If the 40-hour work week feels daunting now, just consider those who were around in the 1890s when full-time auto employees clocked in an unbelievable 100 hours a week. Sunday scaries much?
Fortunately we’ve come a long way since then, thanks to a little thing called the Industrial Revolution that, for better or worse, helped shape the 9-to-5 that we know today. While the debate continues about whether the 40-hour week sets us up for productivity, here’s a quick rundown of how it became the norm in the first place.
Robert Owen—an early founder of socialism—is the first to suggest an eight-hour workday, coining the phrase, “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” Sadly it didn’t get much traction for about another century. That’s capitalism for you. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
The National Labor Union tries to persuade Congress to pass a law mandating a shorter work day. It fails, but garners awareness and support from the public in the process, so the fight continues.
After pressure from the Chicago labor movement, the Illinois legislature passes a law granting an eight-hour workday. Success! Erm, not so much. A huge loophole meant employers didn’t have to enforce it. This causes widespread striking and a violent clash between both sides.
President Ulysses S. Grant calls for an eight-hour workday without cutting wages, but unfortunately the proclamation only applies to government employees.
Ford Motor Company announces it will double the pay for employees and only require eight-hour workdays (down from nine)—immediately boosting productivity and setting an example for other major corporations to follow suit.
Ford continues to trail-blaze in the space for workers rights by cutting the work week from six days to five, thus creating the weekend as we know it today.
Enter the New Deal and the Fair Labor Standard Act, which recognizes eight hours as a legal working day. It also protects minimum wage and other worker protections.
Dolly Parton drops the iconic “9 to 5,” soundtracking the working woman’s comedy by the same name.
So has anything changed? While it often feels like our work never stops in the digital age, it’s become much more fluid over time. Meaning: We telecommute and WFH; we dial into conference calls from our Uber; we freelance and hustle outside of our 9-to-5.
In fact, a recent study reports that 43 percent of Americans worked from home at some point in 2016. Workplaces are finally catching up to this notion, providing the flexible work conditions the current labor market craves. But as far as clocking in at 9 a.m. sharp? Well, that’s something you’ll have to take up with your boss.