Should AI Disrupt the 8 Hour Workday?

Is it time for every weekend to be a three day weekend? The 40 hour work week as we know it might be coming to an end and honestly, why shouldn’t it? The average US full time employee will spend 90,000 hours working over the course of their life. That breaks down to 2,080 hours annually. However, with an ever increasing global community and advancements in generative AI, we have to ask ourselves should we be working less?

Origins of the 40 Hour Week

Given how long a 40 hour week already feels, you might be surprised to hear that the original work week was typically 70+ hours. The origins of our modern work culture began with the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s. The greed of business owners seeking to maximize profits at the cost of people’s wellbeing resulted in factories operating from sun up to sun down for 6 days a week. The conditions were so sever that the first protests & worker’s demands were to achieve a 10 hour work day. By the late 1800s, studies began to show (to no one’s surprise) that as people we are less productive past 8 hours of working.

In the 1920s Henry Ford adopted an 8 hour workday to keep his factories running in shifts for 24 hours a day. Even this was still pushing the limits of how many hours a person could effectively work and it took the US Government to make 40 hours the norm in 1940. 

Why has it not Decreased?

It’s important to consider the context in which the 40 hour work week came about. At the time, work was synonymous with manual labor of some capacity. What this meant for the company was that an empty seat on an assembly line directly correlated to a loss of profits. The shorter the work week, the fewer products a company could sell. 

This is no longer the case. We are in a digital age where work is frequently completed from the comfort of our own homes. For most corporate positions, taking a 5 minute break means a 5 minute delay in polishing your slide deck rather than costing hundreds of dollars for stalling an assembly line. 

When we consider that these processes have largely been automated, we must ask ourselves why has the work week remained the same in a vastly different world?


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