Meet the ‘dead zone’ workers who are hindering management’s efforts to return to the pre-pandemic 9 to 5 grind due to the inflexibility of their children’s routines.

Meet the 'dead zone' workers who are hindering management's efforts to return to the pre-pandemic 9 to 5 grind due to the inflexibility of their children's routines.

The Rise of Dead Zone Workers: Breaking the Mold for a Better Work-Life Balance

Workplace dead zone

In today’s ever-evolving work landscape, a new breed of employees is emerging: the dead zone workers. These individuals have found a way to break free from the traditional 9-to-5 grind and create a work schedule that better suits their needs. While this might sound detrimental to productivity, it’s actually a tactic being employed by many to achieve a better work-life balance.

One of the primary reasons for adopting this approach is childcare. Jade Fitzgerald, an experience design director at the design agency Beyond, explains that her workday extends beyond the hours that nurseries are open. She wants to have time to be with her child, do the necessary drop-offs and pick-ups, and bond with her little one. To accommodate her parental responsibilities, Fitzgerald works late into the evening after tucking her 11-month-old baby into bed.

But it’s not just parents who find solace in the dead zone. Justin Fox, a digital public relations and outreach manager, manages a global team and struggles with time zones. Taking an afternoon break (or even a nap) allows him to recharge and prepare for the Australian team members who come online in the early hours of his morning. Automating emails depending on time zones would solve some problems, but it doesn’t address the need to promptly respond to incoming messages.

Interestingly, dead zone workers aren’t just using this time for leisure activities or personal errands. Lydia Cardona, a PR consultant at The Influence Crowd, feels a sense of accomplishment and smugness because she has already completed tasks like food shopping, preparing dinner for her family, and practicing yoga while others are still working. For her, this approach allows her to have a head-start on the evening and enjoy a better work-life balance.

Even more extreme examples exist within the dead zone worker realm. Leo Hodges, an account manager at With PR, shares his experience of passing through airport security at midday on a Wednesday, highlighting the flexibility this working pattern provides. He emphasizes that when an employer fosters a culture of flexibility and builds it around its people, it opens the doors to a wide range of activities that typically wouldn’t fit into a standard 9-to-5 workday.

However, there are drawbacks to consider. Without a hard stop at 5 pm, dead zone workers can easily find themselves overworking. The risk of becoming constantly available, albeit with a short break in the afternoon, is that employees never truly switch off. This can lead to burnout and a decrease in motivation. For example, Fitzgerald works a stretched 15-hour day while managing to stay on top of school commitments, client meetings, and work projects—a task that takes a significant toll on her mental well-being.

Women, in particular, often bear the burden of emotional labor, constantly remembering and managing both personal and professional responsibilities. The constant dipping in and out of work can make the list of things to remember feel never-ending. Cardona echoes these sentiments, admitting that her face is often aglow with her laptop screen while others are enjoying a meal or unwinding after work. However, she doesn’t feel overworked because she recharges and completes life administration tasks earlier in the day.

Managing others’ expectations is another challenge dead zone workers face. Cardona points out that not everyone recognizes this working pattern, leading to misunderstandings about deadlines and when work will actually be accomplished. Building acceptance and respect within organizations for this alternative working style is crucial, especially for individuals with children or dependents. Work may still be completed, just not when others are winding down.

So, how do dead zone workers effectively manage their time? Surprisingly, their schedules aren’t vastly different from those of regular employees. Fitzgerald uses prioritized to-do lists and tools like to stay organized. Cardona sets clear boundaries, only working until a certain time in the evening before logging back in the next day. Transparent communication about their schedule, blocking out unavailable times on calendars, and setting realistic expectations are all essential components of their successful workflow.

Some may argue that dead zone workers are not giving their full 40 hours of work per week, but Fitzgerald challenges this notion. She believes that if a job can be done in less time, it’s because of the years of experience and expertise that have been built up. It’s not about minutes worked, but about the quality of work delivered.

Ultimately, the responsibility to ensure dead zone workers are productive and not overworking falls on both individuals and managers. Hodges emphasizes the importance of trust, openness, and feedback within his organization’s leadership team, which allows them to make the most of flexible working. From a business perspective, he believes that allowing employees space to recharge not only improves their work but also enhances productivity overall. Young professionals like Hodges are eager to prove that they can excel in both work and their personal lives, and it’s time for managers to embrace this mindset.

The rise of dead zone workers reflects a growing desire for a more flexible and balanced work environment. By breaking away from traditional norms, individuals can better meet personal obligations, take care of their well-being, and ultimately become more productive. As the dead zone movement gains momentum, it’s time for companies to reevaluate their approach to work and find ways to accommodate the changing needs of their employees.

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