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The eight hour workday: fact or fiction?

Thinking back to our secondary school days, the school bell would ring at 8:45 to announce the start of the day and again at 3:15 to mark the end – and everyone would stand up to go. Now thinking about our working day, while our contracted hours might be 9 – 5 it’s very rare to see everyone sit down at their desks for 9:00 and stand up to leave at 5:00.

What started off as an eight hour working day has officially transformed.

The Eight Hour Day

The eight-hour day movement, also known as the short-term movement, began during the Industrial Revolution in the UK. Large factories transformed working life and the day could range from 10 to 16 hours per day for six days each week.

Recognising that this length of day was not sustainable or productive, it was soon decided to implement an eight-hour day: eight hours’ working, eight hours’ recreation and eight hours’ sleep. Factories and employers quickly saw the results of this in increased output and profit margins.

One of the first businesses to implement this was the Ford Motor Company, in 1914, which not only cut the standard work day to eight hours, but also doubled their worker’s pay in the process. To the shock of many industries, this resulted in Ford’s productivity off of these same workers, but with fewer hours, actually increasing significantly and Ford’s profit margins doubled within two years. This encouraged other companies to adopt the shorter, eight hour work day as a standard for their employees.

Leonhard Widrich, Huffington Post, 1 July 2014

With a revolution bringing the 16 hour day down to eight hours, why is it transforming again?

Life that extends into Work

With a growing number of working families and an ageing population, the pressures of family life are naturally extending into the working day. Almost half of families have both parents working full time, with Dads more frequently sharing care responsibilities and Mums still on call if there’s a problem. With one in four also caring for a dependent, these things naturally shift the working pattern outside the eight hour window.

Work that extends into Life

While some may have the ability to fit their working pattern into an eight hour day, technology has meant that work often extends outside of the office and just a click away. Whether it’s checking emails on Sunday evening before a Monday meeting or responding to a quick email request after work, work can come home and impact our personal time.

What’s the answer?

As work and life become more integrated, the working day no longer fits the 9-5 mould. Organisations already recognising this trend are focusing on employees’ completion of deadlines rather than the timeframe in which they are completed. Flexible working, condensed hours, job shares and different locations are becoming more common too as employers develop the mind-set that as long as the work is getting done, it doesn’t matter when or where they are completing it.

Employers who provide flexibility for their people and the resources to do so will win in terms of recruitment, retention and job satisfaction for their people.

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