Why the 9-5 schedule could be harming your health

We’re all familiar with the 9-5 grind—especially as Americans. But if you really think about it, and you delve deeply into the research surrounding it, you’ll start to realize (if you haven’t already): The 9-5 is pretty nutso. There’s virtually nothing about working eight hours per day that creates a more effective work environment. Not to mention, the traditional 40-hour workweek can be physically, mentally, and emotionally destructive for many of us. 

True, there’s no single schedule that’s right for everyone, and some people may genuinely love being in the office from sunup to sundown. But the truth remains: Under soul-crushing late capitalism and the tyranny of arbitrary work hours, many of us are dying a little on the inside and the outside. Here’s why the 9-5 schedule may be, quite literally, killing us (and what to do about it!) 

Working eight hours per day isn’t conducive to people’s lives or workflow.

Just because you’re sitting in a chair for a solid eight to nine hours doesn’t exactly mean you’re getting good work (or any work) done. Even taking frequent breaks throughout the day doesn’t always cut it. The truth is, the eight-hour workday isn’t based on the optimal number of hours a human can concentrate or even the kind of work people do now—the origin of the eight-hour workday has its roots in the Industrial Revolution and 19th century socialism (you know, when kiddos as young as seven years old were working the coal mines), not the Tech Age of today. And this has deleterious effects on our mental and physical health, to say the least.

While the average American works 8.8 hours per day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, several studies have found that the average worker is really only productive for two to three hours per day. Not to mention, the best hours of productivity vary from person to person; not everyone wakes up at 7 a.m. feeling super-energized and ready to take on the day. The 9-5 simply doesn’t fit out our lives anymore (um, if it ever did).  

Too much sitting isn’t just bad for your physical health, it kills your mental health. 

The traditional 9-5 encourages inactivity and sitting all day, of course, and you’ve probably heard all about how ‘sitting is the new smoking’—about how prolonged sitting can increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stiff joints, and even some types of cancer, among a slew of other problems. And while we wouldn’t go so far as to compare sitting at your desk all day to puffing away on nicotine, it’s true that a sedentary lifestyle is really bad for you. And it’s not just inactivity that’s harmful; it’s the act of sitting itself that does it (gulp). A number of studies out there show that even people who get vigorous exercise still suffer the same negative health effects associated with sitting for too long (double gulp). 

Apart from the physical effects sitting has on your physical health, it can also really do damage to your psyche if you’re not careful. Your brain depends on glucose metabolism and good blood flow to function properly, and being sedentary doesn’t encourage either of these things. Being physically inactive can also lead to stress, depression, and a reduced sense of well-being. Ick.

It makes burnout inevitable.

Under the 9-5 framework, burnout—a lingering state of physical and emotional exhaustion that doesn’t always go away with naps, or hot baths, or taking time to get a facial, or any of the myriad other “self-care” rituals we’re told will cure what ails us—is an inevitable condition. Working all day, every day, is bound to fry your brain sooner or later, and it’s not always easy to figure out how to fix burnout once it happens. If we can’t dismantle toxic capitalist patriarchy altogether (which: hopefully one day!), dismantling the 9-5 schedule is an excellent start.

It leaves little to no time for life stuff.

Even if you freakin’ love your job and you’d rather work than do anything else, you still need to have time to do life stuff, like calling your mom, walking your dog, exercising, playing guitar, spending time away from your damn screens, or whatever else you like/need to do when you’re off the clock. But a 9-5 schedule makes this tough; all too often, we come home zapped of energy, promptly collapse into a pile, and never find time to keep up with our lives. This isn’t healthy behavior, to say the least.


How to Fight the 9-5 Grind

It’s not all doom and gloom around here! Yes, the above reasons are why the 9-5 schedule is harmful for your health, but here’s what to do about it:

  • Make up your own (shorter, more productive) schedule. If you’re lucky enough to have a flexible work schedule, banish the thought of the traditional 9-5 and, instead, create a weekly schedule that maximizes your work output while minimizing time spent on the grind. How to do this? Some solid ideas: Prioritize high-value tasks first, reduce or eliminate tasks that don’t add value (like cutting overly long meeting times or turning off notifications), automate what you can, and outsource where you need to. The goal is a shorter, more productive workweek, and cutting your hours while sharpening your focus on the things that matter can help achieve this.
  • Work in intervals and take breaks often. Whether you’re able to create your own schedule or not, if you can work in intervals and take breaks, you’ll likely be more productive. Rather than thinking about your day as an 8-hour day, break your time up into three or four 90-minute chunks (one task per 90 minutes). And take ample time in between each task to walk around outside, chat with a coworker, stretch, or whatever you need to do to clear your mind. 
  • Get help. If you’re feeling burned out on life and your job, there’s no shame in asking for help. Burnout affects all of us at some point, especially those of us slogging away for 40 hours per week, every week. Listen to your body and mind, and don’t hesitate to reach out to your personal network (friends, family, and ideally, a therapist) for help when you need it. Read Jenny O’Dell’s recent book, How to Do Nothing, for concrete ways to think outside capitalist narratives of efficiency and truly give yourself a break. Oh, and an extended weekend away with NO social media or email never hurt anyone.