Workin’ nine to five, what a way to make a living. Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’, sang Dolly Parton.
But while the US songstress doesn’t appear to have changed much since she first performed her hit in the 1980s, it seems the way the workforce clocks on and off around the world has shifted enormously.
Rewind way back to the 1960s, and 70 per cent of Australians worked Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., says chairman of The Futures Foundation, Charles Brass.
In 2014, Brass’ estimate is that only nine per cent of Aussies work those traditional hours. That figure excludes a large section of the workforce including part-time employees, and those who have rostered days off or are allowed flexible start and finish times.
“What it really highlights is the huge increase in various contingent forms of work,” he says.
For a long time, Australians worked a set number of hours in exchange for a wage that would adequately feed and house a family with two children, Brass adds.
But a deregulation of the Australian industrial relations system by the Labor Government in the 1980s led to a massive shake-up in working conditions.
“From then on, people have had to bargain about their working conditions according to the situations at their particular workplace,” Brass explains.
Despite the fact that some employers are still not keen on flexible working hours, the nation is unlikely to return to a situation where we return to the great majority of Australians working 9 to 5, he notes.
However, many people struggle to make flexible hours or teleworking a success, says Brass.
“It’s still not easy … and employers resist because it makes things more complicated for them.”
Dennis Finn, vice chairman and global human capital leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), believes working arrangements will continue to become more flexible in the future.
“I think the nature of what’s happening in offices will change dramatically,” he says.
“Now we know the work doesn’t need to be at a desk, or even in the building, it can be wherever.”
He believes that the concept of 9 to 5 is still linked to the idea of going to work and coming home.
“I’m not sure if 9 to 5 is dead, but I think it’s old school now.”
Finn, who says PwC is “a thousand times more” flexible than it used to be, reckons many people need flexibility at work so they can care for children or ageing parents.
“I think that’s part of what’s driving the whole flexibility thing. It’s not just technology.”
He doesn’t believe everyone will take the option to work from home, which presents challenges in itself, such as separating work from leisure time.
But in some cases, it will make sense for employees to work from home, rather than, say, drive 45 minutes to work just to stare at a computer screen.
Meanwhile, Nikos Psaltopoulos, founder of Melbourne co-working space themanroom, says he doesn’t necessarily buy into the argument that working 9 to 5 will become a less common arrangement – but he says the ways in which we work are definitely changing.
He believes there are two groups of people when it comes to work; the first being those who want to clock on and off and see their work as just a job.
The second are those for whom “it’s never been about 9 to 5. For that segment of people it’s always been about going above and beyond”.
“I think technology has probably complicated that world of people … that’s pushed them sometimes beyond the edge.”
However he believes a subculture of “creative types” – including those who work at co-working spaces – will influence the way multinationals work.
“You have a group of people in the same building (in large companies) basically working towards the same goals. That’s when group think and group speak sets in and that becomes an innovation killer,” Psaltopoulos says.
He said the global financial crisis proved that the corporate world needed to change.
“People were accustomed to doing things exactly the same way; that’s crumbled.”