9 to 5

by Evil HR Lady on January 25, 2011

I thought maybe in your expertise you could answer a question that has bugged me for years. I hear the phrase “nine to five job” or “working nine to five” all the time. I see it on the internet and hear it in movies and on TV. Dolly Pardon even wrote a song about it. But I have never in my life known anyone to work those hours. Everyone with a standard Monday through Friday job works eight to five, not nine to five. (Or sometimes, for those with a half-hour lunch, it’s 8:30 to 5:00 or 8:00 to 4:30.) Salaried or non-salaried, government or private, I honestly have never met a soul that worked a 35-hour week doing 9:00 to 5:00. So, how come I’m hearing about it all the time? Is the phrase a hold-over from some time in the past? (Maybe we used to work fewer hours decades ago?) Is it a regional thing? (I’ve only ever lived in Oklahoma and Oregon—perhaps all the east coasters are slacking off?) I have tried to search the internet for an answer, but to no avail. In fact, usually an internet search of the meaning of the phrase talks about it being the “standard” or “typical” or “traditional” shift in the US. Um, really? How can that be typical or standard if no one works those hours? Further muddying the issue is that many sources (even Wikipedia) call this shift the usual “40 hour week”. So, are these elusive nine-to-fivers skipping lunch? I’m so confused!

I know this isn’t quite along the lines of your normal topic, but it is does seem like an HR question and I thought that since I found it interesting maybe other readers would also.

All my expertise in this area centers around the fact that I did, once, have a 9 to 5 job. It was a 37.5 hours work week with 30 minutes for lunch. Yeah! Then corporate decided this was bad and bumped all the sites up to 40 hours a week (with no raise for the exempt employees), but (get this) kept the corporate offices at 37.5 hours a week.

I think this is largely a NYC metro thing, but I could be wrong. My readers, collectively, know everything, so I throw it out to you.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

sally January 25, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Last year, I interviewed for a legal secretary position, and the law office really did require just 8 hours a day for all employees. They told me they would expect me to be there 9-5, full stop.

Of course, I suspect the attorneys actually put in many more hours than that, and even the paralegals and secretaries when they were working on time-sensitive things, as tends to happen in law firms.

But still. That the law firm was able to advertise this as a huge benefit for prospective employees indicated that it was legit. And also pretty unsual. Incidentally, the job I ended up taking is…8:30 – 5:00.

I live in the D.C. suburbs.

I think I made the right decision in choosing another job, overall, but boy…I would really like that extra half hour in my day. It sounds trivial but things are so hectic in the mornings and evenings (I have two kids under four). Let's change the standard back to 9-5! :)

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Ask a Manager January 25, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Interesting question! I've had jobs that were 9-5. I had one that was 10-6 (awesome). In all of these cases, there were times when you'd work later but these were the "core" hours.

I actually don't think I've ever had a job that required me to be there before 9. Nor will I ever.

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diane January 25, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Never, ever, ever in my entire career. It's usually been 8:30-5 w/ 30 minute lunch. One job was 8 – 5:30 with an hour lunch (so, yes, technically overtime was required on a daily basis, but we were salaried, so it didn't really count as OT). I just got a lead on a job that's 9 – 6, and I'm assuming an hour lunch. I've worked in the midwest my whole career, although different pockets of it.

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Anonymous January 25, 2011 at 9:41 pm

At my current company in Chicago the official hours are 8:45 – 4:45 so yes, it is a 7 hour day. Many people work exactly those hours, too, although I usually do more like 8:10 – 5:30 most days. Three jobs ago in a Chicago suburb, the hours were 8:45 – 5, so a 7.25 hour day. I would say that 8-5 is the norm in most companies, though.

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MillenniMedia January 25, 2011 at 9:44 pm

I wondered the same thing until I moved to NYC. I've had two jobs here, as has my husband, and standard hours for all have been 9-5 (with an hour for lunch…though eating at your desk isn't uncommon). As a point of reference, we are both salaried and work in finance for media companies, but as far as I hear from friends these are not uncommon standards.

All that said, most people work more than those hours, but we are treated like adults that can come and go with relative flexibility as long as we finish projects in a timely fashion. There are of course abusers, but I'd say most people work a solid 40+ hour work week.

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Anonymous January 25, 2011 at 10:01 pm

I am in a job now (in Washington, DC) that is 9-5, with one hour for lunch. So, being hourly, I only get paid for 35 hours/week.

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dbkliv January 25, 2011 at 10:13 pm

I've worked in the software industry for 12 years. I've always worked 9-6 with an hour lunch. Most days the hour lunch is a desk lunch. Half the days I might be faffing around reading blogs, and the other half the days I'll be reading other developers' changes to our codebase or working on whatever task I've got.

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Anonymous January 25, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Probably a cultural thing. I have many friends over here (Montreal, Canada) really working 35h a week, as well as some French and Spanish colleagues with the same work week. Some are in the private sector, others working for government organizations.

It's not a standard working week (usually it's 37.5 or 40 hours), but it's not strange neither.

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Anonymous January 25, 2011 at 10:39 pm

I have one of the mythical nine to five, 35-hour/week jobs! Even though I'm salaried, if I'm here longer than that, I'm paid overtime.

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Jo January 25, 2011 at 10:45 pm

In Australia, I think the average is a 38 hour week. Many employers – particularly government departments – now have flexible working hours so when you start and finish is up to you. Our legislation allows for flexible working arrangements as well. Plus there’s plenty of part time and shift work out there (I live in a mining State so lots of people do fly in/fly out work), which does make references to 9 to 5 seem a little redundant.

Personally, I feel 9 to 5 is used metaphorically. It conjures up images of a boring, stuffy, cube filled office, with no natural light and full of printers and people in pastel. We can all have that soulless, unfulfilling job, regardless of whether we work those hours or not.

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Marie January 25, 2011 at 11:34 pm

In the comunity Clinic I work for that exist..

for non health cae professionals, there is eithe a 8-16 or 9-17 shift.

Most of us will work a little bit more, but that is including a 1h break and two 15 min

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Anonymous January 26, 2011 at 1:42 am

I think this is a Northeast thing. 9-5 is a common schedule in the Boston area and across Massachusetts. Jobs in non-profits, education, and the public sector tend to have this schedule in the Northeast. I have worked 8-4 for several years, but I hesitate to call it a 35 hour work week. It's 40 hours with an on-call lunch– I can sit down and eat, but I still have to be available, and I can't really leave the building. If you are salaried, you get paid for your work, not your time anyway, or at least that's supposed to be how it works.

In any case, I have wondered about this myself. I always thought it was a throwback to earlier times when people worked reasonable hours instead of the ridiculous amounts we work now.

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Anonymous January 26, 2011 at 1:45 am

I'm an exempt employee at a performing arts non-profit and while the office is open 9-5, many people work beyond that, from home, in rehearsal, etc. We don't really have 1 hour lunch breaks. I used to get a 30 min. break when I started out as non-exempt, but now I just eat at my desk and work until I've finished my projects for the day. My supervisor allows me a bit of flexibility and I usually work 10-6 and end up doing work at home anyway. I think the 9-5 standard is a bit of a holdover, but may be more specific to certain industries and professions. I think that now, with smartphones, internet, remote login – you can choose to work as much as you want.

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Anonymous January 26, 2011 at 2:11 am

I work a 50/week job in the Northeast we work 7-5! I'm envious of the 9-5'ers as well!

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kate January 26, 2011 at 2:23 am

I'm in NYC and both my husband and I work at jobs where the hours are 9 – 5. We're both relatively senior, so we often end up working a lot more than that (in my case, generally from home), but those are the core hours we're (loosely) expected to be there.

We both have an hour for lunch, too. My husband takes an actual lunch break, although not for an hour; I typically eat at my desk and work through it. Because of my profession and industry, though, I'm pretty much left to come and go and work whatever hours I please, so even the 9 – 5 isn't enforced.

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Cassie January 26, 2011 at 5:00 am

Our department is officially either 7:30-4:30 or 8-5. Lunch is from 12-1pm, regardless of when you start. The manager is very strict on this with her staff, along with no telecommuting or flex hours.

Luckily, I (and a handful of my coworkers) are not considered "her" staff so we are not bound by those hours. Some of us (okay, it may just be me) start at 8am and leave early. Most of the others opt to start later (even after 11am) and leave later, or telecommute. Traffic is a big issue for all of us.

In my opinion, job performance is much more important than hours. But that's a whole other discussion.

Anyway, in our county, many employees work either 9/80 or or 4/40. So many of them work 9 or 10 hours a day, which means work hours like 7am to 6pm. Again, it's because of traffic issues that many people opt to have these flex hours. If you can skip driving (or taking the bus) one day a week, why not? I don't think I could stomach such long hours, though.

I'm in the southern California area. I like starting by 8am in case I need to contact people on the East Coast.

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Anonymous January 26, 2011 at 7:36 am

I from India and I have a 9-6 job!! with half an hour lunch.. and I don't even have an off on Saturday.. so we're working for almost 50 hours a week..
most offices here have an off on Saturday.. mine is the only one that doesn't!!

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Tony Rasmussen January 26, 2011 at 8:13 am

Parton me but I don't think this is an HR question really, it's a linguistic one: "Why do we use the phrase 'nine-to-five'?" — the answer as the questioner suggests may lie in the vagaries of labor history, but I suspect the more important reason may be the way it rolls right off the tongue. To verify this, try singing Miss Pardon's classic tune with lyrics such as 'Workin 8 to 4:30 with 20 minutes for lunch', etc. etc.

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Suzanne Lucas January 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Tony, I don't think it's an HR question either, I just thought it was interesting.

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Class factotum January 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm

My first job out of college was 8:30-4:30 and we actually left at 4:30.

My next corporate job, after I got an MBA, was in corporate finance. Official hours were 8-6, but I was on the record counseled the two times I left at 6, not for missing a deadline or leaving work undone but for simply walking out the door at 6. I usually worked 7:13-9:00 or 10:00. I hated that job and almost everyone associated with it. They had 100% turnover in my department.

In my next job, I worked 7:30-5:30 or 6:00, but woke up at 2 a.m. worrying about missing something in my data conversion plan.

My husband routinely works (from home) until 2 a.m. or later. He is an engineer who has customers all around the world and the guys in France always want an answer now. He also travels about 50% of the time and is expected to fly on his own time.

I don't know anyone with our kinds of education (engineer, MBA) who works only 40 hours a week.

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Mike January 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I'm guessing the origin of "9 to 5" has more to do with the movie starring Dolly Pardon of the same name.

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Rob May 9, 2014 at 7:42 pm

This WAY preceded the movie “9 to 5″. It was in use at least as early as 1960, even though people actually worked 8 to 5 with an hour unpaid lunch. But, perhaps it came from an earlier (much earlier, I’m guessing) Broadway musical or a movie.

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Joe Fox January 26, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Hi all — it's Dolly Parton, not Pardon; ironically, Tony posted "Parton me" and "Dolly Pardon" when posting that this was a linguistic question.

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Gene January 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I work for a municipality near Seattle and our hours are 7:30-4 with a half-hour lunch. I've never had a 35 or 37.5 hour job, all have been 40 hours, all west coast or AZ.

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Anonymous January 26, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Must be regional: I have worked every minute of my office career in Arizona, and every single job started at 8 and ended at 5 as the 'standard operating hours.'

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Anonymous January 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm

In L.A. I've worked many jobs (all HR) for many companies and industries. NONE have been 9-5. They're all 8-5+, usually with a lot extral.

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Tony Rasmussen January 27, 2011 at 4:03 am

@JFox: all irony intentional, as it may be noted that the original post misspells it…

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Eric Bibeau January 27, 2011 at 3:55 pm

A little international flavour(that is if you consider Canada international) but I would say that 9 to 5 is the default work day in Canada. I just assume that anyone I know is working 9 to 5 with a hour for lunch. That is certainly been my experience in Toronto and Vancouver. I would add that when I lived in Japan the Japanese people worked stupid hours and never seemed to sleep. There is actually a word in Japanese that roughly translates to "death by work" and it happens.

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Another Evil HR Director January 27, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I would absolutely love a job where I could work only 9-5! I normally get in about 7:15 or 7:30 and work until 5:00, unless I need to stay later. I don't think I could get it all done in any less time.

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Teri January 27, 2011 at 6:22 pm

When I worked in New York, I worked 9 to 5 with a one hour lunch, a 35 hour work week. I wonder if 9 to 5 is because of typically lengthy commutes.

Since I've come to the Midwest, I've had one job that was 9 to 5 with a half hour lunch, so 37.5 hours were expected, but all my other jobs have been some combination that worked out to 40 hours actual work.

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Lauren B. January 28, 2011 at 2:50 pm

@Eric: the Japanese word you're looking for is "karoshi," and it roughly translates to "death from overwork" (not just work in general).

@Joe: Thank you for reminding everyone that's it's "Parton"! That was driving me crazy!

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Anonymous January 29, 2011 at 12:15 am

Yes, yes, there are plenty of 9-5 jobs out there. I worked one for years (recently), and they even pointed out at orientation that we were really working a 35-hour work week and being paid for 40. I know plenty of people who work these hours (though not necessarily with the paid lunch). Some people I know work 10-6 instead, but it's the same total. So, there you have it.

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Anonymous January 29, 2011 at 5:15 am

I have heard that in the 70s and 80s employers in the Northeast gave hourly employees a paid lunch break. I'm not sure these conditions ever existed anywhere else in the country. This is the explanation I was given years ago for how the "9-to-5" phrase originated.

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Anonymous February 6, 2011 at 4:51 am

Hello,

I can tell you frankly that no one who is an executive level person is working 9am to 5pm, in NYC, and no one is taking more then 15 mins for lunch. Many people work 60-80 hour work weeks.

I think it is a standard came to play, when they regulated factories, cut out child labor, and made laws on safe working conditions in the US during the industrial revolution, but those days are long gone.

The only people I know who work set hours are fairly unskilled hourly worker, bank workers, or government workers.

-KVA

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Black Bellamy February 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I work in NYC in software/publishing in a non-executive capacity.

I usually make it to the office around 9:30 and I leave at 4:45 if I can so I can make the less crowded bus.

I don't have set hours. I'm expected to be in the office, but no one clocks me in or out. No one says anything if I come in late or leave early or just work from home.

I do however work during my commute. I work when I wake up, even before I shower. I work at night, right before I go to sleep. I work on weekends. I don't go crazy – if I have spare time I'll do the work but I won't sacrifice my personal life.

As long as my work is done, no one is concerned about my hours.

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Anonymous February 12, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I've known people who work 9-5 (or 8-4 or even 7-3) and get an 8-hour day in. The way they do this, depending on what state you live in, is that you get paid for lunch periods 20 minutes or less (where I live). You get two 10-minute breaks (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) that are also paid. Where I live, any break less 20-minutes or less legally has to be paid, so they give you shorter break/lunch periods and you get shorter worker hours.

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Lisa R. October 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm

We are in Indiana and have always been an 8-5 company with an hour lunch. I’ve recently been giving serious thought to changing our standard hours to 8:30-5, still with an hour lunch. It will give the staff an easier commute in the morning and will hopefully result in more productivity during the day. Because of our type of business, we really need to be here in the office and there isn’t a huge opportunity for flex hours or working remotely, but not a whole lot happens in the first hour of the day with regard to clients, so I see this as a way to increase quality of life.

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