Published 30 June 2017 Category: Workplace

Why We Have 8 Hour Work Days

One of the most unchanged elements of our life today is our optimal work time or how long we should work – generally, every person we’ve ever known quotes us something close to 8 hours a day. The average person works 8.8 hours every day. At least, that seems to be the norm for the bulk of humanity. And yet, for most of us at the end of the day, it is obvious that knowing how long the average person works every day has little to do with how efficient or productive we are or have become.

Why do we have 8 hour work days in the first place?
Let’s start out with what we have right now. The typical work day is around 8 hours. But how did we come up with that? The answer is hidden in the tidings of the Industrial revolution. In the late 18th century, when companies started to maximize the output of their factories, getting to running them 24/7 was key. Now of course, to make things more efficient, people had to work more. In fact, 10-16 hour days were the norm.

These incredibly long work days weren’t sustainable and soon a brave man called Robert Owen started a campaign to have people work no more than 8 hours per day.  His slogan was ‘Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation and Eight hours rest.’

One of the first businesses to implement this was the Ford Motor Company, in 1914, which not only cut the standard work day to eight hours, but also doubled their worker’s pay in the process.  To the shock of many industries, this resulted in Ford’s productivity off of these same workers, but with fewer hours, actually increasing significantly and Ford’s profit margins doubled within a span of two years.  This encouraged other companies to adopt the shorter, eight hour work day as a standard for their employees.

So there we have it. The reason we work 8 hours a day, isn’t scientific or much thought out. It’s purely a century old norm for running factories most efficiently. One of the things most of us easily forget is that as humans, we are distinctly different from machines. At the core, this means that machines move linearly and humans move cyclically.

How long we work isn’t important anymore, it’s managing energy that counts; energy and focus– especially in today’s creative economy.