The 40-hour, 5-day workweek has been the norm in the United States for almost 100 years. Now imagine if it were replaced with a 32-hour, 4-day workweek--with no cut in pay. Would work-life balance magically descend on the land? Or would people be more stressed than ever? Should the 4-day workweek become the new normal?
TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Click to see this video and lesson plan on KQED Learn.
How did the 40-hour workweek become the norm?
Let’s rewind back to the Industrial Revolution, where workers weren’t uncommon to put in 12-hour days, six days a week. Workers back then weren’t stans of this arrangement, which is what led to the labor movement. By the 1880s, the slogan on everyone’s lips: “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.” In the 1920s, Henry Ford shocked the world by shortening the workweek for his assembly line employees down to 40 hours per week. And when the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, the U.S. Gov’t saw Ford’s shorter workweek as a way to fight the massive unemployment crisis – companies would need to hire more workers to get the job done. By 1940, a series of laws made the 40-hour workweek the norm in the U.S. It has been that way ever since.
What’s the economic reasoning for switching from a 40-hour to a 32-hour workweek?