Why the bloody hell are we still working as if it were 1820?!

Jo Hooper

If you know me or have heard me speak you’ll know I have some quite strong opinions and I’m not afraid to voice them. Expressed, with respect, in a way to encourage thought and conversation, never to ridicule, provoke or wound.

Today’s topic is one of those that I feel very strongly about – as do so many of you! I shared a post on Linked In on this topic last week and it’s had over 8,500 views to date and 30+ comments!

So, let’s get to it.

 

Why oh bloody why are we still – in the main – fixated with working Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm? The origins of this working week structure are in the industrial revolution for god’s sake! 

Manufacture and production were taking off, factories were established and workforces hired to produce items for sale. Back then, us ‘below stairs’ sort worked on production lines, working together. Electric lights weren’t used and candles were expensive, so we all huddled together during daylight hours.

And so the 9 – 5 was born.

And here we are, 200 years later, still wedded to this routine as if we were all still sat on factory lines without lights, internet, freedom of thought and movement.

How do you know if the 9-5 is for you?

That structure is absolutely fine, if that works for you. But if you have only ever worked in a 9-5 job, how can you tell if it really does work for you?  You haven’t been given the opportunity to spread your wings, flex those creative muscles and test when you’re most productive, how you can be happiest at work.

I worked in a 9-5 my whole career until February this year and I thought I was fine with it. 

For much of that time, I would get into the office much earlier than 9am and leave long past 5pm. I’d have days full of meetings, days where I had my head down for 9 hours straight, and yes some more relaxed days.

But as regular readers will know, a few years ago that relentless pushing and striving abruptly stopped working for me. 

Between 2017 – 2019 I started to dabble in working more flexibly. 

I started not coming into work until 9.30 (I said I dabbled, didn’t I?!), I tried working from home one day a week. 

Ultimately, I just couldn’t get the flex I needed to manage my mental health working for a company, so I grabbed at the opportunity to take redundancy and try my own way.

What can flexible working look like?

So for me, my aim is to work three days over five. I’d like to work short days and have the flexibility to work shorter weeks if I need or want to.

Since starting to work for myself, I’ve realised that I’m not very productive in the morning and my most creative, efficient, productive time is between 2 – 5pm. 

So, I don’t book any meetings before 11am, I use my mornings for admin, emails, social media and my afternoons for writing and creating. 

This isn’t just me being selfish – I think a criticism we maybe have internally about those who want to work flexibly – it means that I use my time in a way that works for me, my business and my mind.

Jane Fordham, a people, culture and equality consultant, says:

For me, it’s about worklife ‘integration’ or co-existence. As an independent consultant, flexible working works as it means that both parts of my life can flex around each other day-to-day, week-by-week according to the needs of each. A concept brought to life in my email signature:

I love Jane’s clear and straightforward approach to communicating how she works – I think I’ll be trying out something similar!

 

A ‘straightforward’ 9-5 just doesn’t work for everyone. As work can have such a triggering effect on many people’s mental health, getting your working structure right is crucial to managing your mind.

Josephine Brooks, a fantastic planning and productivity mentor I have worked with (I wax lyrical about how her planning system has helped me here) shared this:

When I worked in a 9-5 I was lucky enough to work for a charity that offered fairly flexible working. I had flexible start and finish hours and I also negotiated being able to work from home – although this wasn’t available to everyone. I found the quiet of working from my own home meant that I could be so much more productive, I could get more done in less time. 

I also struggle with anxiety and it made a world of difference being able to work from home when I was having a bad day, where I was far less likely to have panic attacks. 

I went through a particularly bad patch of anxiety and depression in Summer/ Autumn 2018 and really struggled with going into work which resulted in getting signed off on a month’s sick leave. 

My company were very accommodating with letting me work from home more often after this and said I could return to work slowly, but it was this experience that made me realise it was more of a need than a want to grow my business so that it could become my full time income, so that I could be a lot more flexible with my work hours and days. 

Since leaving my 9-5 I still have structure to my day but that structure is completely set by me, I work during the hours when I’m most productive (9-3) and then take the rest of the afternoon to do the vital self-care stuff or life admin.

What are the benefits you maybe wouldn’t expect?

The benefits for me are huge – and largely unexpected.

I knew I needed to have more flexibility to manage my work in a way that also helped me manage my mental health. 

But I didn’t expect quite how positive an impact that flexibility and freedom would have on my mind. Although working for yourself brings its own stresses, I feel less stressed by work than I ever have before.

Work has always been a huge trigger for my anxiety and while I’m finding new ways that I need to consider my mind now I run my own business, my anxiety has become so much more manageable day to day.

It’s also meant that I value my life outside of work – you know, the ‘real’ life – more. When I was at a very low point last year, I realised that I wasn’t seeing anything other than work as valuable, as achievements. Now, I love that I have more time for my life outside of work – it’s brought a new sense of enjoyment to things like exercise, reading, walking and quiet time.

Jane Fordham described the benefits for her as:

In a word; freedom. That’s not to say flexible working removes all challenges or that I’m smashing it every day but it does afford personal freedom. I am in control. 

Yes I’m committed to delighting my clients but it’s up to me, and my family, to set patterns that optimise home life and worklife. I typically avoid the word ‘balance’ as it implies stasis, that if at any moment life was perfectly balanced that you’d need to halt and shout “nobody move!” 

Flexible working for me, means a constant state of readjustment, which is a necessary approach in a busy, fulfilling life that meanders minute by minute.

Josephine Brooks said:

I know for certain that this is a result of drastically changing my lifestyle, working from home, getting daily walks in the countryside into my routine and being able to work in tune with my energy levels and how I’m feeling each day. Being able to manage my own time 100% has been hugely empowering and I’m far more productive now than I ever was in any of my 9-5 roles.

Oonagh Barrington, who’s recently gone freelance as a PR and social media consultant says of her new routine:

Clients can get the most out of me during the hours that suit me – and that’s not 9-5! I’m most creative in the evenings, when my son Oscar is in bed. 

There’s just no reason why my industry needs to work 9-5. 

My mental health is a million times better since I work my own hours, sometimes use the normal working hours to sort out life admin – I’m more on top of general life!

Flexible working and your mental health

All of these examples just highlight how your mental health can be supported by working more flexibly. 

But, you don’t need to quit your 9 – 5 to get the flexibility you might need, this short video explains succinctly the positive impact just an extra 30 minutes in your day can have.

What have your experiences with flexible working been? Does it work for you, or do you crave more freedom?

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hi Jo, great post as always. I wonder whether you could include some tips for employers about how they can create more flexible working conditions and still run a successful business?

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