By Tom Purcell
Three-day weekends sound good to me.
According to Business Insider, a movement is afoot for companies to offer employees four-day work weeks — 10 hours a day over four days, rather than eight hours over five days — so they may enjoy three-day weekends.
More employers say that a four-day work week will help them retain and attract employees who, during COVID, reported “working longer, taking fewer breaks, and signing on at all hours of the day and night.”
COVID exposed millions of new work-from-home employees to the experience that the growing class of self-employed gig workers have been living for some time.
The era of going to an office, putting in your eight hours, then leaving your work worries behind ended for millions of workers long ago.
Computers, email and virtual meetings allowed office workers to ditch their traditional jobs working for one employer to provide on-demand services — such as copywriting or software engineering — to multiple clients located anywhere in the world.
These devices also result in working longer hours, taking fewer breaks and signing in at all hours day and night — but individuals are free to choose how many hours they want to work and how many breaks they want to take.
To be sure, the line between one’s work life and one’s personal or leisure life have been forever blurred.
So it is interesting to revisit how the 40-hour work week became the working standard in the first place.
As industrialization transformed America, millions worked long hours on assembly lines and often in very unpleasant and unsafe circumstances.
According to PBS, when the U.S. government began tracking workers’ hours in 1890, the average workweek for full-time manufacturing employees was an exhausting 100 hours — prompting the growth of the labor movement.
By the early 1900s some private companies, such as Ford, had begun to adopt the 40-hour standard, but it wasn’t until 1938 that the federal government got involved.
Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limited the workweek to 44 hours in specific industries. In 1940 Congress amended the Act, limiting the workweek to 40 hours.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which covered about a fifth of the country’s workforce, also established a minimum wage (25 cents an hour), overtime pay and put an end to oppressive child labor.
Though government policy was helpful in a highly industrialized era when millions worked in awful and unsafe conditions, should the government butt into the digital workplace debate in 2022?
According to U.S. Today, one U.S. congressman proposed a bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act and mandate a 32-hour work week as the new standard — employers will have to pay overtime for any hours beyond 32.
As the world of work gets ever more individualistic and creative — as organizations that need services are able, thanks to technological innovation, to engage a variety of different talents and skills to address their needs — is another one-size-fits-all federal mandate really a solution?
Or will it be the source of multiple unintended problems?
This self-employed gig worker is of the latter opinion.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my work life of long hours, infrequent breaks and signing in at all hours of the night — a work life I have happily and freely chosen.
Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.