Before you read any further please note that:

  • I'm working in a country where one is expected to work 8 hours a day
  • Lunch breaks are not paid
  • I never worked for a US company (so I don't know much of US working culture)

When reading some blogs (mostly from US writers), I encountered many times that a common way to work your hours (I suppose 8) a day is by working "9 to 5".

However, something is bugging me. If you make a pause to eat your lunch, how can you work 8 hours between 9 am and 5 pm?

  • One does not make a lunch break
  • One takes a "lunch break" while working
  • Lunch breaks are paid
  • "9 to 5" is more an expression to describe an average workday than a timing reality
  • Other reason?
  • 5
    In the UK it is relatively common to see contracts for 37.5 hours a week. This effectively allows you to do a 9 to 5, with half an hour for lunch in the middle of your work day. Sep 3, 2018 at 16:19
  • 2
    For your reference I work 8 to 5 with one hour lunch break at 12:00 Sep 3, 2018 at 19:56
  • 1
    Americans only get half an hour for lunch?
    – Kilisi
    Sep 4, 2018 at 0:01
  • 1
    That is the usual time period in the Netherlands too @Kilisi. How much time do you need to eat your sandwich? :-) Sep 4, 2018 at 0:49
  • 1
    @MartinTournoij if I have people working we start a fire and cook food usually, takes about 1/2 an hour at least to get food ready to eat. Sometimes I get someone to cook earlier if we're eating fancy.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 4, 2018 at 5:48

3 Answers 3


It depends on the company, and the level.

Generally, '9 to 5' is only an colloquial expression for a daily job, and not to be taken literally.

Most hourly jobs have a defined start and end time, and you would be clocking out and in for breaks, so break time is unpaid. If you do 8 hours in such an hourly job and take a break, you obviously need to start earlier than 9 or stay longer than 5 to get your 8 hours.

On the higher end, jobs are salaried, and have a defined monthly or annual pay.
Exact hours are typically not checked, although you are expected to be available and working during typical work times, except during lunch break. It depends a lot on the company and the work; there are some that give you clear hours, and others allow you to come and go when you please, your results are more important than your time worked.


However, something is bugging me. If you make a pause to eat your lunch, how can you work 8 hours between 9am and 5pm ?

You cannot.

"9 to 5" is more an expression to describe an average workday than a timing reality

These days, it's nothing more than a quaint expression for most US workers. It basically means a job with regular daytime hours.

  • Plus quaint, unpaid, overtime :-(
    – Mawg
    Sep 4, 2018 at 6:24
  • I know. I just remember a shed load of unpaid overtime when I worked in the USA; it seems that gets thrown in with a 9 to 5 job
    – Mawg
    Sep 4, 2018 at 14:38
  • Ic Ic; when I was there as a fairly senior software developer/tram leader, we were called "salaried" & told that we were expected to "do whatever it takes to get the job done" in return for an annual fixed salary. I imagine that I was "exempt" (from what, other than overtime pay, I don't know). I have also experienced that in Asia & Europe, but I think that I am getting off topic here
    – Mawg
    Sep 4, 2018 at 14:59

"Working 9 to 5" is an expression in America culture, rather than a "work day standard" that probably derives it current negative meaning with the movie titled "Nine to Five" / "9 to 5" and song of the same title released in 1980.

It is not intended to imply that a 40 hour work week and a "9 to 5" schedule are compatible, but more likely the "9 to 5" reference was a good moniker to describe "working a full time job" and worked well for the song and story line.

There are other cultural references that pre-date these but it seems to me this popularized the expression, along with the TV series that followed it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9_to_5_(TV_series)).

Your analysis of trying to figure in work breaks and legal matters is likely futile, but your general question is still a common question I've heard here in America with younger people entering the workforce.

EDIT: I am trying to address the phrase as a cultural expression versus this statement:

I encountered many times that a common way to work your hours (I suppose 8) a day is by working "9 to 5".

References to a "9 to 5" job should not be interpreted to mean that it is a common practice, as I have heard many people make reference to jobs they have in this way but the actual work hours are different. This makes it an "expression" more so than an "expectation" of a work day.

There are many similar expressions about jobs and work hours. I've heard "8 to 5" commonly expressing a "normal job" and other references to job hours with different implied meanings. For example having "banker's hours" implies a shorter work day because banks would open late/close early to perform accounting work, etc. although in recent years that has changed. The NY Stock Exchange opens at 9am and closes at 4pm but stock traders are notorious for working much longer hours; a "3rd shift" means late or unusual working hours.

A "9 to 5" position as a cultural expression seemed to be altered toward a negative connotation with the movie, song and TV series. If you read the plot of the movie, it creates an association with the phrase "9 to 5" as something undesirable and to be avoided, unlike "holding banker's hours" implies a job that is easy and undemanding or a day of "banker's hours" for a normal job being a short and easy day where one arrives late and/or leaves early.

The phrase is an expression, and I would not presume it to be a "common" work week for most employers. A vast majority of employers expect that employees are compensated for a 40 hour work week, expect meal breaks to not be considered a part of work hours, and "exempt" salaried employees are generally expected to approximately follow these same principles.

  • 11
    Without even looking anything up I can tell you from personal memory that the expression "9 to 5" as an aphorism for a permanent job predates that movie by decades at least. The movie title is taken from the common expression, not the other way round. Sep 3, 2018 at 16:22
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    As a non-American, my impression of "working 9 to 5" is that the job is very boring and you have no interest in going the extra mile, ever. Sep 3, 2018 at 17:34
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    I've updated my response - I did not intend to use the term "originates" as written, since I even contradicted that later in my response. I should have edited it more closely.
    – Jim
    Sep 3, 2018 at 23:15
  • @JuhaUntinen That is a common interpretation in the Netherlands as well, or where there are no flexible hours, although recently I have also seen it used to describe a "we don't do overtime unless absolutely necessary"-culture. Sep 6, 2018 at 17:03

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