Has the 40-Hour Workweek Gone Away?

Through the centuries, the workweek has pretty much remained the same; 5 days a week and 40 hours a week. In 1918 Congress passed a law establishing an 8-hour workday to avoid a strike for all interstate rail workers. In 1924, Henry Ford moved to a five-day workweek and stopped working on weekends. In 1928, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was signed into legislation requiring a minimum wage and overtime pay for those working more than 44 hours in a week. Finally, the FLSA lowers the federal minimum standard hours to 40 a week in 1940.

So, for 77 years, we have all been used to working and being paid for a 40-hour workweek, whether we work that 40 hours or not. Suffice to say, most employees find that they are working more than 40 hours a week just to keep up with the work. Does this make sense? Here are some thoughts about either shortening the workweek or finding another way to maintain productivity and engagement through choice.

More Part-Time

Hiring more part-time workers makes sense. You can draw from a pool of individuals who find that they cannot work a standard 40-hour week due to childcare issues, aging parents, or some other reason that a traditional workweek doesn’t make sense for them. Many organizations state that it is getting harder to find people to fill their myriad of openings.

Flexibility

The new generation of workers is looking for more work-life balance. They are attracted to companies that allow them some flexibility in their work day/week so they can partake in other interesting things in their lives, or just to sleep later in the morning. Not everyone is a morning person. Some people do their best work at night. Does keeping your business open 24-hours appeal to you?

Less Overtime

Having a pool of part-time workers also lowers the overtime payments for those who are non-exempt since nobody will actually work over 40 hours. It is bringing back the job sharing that was popular in the 1970’s when young mothers were looking for a way to spend more time with their children. It worked. Employees were happier, more engaged, enjoyed their work, and were happy to share the work with another person.

Time Management

Fewer meetings since there wouldn’t be time to sit in another meeting to discuss things that were already discussed before. You would have to think differently about meetings since they would take up too much time out of the shortened work day.

Shifting Schedules

Many companies have shortened workweeks in the summer months often giving off a half a day on Friday so that employees can start their weekend earlier. Employees love this and are willing to work more hours during the week just to have some extra time off.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a radical way of thinking. Most organizations will say that they couldn’t do this because their customers/clients are used to having someone in the office when they are opened for business. Working with different people may cause issues with those same customers who like speaking with the same person. Some will say that their type of business model doesn’t lend itself to anything but the 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with an hour for lunch schedule.

However, many companies are already looking at different work schedules offering flex-hours during specific core hours adding a choice for their employees. An example would be core hours of 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. Employees choose the hours they want to work during the week between those times. If they like to work 10 hours days, then they could work 4 days a week; if they like to wake up early and have more of the afternoon for their own appointments or children’s events then they start at 7:00 am; if they like to sleep in the morning but don’t mind working later, then they can come in at 10:00 am and work until 7:00 pm. They can decide what works for them. This is a benefit that more employees are looking for when choosing an employer.

This is really a great benefit to offer your employees. I am sure that in 77 years things have really changed in the work-a-day world. With some planning and good execution, you could offer this no cost benefit to your employees and still get all of the work done in a timely fashion.

Think outside of the workweek box and see what you can come up with to engage your employees and help them to enjoy their work life while taking care of their personal lives too. Never say never, because more and more companies are beginning to think about changing the way that people work. Do you want to be seen as innovative or going along with the rest?

It is good to see this thinking happening after 77 years.

Carol Kardas

With 25+ years of generalist HR experience, Carol’s focus includes compensation, training, and employee relations. She has advanced HR certifications: SPHR, CCP, SHRM-SCP.

By | 2017-07-13T08:33:07+00:00 July 13th, 2017|Small Bites|3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Lois Krause (@LoisKrause3) 2017-07-13 at 11:30 am - Reply

    Flexibility is now the new way to work – thanks for the insight Carol! Great ideas and points!

  2. Cathy Woolley 2017-07-13 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Thoughtful article that continues to address why some employers are more and have lower turnover rates.

  3. Socialist Worker 2017-07-14 at 12:21 am - Reply

    Never say Never? What’s the newest politically correct way to fire someone now?

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