9-to-5s are dying: who's to blame?

After three years of COVID-19 modifications, employers are well aware that workers want flexibility. The "new normal" is losing its novelty — and workplaces are adapting for the long haul.

In the span of one week, Louisville, Ky.-based Baptist Health and Minnetonka, Minn.-based UnitedHealth Group made moves to relocate their corporate headquarters, considering smaller properties as more employees choose to work remotely. 

Yet, a lack of in-office employees spurs questions about productivity. During a March 22 Senate Finance Committee hearing, Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD, presented a photo of an empty parking lot at CMS' headquarters, allegedly taken at 10:40 a.m. March 20. 

"How do we know the people of HHS are working?" Dr. Cassidy asked HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. "If there's no cars, the building is empty." 

Such "productivity paranoia" is common. Eighty-five percent of managers question workers'  productivity in a hybrid model, according to a September report from Microsoft; yet, 87 percent of employees say they are productive. Microsoft 365 productivity signals are continuing to climb, supporting their claims. 

New evidence affirms that remote workers are productive — just not during the typical hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

And Generation Z isn't the only culprit. The youngest cohort of workers is well-known for demanding more flexible workplaces; 71 percent say flexible hours or the ability to be self-driven are priorities when looking for a job, according to a recent survey from freelance marketplace Fiverr. Autonomy is important to Gen Z job-seekers, Fiverr's chief marketing officer told Fortune

But flexible work times are also important to more established workers, a March 2023 study from Stanford (Calif.) University suggests. Researchers noted a boom in weekday golfing between 2019 and 2022. Wednesday golfing increased 143 percent between 2019 and 2022. Midday golfing surged 278 percent in the same time frame. 

Only 4 percent of Gen Zers and 12 percent of millennials say they play golf, indicating a multigenerational shift from the 9 to 5. 

Golf is not the sole indicator that workers have rejected the traditional workday. Weekday television use between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. has risen 77 percent since the pandemic's start, according to TVIsion Insights. And women are reentering the labor force en masse, The Wall Street Journal reported, taking advantage of remote work's flexibility. Some mothers may run errands or pick up their children from school midday, since they don't have to leave an office to do so. 

Should employers be concerned about a midday break? Most workers who take them will make up for lost time at night or on weekends, according to Stanford's report, so productivity is unlikely to take a hit. 

Shark Tank investor Kevin O'Leary believes employers should allow for more flexibility as the "new generation" of workers files in, Fortune reported. Remote workers are not working 9 to 5, but that does not concern him, he said. 

"You say to somebody, 'Look, you gotta get this done by next Friday at noon,'" Mr. O'Leary said. "You don't really care when they do it … as long as it gets done." 

Juan Pablo Gonzalez, sector leader for professional services at management consulting firm Korn Ferry, offered a similar take in a March 22 article. 

"Whether it's golf or grocery-store trips or a kids' basketball game, I don't think it's leadership's job to evaluate it," Mr. Gonzalez said. "Time outside of work is time outside of work."


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