Do you know where the term 9-5 comes from?
It’s actually a hangover from the 19th century industrial revolution, when the textile manufacturer and reformist Robert Owen led the calls for workplace reform with the slogan ‘eight hours’ labour, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ rest.’
The point was to improve the health and wellbeing of factory workers who had long suffered many workplace abuses. That slogan is now more than 200 years old and the notion that the 9-5 still has any relevance at all is at times baffling, particularly when you consider that so many of us are tethered to our workplaces via our mobile phones (in some cases 24/7).
The 9-5 has had its time then, but the principles behind Owen's slogan are more relevant now then ever before.
This Saturday (October 10th) is World Mental Health Day. The 2020 theme of ‘mental health for all’, set by the World Federation for Mental Health, ought to be a rallying cry across the world – particularly when one considers the frightening statistic from the World Health Organisation that one in four of us will develop a mental health issue or neurological disorder at some point in our lives. Depression and anxiety are estimated to cost the US economy alone $1 trillion in lost productivity, while every $1 put into improving common mental health disorders returns $4 in improved health and productivity.
The workplace in some cases can be part of the problem, and it must therefore be part of the solution. As I’ve reflected on the new way of working here at CPA Global, part of Clarivate, where almost all our colleagues work remotely, I feel it’s really been the start on a journey of reinvention.
The 9-5 was fast becoming a thing of the past even before the onset of Covid-19 and the transformative impact it has had on businesses and individuals. The lines between work life and private life have been blurred, likely forever. With more and more people working from home, connected via technology to their employers, colleagues and customers or clients, it can be a real challenge to balance time in the way that Robert Owen set out two centuries ago and this carries with it a critical mental health risk.
In overcoming that challenge, it’s often the small things that matter most. For me, that means running.
It’s always been the thing that keeps my mind healthy – the single mindedness of being outdoors on my own and focusing only on breathing and the rhythm of my feet, and the endorphin rush when those tired muscles push you onwards. The best moment for me is first thing in the morning, alone, when I can clear my head and do my thinking.
I also love to cook and bake. Having that time to be creative and artistic in the kitchen and then the satisfaction when that perfectly risen cake or loaf comes out of the oven – not every time, granted, but enough to keep me coming back to the recipe books!
Time, here, really is of the essence. Both these pursuits require me to set aside ‘me-time’. I can understand that for some people taking that personal time when you know, for example, that there are unread emails in your inbox or a deadline coming up that you could get ahead of, can be difficult. It can even feel like a selfish act, especially in this new working world where some people have a fear that without the presenteeism factor of being in the office, progression and performance might suffer.
But these fears must be put aside. It’s time to de-stigmatise and realise that we all have mental health – all the time – and it’s important we look after it.
Employers need to set the example and see the new world of working from the other perspective. Working increasingly remotely, and supported by technological tools, gives the gift of flexibility – the flexibility for the individual to take control of their time and, in many ways, be their own Robert Owen. That eight hour split between work, rest and play, doesn’t need to be sequential. It doesn’t even need to be eight hours. What the experience of the pandemic has shown many employers, even some of the most traditional or conservative like financial institutions and our own customer base of law firms, is that people can be trusted to take responsibility for their time and not let performance levels slip.
At the same time, those hours spent commuting to an office, or in transit between meetings stuck in an airport or a train station, have all been reclaimed. Those hours are now available for trying new things and bolstering wellbeing. Of course, this is easier said than done for many, with some people stuck working in unsuitable home conditions. This is why employers must take a lead in addressing mental health risks and taking a more holistic and personal approach to team wellbeing while also ensuring that individual privacy isn’t sacrificed.
At CPA Global, the new flexibility is being combined with formal wellbeing initiatives such as our Global Ambassador Programme which sees volunteers across the company playing a crucial role in supporting all of our people, and the (brilliant, I think) Unmind digital mental health and wellbeing tool which we launched in September, meaning the emphasis on managing our stress, sleep, productivity and mood is greater than ever before.
I’ve learned how to manage my day, my mood and my priorities in a very different way. We all have personal lives. The children may burst into your home office while you’re on a Teams call. But blending work and personal life does actually work. It is now incumbent on all organisations to lock in the lessons of the Covid-19 lockdowns and establish a new working paradigm – one that is focused on supporting the individual and putting team wellbeing at the heart of company strategy.
It’s time to ditch the 9-5. Good riddance, and let’s replace it with something even better. A new normal that puts mental health first.