Why is the standard work week 40 hours?

Well, it turns out there’s a story behind the standard 5-day work week.

Back in 1890, the US Government decided to track the number of hours employees spent at work. During that time, manufacturing was a booming industry in the United States. Makes sense given it was during America’s Industrial Revolution. A period of immense growth that created new industries and expanded the blue collar working class.

To say employees during that time put in a lot of work is an understatement. 

Back then, most people worked an average of 100 hours per week.

100 hours.

That’s the equivalent of 2.5 jobs today. And can you imagine the conditions workers had to endure in the mills and factories of the 19th century? No one was winning ‘Best Places To Work’ awards back then.

The conditions were so bad and the hours so long that workers formed labor unions to fight against the poor work environments they endured.

I’ll spare the elongated history lesson for the sake of this article, but know it took awhile before any significant changes were made. Though companies like Ford made spectacular changes long before the government stepped in.

After decades of strikes, talks, and negotiations labor unions, activists and advocates finally convinced Congress to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 which (among other things) limited the workweek to 44 hours. The Act was amended 2 years later to limit the work week to the now standard 40-hours.

That was 80 years ago.

We can agree that a lot has changed over that time.  Advances in technology, automation and a better understanding of work processes have allowed us to be more productive.

But are we?

Stephan Aarstol doesn’t seem to think so. Stephan, founder and CEO of Tower Paddle Boards, one of the most successful companies in Shark Tank history, believes most people squander the 40 hours they have each week.

Research seems to agree.

One study posits the average American worker spends 1.5 to 3 hours per day on private, non-work activities.

Knowing so many people don’t put in a full 8 hours of work, Stephan decided to make a drastic change at his company and cut the work week down from 40 hours per week to only 25. He shifted the work hours to 8AM – 1PM Monday – Friday, allowing employees to go home during a time when most people are rushing back to the office from a carb induced lunch.

What happened?

Well, as with everything, there were some great things and some not so great. But overall, the experiment taught Stephan (and his employees) something very valuable:

Employees can get a lot of work done when properly motivated.

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • Stephan’s experience on Shark Tank
  • How employees responded to a drastic schedule change
  • What worked and what didn’t
  • How you can try a short work day at your company

About Stephan Aarstol

Stephan Aarstol is the CEO and founder of Tower Paddle Boards, an online, manufacturer-direct brand in the stand up paddle boarding industry. With a 3-year growth rate of 1853%, Tower was named the Fastest Growing Company in San Diego by the San Diego Business Journal, and was featured in the 2015 Inc. 500 List of America’s Fastest Growing Companies.

In this book, you’ll learn how the five-hour workday:

• Improves business operations, efficiency, and profitability
• Attracts the brightest minds, the hardest workers, and the best performers
• Stimulates employee performance and increases retention rates
• Can be implemented and tested at your company, temporarily and without risk
• Can change your life into something better than you ever imagined possible