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The weekly work hour revolution. Is time still money?

The weekly work hour revolution. Is time still money?

One of the biggest problems I used to face during my employment, and which completely demotivated me most of the time, was the “time control”. Where I used to work, I very frankly don’t remember the HR department being more interested in anything other than tracking the hour and minute of arrival of their every employee in the morning, and sending warnings or sometimes even applying sanctions accordingly. It felt like they found very special pleasure in doing so.

Why it demotivated me? At first, I was so extraordinarily passionate about my work that I used to leave the office generally around 2 hours after everyone else had left. During a few months, I would even work on Saturdays and Sundays until 6 pm. It was never a question of getting paid for my extra hours (I was never paid for any extra time and it honestly never crossed my mind), but I was glad I was able to complete my tasks before deadlines, especially that no one would interrupt me after the official office hours. But, as a normal human being, when I would stay 3 extra hours at the office, I would normally give myself the right to show up at work 30 to 40 mins late in the following morning.

Now let’s face it, although I did the extra work out of self-motivation, I was still hoping that my superiors would someday acknowledge it and encourage me. Instead, I started receiving warnings from the HR department and then from my superior. And when I thought it was just a misunderstanding I needed to clear, I was told that if was “nobody’s business” if I worked longer, and that “nobody asked” me to do so.

Since that day, I stopped both working extra hours and working with any passion. My productivity started decreasing unwantedly and noticeably. As I was looking around me, I started noticing how most of my colleagues would spend hours chatting and gossiping while being appraised for the sole reason of showing up on time. As a Business and HR graduate, I had read many theories about the evolution of working hours, and how technology has changed how we work along with where we work. However, seeing what I had studied as obsolete methods in real life turned out to be an experience of another level. 

most other companies and organizations are still stuck in the world of obsoletes.

While some companies had already started experimenting new ways of working, such as the flexible work hours and work from distance, most other companies and organizations are still stuck in the world of obsoletes to the point of making inefficient investments to increase productivity, only without getting anywhere near the real factors behind that.

When did it all start?

Lawyers, civil servants and other new professionals began to work from offices in Amsterdam, London and Paris, and gradually everywhere else, since the seventeenth century. This led to a cultural distinction between the office and the home.

The 40-hour week movement which (ironically enough) was known as the short-time movement, was a 19th century social movement to regulate the length of a working day. It had its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Britain and was coined by Robert Owen who formulated its goals as “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest”.

Especially after 1817, activists and labor union groups started advocating for better working conditions. Up until then, people had been working 80 to 100 hours per week. 

Then by 1847, Women and children in England were granted the ten-hour day, while French workers finally won the 12-hour day in 1848. However, employees in most countries had to wait to the early and mid twentieth century for any improvements to be achieved through country legislations.

Changes in technology also influenced the office. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Morse’s telegraph, Bell’s telephone and Edison’s dictating machine revolutionised both concepts of work and office design.

Communists such as Karl Marx saw the 40-hour week movement as of vital importance to the workers’ health. Himself wrote in Das Kapital (1867): “By extending the working day, therefore, capitalist production…not only produces a deterioration of human labour power by robbing it of its normal moral and physical conditions of development and activity, but also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labour power itself.”

Henry Ford, on the other hand, popularized the 40-hour work week in 1926 after he discovered through his research that working more yielded only a small increase in productivity that lasted a short period of time. 

What is yet to come?

While the physical world may look similar now to the 1980s, in the psychological one the digital era has changed everything. In the face of the incredible amount of information our brain receives every day, the way we need to think about working time needs to change, because time is not necessarily money anymore.

Research has shown that the average office worker switches attention every three minutes. Although they feel effective in doing so according to the popular “quality of multi-tasking”, they would generally get 40% less done. 

the more we do the tasks, the less we do the thinking.

In fact, the most valuable resource today, and the thing in greatest shortage, isn’t time; it’s attention and thinking. Success no longer comes from working longer hours or doing “more”. In fact, the more we do the tasks, the less we do the thinking. Being overwhelmed by tasks and information actually does not give us a chance to be more creative or to come up with new ideas. As for the daily tasks we spend 8 hours doing inside an office today, robots will probably be able to do them just as perfectly in the near future. 

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