Whatever happened to 9 to 5?

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Is "9 to 5" a myth? (Comstock/Getty Images / August 14, 2011)

So we had the fighting and the yelling and the clever slogan writing to get to an eight-hour day standard, and then by the 1980s we get Ms. Parton and her cohorts griping about how such a shift will "drive you crazy if you let it."

Since then, however, the country has seen vast changes in its economy. Ross pointed out that a decline in manufacturing led to an erosion of unions. Some workers began getting "quasi-managerial" titles that exempted them from the Fair Labors Standards Act.

"As unions got beaten back, they lost control of the classification system," Ross said. "People were switched to managerial titles or contract workers, so there was no longer an hours issue."

There are still, of course, many hourly workers. And statistically, the number of hours worked each year has been trending downward, but those statistics fail to account for the hours people put in working through coffee breaks or on weekends.

"One of the things that has really eroded over the last couple of decades is lunching," Ross said. "That is an aspect of the time pressure and the work pressure. It's expected, and people do it to themselves as well as their employers doing it to them — people eat at their desks. It's been 20 years since we've had a faculty lunchroom here at Clark University."

So we used to work too much, then we got down to a reasonable workday, and now many of us seem to be working too much again.

"I would say there's more overload," Ross said. "The professors are putting in more hours, the public health professionals, the lawyers — everybody's doing more."

At the very least, it seems the term "9 to 5" has become a dated part of the lexicon, kind of like using a button to "roll down" a car window or "dialing a number" on an iPhone (barring Apple's release of a rotary iPhone).

To take care of this problem, I suggest we petition Ms. Parton to record an updated version of her Grammy-winning song, one that takes into account the desire of today's workers to keep their jobs in a tight economy. Might I suggest:

"Workin' eight to eight

Eatin' lunch while I am typin'

Let me demonstrate

That you'll never hear me gripin'

Might take my iPad

Along with me in the shower

I'll skip my son's birthday

Working extra hours."

Or something along those lines. Call me, Dolly.

TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at ijustworkhere@tribune.com, like Rex on Facebook at facebook.com/rexworkshere and find more at chicagotribune.com/ijustworkhere.
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