Why the 9-to-5 Routine is Rubbish


Written by Liz

Just your regular 27-year-old, queer, super-introverted, FIRE-chasing, frugal Singaporean, who lives a pretty good life while earning only a modest salary, but still plans to retire at age 40 with $1,000,000. Click here to read more

May 18, 2018

It’s a strange, unhealthy creation, this whole get-chained-to-your-desk-from-9-to-5 phenomenon.

For more than a year now, I’ve been chained to sitting at my desk for 9 hours a day (I work from 9AM to 6PM), 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Like you, I spend my time being productive for only a few hours each day, and spend the rest of the day just pretending to be productive.

While I’ve made whatever peace I could with this whole 9-to-5 routine, there are so many flaws with it that I don’t even know where to begin. But let’s start anyway, shall we?


How Did the 9-to-5 Routine Come About?

The 9-to-5 routine was cemented during the Industrial Revolution. During this period, manufacturing processes were improved with the introduction of machinery, factories, and of course, assembly lines.

And here are two of my observations about assembly lines.

First, each employee in the assembly line would have specific physical tasks delegated to them. Someone would be fitting parts together. Someone else would be tightening the bolts to ensure the parts stay together. Someone else would then be putting pretty packing on the product. Each employee would focus on the one task they were delegated, and only on this one task. Over time, every employee would get so damn good at what they did. They would be faster, and would make less mistakes. Basically, the concept of division of labour.

Second, assembly lines required their employees with different proficiencies to show up at a specific place, on specific days, and at specific times. When everyone is physically present at the assembly line, working together with their different skillsets, they’re basically a dang good well-oiled machine, churning out product by product.

The reason assembly lines were efficient, well organised, and productive? Because of the 9-to-5 routine.

Would it have been feasible for employees to have staggered working hours? Working hours that were catered to them? Nope, they needed to be physically present at the exact same time.

Even if telecommunications existed back in the day, would this have been a viable alternative to showing up at work every single day? Could they have worked from home? Of course not, they needed to be present to do physical work at one specific place – the assembly line.

Because of the nature of their work, the 9-to-5 routine was relevant. It was applicable. It just made absolute sense.

That begs the next question.


Is the 9-to-5 Routine Still Applicable Today?

My answer? A resounding ‘absolutely not’.

Yet, most of society still adheres to this ridiculous system of having all their employees show up from 9 to 5 every single day. This results in a mad rush of people all heading to work at the exact same time, all heading back home at the exact same time, and all scrambling for their one-hour lunch break at the exact same damn time.

It’s no wonder we’re an unhappy, irritable bunch.

And now, I’ll proceed to deepen your anguish by going over the factors that the absurd 9-to-5 routine overlooks.


1. Mental, not Physical Labour

Today, many of us still hold down 9-to-5 jobs. But the majority of us don’t work in factories. We don’t work assembly line style. We don’t tighten bolts. We don’t put parts together. Instead, we crunch numbers on spreadsheets. We write reports analysing those numbers. We structure acquisitions. We ring-fence our risk. We plan business deals to rake in the most profits.

We are engaged mentally, not physically.

It might be easier to get through a 9-to-5 routine when all you’re doing is that one specific task of tightening bolts in an assembly line. Or putting parts together. Of course, you’d need to be physically able to weather the 8 hours of standing on your feet and physically doing your job. But once you’re used to that, it’s probably fairly easy to tighten bolts all day long without losing too much productivity.

But what about mental labour?

The truth is, we aren’t meant to be engaged in mentally rigorous work for more than 4 to 5 hours a day.

Maybe some people are able to stay mentally productive for more. For others, less. For me personally, after 4 hours of being insanely productive, I find my mental faculties dwindling drastically. Yet, we are expected to stay in the office and be productive for 8 hours a day?


As I walk through my office towards the end of the work day, I always see people chatting. Or surfing the net on their phones. Or discreetly (or not so discreetly) scrolling through social media on their computers. Next time, take a good hard look at everyone at the end of the work day. You’d realise most of them are just whiling their time away, while watching the clock.

Or maybe you’re reading this from a tiny minimised window on your office computer at the end of your day, ready to tab out the moment someone walks by your desk.

Case in point.


2. Early Birds VS Night Owls

Here’s where it hits home for all you night owls out there.

It completely sucks to only be able to fall asleep at 2AM, and then have to wake up at 7AM just to reach work at 9AM. You’re an irritable monster before your first coffee and you growl at anyone who tries to speak to you too early in the morning.

Although I’m an early riser, I know plenty of people who look like zombies before they finally wake up at 10AM. Or 11AM. Or whatever time they feel more awake.

As a result, these night owls spend their mornings hating themselves or their workplaces. They’re groggy, they’re tired, they’re unable to concentrate. They’re forced to spend their entire work days being pushed to their mental limits, all on a severe lack of sleep.

But the whole 9-to-5 routine has become so deeply entrenched as a norm in society that corporations impose it without actually considering whether it would be beneficial for their employees. (Or maybe they just don’t care.)

Is it necessary for employees to be physically present at a specific time on every single work day?

Is 9AM some mystical time when people suddenly and miraculously feel more awake?

Is it impossible to have staggered working hours that cater to different people?

No, no, and no.

We no longer need to be physically present at the mystical 9AM every single work day morning. We no longer work assembly line style. Except when there’s urgent work due, most of those damn reports can wait till 10AM when we’re finally awake and able to concentrate.

Nobody’s going to die when you work from 11AM to 7PM instead of the routine 9-to-5.


3. The Prevalence of Telecommunication Devices

The fact that telecommunication devices exist makes the whole 9-to-5 routine even more ridiculous.

Since we no longer work assembly style, we no longer need to be physically present at our workplace in order to be productive. Remember, we provide mental labour, not physical labour.

Would there be any difference between a report written at home, and a report written in the office? Actually, the answer is yes. A report written at home would most likely be completed more quickly and would be of a better quality, as compared to a report written in the office. For introverts like me, that’s the result we would get when we take away all the incessant chatter and distractions in the office.

But instead, we’re forced to show up at the office every single day.

Why, though? Aren’t we just an email away? A phone call away? A Skype call away? A text message away? Whenever someone needs to reach us, why can’t they just give us a call or drop us a text? Why the hell do we have to congregate all in one place just to sit at our desks, when we can do the exact same thing back home?

The world no longer is some big, inaccessible, scary place. We can call and text our loved ones halfway across the world. So, why aren’t we allowed to use this magic to make our miserable corporate jobs more tolerable?

I’ll admit, though, that not all employees can be trusted to work at home. Employers do have a legitimate concern when it comes to their employees just bumming around at home instead of working, should they be given an option to work from home.

In such cases, productivity should be measured by all the work that the employee has done, not by the number of hours he shows up at the office. You can have an employee showing up for 12 hours a day, but being less productive than someone who shows up for only 8 hours a day.

And here’s another beef I have with this whole ridiculous 9-to-5 routine. Let’s say you had an insanely productive day at the office, and you complete all your work in 6 hours, instead of your expected 8. You’re done by 3PM. But are you allowed to head home early? Nope, you just sit at your desk, and twiddle your thumbs until 5PM.

5PM. The only time you’ll be allowed to be released from your own prison.


And That’s Why the 9-to-5 Routine is Rubbish.

Nothing about the 9-to-5 routine makes sense. Nothing. But we do it anyway, because it’s what everyone else is doing. Because it’s what society is telling us to do. It is, after all, a societal norm to work a 9-to-5. Maybe you even believe you’re one of those abnormal people who are unhappy about their working situation.

But you’re not. Because this whole routine is rubbish.

So, it’s time to make a change. (Click here for a follow-up post on how you can escape the 9-to-5 routine. Without giving up your regular pay-check.)



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  1. Karena

    I agree..I’m lucky enough to work from home, but there are companies in Australia who are trialing or others who have moved to a four day work week or scattered hours for employees. And the common thread with these companies is that productivity is up. My Dads office, about 15 years ago, was ahead of the pack. They shut down his entire floor at the office building and set all their staff up at home. They had Occupational health & Safety officers go to each home to make sure they were all set up efficiently and sitting correctly for their desks & computer screens. It was a genius move on there part because , yet again productivity went up. Not to mention you are taking cars off the road in peak traffic and saving employees hours a day commuting..

    • Liz @ Splurging on Freedom

      That is completely incredible, Karena! For a movement like that 15 years ago, the founders of the company must have been visionaries. I’m glad that your dad had the benefit of that. I believe the movement now is towards 4-day work weeks.

      Unfortunately, the company I work in is super conventional. I tried to promote the idea of working from home to my boss, and was shot down within 2 seconds. Literally. Productivity in my office isn’t great, but people are still stuck in that traditional mindset I suppose.