Bring back the 40-hour work week

Cult of overwork

Companies are more productive when they stick to a 40-hour week. This article explains why.

From the article:

Unions started fighting for the short week in both the UK and US in the early 19th century. By the latter part of the century, it was becoming the norm in an increasing number of industries. And a weird thing happened: over and over — across many business sectors in many countries — business owners discovered that when they gave into the union and cut the hours, their businesses became significantly more productive and profitable.

Even Henry Ford, who was definitely some kind of socialist, profited from this knowledge:

By 1914, emboldened by a dozen years of in-house research, Henry Ford famously took the radical step of doubling his workers’ pay, and cut shifts in Ford plants from nine hours to eight. The National Association of Manufacturers criticized him bitterly for this — though many of his competitors climbed on board in the next few years when they saw how Ford’s business boomed as a result. In 1937, the 40-hour week was enshrined nationwide as part of the New Deal. By that point, there were a solid five decades of industrial research that proved, beyond a doubt, that if you wanted to keep your workers bright, healthy, productive, safe, and efficient over a sustained stretch of time, you kept them to no more than 40 hours a week and eight hours a day.

Basically, it seems that this was accepted knowledge for decades – until some time around the 80s when constant overwork became seen as a sign of passion and a desirable tendency in employees.

Go read the whole thing – it is excellent.

Your take

What about your workplace? Are people allowed to work 40 hour weeks or is overtime more or less mandatory? What is your optimal number of working hours per week? Please write a comment, I’d love to know your take.

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8 thoughts on “Bring back the 40-hour work week”

  1. I could not agree with you more. The key to thriving at work AND having a complete, full life is giving yourself a break! Make sure you make time for love, family, recreation, and personal growth. Once you do, you’ll find that the time you do spend working is SO productive and fruitful that there’s no need to overexert yourself into exhaustion (emotional, mental, and spiritual). Part of finding and exercising your true power at work requires rejuvenating yourself on all levels.

  2. I work in a global company, with the bulk of my department being situated 10 timezones away from me. Overtime is not mandatory, but I have been frowned upon by a manager for refusing to attend department meetings that the manager insist on scheduling on what for me is past midnight on Saturday mornings.

    I think it’s not only the hours worked that matter, but also how much of the work is late nights or early mornings. After having worked 50-60 hours for many years, I am now doing ~45 hours in 4 days to cover the nighttime meetings. It’s better, but still taking it’s toll on the productivity.

  3. I used to work 11 hour s per day, every day. After a cancer diagnosis, I am on a pretty strict 40 hour week. Of course, there are times when I have to work late. I am much more healthy and productive now!

  4. A very good article. One I think every manager should have branded onto his/her retina. And the same goes for this site.

    However, there is one thing I disagree with in the article. The role of the unions and Reagan. It is easy to be a socialist and only blame Reagan, and totally lose sight of the union which itself has not been able to cope with change and keep itself needed and important and useful. In Holland, they are fighting to keep retirement ages at 65, but they never fight employers who won’t hire people aged 45 and over.

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