More leaders are scrapping the 40-hour workweek. Here's how it became so popular in the first place.
- More companies are implementing four-day workweeks to attract and retain talent.
- This trend emerges as many employees are quitting their current jobs, many citing burnout.
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed the way the world works. Over the past two years, many Americans have reported working longer, taking fewer breaks, and signing on at all hours of the day and night. In fact, many Americans reported working as much as three additional hours each day, Bloomberg reported in 2020. Now all of that's changing.
Employees are quitting their jobs at record rates, with many citing burnout and not feeling valued. To attract and retain talent, more companies are adopting a four-day workweek. Panasonic announced a four-day workweek policy earlier this week, Nikkei reported. Earlier this month, San Francisco-based e-commerce startup Bolt adopted a four-day workweek after conducting a trial that execs said increased improved productivity and work-life balance. Other companies and nonprofits have also scrapped the five-day workweek in recent months.
These changes fuel public discourse over whether the 40-hour workweek still makes sense for employees. Here's a look back through the
The history of the 40-hour workweek
August 20, 1866: A newly formed organization named the National
May 1, 1867: The Illinois legislature passed a law mandating an eight-hour workday. Many employers refused to cooperate, and a massive strike erupted in Chicago. That day became known as "May Day."
May 19, 1869: President Ulysses S. Grant issued a proclamation that guaranteed a stable wage and an eight-hour workday — but only for government workers. Grant's decision encouraged private-sector workers to push for the same rights.
1870s and 1880s: While the National Labor Union had dissolved, other organizations including the Knights of Labor and the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions continued to demand an eight-hour workday. Every year on May Day, strikes and demonstrations were organized to bring awareness to the issue.
May 1, 1886: Labor organizations called for a national strike in support of a shorter workday. More than 300,000 workers turned out across the country. In Chicago, demonstrators fought with police over the next few days. Many on both sides were wounded or killed in an event that's now known as the "Haymarket Affair."
1890: The US government began tracking workers' hours. The average workweek for full-time manufacturing employees was a whopping 100 hours.
1906: The eight-hour workday was instituted at two major firms in the printing industry.
September 3, 1916: Congress passed the Adamson Act, a federal law that established an eight-hour workday for interstate railroad workers. The Supreme Court constitutionalized the act in 1917.
September 25, 1926: Ford Motor Companies adopted a five-day, 40-hour workweek.
June 25, 1938: Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limited the workweek to 44 hours.
June 26, 1940: Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, limiting the workweek to 40 hours.
October 24, 1940: The Fair Labor Standards Act went into effect.
How the 40-hour workweek has evolved
Despite the long
In a survey by tax and professional services firm EY, half of managers around the world reported logging more than 40 hours a week. In the US, a whopping 58% of managers said they worked over 40 hours a week. Presumably, some of that time is spent at home answering emails, instead of at the office.
Meanwhile, there's evidence that some Americans see working around the clock as a kind of status symbol. While many people claim to be working 60- or 80-hour workweeks, much of that time isn't very productive. In fields like finance and consulting, some workers may only be pretending to work 80-hour weeks, a recent study suggests.
In general, research suggests that we can handle working 60-hour weeks for three weeks — after that, we become less productive.
This story was originally published in June 2020.
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