How the 40-Hour Workweek Dies

The 8-hour workday is a gray-haired remnant of the past

Jacob Bergdahl
5 min readJan 25, 2022


The 40-hour workweek is a gray-haired remnant that has overstayed its welcome. Even though people are more productive than ever before, we still spend a ludicrous amount of our lives working.

Yes, sometimes credited to Henry Ford, who streamlined the 40-hour workweek in the USA by dividing his factory workers into three 8-hour shifts, the concept of an 8-hour workday is significantly younger than him.

The first person to establish a 40-hour workweek was likely king Philip II of Spain, who passed into law an 8-hour workday for factory workers back in 1593. Yet, it wasn’t until the industrial revolution of the 1800s that social reformers and protesting workers started actively demanding human working conditions. As the 1900s greeted us good morning, many countries began to establish laws for 8-hour workdays.

Revolutionary at the time, no doubt, as many people would spend virtually every waking hour working before these reforms came. However, since the early 1900s, the world has changed considerably, yet the hours we work haven’t.

We are more efficient than ever before

The UK Office for National Statistics has collected data on worker productivity since 1959. Their data shows that the output per worker has almost tripled between 1959 and 2021.

It makes sense. Almost no matter what your job is, you are probably more efficient at doing it today than the last generation was some 30 years ago. If you don’t believe me, imagine doing your job without a computer, a phone, or an internet connection.

We can get more done in a shorter time span, yet we aren’t working fewer hours than we did a century ago.

Salaries haven’t increased much either. Well, unless you’re a CEO. According to data from EPI, CEO pay increased by 1,322% between 1978 and 2020. The average worker’s pay increased by only 18% in that same timeframe.

Photo by Adrian Sulyok.

Killing the 40-hour workweek