The economists got it wrong when they though productivity gains would lead to shorter workweeks.
When I started in the publishing business in 1992, Cahners Publishing had a 35-hour workweek. Yes, we came in at nine, left at five, and took an hour for lunch. I found it astonishing that people in publishing worked "bankers hours" compared to industry. Working as an engineer, the shortest day was 9 hours (8+1) but we usually worked more.
At Cahners, there was even a period of a few years where we worked four-hour days on Fridays between Memorial Day (last Monday in May) and Labor Day (first Monday in September). That vanished around 2002 when the economy hit the skids. The company also had a parental-leave policy where you could take eight weeks off at full pay for the birth or adoption of a child. I took advantage of that policy when my daughter was born. That policy also vanished when the layoffs came a few years later.
A recent article in The Week, "What Happened to the Six-Hour Workday?" made me laugh to think that in the 1930s people actually thought the workweek would one day get down to 30 hours. That changed in the 1950s. The article, referring to the Kellogg Company, which had instituted a short workweek, states:
In the '50s, a new management team arrived, one that may have tended to "denigrate and 'feminize' shorter hours."
As I think back to those days of paper publishing, I realize how good we had it. Today, a six-hour workday is called "Sunday." (Note the date of this article.) I do try to take Saturdays off, usually because I'm so burned out by Friday night that my head is spinning.
I'm sure many of you work more than 40 hours a week. Did you always do that, or did it start at the last economic downturn? Sure, we always work extra hours when a project is due, but do you work extra hours all the time? Do you work at night from home, perhaps after the kids are asleep?
I work at home. The great part is that I don't have to commute to work every day and I don't think I could go back to that. But, the downside of working at home is that you never leave work.
When you consider your productivity compared with even five to ten years ago, you realize that you're producing far more per hour than you once did. But you're still working more hours. What happened? It's called global competition, business downturns, business upturns, and so on.
The 35-hour workweek is long gone (if it ever existed for you) as is the 40-, 45-, and perhaps 50-hour workweek. A 35-hour workweek is called "part-time." Get used to it, for we will never Bring Back the 40-Hour Work Week, no matter what the cost.
—Martin Rowe, Senior Technical Editor