9-5; A Business Disease of the Industrial Age
Get done. Go home.
Work is good. It adds meaning to our lives. But work that is done from 9am-5pm is almost antithetical to our natural understanding of work.
I received your letter on Thursday the 14th with much pleasure. I am well, which is one comfort. My life and health are spared while others are cut off. Last Thursday one girl fell down and broke her neck, which caused instant death. She was going in or coming out of the mill and slipped down, it being very icy. The same day a man was killed by the [railroad] cars. Another had nearly all of his ribs broken. Another was nearly killed by falling down and having a bale of cotton fall on him. Last Tuesday we were paid. In all I had six dollars and sixty cents. I paid $4.68 of it for board. With the rest I got me a pair of rubbers and a pair of 50 cent shoes. Next payment I am to have a dollar a week beside my board… I think that the factory is the best place for me and if any girl wants employment, I advise them to come to Lowell.
-Excerpt from a Letter by Mary Paul, Lowell, Massachusetts “mill girl”, Age 16, December 21, 1845.
As with all the business diseases of the Industrial Age, working with ceaseless regularity and rigid hours is a very new thing in the history of man. It first got started in textile mills in the 1790s. In 1845, Mary Paul had to report at 5am, got thirty minutes each for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and got off at 7pm. She didn’t have to work Sundays. She had the good deal – the English textile mills indentured thousands of orphan children for no pay, from 1784 to 1847.
A Very New Thing
But even as late as 1850, the majority of manufacturing and other work was being done at home, not at places of business. However, when machines started to take over parts of the production, they needed people to run them and it was easier to move the people to where the machines were than to move the machines – the workplace was born.
And the machines wanted to run 24 hours a day, but weren’t very good at adapting to human biorhythms and cycles, either. So the humans adapted to the machine’s need to run 24 hours a day, and started showing up at the workplace in shifts to take turns running the machine – the rigid workday schedule with a whistle on both ends was born – a Time-Based system of work.
Results vs. Time
In the preindustrial world, the most important factor was the individual’s dedication to accomplishing the task, or a Results-Based system of work. The modern system, with it’s roots in the Industrial Age, simply rewards being in a certain place and doing minimal work until the clock runs out – Time-Based.
This all came from what Max Weber coined as “the Protestant Work Ethic” which laid a nice foundation for creating the Factory System in the 1800s, because two of its four foundational beliefs were 1) punctuality and 2) the primacy of the workplace in life.
But what the Industrialists conveniently forgot is that the Protestant work ethic also taught that by hard work the individual could be master of their own fate. When we worked for ourselves on farms, in workshops and stores, this was true. But the Factory System violated this tenet of the Protestant ethic and demanded harder work for even less freedom. In the Factory System you were no longer master of your fate no matter how productive you were. That shows up in today’s workforce.
Work Less, Accomplish More
In a 2008 survey called Wasting Time at Work, Salary.com showed that the average employee wastes more than 25% of their workday, or 2.09 hours a day, excluding lunch and scheduled breaks, doing nothing. Why? Because we set up a system that grades them on time spent in the office, not on productivity. It’s a system of mistrust based on management’s belief that employees are lazy. And this research shows they are living up to our worst expectations of them.
Management makes people lazy. Expect more of them as Stakeholders and they will raise their game or leave. The Nine to Five “car in the parking lot” mindset is the root of many of the dumbest practices in business.
Time is the New Money
The lesson here is simple – give people clear deadlines for when things should be done, with the incentive that if they can get it done without you looking over their shoulder, they can have a much more flexible work life for achieving it. If someone gets their work done by 2pm, they should go home and play with their kids. If they are Stakeholders, they will be even more productive going forward. If they are employees, they will abuse this a couple times and you will move them along to find a day care center where they can be children. And doing so will ensure that everyone gets the message they have to be self-managed adults.
The Industrial Age was an interruption in our age-old commitment to accomplishing the task in the shortest time possible, and instead promoted the idea that people are inherently lazy and need to be clocked. The faster we get back to our preindustrial Results-Based system of work, the more productive we will be as a society.
Get your work done and go home.