Breaking the Shackles of the 40-Hour-Workweek System, What Are the Options For Women?

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Even though Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” hit song about the doldrums of the 40-hour-workweek was written back in 1980, its premise is still valid. 

In the Grammy-award-winning working girl anthem, and soundtrack of the homonymous film about the dark side of office work, Parton complains: 

“9 to 5, For service and devotion, You would think that I, Would deserve a fair promotion, Want to move ahead, But the boss won’t seem to let me, I swear sometimes that man is out to get me!”

In the movie directed by Colin Higgins, the boss man was certainly out to get Parton. Dabney Coleman’s character embodies what many call “the man” —  the U.S. workforce that has taken advantage of the 40-hour workweek system, to the point of refusing to let it go.

The macho history behind the 40-hour-workweek

The 40-hour-workweek model came into the scene when men were the main working force. This was when women, desk jobs, or technology were still a thing of the future. 

Today, not only do we have smartphones and lightweight laptops to log in from anywhere in the world, but most households have dual incomes since women are now part of the workforce. 

During the industrial revolution, blue-collar workers ruled, and white-collar workers were still in the minority. Because of this hard labor work, a 9-to-5 shift was designed based on the human body’s physical capabilities. 

Since light is scientifically known to affect your body cycle and productivity, an early start in the morning and an end time near sunset seemed logical.

The thing is, not all young adults have the same circadian cycle. And trying to homogenize the workforce under a one-size-fits-all regime left out the diversity of capabilities among human beings.

In fact, it is a matter of genetics that decides whether or not your cycle based on light should be longer or shorter. People with a longer cycle usually are more active at night. On the other hand, people with a shorter cycle are the ones who prefer an early start in the morning.

Attention, ladies: there are alternatives to the 40-hour-workweek

Often, as women, we sometimes feel like there are not enough hours in the day to cross all the to-dos off the list.

Between a full-time job, forty hours a week, our family, and our personal life, there must be options for our workload.

“Shifts in workforce demographics, such as dual-earner households and increasing family and personal obligations, underscore the need for flexibility,” writes Cecilia Rouse, member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in the article “The Economics of Workplace Flexibility.” 

Human Resources departments interpret flextime in many different ways to improve the workplace and accommodate change. 

For example, Flextime is where workers customize their schedule, starting between 7 and 9 am, for example, and leaving by 2 pm, which can cause conflicts in schedule, depending on management styles. 

Another option is the 4-day-work week, otherwise known as a compressed workweek, and while everyone would want a 3-day-weekend, it may take a toll on your health if you feel more stress to finish everything in fewer days.

Keep in mind that a personal work cycle determines the work schedule and breaks in between where you can be your most productive. Many are now considering the 32-hour-work week for office workers because there are no unrealistic expectations or ridiculous cramming in this model. 

If we manage to understand that employees are not disposable and succeed in adapting to new work schemes, the sky’s the limit in terms of possibilities for productivity in the 21st century.