In Today’s Workplace, Is There A New Normal?

by Elizabeth on November 26, 2012 · 5 comments

Dolly Parton may have sung the famous song about working 9 to 5 – but these days, it’s a world fewer and fewer working Americans are a part of. With nearly 20 percent of all Americans working non-traditional hours, it’s time to reconsider what really constitutes an average workday.

The New Normal In My Household

Growing up, my father was an average American worker, working an average American workday. Working 9 to 5 was status quo in my household, as well as in my suburban bedroom community. You could virtually see every man in my upper-middle class neighborhood pull out of the driveway just before 8am, ready for the hour-long commute to the nearest major city. Then, like clockwork, they all returned to their homes, pulling into their driveways nearly simultaneously around 6pm.

When I was in college, I never really considered having an average workday as a key factor in my job choice. Rather, I pursued whatever interests held the most passion for me, without regard for whether they’d give traditional working hours or not. It wasn’t until I found myself in grad school, studying broadcast journalism, that I realized my average workday wouldn’t follow the societal norm. My first year on the job, I found myself working 1:30pm-12am as a rookie news producer. In my second job, I ended up with an even wackier schedule: 9am-6pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays – almost normal – but a painful 2pm-12am on the weekends. Even in my most “normal” schedule in TV, I was still on the job from 9am-6pm Monday thru Friday – just short of the “working 9 to 5″ myth of Parton-lore.

During that time, my husband was making his way in a field with very unusual work hours as well. As a law enforcement officer, he worked 7am-7pm. His weekly schedules alternated – on odd-numbered weeks (as dictated by his department; I’m well aware the “real world” doesn’t number their weeks), he was on duty on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; on even-numbered weeks, his schedule flipped, and he was on duty on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Then Things Got Weirder…

Back when we worked the aforementioned jobs – and schedules – we were at least traditional American workers in one way: although we worked odd days, hours, and even holidays on a routine basis, we worked in an actual workplace. Granted, I was in a local TV newsroom and my husband was in the county jail – hardly traditional office buildings – but we went to work at an actual place every day.

Things changed when I left my job two years ago to start freelancing. When that happened, my hours – never normal to begin with – got even weirder. I started working before the kids woke up – sometimes as early as 4am – and found myself working late too, often past midnight. Working 9 to 5 was never an option; after all, now that I didn’t have an office outside my home, my work schedule had to accommodate my children’s schedules. Then this summer, my husband lost his workplace too. He was transferred from his department’s detention unit to patrol; his “office” – if you can call it that – is now the front seat of a county squad car.

I didn’t realize our new normal until my daughter asked where her father was one night last week. “He’s at work,” I told her, not expecting what came next. “But how can you work in a car, Mommy? Are you working when you drive your car?”

We Are Not Alone

Since the start of the economic recession, more and more employers have started moving away from forcing their employees to work during traditional office hours, or even on traditional working days. McKay Coppins outlines the shift in his 2010 article for The Daily Beast. He explains the plight of a headhunting firm, whose “biggest challenge was convincing CEOs that their stringent loyalty to the 9-to-5 workday was impeding them from acquiring top talent, specifically working mothers with impressive résumés.” The fact is, I know plenty of working moms who turned down jobs because of inflexible schedules; what mother wants to be tied down to being at the office 9am to 5pm, even when arriving at 7am and leaving at 3pm – which accommodates her children’s school schedules – is a better fit?

But traditional office workers aren’t the only ones living this new normal. It’s actually independent employees – the self-employed, the small business owners, and even the freelancers, like me – who are setting the course for this trend. The Huffington Post‘s Leah Busque hit the nail on the head when it comes to my motivations for this atypical workplace and workday:

“Micro-entrepreneurship also translates directly to freedom of schedule. It means not having to use a sick day to attend a parent-teacher conference or missing that Tuesday afternoon yoga class. Those in charge of their own working schedules are able to seamlessly integrate work with life instead of trying to strike a balance between two conflicting sets of responsibility. Swapping out the nine-to-five for a more agile, independent working life brings with it one other huge benefit — a channel for self-actualization.”

Now, I wouldn’t go so far to say that I’ve been able to “seamlessly integrate work with life” – that’s a daily challenge for me – but I love that my new normal allows me to drop my daughter off at preschool every morning, to spend an hour burning steam at the gym, to meet a friend for an afternoon cup of coffee (while, of course, watching our kids play on the living room floor).

So here’s my question for all of you – if you still work in a traditional workplace, do you still have a so-called “average” workday? Does your employer let you be flexible with your hours, or are you tied to a set schedule? If you could arrange your schedule to really fit your professional and personal needs, how would it differ from how it is right now?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin November 26, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I have thought myself that in order to cut down on expenses two companies could rent the same office space and alternate days that their employees come in.

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2 femmefrugality November 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Super interesting! I didn’t know it was such a widespread phenomenon. Right now I’m a full-time student and full time mom that works my classes around my boyfriend’s work schedule. So I’m anything but old school 9-5.

(My cousin is a news producer! Such an interesting field.)

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3 krantcents November 26, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I used to work in business world where my hours were 8-5, but I worked significantly more hours. My work week averaged 50-60 hours! Now I am a teacher where the hours are quite normal. I start at 7:30 and end at 3 PM. I occasionally work past 3 PM and on weekends.

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4 eemusings December 2, 2012 at 12:52 am

I’m actually thinking about doing a post on the pros and cons of working non traditional hours!

I used to work shifts – and almost every weekend – in online journalism. I basically had very little time to see my BF for those 18 months.

Now I work M-F 9-5.30 for the most part and love it. It’s still flexible, and I can also work from home or elsewhere if needed.

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