The 8,10 or 12 hour work day. Which is best?

The 8-hour workday is not based on the optimal number of hours a human can concentrate. In fact, it has almost nothing to do with the kind of work most people do now: Its origins lie in the Industrial Revolution, not the Information Age.

In the late 18th century, 10-16 hour workdays were normal because factories “needed” to be run 24/7. When it became clear that such long days were both brutal and unsustainable, leaders like Welsh activist Robert Owen advocated for shorter workdays.

In 1817, his slogan became: “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”
However, this 8-hour movement didn’t become standard until nearly a century later, when, in 1914, Ford Motor Company astonished everyone by cutting daily hours down to 8 while simultaneously doubling wages.

The result? Increased productivity.

Let’s look at our modern society. When was the last 40 hour week you all had?

Can working less actually lead to more productivity? New research suggests yes. Stanford University’s John Pencavel found the sweet spot of how long we should work each week. And it’s much less than most of us realise.

Fifty hours. That’s what research shows is the optimal work week. Anything more and we hit diminishing marginal returns. In fact, it has been found that output at 70 hours differed little from output at 56 hours. So those extra 14 hours could’ve been better spent outside the office. It’s something to keep in mind next time our bosses ask us to work over the weekend.

What does this mean for employees around the world?

In the United States, the average workweek is 34.4 hours, according to data from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Contrary to popular belief, there are countries who work much harder than the U.S. In fact, the U.S. only ranks 16th worldwide. Employees in Mexico worked the most hours with 42.85 average hours per week.

German workers ranked last (or first, depending on how you see it!) with an average workweek of just 26.37 hours. In each country, however, there are outliers who work more than 70 hours.

Those people who spend their vacations checking voicemails. And those who feel overworked yet underpaid. I’m guilty of it. But I’m trying to remember that it’s called the weekend for a reason. Work ends so we can begin again. That way, we can start the next week refreshed and refocused.