Working on the beachThe nine to five, five day, working week is a modern construct. It was introduced by Henry Ford to his factory workforce in 1926, and become common practice in the US (and subsequently other parts of the world) after The Fair Labour Standards Act of 1938.

Ford favoured a shorter week (until then, six working days had been the norm) for purely commercial reasons. He was losing good employees, and found that a 40 hour week, worked in shifts, was the best way to optimise workers (who needed to be kept alert and motivated) with expensive machinery and power plants, which shouldn’t be left idle for too long.

Most of us in the developed world now live in a post-industrial age where knowledge-based products and services are replacing manufacturing. If your work can be completed over an internet or telephone connection, it’s less likely that you physically be in the office, or work specific hours. Yet we still rely on a way of working that was designed for the factory production line.

Ten years ago, when mobile and digital technologies were just starting to make an impact, anyone asking for “part time”, “flexible working” or “working from home” would be viewed with suspicion by employers and employees alike.

What a difference a decade makes. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is a savvy executive and no doubt expected a backlash when she banned working from home for employees from June this year.

But even Mayer can’t have anticipated the media storm which followed. The verdict was almost universally damning. Despite a favourable stock market reaction (the company’s share price rose as news of the memo came through), it seemed an unstoppable cultural bandwagon was rolling over Mayer’s inflexible working practices – and everyone from women’s groups to Richard Branson was keen jump on it.

For the past few months I’ve been developing social media strategy for Timewise Jobs, part of a new social enterprise focused on one goal: to grow the market in quality part time and flexible jobs.

The overt reaction to Yahoo’s leaked internal memo is good news for Timewise Jobs’ candidates as it means that the tide is finally turning. Far from being a ghetto, part time and flexible are en route to becoming an accepted part of the mainstream.

As a swathe of books shows, from Rework, Future Work and The Shift to The 4-Hour Workweek and The Laptop Millionaire, the norm is now anything but the “norm”. Generation Ys value work-life balance above all else. Employers (like Henry Ford a century ago) appreciate that to retain the best talent, they need to be flexible. People are increasingly choosing portfolio, multiple or “slashie” careers. It looks like Nine to Five will soon become as dated as the 1980 film comedy of the same name.

See you on the beach! 

Photo: DG Jones