The Eight-Hour Work Day: Finding Balance
Posted by Anni M.
The eight-hour work day is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before it was established, people worked until they dropped, driven by the profit incentives of their companies and bosses. It was a great success of the labor movement in the early 20th century. The culture is changing but in many companies employees are still expected to work very long hours. In business, labor laws are rarely enforced.
In business, twelve-hour days are commonplace. Sure, you may be on salary for 40 hours/week but that doesn’t mean your boss is happy with strict eight-hour days. Many employees feel pressure to come in early and stay late—to prove their commitment by donating their time, for free. Perhaps that’s overstating it. Often employees do see recompense for their hard work. Staying late may result in a promotion, a raise, or other non-monetary benefits. The problem is, it also may not, especially in tough economic times. Working extra hours is a gamble and the only person who suffers when it doesn’t pan out is the worker. Bosses love getting extra work out of their employees and why wouldn’t they? It’s skilled, free labor. Of course, they will encourage unpaid overtime. They may even try to create a culture of overwork.
I think this is a very dangerous situation. The reason the eight-hour day was established in the first place was to protect workers. People were getting exploited and they were suffering for it. It’s hard enough giving the best part of every day to your work. Do you really want to give more? This is your life! Your time is irretrievable and invaluable. If you have a family, are you sacrificing quality time with them for a work project? Are you giving your job your health or sanity? At the end of your life do you want to feel like you traded fun, love, recreation, relaxation, health, and happiness for money?
I believe in hard work. I am ambitious and driven. I believe that you have to sacrifice in order to succeed, but there are very firm limits. I am not willing to give up my health or happiness for my job. If a job requires that I work twelve-hour days for eight-hour pay, I’ll find another job. I’m not naïve. I know many people just don’t have that luxury (another systemic problem in our society). But for people who do—people with skills, experience, creativity, and an entrepreneurial spirit—there is absolutely no reason to throw away life and health for the unreasonable expectations of a profit-driven company.
The best employees are the people who have found a healthy balance between work and leisure. These are people who give everything to work when they’re at work, and everything to their loved ones and themselves when they’re not. I think, if we are ever going to have an equitable society where our people are healthy and vibrant, we have to have reasonable expectations to protect everyone’s mental and physical well-being. In France, employees get two months off every year. They travel, relax, and live. When they come back to work they are refreshed, focused, efficient, and healthy. As a workforce, I think we all need to advocate for employee rights. Otherwise, we all pay the price: a diminished life.
As a Creative Communications Strategist, Victoria is known for her electrifying Keynote Performances™ and the transformational workshops and coaching sessions she creates for elite executives, high performing teams, thought leaders and entrepreneurs..