Thursday, July 31, 2008

Who Works 9 to 5?

I’ve often wondered where the term “9 to 5” as it relates to a job came from. It’s shorthand for a normal working day, 8 hour kind of job. But who really works from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM? That’s eight hours but doesn’t include any time for lunch, which I think is illegal.

The closest I’ve ever come to “9 to 5” was 8:30 to 5:00 when I worked for the State of Illinois. And that’s only because we worked 7.5 hour days with an hour for lunch. It wasn’t even an eight hour day.

For decades now I’ve just assumed it was an East Coast thing. You know, they’re an hour ahead of us. Their local nightly news doesn’t come on until 11:00 PM so they must need that late starting time for work in the morning because they were up so late the night before. Seriously, I think I came up with that theory as a teenager and kind-of, sort-of hung onto it ever since. I’ve never worked even a day in the Eastern Time zone, but I don’t think they really have later start times for work tahn we do. Maybe i'm wrong. And even if they do, wouldn't they have to work later than 5:00?

So where did the oft-used “9 ro 5” term come from. I didn’t do any extensive research on the subject online, but a cursory look at Google results doesn’t offer much by they way of an explanation, just lots of references to 9 to 5 jobs. Wikipedia does have this:

9 to 5 (see also: day job) is a phrase used to describe a conventional and possibly tedious job. Negatively used, it connotes a tedious or unremarkable occupation, the idea being that, because the job is so boring, the workplace shuts down outside of required hours. The phrase also indicates that a person is an employee, usually in a large company, rather than self-employed. More neutrally, it connotes a job with stable hours and low career risk, but still a position of subordinate employment.

The phrase originates from the traditional business hours in the United States of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (9h - 17h), Monday through Friday (or, rarely and archaically, Saturday), representing a workweek of between 35 and 48 hours depending on how the hours are counted. In many traditional white collar positions, employees were required to be in the office during these hours in order to take orders from the bosses, hence the relationship between this phrase and subordination.

Hmmm…that’s still unsatisfying to me. I think the key in the above passage is that 9 to 5 used to be the standard open-for-business hours in offices but that workers likely had to be there before and after those hours to prepare/close-up the operation.

I dunno. I suppose I can stop feeling like I’m the one with weird working hours and not take the 9 to 5 thing literally. Still, why not just call it 8 to 5? At least that reflects reality. C’mon Dolly Parton, time for a corrective sequel to both the movie and the song!

1 comment:

John said...


Yeah, I work 9 to 5, with an hour for lunch. Well, when I worked in the office (which is on the East Coast), my office hours were 9 to 5. Now that I work from home in the Midwest, my office hours are 8 to 4. That way I can mirror them in case phone calls come in.

I am the only person I've ever known who worked a real, legitimate 9 to 5. We don't arrive before 9 and we don't stay after 5, barring special circumstances.

My boss is very cool and once told me that he believed getting more than 6 hours of work out of a person per day was total bullshit. We also don't have sick, personal, or vacation days. We take off when we need to, and we just make sure not to schedule long trips around big deadlines or the vacations of others. It's awesome.