There are a lot of things that we take for granted in our day-to-day lives. Like maybe you were supposed to be right now even for those of you who are students or business owners, freelancers or part timers, there is no doubt that you in some way work around or are influenced by the 40 hour work week people arrive at work at 9:00 AM. Go home at 5:00 PM Monday to Friday and this is pretty much the standard arrangement among state vast array of professions and equally vast array of countries and companies that why what is going on here. Industry, technology and culture have all drastically changed since this arbitrary figure was introduced. Yet it has stood the test of time. So is 40 hours really the optimal work week? How is this filled out, and are there alternatives that are based more in economics rather than tradition?
The 40 hour work week has not been around forever, so before we start to explore alternatives, it’s important to understand how we got here. Our working lives are mostly determined by the value that we add the concept of having a set job with a contract in a set of expectations is a surprisingly modern concept. Of course, ultimately started from need to literally put food on the table. The days of Hunter gatherers and eventually developed into farming. Most societies that have existed from the Egyptians to Renaissance era Europe. People were primarily farmers. The working hours on a farm are very fluid. There are days and even entire seasons where pretty much nothing needs to be done. Then of course there are times of massive activity around harvesting and planting. But the take away from this is that a 40 hour work week would just not function in this type of environment, and that’s not to say that farmers need to put in more hours, although they definitely do, but it’s more so that clocking in at 9:00 AM and then clocking out at 5:00 PM just wasn’t going to work when animals need to be fed at 5:00 AM and rounding up cattle can take weeks at a time. The other key point is that there is a pretty serious point of diminishing returns on farming man hours, so long as a farmer gets done at what needs to be done, they aren’t going to get much more output from putting in any extra hours. You can’t harvest more week then what is growing in your field and even a 100-hour work week is not going to make a cow grow any faster.
This all started to change of course during the Industrial Revolution all of a sudden workers were moving into industrial settings on mass and into roles where they got out what they put in someone in a glass blowing factory could produce more jars in 12 hours than they could in six hours and a coal miner could dig more coal if they work six days a week rather than five days. So, the pressure was getting more people to work more hours to make more. Output industry at this time was still very labour intensive. The ultimate limitation on output was actually how many hours they could get people to work. This continued on for some time, but slowly and steadily technology did improve. All the while there was tension between the factory owners that control the land and capital and the workers that controlled the labour in the factors of production. If any of these factors went missing, production would stop. Things like labour strikes were kind of bad for everyone, but they were essential in pushing the agenda of workers with limited individual negotiating power. One of the big things that they do in the go she ate Ng was working hours working 14 hour days was great for outlook, but less great for workers sanity and safety, especially when you consider that they were working pretty much around the Clock and in amongst steam powered cast iron meat grinders by the late 1800s US Congress and individual states were starting to pass laws that mandated a maximum 8 hour workday, which sounded great, but of course factory owners lobbied hard against this. They argued that if something took 12 hours of constant work to manufacture, then it would no longer be possible to make.
In the US, and they would be ought to take their business overseas. Sound familiar. This led to most of these laws being built with so many allowances and loopholes it was pretty much business as usual. It’s actually going really make much progress for the next few decades, and it was only turned around by the decision of an unlikely champion of the working man. Henry Ford rolled out the 8-hour working day across all of these factories in 1914, much to the shock of his competition is workers and the government. This is also coming along with a sweeping pay rise to $5 per day, which at the time was pretty significant. The idea behind this was that even workers had more money in their pockets. And more hours in their day they would have more ability to go out and consume up. Until this point, economics was primarily determined by how much could be produced. The bottleneck of society was its industrial potential, but with the rise of heavy industry and production lines, these had shifted to consumption, making all the Ford model Tees in the world was useless. If nobody would buy them and you hours also had some much more tangible benefits for the company, it made them the place to work. Think of it in the modern world working at Google or Goldman Sachs is anecdotally seen as professional Nirvana. In the 1920s that was forward, they were on the cutting edge and they treated it and pay their employees. Well. This meant that they could attract the most experienced technicians, which in the age of production lines were starting to come up more and more important, the profits of the company soon jump from around $30,000,000. A year, two $60,000,000, to get it. This is, of course, due to a variety of factors. Big one was their new pool of experienced and motivated workers. Now, so far all looks like working hours have adapted to the needs of the day. Farm workers worked around farm. Judy’s early industrialists worked around. Early industry and modern industry just worked around modern industry. Office workers are kind of just followed suit so how is it decided that this is how we work? A 40 hour work week has a simple elegance to it. It divides working days neatly into three with eight hours to work. 8 hours of recreation, and 8 hours to sleep and it still has two days off a week for people to go out and be good little consumers. Outside of this the 40 hour work week has kind of mandated the 40 hour work week. If a company is engaged in any type of business to business, relationship is going to need to be able to accommodate deliveries or sales orders. At the time they are processed, which will be between 9:00 and 5:00, but it is easy to tell that this isn’t always the best arrangement, but those of you who work in a normal office environment think on how much of the day is actually spent on task. The figures vary wildly. Study to study an industry to industry, but most research notes that modern office workers only spend about 45% of their working hours on their primary task. The rest is made up of things like lunch and coffee breaks, meetings, distractions, and the infamous task of trying to look busy. Obviously, some of these in celery duties. But in many ways, office workers are a lot more like farmworkers number. How many hours in account? And putting up the office, they’re only going to be able to produce one quarterly report per company per quarter and times between those reports. They might not have anything to do at all. There are exceptions, of course. Things like sales, ad rolls with billable hours can benefit from more time in the office, but that’s not most workers. Most workers have a task they do, and so long as that task is done, they have justified their existence. Now this all causes the first major. The plight of the seasonal worker takes that corporate account again. They will be expected to come into the office 40 hours a week, but for a lot of that time there won’t be much for them to do at all between major reporting dates, there will be a lull in their responsibilities in the same way that farmers had a lull in their responsibilities between planting and harvesting. Of course, as we saw earlier, the farmers would just pull back on their hours during these levels, but accounts can’t really do that if they’re not there from 9 to 5, bosses possible start asking questions during major recording periods. Corporate accountants will be tasked with putting together major reports for investors. Regulatory bodies, or even just the companies I management and those tasks could very easily consume more than 40 hours a week. We refinery is happy to work 70 hour weeks during harvest because they can go back to work in 20 hours a week. Once they’ve done, an accountant might be less thrilled about that arrangement because they will only ever be able to go back to the standard 40 hour week despite overworking the poor accountant. It’s actually very bad for morale. Humans are very outcome driven animals.
Most research notes that people don’t actually mind putting in long hours, which even outcome like presenting or finishing a harvest because they can’t deal a sense of pride. Accomplishment in their work once it’s done, what they do hate is what some time spent doing very little interspersed with peaks of massive stressful expectations.