Is the 40-hour work week dead?

The year is 1890.   

 Slavery for Black Americans ended just 25 years ago in the United States in 1865 after the passing and ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution.  

Just as Black people in the country were getting their footing — despite harsh realities and conditions post-slavery — the United States government was getting the hang of tracking workers’ hours. For the typical manufacturing employee that looks like about 100 hours of labor, according to https://sociable.co/.    

In comparison to the current five-day standard workweek, that would be an unthinkable 20 hours a day.   

As time went on, measures were put in place to ensure that overworking employees became a thing of the past. One major step in the right direction was the adoption of Ford Motor Company’s five-day, 40-hour workweek in 1926.   

The 40-hour workweek came to be after deadly accidents, employee strikes and White House involvement (Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd president of the United States at the time) spurred the movement forward, NBC reported.   

“It’s not just one incident, but it was a culmination of many events and many struggles that allowed this to become law,” said Angelica Santomauro, executive director of the American Labor Museum in Haledon, N.J., in the article.   

The workweek that is even in place today is one that hundreds of thousands of companies across the country (and beyond) use as standard practice.   

Yet, many professionals have called it into question – saying that it is antiquated, especially as the pandemic forced many white-collar workers to work from home disrupting the status quo of the typical Monday to Friday workflow as competing personal responsibilities grew.   

Dr. Rita Fields, a local busy CEO, professor and executive, manages her workweek on her own terms.    

As the chief talent and strategy officer for Lighthouse, CEO of 313 Industries Inc., CEO of Copper Phoenix Consulting, LLC, and University of Michigan professor, there is no shortage of work and responsibilities on Fields’ plate on any given day due to her passions.   

“I have discovered that intellectual diversity is something that I prize in my professional life. I am very deliberate about choosing roles that allow me to contribute in a meaningful way,” she said.   

 Fields, who began her journey as a homeless, high school dropout she “had no hope and no vision” for her future, according to her LinkedIn page.   

“Today, I have visited six continents and explored the nuances of culture in the context of leadership,” she said in her biography.   

As Fields helps make connections with “human potential within the workplace and beyond,” she notes that the idea of working has been turned on its head.   

“The 40-hour workweek has changed dramatically during the course of the pandemic,” she told the Michigan Chronicle. “Many work more than 40 hours and many work less than 40 hours to accomplish their work goals. I think that the most dramatic wake-up call was the belief that people were most productive when in the office. There are many people who are not only as productive but possibly even more productive outside of the traditional office setting.”   

Fields, who has worked from home for the past eight years (with her trusty desktop computer, a laptop and a dedicated office) said that even though she has several jobs, she doesn’t have to stick to a rigid schedule.    

“I’ve learned how to manage my time very well; to the point that I complete my work commitments and get in daily workouts, connect with friends and serve on five boards,” she said. “Some weeks, I do this in about 40 hours. Some weeks a bit more. Many weeks, less.”   

According to https://sociable.co/, working around three hours can result in the same achievements as an eight-hour workday.   

“If you’re pushing people well beyond that time they can really concentrate maximally, you’re very likely to get them to acquire some bad habits,” K. Anders Ericsson, an expert on the psychology of work, said in a post.    

Similar to Fields, Ericsson said that the hours don’t matter – getting the work done on time is what counts.   

“The ideal workweek for me is what I have right now,” Fields said. “One that is focused on outcomes as opposed to punching a clock.”   

Contact Staff Writer Sherri Kolade with story ideas at skolade@michronicle.com.    

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