In 1817, British factory owner Robert Owen coined the phrase "Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest." At a time when manual labourers were overworked, underpaid and working in poor conditions, this vision of a work-life balance was revolutionary. And, perhaps, a little ahead of its time.
It took more than a century for the 40-hour work week to be widely adopted. Henry Ford - one of the automotive sector's biggest disruptors - flew the flag for the five-day working week in 1926. His global influence meant the rest of the world soon followed.
Another century on and the concept of 9-5 is deeply entrenched in our culture. Yet the world, and the type of work we do, has changed enormously. We are now such a long way from the industrial revolution, living in an era characterised by the internet, smartphones and the service sector. Does splitting our day into thirds really work anymore? Or will another revolution improve our work-life balance even more?
Many would agree that this revolution has already started, and we think it's set to accelerate. Our own research found that just 13% of UK workers definitely expect to be working a traditional 9-5 role by 2025, while 70% would consider working a less rigid working pattern.
The shift first started with people like busy parents wanting to send emails early in the morning before the kids woke up or creative-types preferring to work in a place that inspires good ideas. Now much of it is being driven by the number of independent workers. There are almost five million self-employed workers in the UK according to the ONS and a recent poll told us that gaining greater control over working hours was one of the top reasons they go it alone.
We now also see people swapping or supplementing their day job for several revenue streams. The rise of the 'on-demand' worker is increasingly enabled by the sharing economy. Nearly one in five (17%) UK workers are now consuming sharing economy services and 6% are actually using them to supplement or create income. Platforms like Etsy and TaskRabbit are empowering more and more people to explore new income streams and dramatically different working habits.
Two hundred years ago it was unthinkable that we would have the ability to work from home or that so many people would be empowered to set up their own businesses. When the traditional 9-5 was first advocated in 1926 of course it wasn't catering for the modern workforce. And the fact it is even referred to as 'traditional' suggests it is increasingly outdated.
When so much is changing in the world we need to continually question whether there are better ways of doing things. We now have the tools to work when and where we want and the demand to maintain flexible hours may finally put the 9-5 as we once knew it in the history books.