8 to 5 workday is outdated and counterproductive


Krissy M. Rardin, Copy Editor

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” My grandfather said this often, at least often enough that I remember it. I thought I might never get my eyes to roll back to their original position, and I knew it was a subtle guilt trip for staying up too late when he just wanted to fall asleep watching Saturday Night Live. It may have been good advice, or it may have been cognitive dissonance kicking in because ol’ Grandpa had no choice but to get up before the sun and go to work. The 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday is a concept we’ve accepted for almost a century, but should we? 

Getting an early start on the day can be extremely rewarding, don’t get me wrong. Who doesn’t love a good sunrise, a morning jog in the dew and a cup of coffee steaming in the early light? In fact, the only thing I love more than those things is staying in bed. I am one of over 50 million Americans with a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders can take on many different forms, from insomnia to sleep apnea to narcolepsy. I personally have struggled with a circadian rhythm disorder for most of my life. In a normal circadian rhythm, the body takes cues from factors such as sunlight, temperature and other stimuli, using these to tell the brain basically, “Hey, it’s dark and quiet. Go to bed.” In a circadian rhythm disorder, it’s party time all the time. I still need the same eight hours of sleep that anyone my age does; it just so happens that my body thinks the perfect time for this is between the hours of 3 a.m. and 11 a.m. Perhaps you see why this is problematic. 

Lack of sleep is an issue for millions of people. According to the Sleep Association, of the 50 to 70 million Americans reporting sleep issues, 48 percent report snoring that interrupts sleep, 37 percent report falling asleep throughout the day and nearly five percent reported nodding off while driving at least once in the preceding month. In fact, drowsy driving is responsible for over 1,500 deaths annually and 40,000 nonfatal injuries every year. The Sleep Association also reports that more than 100,000 medical injuries occur annually and sleep deprivation is a largely contributing factor. Why are we allowing this? What is the need for scheduled surgeries before the crack of dawn? If you’ve ever had surgery, you know that it usually does not matter what time of day it takes place. You just had surgery; it’s not like there is somewhere else to be. Of course, there are medical emergencies, but it would make a lot more sense to have well-rested surgeons in charge of those procedures. 

With the exception of specific work settings, the 8 to 5 workday is obsolete. Obviously, a restaurant that serves breakfast should be open at, well, breakfast hours. Assembly lines have to maintain steady production, but we live in an age where we deal in information and technology. Millions of positions have transitioned to remote work in light of the pandemic, further proving that there is no need for a traditional time setting. In fact, in an article from Mary Lloyd, this old model of office hours may hurt companies. She states: “In a knowledge-based work endeavor, having people all gathered in the same place for the same period of time may actually be counterproductive. Why? Because we don’t all think best at the same time. Worse, when we aren’t in our own sweet spot, we tend to deny someone else their best work time with unnecessary meetings, dropping by to ‘check-up’ on something or encouraging them to be part of ‘social time.’” 

 If I had a dollar for every time a boss told me, “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done,” I would have retired by now. It is beyond time that employers place their faith in the abilities of their employees, not the archaic demands of a centuries-old tradition. Mary Lloyd theorizes: “That’s part of the reason why we cling to the 8 to 5 thing, I suspect. It’s really easy to confirm someone’s at the office. It takes a more complex effort to be sure the work is actually done. But effective management is about results. If every single person you employ has perfect attendance, but you aren’t getting the work done, you and the company aren’t going to be around long.”

My issues with the 8 to 5 workday encompass the school system as well. According to the Sleep Association, sleep requirements are as follows: adults: seven to nine hours, teenagers: eight to 10 hours, children six to 12-years-old: nine to 12 hours, children three to five-years-old: 10 to 13 hours (including naps), children one to two-years-old: 11 to 14 hours (including naps) and infants four to 12-months-old: 12 to 16 hours (including naps). Why in the world do elementary school students have to be in class before high school students when they require almost 2 more hours of sleep than older kids? Whose idea was this, and where can I click to opt out? 

Unfortunately, when something is so ingrained in our society, it is nearly impossible to change. Employees won’t feel comfortable making demands of their employers, and parents of public-school children even less so. This is just the way it is because it’s the way it has always been. I’m not asking anyone to go on strike, by any means, but simply to question and challenge a system that is not ideal for millions of Americans.

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