Time to Work: Working 9-5

There is an age old myth that you work from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday.  I am a big fan of the TV show, The Office, and when the clock struck 5 the entire office got up to go home, like a synchronized routine.  As a result of this, and other media I consumed, I accepted this as fact.

We mentioned this myth in our newsletter this morning (enroll here) and feel there is a lot of concern and thought on this topic.  Much of the perception of a 9-5 workday is derived from an old-style of thinking and management.

How long do I actually have to work?

It depends.  Many factors play into how long you have to work: your manager, type of work, your project load, and more.  In reality, the amount of time you need to work is truly based on how much work you have.  If you are able to come in at 9 AM and get all your work done by 4 PM, I believe you should be free to go.  You are not locked in a prison camp with strict rules on arrivals and departures, right?

Some managers do not agree with this though and want to see you in your seat until at least 5 PM.  Their thought process is more time in the office leads to more productivity.  A friend of mine told me her team is required to be in the office until 5 PM because of a mandate from her manager.  This may lead to wasting time sitting around doing nothing.  Not ideal for productivity.

The way I envision the amount of time required to work is:

if you get your work done, you can do what you please with your time.

This, of course, needs to be done within reason.  You can't come in and do the bare minimum and expect great results.  But if you produce the output necessary to do your job, you shouldn't be forced to stay at your desk for a few more hours.

I don't want to work after 5 PM

This is unavoidable for a lot of roles.  Some jobs, like a creative designers, will experience tight deadlines from projects that pop up out of nowhere, meaning you'll be working after 5 PM.  In today's Corporate America, you are always on the clock, whether you like it or not.  This does not mean you need to work at 10 PM each day, but you will need to adapt to the requirements of your job.  Sometimes projects take a bit too long or an unexpected change in direction creates additional work and you'll need to work until 7 or 8 PM.  It just happens sometimes.

Comparison to Undergrad

As a student, you put in your time studying for an upcoming exam.  That may mean studying for 12 hours a day for a whole week or studying for an hour the day before the exam.  Whatever works best for you to get you prepared for the exam.  And once you feel prepared for the exam, you stop studying.  Corporate America, while not fully there yet, is moving in this direction.  However much time you need to invest to complete your work is what you should do.  And once you're done with your work, you should not feel the need to keep "working" just to stay busy.  Your manager will be more impressed if you are able to complete a project in 2 hours, and do an excellent job, instead of 10 hours.  Focusing on productivity rather than number of hours spent will help you liberate your time.

My Experience with Working 9-5

I have rarely worked 9-5 exactly.  I typically come in around 8:15 and leave anywhere between 4 and 5:30, though it really depends on what projects and meetings I have on a given day.  So long as I am productive and complete my to-dos, it does not matter when I come and go.  This is very connected to my company's culture, but my manager has never asked me "when are you getting in?" or "when did you leave yesterday?"  It simply does not matter.  The important part is getting work done in an efficient, effective manner.

Thought Starters

  • As a student, do you work 9-5 between studying and an on-campus job?
  • Are you comfortable working after 5 PM on a given project, if required?  Why?