How Long a 40 Hour Work Week Lasts


The 1938 Labor Standards Act, among other things, established overtime for workers after 40 hours of time spent on the job. That encouraged American businesses to build, and maintain, a model of a 40-hour work-week running Monday through Friday. The Act also created a new thing when weeks end called weekends.

That’s all crumbling now.

Hospitals, airlines and several other industries have already moved to a four-day work-week, and a new startup in India is trying to tantalize applicants with a three-day work-week.

The 40-hour standard has relatively held, for now.

Stepp Stevens Sydnor, a business development coach, consultant and the author of “Go Beyond Surviving to Success,” says it is a time of paradigm shifts and imagination, but something factoring into novel approaches is the size of the company. “Some of these small businesses, when they look at a 3 day work week, 4 day work week, 40 hour week, 30 hour week, they’ve really got to do some due diligence and ask if that’s really going to work for their business,” he suggests. 80% of American business is small business and the options are more limited when trying to make major adaptive changes.

But corporations are in the fight of their life to find and retain top talent, and flexibility in scheduling has become a prime offering. “All my large clients, people like Comcast Business, Time Warner, Price Waterhouse coopers, struggle with finding qualified talent, and they’re seeing less people apply,” says Sydnor. What people want is a work-life balance that compliments their individual circumstances, and businesses are accepting that a cookie-cutter approach isn’t going to work anymore.

Covid is of course the driver of all this change, but the impact will last longer than the pandemic, and innovations like working from home will continue to shape the future of employment. What is falling by the wayside is the standardization of 40 hours and five days, and what your future job looks like may very much be determined by what you want it to look like rather than a law from 80 years ago.

photo: Getty Images


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