By Irene Gerardi
If you are reading this article, you are probably sitting at your desk, in a corporate job, where you work around 8 hours per day. But have you ever wondered where these 8 hours come from? And have you ever asked yourself if these hours are really necessary?
You might think I lost my mind if I told you that you have to work with the latest technology available, but to do so in a timeframe and manner invented in 1810. That you have access to remote work, AI and fast technology, but you must comply with rules made 207 years ago. Wouldn’t that be absolutely crazy? But that’s what you are doing, that is what we are all doing. Don’t you think it’s time to change?
A brief history of the 8-hour working day
Robert Owen, a Scottish mill owner, first introduced the 10-hour working day in 1810, then later pushed it further and implemented the 8-hour working day in order to increase productivity by improving his employees’ quality of life.
Shortly after, American workers started to ask for shorter working hours. On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford not only cut shifts from 9 hours to 8, but it also doubled pay to $5 per day, and of course, after seeing that his profit double in two years, other companies followed.
Ford had inadvertently started a labour movement across America which culminated with the Fair Labor Standards act in 1938 that enshrined US workers’ rights for, among other things, a 40-hour work week. And so it was, the finished product of the second industrial revolution was born.
An outdated practice
Working 8 hours a day was probably a modern practice until 20 years ago, and today it is mostly universally recognised by many professionals as an unproductive way to work.
Whilst it’s true that no all jobs are the same, and some companies might incur additional costs when cutting working hours (say, for example, a hospital which would need to double its staff in order to cover all shifts), it’s also true that this need does not apply to most corporate workers.
Eight hours were necessary when you needed to file all of your documents by hand, deal with slow operating systems, fax, mail, and wait for interminably long minutes in order to be connected to someone at the phone. Today, our co-workers might not even be located in the same office where we are, we work in conference calls, online chats, live cameras for overseas offices, and we all have the latest technology available.
Let me tell you about how this difference actually happens in day-to-day life. Let’s talk about media buying. I am a marketer, I worked with media buying for a few years and I can tell you some years ago it took me DAYS to get something done. Back then, those 8 hours of my day were filled with countless emails between myself and advertisers, asking for quotes, approving quotes, negotiating advertising, negotiating specs, price, size, placement, dates, and finally, purchasing my ad.
Now, I have something called PROGRAMMATIC, a wonderful piece of software technology that spares me two days of pain and allows me to automate the buying, placement, and optimisation of media via a bidding system. I don’t have to communicate with way too many humans anymore and I don’t have to spend days on transactional activities. Of course, it took me time to set it up at first, but I now have software that is able to do in a few minutes what once took me a large chunk of my working hours.
This small example can be applied to many different industries and careers. Simply, today’s technology allows us to work more efficiently, and, in the same way, it can allow us to spend fewer hours in the office.
Just think about what you actually do during your day, think about this, take a moment. Think about all the useless meetings you attend, all the breaks you take to ease your way during the day, how quickly or slowly you work, and how much time you spend reading the news on a Friday afternoon, nervously looking at the clock waiting for freedom. Remove all of this nonsense and you are probably going to end up with a shorter working day, perhaps 6 hours instead of 8?
Too expensive for your organisation
The concern with expenses going through the roof is real and should be taken in consideration, but as happened for Henry Ford, your clients and contacts would quickly adapt to your new working arrangements, or even follow. There’s a real chance you wouldn’t lose business by cutting hours, and your costs would probably stay the same, if not decrease, because of increased employee retention.
Most corporate jobs don’t require double shifts, around the clock, and your productivity would probably go up, meaning that you would get your job done, perhaps more, in less time. One Swedish study, for example, found that workers are healthier and more productive when working six-hour days.
Whilst Sweden and France are acting as the guinea pigs in introducing the 6-hour working day, studies suggest it can be implemented and with great benefits to productivity. Although a concept still in its infancy, the new working arrangements need to be taken in consideration. The argument is not only about productivity studies, but also about a concept that was first introduced in 1810, and today still stands on a rock-solid base of tradition and unwillingness to change. Australia could be the perfect place to implement this new and innovative culture.
Eight hours are an obsolete practice, a happy workforce is a more productive one, and it’s time to change. Is your organisation going to lead the new corporate revolution?