An 8-Hour Day? Workdays & Weeks Vary Nationwide

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

For many, the workweek spills over into the home on nights and weekends. (Warren Goldswain/

On its 100th anniversary, we explored the history and the legacy of the 8-hour work day.

It's the kind of day that leaves you with enough time in the evening to cook and eat with your family, read a book and unwind, all without so much as thinking about work—let alone doing work—before returning to the office the next day.

But in today’s world, the structure and moderation of that schedule seems almost mythical.

Joining The Takeaway are two people who embrace radically different ideas about the hours worked in a day, and even the days worked in a week.

Jason Fried is the co-founder and president of 37signals, a software company based in Chicago, and Sabina Gault is the CEO of Konnect PR, a public relations firm based in Los Angeles.


Jason Fried and Sabina Gault

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman


T.J. Raphael

Comments [5]

Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

I think that the eight-hour work day and the forty-hour work week for most adults has evolved in the work-centric U.S.A. as a result of the balance most such people (and their managers) find between productivity and effectiveness.

I've worked in the Santa Clara Valley (Silicon Valley) in the computing machinery and network systems industry for over three decades. I've spent some memorable "36-hour-days" at my desk and in the laboratory, but NOT VERY MANY. The long hours mythologized about my industry are largely apocryphal. People DO occasionally work extended hours and long weeks. However, organizations which rely on this sort of thing FAIL if they can't evolve away from it. They offer baubles like free food and recreational toys and so on (this vaudeville is endlessly fascinating to some journalists) but this sort of thing only fools young workers for a time. Eventually they and their spouses and their families want their lives back.

Earlier in my career, I worked with Japanese engineers famous for working grueling hours. As I found out, their long desk time was largely theater, with long stretches of workers staring into space or just sleeping. The most productive couple of sigmas of the population can usefully and effectively contribute for a limited number of hours a day and for a limited number of days a without a break. It's not surprising that those have evolved to about 1/3 and 5/7, or so.

Jan. 07 2014 03:54 PM
Kathy from New Jersey

I worked in the information systems field as a consultant for over twenty years. The norm was to work at least 50 hours per week for the client when on assignment. The consulting firm expected you to then work additional hours for the consulting firm helping to build artifacts and new business. The typical work week is somewhere between 50 and 60 hours (not including commute). You are also expected to be available to the firm for online and phone meetings in the early AM and late evening, and to respond to emails and support other initiatives on demand. Also - The increase in outsourcing to India and other eastern countries set expectations that US consultants will be available 5am and 11pm (est) team meetings.

Jan. 07 2014 03:36 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

@Eric: I don't hear NPR trying to normalize that working longer hours for less is right. I think they are trying to rationalize why they stay at their own jobs.
We can all rest assured that most of us are now working stiffs.

Jan. 07 2014 02:16 PM
Eric from Michigan

What I hear is NPR trying to normalize the idea that working longer hours for less, coupled with the recent stories of eliminating overtime pay, is no big deal. As a working stiff, i consider that a threat.

Jan. 07 2014 12:51 PM
Nan Vance

Listened with interest this morning. Another class of people who don't find the 8-hr day relevant are scientists. I worked for the federal government, as a civil service employee, so had to fill out hour-based time sheets. I always put the requisite 40 hrs on the time sheet, though more often I put in far more hours to keep my research going. Scientists are goal-oriented and will do what it takes to achieve their goal (publication) which is the real reward.

Jan. 07 2014 12:39 PM

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