Here’s why and when 9 to 5 became 9 to 6:
Arguably, 9 to 5 didn’t become 9 to 6, at least not completely.
But, 9 to 6 has grown as a popular work schedule, and the primary reason for that is to provide an hour of breaks, including lunch, without reducing productivity.
This largely started in 1999 when California passed a new law requiring lunch breaks at work.
So if you want to learn all about why and when an hour was added to the 9 to 5 work schedule, then this article is for you.
Let’s jump right into it!
What Is 9 to 5?
It’s a pretty common phrase, and you’ve likely heard a bunch, but what does it really mean?
It’s a slang phrase that describes what is commonly known as a traditional western work schedule.
The premise is that your average career worker will clock in at 9 in the morning and clock out at 5 in the evening, every weekday.
This represents an 8-hour shift, and if you work 8 hours for 5 separate days in a week, you end up with a 40-hour work week.
This is considered the standard for full-time employment, and it was largely established by Henry Ford in the early 1900s.
Before the work week was standardized to 40 hours, factory workers were known to work 100 hours in a week.
So, the 9 to 5 schedule was born, but it’s important that we’re clear about something.
This work schedule is not mandated by labor law.
You don’t have to work a specific 9 to 5 schedule, and companies don’t have to provide such a schedule.
It’s just something that became more or less standard over the years.
What Is 9 to 6?
With all of that in mind, we can discuss the 9 to 6 schedule.
It’s built on the premise of 9 to 5, but as you might have noticed, it includes an extra hour every day.
If you work 5 days a week, that will translate into a 45-hour work week.
Does that mean that people are working and earning more these days?
First off, the average work week in the United States is actually less than 40 hours a week.
The official number changes from month to month, and you can even see it recorded in the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics reports (also known as the jobs report).
More importantly, a 9 to 6 schedule usually accounts for a 40 to 43-hour work week.
Well, the 9 to 6 schedule includes unpaid time off every day.
I’ll be talking about it a lot as we go through this.
When Did 9 to 5 Become 9 to 6?
Now that we took a minute to work through the differences, let’s get into timing.
When did 9 to 6 really take over?
It’s hard to say.
There was no specific, magical moment where all of the business leaders got together to pick a new work schedule.
Instead, 9 to 6 slowly gained popularity over the course of decades.
Still, in order to give you at least some semblance of a concrete answer, this idea really started to gain traction in the late 1990s.
That is when California enacted Labor Code 512.
This code required employers to provide a 30-minute, unpaid lunch break to a wide range of employees.
While this wasn’t the first labor change to address breaks, it was the largest, as California had the largest working population of any state at the time.
Because many companies that functioned across multiple states had locations in California, the idea started to spread—even to states that didn’t pass similar labor regulations.
I’ll get a lot deeper into these regulations and how they changed things later, but this is what we can define as the beginning of 9 to 6.
Did 9 to 5 Really Become 9 to 6 Though?
Before that, it’s important to address something else.
The 9 to 6 schedule is not actually a standard.
Sure, many businesses use this model, but a lot of other models are also used, and 9 to 6 does not represent a majority of work schedules.
It’s one of the popular ones, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent as 9 to 5 used to be.
In fact, 9 to 5 is still around.
The truth is that the shift toward 9 to 6 came in tandem with a handful of popular new schedules, and it was the culmination of multiple changes that really disrupted the idea of 9 to 5.
Alternatives to 9 to 5
As an example, 8 to 5 is a very popular work schedule.
It’s built on the same premise as 9 to 6, but it starts earlier.
This allows businesses to end their workday at the same traditional timing, and since most banks and federal workplaces close their doors at 5 in the evening, it makes sense for a lot of businesses to match that and enact an 8 to 5.
There are also plenty of businesses that start even earlier, and as a result, 7 to 4 is common for workplaces that are open for more than 8 hours in a day.
For example, a hospital might have a 7 to 4 shift, a 3 to 12 shift, and an 11 to 8 shift.
This allows for 24-hour coverage, with a little bit of overlap when each new shift comes in to take over.
And, as we’ve already covered, 9 to 5 and 9 to 6 are both still in play.
Really, 9 to 6 is just representing a 9-hour shift with breaks, whereas 9 to 5 represents an 8-hour shift without breaks.
Why Did Work Schedules Change From 9 to 5 to 9 to 6? (3 Reasons)
Ok. We’ve covered a lot to this point.
Now, we can get into the rationale.
Why did it change?
Well, there are a few reasons that all tie back to that California labor law, but the law alone doesn’t fully answer the question.
We also have to consider corporate responses to the law and other motivations that might be in play.
#1 Lunch Breaks
I’ve already mentioned the California labor law.
Plenty of other states ended up enacting similar rules, but plenty of other states didn’t.
That means that across the U.S., mandatory lunch breaks are not a standard requirement.
The real reason that the California law caused a national shift is because of large corporations.
Let’s use Walmart as an example.
Walmart had a standard set of schedules in the works when the California law went through.
So, the company had to adapt and change scheduling at every store in California.
Once they finished, they found an optimum way to maintain productivity while adhering to the new rule.
Then, other states started to pass similar rules.
Walmart had already worked out the kinks, so they decided it was easier to just make lunch breaks standard at all stores.
Now, I’m using Walmart as a hypothetical.
I wasn’t in board meetings, so I don’t know if such a conversation happened.
But what is clear is that many large companies that operate in multiple states made it standard to build their scheduling structure around the most stringent labor laws.
That way, everything is consistent, and they’re at much less risk of violating any labor laws.
Ultimately, it means that large corporations actually made unpaid lunch breaks common across the country—once labor laws forced them in that direction.
#2 Labor Regulations
We’ve talked a lot about regulations, so now allow me to more carefully explain how it all works.
First, these laws vary by state.
There is no national standard, so you’ll see a lot of variations if you look at specific laws.
As I said before, a lot of states don’t require any breaks at all.
That said, there is a broad trend.
The gist is that any 8-hour shift has to include a 30-minute unpaid lunch break.
Now, a company can give longer breaks if they want, and they can pay employees during lunch breaks if they want.
You’ll see those kinds of perks come up in competitive, professional workplaces.
Regardless, the minimum rule is 30 minutes for lunch.
Many states also require two 15-minute breaks in addition to the lunch for any 8-hour shift.
On top of that, these breaks are required to be paid in some states.
So, if companies are standardizing their practices to the most stringent laws, then they will offer an hour worth of breaks throughout the day.
If they want the same amount of work done every day, then they have to extend the schedule by an hour.
That’s really how this all boils down.
The companies provide the breaks, but they still want 8 hours of actual labor every day, so 9 to 6 became a common compromise.
There’s another factor that comes up sometimes, and in such cases, labor laws aren’t much of a consideration.
In some career fields, employers have to compete ferociously in order to attract the best workers.
Google is a great example of this.
Google wants to hire the very best programmers in the world, and to do this, they offer a wide range of benefits.
One of the more famous among those benefits is that Google frequently offers free meals to employees, right there on the premises.
So, Google can give everyone there a free lunch.
On top of that, Google might pay employees during their lunch breaks.
Again, this is just one example, but when companies are competing for labor, providing paid breaks is on a long list of perks that people tend to enjoy.
In this case, 9 to 6 is just a way to make the job seem more appealing (even if some people would rather skip the break and be home earlier).