Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The 40-hour work week: Will we lose it?

leave a comment »

The 40-hour work week was the achievement of years of union activity. Employers, of course, always want free labor (improves profit margins quite a bit) and so push to kill the 40-hour work week. One tactic is to put people on “salary” (flat-rate pay, regardless of hours worked), and then demand 60-70 hours a week of work, with no pay at all for the extra 20-30 hours. Great bargain for the employer.

Of course, employers for decades have been trying to kill unions—for pretty much this sort of reason: unions give benefits (and power) to workers, and employers do not like workers to have any power whatsoever: makes them troublesome. (Thus the enduring appeal of slavery, still in operation in, e.g., Florida, where enslaved farm workers are even now endemic. Still, it’s not like in the old days, when slaves could simply be murdered out of hand if they grew troublesome, like wanting “rights” or some such.)

At any rate, the 40-hour work week seems to be on the endangered list. Sara Robinson reports at AlterNet:

If you’re lucky enough to have a job right now, you’re probably doing everything possible to hold onto it. If the boss asks you to work 50 hours, you work 55. If she asks for 60, you give up weeknights and Saturdays, and work 65.

Odds are that you’ve been doing this for months, if not years, probably at the expense of your family life, your exercise routine, your diet, your stress levels, and your sanity. You’re burned out, tired, achy, and utterly forgotten by your spouse, kids and dog. But you push on anyway, because everybody knows that working crazy hours is what it takes to prove that you’re “passionate” and “productive” and “a team player” — the kind of person who might just have a chance to survive the next round of layoffs.

This is what work looks like now. It’s been this way for so long that most American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous, and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.

It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits — starting right now, today — is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing.

Yes, this flies in the face of everything modern management thinks it knows about work. So we need to understand more. How did we get to the 40-hour week in the first place? How did we lose it? And are there compelling bottom-line business reasons that we should bring it back?

The Making of the 40-Hour Week

The most essential thing to know about the 40-hour work-week is that, while it was the unions that pushed it, business leaders ultimately went along with it because their own data convinced them this was a solid, hard-nosed business decision.

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. As Tom Walker of the Work Less Institute puts it in his Prosperity Covenant: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2012 at 9:25 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.