The 9–5 workday is dead. Here’s whats’s next.

Travis Nicholson
3 min readMar 24, 2023

You might have seen the recent news about the success of the 4-day work week trial in the U.K. After six months, they concluded that not much was lost by giving employees another day off. And now, progressive legislators in the U.S. are introducing a bill in Congress to limit work to 32 hours per week with overtime pay for anything over 32 hours.

It’s nonsense. While I applaud the efforts to improve work-life balance for employees, it’s really missing the point. We need to understand the origins of our current work culture, and what actually moves the needle.

Question: Why do we have a 40 hour work week?

Answer: Henry Ford.

It’s been nearly 100 years since Ford popularized the 40 hour work week. Prior to this, most laborers worked 10–16 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Thank you, Mr. Ford.

But Henry Ford was not driven by altruism. Far from it. He had the most to benefit from this new work schedule. Quite simply, Ford instituted the 40-hour work week for 2 reasons:

  1. Meet demand — 8 hours is divisible into 24 which means you can have 3 equal shifts. This allows for nonstop production of Ford’s hot-selling automobiles.
  2. Create demand — Ford wanted to promote more leisure time for everyday workers which would stimulate demand for automobiles.

Brilliant, Mr. Ford.

And for the past 100 years, we have been living under this Ford system. It made sense for manufacturing cars- an 8-hour shift equated to about 1,000 cars and that would be consistent across shifts and across employees.

But how about today? Do all accountants work at the same speed? Do all social media managers need to work 40 hours?

60% of today’s workforce is considered service or knowledge workers and they are trying to fit a mold that wasn’t created for them.

This is why we love comedies such as Office Space and The Office — it’s making fun of the wasteful reality of so many white-collar jobs.

So what’s the solution?

Is it 4-day work weeks? Shorter hours?

I don’t think so.

Henry Ford created the 40-hour work week focused on one thing…

Outcomes.

Outcomes are applicable to all jobs across all sectors. Everyone is hired to achieve specific outcomes, or else why would they be hired? The amount of time worked really shouldn’t matter — it’s all about outcomes.

As a manager, I never cared what someone did on a Wednesday afternoon — why would I? I have specific expectations and outcomes for each role and if that get’s accomplished, everyone should be happy.

What I am describing will take a major culture shift. This shift was already in motion and was expedited by the pandemic. But let’s not debate about office or remote, 30 hours or 50 hours… that’s comparing apples and oranges. Instead, focus on outcomes.

Leaders should be shaping their organizations around outcomes. If meetings aren’t producing outcomes, cancel them. If employees can get results while skipping Fridays, more power to them.

Henry Ford ingeniously built our modern work week, but its’ time has come and passed. The future of work is here. Let’s build.

Final Note: Is there any merit in the 9–5 schedule?

Yes, there is one specific way.

Communication.

This is because 99% of people don’t want to be contacted by their boss at midnight or 6am — that’s just common sense. Therefore, I think a 9–5 communication boundary makes sense for most professions.

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