In the late 18th into the 19th century, the Western world saw a dramatic shift in the labor culture. Industrialization had erupted, and men, women, and children were now working in factories for many hours a day and at little pay. They were essentially “free-slaves.” Never before had the world seen such an exploitation of employees that were not master owned slaves. This is not to say that an actual slave in the slave trade did not suffer much worse conditions and hardships (a proper study of both of these institutions shows how brutal slavery was). Now, this is not an anti-capitalism article, but a historian’s observation of changing labor systems and the abuse of workers by the owners of most businesses. Since this time many labor laws have been passed to ensure that people are not abused by their employers.
However, doesn’t it seem strange that for the past two hundred years people are expected when they work to basically sign a life contract with the employer that they will be there every day that the employer states for at least eight hours a day in order to work and make money? It is not enough that the person works and makes a wage for the time that he has labored, but then he must come in the next day and the next until the employer decides to give him a holiday. The forty hour or more work week is commonplace in the West after this Industrial Revolution, but what happens to the worker’s health and motivation? When the employee goes home, they now have another full-time job that they have to work. Their property and family take massive amounts of time investment and energy to cultivate and manage, which leaves them unenergetic in both their home life and at work.
Sweden recently ran an experiment that created a group of nurses who would work a six hour work day opposed to a group that worked eight hour days. The results were astounding. The six hour workers were more vibrant and productive at work, they had better health, and took less unexpected time off of work. The overall wages cost more money because the employers had to hire 17 additional workers to fill in the vacant hours; however, this also created more jobs for the economy. When one considers the higher production value and health of the six hour worker the costs are at least equal if not better. In other places in Sweden, even in the private sector, there has been a definite success. This applies to the Toyota service center on Sweden’s west coast, which reported that after cutting mechanics’ shifts more than a decade ago, they had an increase in profit and retained the program.
What is interesting is that although there is not hard evidence as of yet that it is financially beneficial, neither is there hard evidence that it is much more expensive. Thus, the only reasons for not continuing with the six hour work day seems to be ideological and political. Think about a typical work day. You work eight hours, spend thirty minutes on lunch and thirty minutes on breaks making it nine hours plus your commute. If a person were able to take two and a half hours off of their work day (assuming you would only have a thirty-minute lunch break on a six hour day) then the person would see an increase of around 24% of their home life (assuming an eight-hour night sleep) every day. Typically, it is the conservative parties who are opposed to this change, however, if they were truly educated on this subject they would realize this isn’t so much a progressive movement as it would be a return to labor principles that occurred before the Industrial Revolution.