Woman Explains Why the 8-Hour Workday and 40-Hour Workweek Are "Obsolete"

Robin Zlotnick - Author

Jun. 16 2023, Updated 8:04 a.m. ET

Management Coach Explains Why the 8-Hour Workday and 40-Hour Workweek Are "Obsolete"
Source: TikTok

Even though we live in an ultra-connected, ultra-accessible world, we in the U.S. have mostly clung to the eight-hour workday and 40-hour workweek. For full-time positions, you're often expected to clock in at or around 9 a.m. and hang out until 5 or 6 p.m., regardless of how much work you got done. 

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With the pandemic and lots of people shifting to work-from-home scenarios, we've finally been forced to consider that in many industries, the 9-to-5 model doesn't necessarily work all the time for every single employee. And Burnout Management Coach Emily Ballesteros recently went viral for a TikTok video in which she explained just how outdated the concept really is. 

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"[Henry] Ford established the eight-hour workday in the early, early 1900s," she explains. "He established eight hours work, eight hours rest, eight hours sleep, and then start that over again.

"We went wrong in two places. The first is that Ford worked in manufacturing, which means that somebody standing somewhere for eight hours doing approximately the same task does yield a certain amount of productivity. We rolled over this eight-hour framework into industries where it just does not make sense.

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"There are so many industries that are project-based where you don't need eight hours, and by just having someone keep themselves busy for eight hours, you're losing so much productivity.

"The second reason this framework is tragically outdated is that this was created in a time where wives stayed home to keep a lot of the household together, where there were no 'super commuters' commuting hours each day to get to work, there was no technology bring work home with us. This framework was created by one man in one industry 100 years ago and we have not improved it!"

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She brings up some extremely salient points. So many workers these days also have households to maintain and families to take care of. And if you force people to sit at a desk for eight hours a day if their work can get done in, say, six hours, we're just breeding a culture of job performance theater and centering work as the most important thing. 

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In a follow-up video, Emily provides some ideas for solutions to this problem. So many industries are reluctant to do away with the idea of the solid, eight-hour workday, but as Emily points out, it would make so much more sense in lots of industries to pay for "completion of tasks" instead of per hour. Project-based payment doesn't take into account the amount of time it takes a person to complete that project, but it does make sure the company gets what it needs. 

Another suggestion Emily throws out there is the six-hour workday. She references several studies that found that people were as productive, if not more, during a six-hour workday than they were during an eight-hour workday. "When there's a sense of urgency, we perform better," Emily explains. 

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The ultimate goal, she explains, should be employee satisfaction. If you have happy workers, there will be less turnover (which is very costly for businesses). "Work-life balance" is something that gets talked about all the time, but companies are often too beholden to the eight-hour workday to even consider that their employees, and the business, might benefit from another option.

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Emily's TikTok page is full of good advice for people who may be struggling with the nuances of work life. She covers everything from how not to take something personally in the workplace to identifying a toxic work environment to making sure you're making the most of your days off.

Work culture in the United States is a source of stress and anxiety for a lot of people. The focus on productivity at all costs has led to the elimination of "work-life balance" in lots of industries. It's time for the powers that be to reconceive of the American workday and make adjustments based on what actually works.

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