Monday, December 16, 2013

The real reason for the 40-hour work week

Why do Americans work Monday through Friday and take weekends off?

Labor unions say we should thank the rise of organized labor in the early 20th century, whose tireless efforts on behalf of workers forced selfish capitalists to give their employees a break.

Henry Ford, in an article published in World’s Work Magazine in 1926, says his company switched from 6-day/48 hours to the modern work week in order to give workers a break. Many people still quote Ford as the visionary who paid his workers extra so they could afford to buy his cars. [see this excellent account from Ooomf, reprinted at TNW]

But I have a much simpler explanation: Henry Ford paid his workers more, and gave them weekends off because he didn’t want them to work for his competitors.

Google gives its employees free food. Will future labor historians look back and thank the visionary Google management for putting people above profits? Or is it just a clever way to keep employees longer at the office? If you have free food at the office, why go on a networking lunch with somebody from outside?

Most employers really do care that their employees have relaxing leisure time, but even if they didn’t, a 40 hour work week is a good idea if for no other reason than to raise the stakes for your competitors.

Coal Miner, Detail