The Hours In A Workday

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The Work Week -

Have you ever wondered why most businesses have an eight-hour workday?

There are still some people who are required to work 12 hour shifts, but the standard workday is considered to be eight hours. The eight-hour workday was an unrealized ideal for workers in the late 1800s. This time period was known as the Industrial Revolution. The businesses back then wanted to maximize earnings, so they required their employees to work 10-16 hour shifts. However, these long hours exhausted workers. Eventually, they organized and tried to do something about the long workdays.

How the Eight-Hour Workday Came About

On August 20, 1866, the National Labor Union called on the United States Congress to order an eight-hour workday. They failed to persuade Congress to shorten the workday, and the union dissolved in 1873. Nevertheless, its efforts did heighten awareness of existing labor issues.

In 1886, a union known as the Knights of Labor was established. They attempted to change public opinion of a lengthy workday. A series of strikes by railroad workers put a damper on their cause. The police were called during one of the railroad strikes. Two union men were shot, and an explosion killed several of the policemen. The outbreak is known as the Haymarket Riot. After this incident, the movement toward an eight-hour workday was considered to be radical.

After the railroad strikes, it took decades to see a push for labor reform. In 1933, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act. It was an emergency measure taken by Franklin D. Roosevelt to combat the Great Depression. The National Industrial Recovery Act provided for the establishment of maximum work hours, a minimum wage and the right of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining allows unions to represent their members in negotiations with an employer. Although the National Industrial Recovery Act established clear labor guidelines, most workers did not gain an eight-hour workday until the 1950s.

How Much Work Will You Have To Do Today?

How much work will you have to do today, in order to… ?

Ford Motor Company

In 1914, Henry Ford cut the standard workday to eight hours. He shortened the workweek to five days, and he doubled the hourly wages for his employees. This shocked many industries. After analyzing production levels, Ford realized that the productivity of his workers lagged after a period of time. Ford believed that production would probably increase if he shortened the workday. After implementing an eight-hour workday, Ford’s profit margins doubled within two years. This encouraged other companies to convert to an eight-hour workday.

The Kellogg Company

On December 1, 1930, W.K. Kellogg replaced three eight-hour shifts in his Battle Creek, Michigan plant with four six-hour shifts. He declared that his cereal would be manufactured by a company with a conscience. Kellogg considered this change as his contribution to the fight against the Great Depression. The extra shift boosted new jobs by 30 percent.

Kellogg’s six-hour workday was an instant success. It attracted the attention of the national media. It also attracted the attention of Herbert Hoover’s administration. Kellogg’s six-hour workday won strong support from many prominent businessmen and labor leaders all over the United States. His workers also supported the new changes. Kellogg believed his idea would revolutionize industry. The six-hour workday functioned exactly as he had hoped. It created new jobs, and his workers were happy with the new six-hour shifts. Workers were paid for seven hours during the first year of the six-hour workday. Wages were raised back to the pay level of the eight-hour workday for the second year. Essentially, Kellogg was sharing the profits from the increased productivity created by the six-hour workday.

There is a lot more to Kellogg’s story, and the company eventually reverted back to an eight-hour workday. This was largely due to changing attitudes about work during World War II. However, Kellogg did increase jobs during a time when the country desperately needed them. The six-hour shifts worked very well for his company.

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Fast Forward to Modern Times

More than 100 years have gone by since the first movement to shorten the workday. There is a new international push for a six-hour workday. Recently, there have been scientific studies that support the idea of a shorter workday.

A study conducted by the RIKEN Brain Science Institute has provided some valuable insights on how the human brain focuses on any given task. The scientists maintain that increased focus can improve human productivity. The researchers bolstered the fact that shorter time spans of concentration heightens focus. It’s safe to say that we have suspected this for quite some time. Here at, we have blogged about time management as one of the best ways to accomplish tasks. Time management is based on scheduling and shortening the length of time focused on tasks.

The human brain uses two focal processes to complete tasks. The first is called sensitivity enhancement, and the second is called efficiency selection. Sensitivity enhancement means we see a scene, and the brain takes in all of the presented information. After the information has been presented, the brain focuses on what needs attention. It’s akin to a blurry photo that slowly becomes focused. Efficiency selection is the actual zooming in on a task as it is occurring. According to research psychologists, this is called the flow state.

Flow Time Scene - The Social Network Movie

Don’t disturb these guys…they are “in the flow” 😉

Because the brain has to go through two steps to accomplish tasks, it’s best to concentrate on one task at a time. There is enough scientific evidence to support the theory that we can do more in less time, but switching to a six-hour workday is probably not in the immediate future.

The Future of the Six-Hour Workday

A Sydney University study states that the physical decline during an eight-hour workday is the fault of the workers. The study indicates that the relentless pursuit of career goals and job satisfaction may actually be the source of physical decline. The study was published in the Australian Law Reform Commission Journal. According to the study, working longer than six hours can cause anxiety and exhaustion. The Sydney researchers maintain that these things lessen the quality of life. The study further suggests that a six-hour workday could remove these difficulties. The researchers believe that people currently devote most of their days to working so that they can make more money, but the money doesn’t necessarily make them feel fulfilled. The study contends that as long as there is a trend to work long hours, human well-being will continue to decline.

Workers of the World: Unite !

Communist Cat says, “Workers of the World, Unite!”

Where does that leave employees who want to maintain their well-being with shorter workdays? Currently, most of them don’t have a choice. Should they form another union? Maybe not a union, but perhaps they should quote the research scientists more often. Since the current workforce is so varied, it’s unlikely that a large group of people will push for a six-hour workday. One of the representatives of a major New Jersey HR consulting company believes that professionals tend to view their jobs as fulfilling careers. This indicates that professionals who find their work fulfilling are not necessarily bothered by an eight-hour workday. However, all workers are not classified as professionals. Perhaps these are the people who may be pushing for a six-hour workday.

In essence, it’s all up to the workers. If they want a six-hour workday, large numbers of them will have to organize and demand it. Until then, will continue to blog about how to get the most out of time spent at work.

Of course, we will still provide tips for napping and excuse making for those few days during the year that aren’t going very well. 😉

The Alarm Clock Blog will keep you updated on any new information concerning the six-hour workday.

What do you think?

Do you believe that working less increases productivity?

Please continue to use our free online time tools to help keep your productivity up to speed, and let us know your opinion by leaving a message here in the comments!

And, for those of you still caught in the rut of “working for the weekend”, may your countdowns to Friday always run a little fast.

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