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“9 to 5 Job” — Meaning & Context

“9 to 5 Job” — Meaning & Context

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Everyone knows business English is full of jargon and acronyms.

Sometimes, though, that jargon leaks out into real life and creates phrases that are used to talk about business from the outside.

Today’s phrase is one you have probably heard so many times it’s invisible. All the same, it’s a commonly misunderstood phrase with an interesting history.

Let’s dive in!

What is a “9 to 5 job”?

A 9 to 5 job is a job that starts at 9 a.m. and goes to 5 p.m. 9 to 5 jobs are thought to be unexciting and low-paid, such as routine office work or a factory job. Similar expressions are “office job,” “regular job” and “blue collar job,” although each of these carries slightly different meanings.

The grammar of a 9 to 5 job

At first glance, this expression looks very confusing. What are those numbers doing there? Where are all the actual words?

Grammatically speaking, this expression is a noun phrase that can be split into two parts.

The last word, job, is the noun that shows you what the whole refers to. The rest of the expression, “9 to 5,” is essentially an adjective phrase that modifies the job.

So, when you see someone talk about a “9 to 5 job,” just remember that they’re talking about a job that is “9 to 5.”

What does 9 to 5 mean? Read on to find out.

9 to 5: It’s all in the work hours

The key to understanding what a 9 to 5 job is is actually very simple. You just need to pull those two numbers out of the expression and figure out their meaning.

In short, both the 9 and the 5 in “9 to 5” stand for specific times of day. The 9 refers to 9 a.m. and the 5 refers to 5 p.m.

These times of day haven’t just been picked at random. Instead, they are the start and end time of the “traditional” 8-hour workday in the United States. A 9 to 5 job, then, is one where someone starts work at 9 a.m. and leaves work at 5 p.m.

Typically, if someone works a 9 to 5 job they also work 5 days a week.

9 to 5 jobs as unrewarding and dull

In addition to lasting eight hours, 9 to 5 jobs have a reputation for being tedious and underpaid.

If someone talks about their 9 to 5 job, they’re probably not incredibly excited to have to do it.

One memorable example is the classic 1980s movie titled 9 to 5.

In this movie, three women stuck in unrewarding 9 to 5 jobs kidnap their sexist, self-obsessed boss and completely revive the company where they work.

Still, no matter how unexciting 9 to 5 jobs are, they’re a staple of US labor practices.

The expression doesn’t always imply a job is unexciting, either. Some companies may use the expression on job applications to give an idea of work hours.

The history of 9 to 5 jobs

Today, working eight hours a day for five days a week is the standard in the United States. However, that wasn’t always the case.

In fact, long work hours used to be the norm for many American industrial workers.

It was only through the tireless activism of unions and the workers they represented that saw a movement away from long, exhausting hours.

In the 1920s and 1930s, things came to a head in the steel industry when strikes and activism led to industry magnates agreeing to change their 12-hour workdays to 8-hour days while keeping wages the same.

Finally, the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1936 made eight-hour workdays and 40-hour work weeks the norm.

Examples of 9 to 5 jobs

Again, any job that starts at 9 a.m. and goes to 5 p.m. can be a 9 to 5 job. Some also use this expression to refer to any job with 8-hour days, no matter when they begin or end.

Here are a few examples of 9 to 5 jobs:

  • Accountant
  • Secretary
  • Office worker
  • Factory hand
  • Receptionist
  • Computer programmer
  • Copywriter
  • Insurance processor


A shifting job market

Although 9 to 5 jobs are still extremely common, they don’t make up every single job opportunity out there.

Many retail workers, for example, face variable schedules based on the needs of the stores where they work. They might be given 9 to 5 workdays one week, only to be moved to earlier shifts the next.

In fact, in the retail and dining industries, it’s important to have a lot of employees working outside the “traditional” 9 to 5 hours precisely because so many workers in the United States do keep to that schedule.

If everyone’s at work the entire time you’re open, nobody will be able to come to your store and spend their money.

In the nearly 100 years that 9 to 5 jobs have been a standard part of the US work experience, a lot has changed.

Today, people may work significantly different work hours, especially in certain industries.

Many people are also self-employed or salaried and either set their own schedule or work far more than 8 hours a day.

In some countries, people also agitate for significantly shorter work weeks, arguing that employees are more productive and happier working fewer hours per day.

This might sound like a pipe dream, but studies have shown that six hour workdays increased worker productivity and made employees less likely to call in sick.

Increases in technology may play a role in future changes. Only time will tell if the 9 to 5 job sticks around for the next hundred years.

Phrases with similar meanings

Although 9 to 5 job has a pretty distinct meaning, there are some similar phrases. These don’t mean exactly the same, though, so be careful when swapping them out in a sentence or conversation.


Blue collar job

The expression “blue-collar job” is used to refer to any job involving manual labor. For example, construction workers, electricians, and plumbers all do blue-collar jobs.

Many blue-collar jobs are 9 to 5 jobs, especially those which involve unskilled labor. However, sometimes blue-collar jobs have more variable working hours, so you can’t just use this as a synonym for 9 to 5 job.

Regular job

Temporary jobs only last a few days, weeks or months, and the hours you work can vary from day to day.

Regular jobs, on the other hand, provide regular work, meaning they last longer and have more standard hours.

While regular jobs and 9 to 5 jobs both have a set number of hours, not all regular jobs are 9 to 5 jobs. Contrarily, a 9 to 5 job could be a temporary one.

Desk job

A desk job is the opposite of a blue-collar job. Also called white-collar jobs, desk jobs are typically managerial or business oriented and may require a lot of work on computers.

Unlike blue-collar jobs, many desk jobs may pay monthly salaries instead of by the hour.

In these cases, they are not 9 to 5 jobs. However, especially for employees early in their careers, a desk job may be a 9 to 5 job.