The 9-to-5 workday is over

Businesses big and small will have to deal with the demise of the 9-to-5. But beware of worker burnout.

Microsoft has more than 180,000 employees in 100 countries. So it knows a thing or two about how people actually work. In its latest study, the Work Trend Index report, the folks in Redmond have found that people working from home don't work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

(If you work from home, you know this already, but stick with me….)

It's not because people who work from home are lazing around watching Better Call Saul while drinking a beer.

No, they're working as hard, or harder, than ever.

They're just not doing it on a schedule first set in Ford Motor Company factories in the 1920s.

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Instead, based on data about its employees' work patterns, Microsoft found that people are working later than ever.

Microsoft Teams data showed that people were often meeting after 5 p.m. To be exact, they're meeting or messaging with each other most often between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Indeed, the average Teams user now sends 42% more chats per person after hours.

According to a Microsoft blog post: "Traditionally, knowledge workers had two productivity peaks in their workday: before lunch and after lunch. But when the pandemic sent so many people into a work-from-home mode, a third peak emerged for some in the hours before bedtime. Microsoft researchers are referring to this phenomenon as a 'triple peak day.'"

Using keyboard data, Microsoft found that 30% of its employees worked more at night. And It's not just the early evening either. While it's not as high as the historic work peaks around 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., there's also now a lower, but still significant, 10 p.m. work spike.

In some ways, this isn't new.

It's long been a truism that programmers are night owls. And long before anyone wrote a line of code, in 1635, to be exact, the phrase "burning the midnight oil" entered the language.

But, as Gloria Mark, a professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine and a visiting researcher at Microsoft, observed, "More than ever, people are taking on additional day duties that they didn't have before, whether it's caring for kids and helping with schooling or being a caretaker to another family member.… [This is] pushing a lot of people to work later."

This is also blurring the line, for better or worse, between work and home life.

You know all that talk about the need for work-life balance? It's gradually being replaced with talk of "work-life integration."

Modern life doesn't give workers much of a choice in the matter.

According to  Payscale's 2022 State of the Gender Pay Gap Report, 85% of women reported the primary reason they quit a job was because of childcare. And with childcare — when you can find it — costing $10,174 per child annually, it's no wonder people work late; it's when they have the time.

As Mary Czerwinski, a Microsoft Research manager observed: "Having your kids at home, having no breaks to eat or exercise, we see that one of the ways to cope is to take a break, eat dinner, and then spend time in the evening actually getting things done."

And after the home duties are done, they turn their attention back to the job.

So, if you have managers telling you that people working from home are lazy without proof, fire them. The real danger isn't that your home workers are lazy slackers. It's that they're going to burn out.

Shamsi Iqbal, Microsoft Research's principal researcher on productivity, said this: "The third peak should be an available option for people who need it, but the challenge moving forward is, 'How can we make sure people are not working 24/7?' If people are working all three peaks, that's a recipe for early burnout."

Microsoft Research studies have also shown that "breaks are important, not just to make us less exhausted by the end of the day, but to actually improve our ability to focus and engage."

And, on that note, I'm going to take a break from my home office to walk my dogs.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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