Goodbye, 9 to 5: Employers embrace technology-aided flexibility

The days of racing to punch a time card at the beginning and end of the workday are long gone.

Employers in the US and Europe are becoming more accepting of flexible hours as workers use mobile technology to juggle work and personal responsibilities well outside the 9am to 5pm hours of the traditional workday, a new survey shows.

Seventy-three per cent of bosses in a survey of 500 employers and 500 employees said it’s OK for members of their teams to arrive to work later than their set hours because they believe employees begin working long before they get to their desks. Market researcher Vanson Bourne conducted the survey in France, Germany, Ireland, the UK and the United States for Mozy, an online backup technology provider.

On average, employees could arrive for work up to 32 minutes late before bosses begin to get uncomfortable. US employers offered the most flexibility, tolerating staff being an average of 37 minutes late. Bosses in the UK wanted employees at their desk no more than 24 minutes late on average. German employers were most likely to demand punctuality, as 40% do not tolerate lateness.

Employees reported spending even more time working away from the office than their supervisors realise. On average, bosses said their workers spend 55 minutes a day working away from the office. But employees reported spending 46 minutes on average working before they even reach the office, and they continue working long after they leave.

The average employee starts checking work email at 7.42am, gets into the office at 8.18am, leaves the office at 5.48pm and stops working fully at 7.19pm, according to the survey. British workers start and stop working the earliest, while employees in Ireland have the latest beginning and end to their workday. US workers reported the longest work hours, with 11 hours and 56 minutes between their first email check and the time they stop working fully.

Bosses, meanwhile, are not afraid to call workers after hours in an environment where the 9-to-5 standard seems to be disappearing. Eighty per cent of employers think it’s acceptable to call staff in the evening.

Errands on the clock

At the same time, employers are comfortable with providing workers the flexibility for breaks within their workday. Fifty-three per cent of bosses tolerate employees taking regular breaks, and 37% are OK with extended breaks. US employers are more than 2½ times as likely as British bosses to allow workers to make personal phone calls from their desks.

Ninety per cent of employees say they complete personal tasks during the workday. The most common were leaving early to visit the doctor or dentist, making personal phone calls and taking regular breaks to get tea or coffee or visit the water cooler.

Mobile technology has played a significant role in the erosion of the 9-to-5 workday, the survey shows. Three-fourths of employers give mobile tools to their teams to help them work away from the office, but just 11% of employers give their teams remote access to everything they need to do their jobs.

French workers have the most access to work email away from the office, while German employees report the most access to online files.

The survey results confirm that despite all the connective technology and the long hours employees spend with their bosses at work, misunderstandings remain. Although almost three-quarters of bosses said they are willing to accept tardiness because employees are working away from the office, more than half of workers believe their bosses will take issue with them if they don’t arrive at work on time.

Ken Tysiac ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.