Monday, February 8, 2021

Does 5 to 9 solve 9 to 5?

In the title song for the 1980 movie "9 to 5", Dolly Parton captured the inhumanity of underpaid and over-harassed working women, which includes the well-known chorus:

Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living
Barely gettin' by, it's all taking and no giving
They just use your mind and they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it
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.

From this chorus you can get a pretty good idea that work isn't portrayed all that positively in the song and accompanying movie. Work here is unfair, unequal, and sexist. Fast forward 40 years and Dolly Parton's song has been rewritten  or perhaps we should say "has pivoted"?  to "5 to 9" for a Super Bowl commercial:

 Replacing the original chorus, but with essentially the same tune, 9 to 5 becomes:

Working 5 to 9, making something of your own now
And it feels so fine to build a business from your know-how
Gonna move ahead, and there's nothing that you can't do
When you listen to that little voice inside you
Well you got dreams and you know they matter
Be your own boss, climb your own ladder
That moment's getting closer by the day
And you're in the same boat with a lotta your friends
Launching ideas you all believe in
The tide's gonna turn and it's all gonna roll your way.

In many respects, nothing has improved — in real life, and in the song's portrayal of work. The Super Bowl commercial starts out with repetitious images of the drudgery of office work and bored office workers — again, not a rewarding way to make a living. And the new chorus above has you dreaming of something better and being your own boss because the daily grind is just that.

But as I've explored in my book The Thought of Work, work is complicated and can have multiple meanings. In addition to being a curse, drudgery that people tolerate to earn money, or something endured to confirm your social status as someone who works rather than loafs, work can also be a source of freedom and fulfillment — be your own boss, climb your own ladder, launch your own creative ideas.

Work as freedom and fulfillment are a reality for some (at least partly); a dream for others. And yet, 5 to 9 has created a backlash, including in provocative opinion pieces in the New York Times and NBC News. To see why, we need the remainder of the new 5 to 9 lyrics:

Working 5 to 9 you've got passion and a vision
'Cause it's hustlin' time, a whole new way to make a livin'
Gonna change your life, do somethin' that gives it meanin'
With a website that is worthy of your dreaming
5 to 9, you keep working, working, working
Working 5 to 9, 'til your dreams, come true
Working 5 to 9, you keep dreaming, dreaming, dreaming
5 to 9, 5 to 9, you can do it

One controversy stems from the apparent celebration of "working, working, working" at a time when many feel overworked during the pandemic. Particularly ironic or galling is that the original 9 to 5 was somewhat of a feminist anthem, but 5 to 9 becomes extra humiliation as women are bearing much of the extra caring burdens with children home from school and elderly relatives unable to access support services. Indeed, 5 to 9 could mean 5pm to 9am (the famous "second shift") so that women are expected to work, work, work around the clock.

Another controversy is that, whether intentional or not, the "hustling time" reference in the new lyrics taps into slang around the gig economy in which workers are continually forced to work side hustles or numerous jobs just to make ends meet. This is particularly true during the pandemic with record rates of job loss and unemployment. We shouldn't be celebrating how hard it is to make a living. 

So how should we interpret 5 to 9? Is it really a way to really break from jobs that are "all taking and no giving" such that people can earn a decent living doing "something that gives [life] meaning" without needing to work side hustles and multiple jobs, or becoming overworked through working, working, working. That is, does it allow you to take your day job and shove it, to paraphrase another well-known work song? If so, then this would be a good thing.

But the harsh reality is that for many, this takes more than a website worthy of their dreaming (yes, 5 to 9 is an ad for a web hosting and design company, Squarespace). So 5 to 9 really is 5pm to 9am, and it's added on top of other jobs. If this is the case, then we shouldn't be celebrating overwork. We should be trying to improve work so that people have can high-quality jobs that allow them to support a family without being overworked. And we should be doing so in ways that recognize rather than deny the deep inequalities rooted in race, gender, class, and other identities that shape work. But in the meantime...

9 to 5, yeah, they got you where they want you
There's a better life and you think about it don't you
It's a rich man's game no matter what they call it
And you spend your life putting money in his wallet


  1. Good lesson, work for better living and perform a kind of work that caan help us to support our family. Thx

  2. An apt explanation of the things have transormed

  3. This song indicates the over working of we can support our family for reducing workload

  4. Just like the previous lyrics, I don't think the song is celebrating hard workers. It seems more like acknowledgement, recognition. The song seems satirical to me, it is using an upbeat melody to portray a serious underlying issue within society; much like satirical cartoons do.

  5. It's a lesson teaching song..
    5 to 9 tends to motivate me most..

  6. This piece of material is one that makes you reflect on how the system operates. Nice!

    1. We are so busy with our day to day operations that we do not refect on what is really happening with this broken system of work.

  7. This piece has really taught me of how employers use employees and yet give them a "peanut" as a reward. So sad!

  8. I love this because it makes me realize that I should put in spare hours to make my business dream a reality

  9. The best articule I have read in many time.

  10. As a stay at home mom during the pandemic. I thought the 5 to 9 was inspirational. A reminder to me that there is always time to squeeze in your dreams, even during the hardest of times.

    1. With your attitude you can accomplish anything you want. Too many people find negatives in everything and use it as an excuse to not have to do anything.

  11. 9 to 5 is really a rich man's game

  12. Good lesson, work for better living and perform a kind of work that caan help us to support our family and too I love this because it makes me realize that I should put in spare hours to make my business dream a reality.

  13. Great post!

    I feel like this song does reinforce the idea that a "normal" job with paychecks signed by someone else has no meaning; therefore, it's really your own fault you aren't getting paid more / have no health insurance / experience poor work conditions / get no maternity leave. After all, if you don't like it, well then you should be clever and passionate enough to go do your own thing. I like to believe it is completely possible for people to work for someone else (technically) and get great fulfillment from it. And if you devote your time and passion to a company, you should get a certain level of treatment.

    I also did think of the gig economy as I was listening to this song. I hate the idea that my children might grow up in a generation where having your "9 to 5" job and then your "gig" (e.g. Uber, Lyft, Doordash, google delivery person) job is considered a completely normal and acceptable thing just to make ends meet. It isn't a "hustle", but a "struggle" if you're still living paychecks to paychecks.

  14. i like how its explained yes working 9 to 5 and no matter how hard you work your never appreciated but i have learn that while working no matter what learn something and save so you can have your own business one day and that is why i need as much experience and money as soon as i can get it cause nothing happens before its time.

  15. This is yet another excellent piece. Just one thing stood out to me in all of the controversies surrounding the 9-to-5 song or the 5-to-9 commercial ad - The Thought of Work, which is a timeless book by Professor John W. Budd. It's a thorough and well-researched work that not only captures the reality of the past and the facts of the present, but also gives an account of how the future will unfold. Nothing can be said to be outside the scope of how the book explains work, even in the future, in my opinion.

    The 9-to-5 era was obviously a bad time when work was seen as a chore and women were underpaid. During that time, the working class had no choice but to be overworked and humiliated in return for a pittance that barely covered basic expenses, as the song goes. The working-class’ condition was so terrible that it spawned a slew of songs and films that accurately recounted stories of the time. The current era of 5-to-9 is a period during which one can leverage one's own skills and expertise to earn money while working from the comfort of home and without committing to fulltime employment with a single company, welcome to the gig-economy!

    This, in my opinion, is a good time to sell ones own skills and make money without having to deal with unfair workplace treatment. We are currently experiencing a mass exodus of workers from conventional workplaces in search of what Jacob Morgan refers to as full-time independence. The rising transition from tenured to contingent faculty employment even in American higher education over the last decade speaks volume of where the world is heading.

    Consequently, I find the criticism of the Super Bowl ad and Dolly Parton to be somewhat irrational. This, like the 9-to-5 days, is a reflection of what the economy has to offer, but the latter is a better deal. It's one thing to argue that the gig economy has this or that downside, but it's quite another to criticize the 5-to-9 altogether.

    Thank you Professor John for the thought-provoking piece.

  16. Excelente artículo, muy interesante lo que plantea, considerando que muchas personas en el mundo realizan labores tediosas, repetitivas, mal remuneradas, que producen descontento y frustración. Mostrando la posibilidad que algunos podrían tener, siempre y cuando tengan la fortaleza y convicción, de hacer un gran cambio, como independizarse laboralmente, y realizar un trabajo a gusto.

  17. 9 to 5 worker is work and enjoy with both family and the job, but 5 to 9 worker is work with dreams and enjoy with wealth...

  18. This is a lesson teaching song

  19. Great lesson from the song 5 to 9

  20. people have to understand this things and work on time

  21. At a certain age in society, there are societal expectations to retire, give up dreams. If you are healthy, intelligent, and want to work, I feel strongly that you should be able to continue to provide value and work. I enjoy working and I need to work.

  22. There will always be work. The power is in your hands. It is said to put the pen down.

  23. People need rest, not entrepreneurship. So HR people take care of
    -Ashish, India

  24. 9 to 5 ..5 to 9 has been a common trend. Some institutions even put it during holidays and weekends.

  25. Thank you, sir.. a Very good lesson to learn.

  26. The transformation of 9 - 5 (i.e 8 hours of work) to 5 - 9 (i.e 16 hours of work) brought about double jeopardy along with increase health challenges due to stress.

  27. The struggle has been in existence for ages now,modification is now being impacted to reduce stress promote relaxation and happiness. HR team to the rescue

  28. I feel like the second shift in the sense of dolly parton feels like the right thing to do in 2022 even if you are doing it after your regular 9 to 5 job , this is how you start building other incomes without risk the safe ones

  29. Nice one. it gives different perspectives about work.

  30. Thank you sir, 9 to 5 and 5 to 9 makes us understand about work , place and time management

  31. Wonderful insight gotten from this. My worry is that we all cannot own a business, some of us have to work 9 to 5, but the deal is to be happy and satisfied while doing that.

  32. Woauh! So nice thank you for sharing this with us