The Standard Work Day is Bullshit

It’s taken for granted isn’t it? A simple fact of life?

When you become a grown-up you quickly sally forth into the land of the employed, destined to spend the next 40 years working that same 40 hour week, those same 8 hour days of labour and toil.

Sure some of us may work less regular hours, night shifts or RDO’s but for the overwhelming majority however, these are our allotted hours of labour.

Your reward for this of course is a pay-check at the end of the week and that blissful Friday afternoon clock-off.

You know what? This whole idea shits me to tears.
(Pardon my Australian)

Please allow me to explain why.

How much work do you get done in those 8 hours? Or perhaps more importantly, how much value do you bring to your company between those hours of 9 and 5? I mean do you really produce the same sort of results on Friday that you did on Monday? (I sure as heck do not)

Ever have those slow days where no customers/contracts/projects come in?
What about those chaotic days where you wish you’d started a couple hours early?

What rankles me so much is that these 8 hours are almost entirely arbitrary for most businesses. Surely, you may argue, consumer retail has to be open during “standard business hours”? Personally I wonder how much of this idea of the standard business hours, especially in the retail industry, is a throwback to the outdated idea of a “standard” family unit – a breadwinner male and a stay-at-home housewife?

Who exactly is shopping Monday to Friday?

How difficult is it to drop by a mechanic for a quote during the week when they’re only available at the exact same time that you are required to be sitting at your desk? Or the post office! God forbid you should need to pick up a parcel and be fortunate enough to hold a position that operates during standard business hours!

The set working day is a throwback to the industrial movement when labour was eager, available and completely replaceable in their function. That function was, for the most part, overseeing machinery or providing menial, repetitive physical labour. A factory was expected to run at peak output for the entire working day, and if you the blue-collar worker was not interested in working your 14 hour day… well you would be swiftly replaced by another worker with less ridiculous expectations.

Sure we have it bloody good here in Australia, especially compared to our ancestors working in the early 1800’s… 14 hours days, 6 day weeks and all under the hot Australian sun. It should be of little surprise that when the 8 hour day was eventually introduced by the stonemasons in Victoria in 1856, it resulted in a yearly procession that was celebrated for 95 years straight  – a date that later became Labour Day.

And yet today, in this age of enlightenment and education, being so audacious as to suggest that the 8 hour day may not be suitable or ideal in all cases will likely result in you being labelled a slacker with no work ethic.

I strongly believe that this line of thinking is a symptom of a society where people will remark with pride that they have been “too busy to even think about doing [X]”, or boast that they haven’t taken a single sick day all year. It’s a sign of a society that is too stuck in the past, a past that bears only the tiniest resemblance to that of today.

How different was “business” in the 1850’s? No personal computers, no internet, no email, no smartphones, no online stores… I mean how can you possibly expect the same working hours to be in any way relevant to businesses of today? Today a customer can browse your entire product range, compare functionality and price, place orders and have them delivered without ever having dealt with an employee directly. Products are manufactured and delivered worldwide every second of ever day via asynchronous correspondence.

So much of the way we do business these days is completely outdated, even the idea of driving to an office every day to do your work is ridiculous when you think about how much of it could be performed remotely. And please don’t start on the idea of employee trust – its always possible to waste company time if you are that way inclined.

It’s important also to realise that your employer is turning your output into profit, not the hours that you have spent chained to your desk. There are of course positions where your time is literally the commodity (security guards or babysitters for instance) but in most cases your employer should be far more interested in the effective products of your labour, than the time spent performing them.

Your employer is turning your output into profit, not the hours spent chained to your desk

In terms of value to the company, it makes a lot more sense to base performance metrics on meaningful output than it does on hours of attendance. I think we all realise this, and yet the employee who completes all of their duties within the first 4 hours is forced to perform busy-work or browse Facebook in order to pad out the remaining hours of the day. At best we are taught to aim for efficiency rather than effectiveness and I think this is at the core of the issue. Analyse your work day and think how much of what you do is providing value to your company or to yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being busy when it involves meaningful and engaging work. I love those days that fly by in a haze of effective output, and I truly, honestly believe that work is as vital to life as play.

What I do not believe, however, is that this arbitrary number of working hours is somehow the ideal number for all 25-odd-million of us in Australia, and the 7 billion or so worldwide.

Or maybe I am just a slacker.


One Comment

  1. Nicely written Alex, of course output is key but employers/clients want more of you especially if your output is of high output. Hence, the negotiation or expectation between employee and employer/client has settled around the 40hr a week mark. Of course that could change but most people get into the routine of this. Managing these expectations is key but many factors come into the discussion you raise.


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