Evolution of the Workweek

The workweek we know today looks drastically different than those from a century ago. With advances in technology and priorities in flexibility, today’s workweeks are capable of fluctuating around varied schedules. The timeline below looks back at some of the major shifts that characterize the evolving workweek.

Major Shifts in the Workweek

The late 1800s were characterized by heavy industry and manufacturing jobs. During this time, data collected by the US government indicated that hourly workers, particularly those in the manufacturing industry, were averaging 100 hours per week. There was a bigger focus on production than the well-being of employees which resulting in protests. The late 1800s and early 1900s saw a rise in employee strikes as well as labor unions pushing for legislation that established 8-hour workdays.

Henry Ford recognized the detriments of the current workweek and is often credited with popularizing the traditional 40-hour schedule we know today. In 1926 Ford mandated a 5 day 40-hour workweek for all his factories across the US. He took this step due to research which showed productivity actually increases when workers have an additional day for rest, relaxation, and family. This new workweek standard began to spread as many other companies followed suit.

This new standard soon became law when, on June 26, 1940, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. This Act created the right to minimum wage and limited the workweek to 40 hours unless overtime pay is given for hours worked in excess.

From the late 1900s through today it has become commonplace for people to work more than 40-hour workweeks, especially white collar professions. This is in part due to the current era of technology which extends the workweek outside of the typical 8-hour day enabled by constant access to email, synced devices, and remote meetings via widespread network availability on mobile devices. Blurred lines between work and home life are more prevalent than ever.

Additional Workweek Options

To further increase productivity among workers some companies have adjusted the format of their workweeks using a variety of strategies:

  • Same Hours, Less Days – A 40-hour workweek consisting of longer 10-hour days, but only 4 days of the week
  • Limited Workweek – A 32-hour workweek of the traditional 8-hour days, but only 4 days of the week
  • Flex Workweek – Includes remote work, telecommuting, and/or employees creating their own schedules

The flex workweek is the largest growing strategy and the one we believe is most effective for hourly workers. Flexibility in the workplace is a driving motivator when people are searching for jobs. It promotes a better work-life balance and has shown to be a motivating factor when recruiting and hiring hourly employees. Specifically, 77% of hourly workers say work-life balance is an important consideration, ranking it above pay. Not only is flexibility a key concern for hourly workers, but it should be for their employers as well. When 91% of HR professionals agree flexible work arrangements positively influence employee engagement, companies should take notice.

The workweek and employee expectations are evolving, and companies who wish to remain competitive in today’s environment need to evolve with them. Technology allows for a much greater reach in recruiting new employees, but it also plays an important role in retaining them. It’s easy to see how technology’s presence extends through the white collar sector, but hourly workers have much to benefit from it as well. Using technology, an hourly workweek can be designed to fit workers’ schedules in a way that increases productivity for themselves and the company. The traditional workweek is no longer the norm – flexibility is.