Friday, June 14, 2013

Why Is The Work Day 8 Hours and Work Week 40 Hours?

In the US, the average work day is from 9-5 which is 8 hours. Some people may work different hours but almost everybody works a standard 8 hour day. And if you work 5 days a week that equals 40 hours of work each week. But this wasn't always the case. As little as a century ago there was no standard work day and most workers did not take Saturday and Sunday off. In fact in 1914 Henry Ford decreased the work day from 9 hours to 8 hours for his employees. They worked 6 days a week though, so their work week consisted of 48 hours. Most companies at the time still worked their employees much harder than Ford, and did not suit. At the time most workers were working about 60 hours per week. The machines in Ford's factories allowed the workers to work less and still manufacture enough parts to build their cars. In the same way technology has allowed workers to work less and less every decade. Our great-grandfathers were probably working about 50% more than most of us do today. But with computers and the internet, as well as automated machines and factories, the average full time worker only needs to work 40 hours per week. In 1946, the government limited work to 40 hours per week for all federal employees. Today the average non farm private sector worker works 34.5 hours each week.

Of course some people work a lot more and many work less than 40 hours a week, but 40 seems to be the standard in our country as well as many other places around the world. In 1995, China adopted the 40 hour work week as well. In 2000, France adopted a 35 hour week for it's workers. The average work week in The Netherlands is under 30 hours. The European Union has enacted laws that limit the working hours to 48 hours in a week (except in the UK and Malta). Mexico also has a law that limits the work week to 48 hours or less, but it is rarely observed or enforced. In Australia the maximum is 38 hours per week. In Brazil they work 8 hours a day on weekdays and 4 hours on Saturdays for a total of 44 hours per week. In Columbia the maximum amount of work is 48 hours per week. Some workers in India work as much as 66 hours per week, however many workers only work 40-45 hours. In Samoa workers work an average of 30 hours a week. In Papua, the Kapauku people believe that it is bad luck to work for 2 days in a row. While the !Kung Bushmen work only 2 1/2 days in a week and usually less than 6 hours a day when they do work.

So while we don't work like they do in Papua or the !Kung people, we certainly work a lot less than our forefathers did in this country only decades ago. So next time you are working overtime just remind yourself that you are lucky to live in these times, with computers and technology to make your job easier. If you were born 100 years earlier you would likely be working almost twice as hard as you do now! And of course you could always move to somewhere like Samoa where they work much less.