The Unlikely Rise And Tragic Fall Of The 40-Hour Work Week

Does anyone really work just 40 hours a week anymore? As Lindsay Cross put it here last week, “40 hours a week simply doesn’t cover what a full-time job demands.” And that’s if your be-at-work hours are limited to 40, a pipe dream for people with overtime-happy bosses.

But maybe we shouldn’t let go of the 40-hour work week so easily. According to a fascinating article by Lisa Robinson, for most of the 20th century the 40-hour week really was standard. Both employers and employees agreed that anything more was “stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive.” Robinson argues that “every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul.” Inspired by her piece, here are 10 great moments in the history of the 40-hour week — how it came to be, why it worked, and why it’s Silicon Valley’s fault it changed.

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