Jeremy Abroad

9-5 Office jobs are inefficient. Employees would be more productive if granted more freedom

March 10, 2016

Forcing employees to be in an office from 9-5 is incredibly inefficient for both employees and employers, and results in an extraordinary amount of wasted time. Allowing employees the flexibility to work on their own schedule would increase output, increase efficiency, and make employees happier. It’s win-win.

The whole “work X hours/day” idea is a relic of a former era where “hours worked” was a decent measure of output for most jobs, which tended to be more of the mindless clock-in/clock-out type work (eg. working on an assembly line, receptionist, retail). But for any job where the work is predominantly mental rather than manual, mechanical, or shift-based, “hours worked” is a horrible proxy for output. Unfortunately workplace culture hasn’t adapted to accommodate the evolving nature of work.

For an employee going into the office in the morning, knowing that no matter how hard you work that you’ll still have to be there until 5pm means you’re naturally going to expand your working time to fill your allotted time. This is known as Parkinson’s law.

Parkinson’s law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

Also, work involving concentrated mental effort and creative thinking tends to follow the Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the output comes from 20% of the effort.

Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule: 80% of the output comes from 20% of the effort

It’s practically impossible to work at full mental capacity for more than 1 or 2 hours straight, let alone 8. It’s more efficient to take a break every once in a while in order to reset, because otherwise your focus and efficiency will tend to slowly taper off and face diminishing returns.

Not everyone works on the same schedule

For any job where the majority of the work is done solo, the strict enforcing of an 8-hour stretch of mandated working hours is incredibly inefficient. Some people are night owls and work best at night. If they can get more work done at night and struggle to wake up early, why should they have to sacrifice their mental alertness, health, and productivity for the day just so they can make it to the office by some arbitrary cutoff point? I can’t tell you how many times I would’ve been so much more productive had I been able to sleep in after a late night, yet had to wake up prematurely just so that I could make it to the office on time and be totally unproductive all day due to sleep deprivation.

As a thought experiment, imagine some famous scientist is your employee, and his task is to find a cure for cancer. If you were his manager, do you believe that forcing him to work from 9-5, 5 days/week would make him most productive? What if he was up the night before until 3am working, or just out drinking with some scientist buddies?

Ideally, a job should be the exchange of work for compensation. Effort is meaningless. All that matters are results. For a mental job, hours worked is an extremely rough measure of effort, and not a measure of output.

Why do managers continue to mandate their employees work from 9-5, and severely punish them from showing up 5-10 minutes late (which in an 8 hour day is insignificant)?

It mostly has to do with tradition and inability to think outside the status quo, but it’s also because managers are often clueless on how to gauge the work of their employees. A non-technical manager overseeing a technical employee has no idea how long tasks are supposed to take, so the ignorant manager uses “hours of ass-in-chair” as a proxy for estimating output. And like I said, this is a horrendous measure of output.

Is it ever going to change?

Despite being a win-win, it hasn’t been changing because (1) managers tend to be old, traditional, and risk-averse, meaning they won’t make the effort to challenge the status quo (2) employers have an extraordinary amount of leverage in today’s economy. The job market is extremely competitive, and employees are at the mercy of employers to survive. As a result, all but the most rock-star of employees have no leverage to negotiate.

If at some point we institute a basic income, then that would most certainly lead to change because it would tip the negotiating power towards the laborers (since laborers would no longer be dependent on their employers to not starve).

Jeremy Bernier

Written by Jeremy Bernier who left the NYC rat race to travel the world, work remotely, and find the meaning of life.