I had a talented career SES staffer who, if I needed to speak with him on a Sunday afternoon at 3 pm, was best reached in his office.)

As a normative matter, I am inclined to believe that the government suffers from more people who are underworked than caught in the 24/7 treadmill -- which if true would suggest that Kellaway's trend, if it is indeed a trend, may on balance be a bad thing. But I suspect some readers will disagree. And I wonder how many in the private sector feel forced against their will to join the 24/7 culture and would welcome its demise.

Blog readers, your comments are welcomed!

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jan 08, 2015 at 11:06 AM


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