The eight-hour work schedule is a corporate standard in America — but why? And what relevance does the reasoning behind it have today?
If you have ever heard the slogan "Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest," know it originated in the 1800s from a Welsh man named Robert Owen. He was the one who first introduced the idea of creating an eight-hour schedule as a way to reduce the harsh working conditions and difficult hours of factory workers — all of whom were working around 10 to 18 hours per day. Keep in mind that this was at a time where wages were lower and opportunities for advancement were practically nonexistent. However, the greatest catalyst for companies to begin enforcing the eight-hour schedule was Ford Motor Company in the 1900s.
As a result of the expansion of car manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution, the implementation of an eight-hour schedule became a viable solution for Ford to improve the wellness and productivity of workers in order to maximize profit. Moreover, the positive results associated with the eight-hour schedule garnered much attention and satisfaction by Ford, and other industries took notice. Very soon after, many factories and companies followed suit — hence, initiating the birth of standardizing the eight-hour schedule for the American workforce.
Yet, this schedule was put in place at a time that was most convenient for factory work. Times change, so perhaps companies should consider adjusting the weekly work schedule to one that is suitable for the 21st-century workforce. After all, we are in the Information Age.
Although the argument for the eight-hour workday was once that it allowed a balanced split between work, leisure, and rest activities, many people have begun to deem the entire schedule as an antiquated standard that should no longer apply to today's world of technological advancements, especially due to the increasing research revolving around motivation, mental and physical health, work-from-home employment, and our movement towards a knowledge economy.
I find that many individuals entering the workforce want their careers to flourish but also want greater opportunities to thrive in their personal lives; many conversations are starting to center around jobs that offer flexibility. Some people have argued that their creativity shows promising results only when initiated during times outside of work. People also seem to want more freedom to create relationships with others and contribute to their communities, whether that is with leisure activities or volunteer efforts.
The attention is not simply on having more free time, but to have a greater sense of a work-life balance, and to work during hours that are preferable or known to produce beneficial results. An eight-hour schedule does not take into account one's quality of work but rather the quantity of it.
According to a recent survey by FlexJobs, 66% of those employed said they would be or are more productive working remotely than in an office setting. To make matters even more interesting, only 7% said they are productive in "the office during regular business hours." Therefore, working eight hours a day means nothing if the hours are not being utilized in an effective manner.
In other words, an eight-hour schedule does not assure that all the work within these hours is being performed with maximum effort. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, an expert in the field of psychology and human performance, has found that people can be working around eight hours a day and yet only sustain concentration on their work for roughly two and a half hours. This finding not only warrants concern about the activities one is doing during the hours that concentration is not at its peak, but should spark an increase in furthering efforts to discover how best to schedule employees so that productivity is not wasted or diminished.
Working at a pace that is less than is expected due to a diminished ability to concentrate on producing beneficial outcomes should not be a common theme in current employment settings. Industries need to take into account the span of one's motivational stamina that is needed in order to generate the best returns for his or her organization. This may not only ensure high-quality work but also produce a more meaningful sentiment towards working that will allow employees and employers to maintain a balance between home life and work.
Research is suggesting that less is more, and if that is the case, perhaps it is time for companies relinquish the eight-hour workday standard and shift towards a schedule that offers more of a work-life balance and flexibility. What do you think?
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