Before the eight-hour workday came into play, labourers were forced to work up to 18 hours per day with the employer holding all of the power and receiving all of the benefits. Wages did not reflect the effort made by the employee, and the working conditions were unfair and unreasonable. But what was it like for women forced to work under these conditions, and what is it like now? Is the      9 – 5 job model right for women today?

A truncated history of the 9 – 5

Although you might think of the Industrial Revolution as being the time when the 40-hour workweek came into being, there is evidence of it existing in the 16th century, in Spain. In 1593, Philip II released a royal edict, the Ordinances of Philip II,  for factory and fortification workers to be given an eight-hour workday.

The Industrial Revolution in Britain saw socialists, such as Robert Owen and Tom Mann, advocating for eight-hour workdays. In 1817, Owen said, “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest.” But this was a model fought for men. 30 years later, in 1847, English women and older children 14 to 18 years, were granted the 10-hour workday. (The Factory Act 1833 limited child labour in factories: 9 – 13 years were limited to eight hours and 14 – 18 years were limited to 12 hours.)

In France, workers fought for and won the 12-hour workday in 1848. But New Zealand and Australia granted their workforces eight-hour workdays in the 1840s – 1850s.

Das Kapital was written in 1867 by Karl Marx, advocating for the eight-hour workday for workers’ health and wellbeing. He wrote, “By extending the working day, therefore, capitalist production…not only produces a deterioration of human labour power by robbing it of its normal moral and physical conditions of development and activity, but also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labour power itself.”

The Treaty of Versailles established what would become the International Labour Organisation, and in 1919, the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention was created. It took until the mid-20th century for the world to industrialise and realise these benefits more widely, although workers’ rights and the labour movement still have a long way to go to become fair and equal for all.

In 1905, Henry Ford applied the eight-hour workday across all of his factories. Naysayers said it would be to his ruin. His profits doubled within two years, according to an online source.

The trade union helped to bring about the shorter workday and worker strikes were implemented around the world until our voices were finally heard.

Women in the workplace

But women’s voices are often not heard. There have been specific moments in history where our voices have finally been recognised, but even fewer times have we really been listened to with great and lasting results.

The idea of women in the workplace was born from necessity, such as World Wars, economic pressures, and roles deemed to be women’s work. Women workers have suffered only because of necessity until more recent times.

Forbes claims the 9-5 model is a patriarchal construct and reducing stock market hours to 9 – 3:30 from 8 – 4:30 would allow for caregivers to do their thing while being able to have a career in finance.

Women and the 9 – 5

Of course, we can’t discuss this topic without hearing Dolly Parton’s 1970s working women’s anthem playing in our heads, and would we even want to?

The 9 – 5 workday for women is a fairly new structure that is less than 50 years old. It may have taken off for the 80s career woman, but is it now out of date and irrelevant?

A CNN article, ‘The 9-to-5 workday is choking women’s progress’, suggests the 9 – 5 model is no longer good for women in the workplace. It claims the 9 – 5 is now a “relic” and is holding back our advancement. Here’s why:

  • more women are considered primary caregivers and have to juggle more responsibilities outside of work than their male counterparts
  • the key to women’s advancement is flexible hours, adaptable desks, and remote work set-up
  • motherhood has been seen as a penalty, and the cause for lower salaries and less respect than fathers are afforded
  • flexibility should not be seen as a favour or an accommodation for women because it creates a stigma and perpetuates bias; it must be for all employees
  • framing language and culture need to be avoided, instead, promote equity and sameness to avoid ‘othering’ (see below).


Causing burnout

More women are burning out in their jobs because they are spreading themselves too thin in their commitments. Women are more likely to give back to others for the opportunities they have received. Burnout in the job is due to an imbalance in work and life.

According to the McKinsey report, Women in the Workplace 2021, addressing DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), ‘othering’ behaviour against all women, but especially women of colour, respect and burnout, it says, “The path forward is clear. Companies need to take bold steps to address burnout. They need to recognize and reward the women leaders who are driving progress. And they need to do the deep cultural work required to create a workplace where all women feel valued.”

The report covers these main points:

  • Women’s promotion to management is 86 women to 100 men
  • Women of colour are losing ground at all levels and are underrepresented
  • One in three women are ‘burned out’ and considering leaving or scaling down their careers (early pandemic was one in four)
  • Women’s work is going unrecognised and even when they go above and beyond, stepping up in areas, such as considering the wellbeing of their employees and DEI more than male managers who may see this as sitting outside the scope of their roles
  • Microaggressions are experienced regularly, undermining women professionally, such as disrespect, ‘othering’, re-enforcing harmful stereotypes, bias, underrepresentation and being an ‘only,’ i.e. only female, ‘double only’ might be an only female and only woman of colour in the room. It causes feelings of being judged, e.g. being put under a microscope, stressed, unsupported, and uncomfortable.


Ways to change the status quo

  • Create a culture that ‘leverages DEI’ awareness, training, promotion, and accountability.
  • Flexible hours and working will help alleviate burnout. Provide flexibility to take time off, and step away.
  • Establish and communicate clear boundaries.
  • Performance should be evaluated on results.
  • Promote a healthy work/life balance and help make it happen.
  • Celebrate the wins and recognise the contributions.
  • Managers take the time to have 1:1s.


Equity is only equitable if the model is all-inclusive.

Working hours should not be the focus for productivity, but rather that the work is getting done at an acceptable level, and your employees are satisfied.

Even today, the gender pay gap remains unsettled and issues of inclusiveness are not 100%. The idea that some citizens are still regarded as lesser than others for no good reason (as if there could be a good reason against equity), is undervalued and therefore underpaid is infuriating the majority of the workforce.


One step in the right direction is to sunset the 9 – 5 model. It is no longer right as a standard for women or anyone. Instead, we advocate for flexible working conditions for everyone equally that include flexibility in time and workspace. Let that be the standard, let everyone’s work speak for itself, and let everyone be treated fairly.




Where Did the 9-5 Job Concept Come From? Does it Still Make Sense? | Advisorpedia

Eight-hour day – Wikipedia

Cervera, César (8 May 2019). “La jornada de ocho horas: ¿un invento “sindicalista” del Rey Felipe II?” [The eight-hour day: a “unionist” invention of King Philip II?]. (in Spanish). ABC. Retrieved 22 October 2020

Marx, Karl (1867). Das Kapital. p. 376.

5 Significant Moments in the History of Working Women | CharityJob Blog

Women in the Workplace | McKinsey

The 9-to-5 workday is choking women’s progress (

The Patriarchy Invented The 9-5 Workday. Here’s How We Remake It With Women In The Room. (

Who’s Behind the 9 to 5 Workday?. The person to blame for working 8 hours… | by Andrei Tapalaga ✒️ | History of Yesterday

hours of labour | Britannica