It’s Friday once again! The day of the workweek that many hardworking professionals long for. The taste of freedom for two whole long glorious days is now just in arms reach. Snooze buttons, lounging around, going out, and spending time to do whatever it is you love to do is coming soon. My mind has been wondering though… why is the work week Monday to Friday (in most Western countries)? Why not Tuesday to Saturday? And who made this part of our culture? Also, why is the average a 40-hour work week?
Note: I understand that many workers don’t follow the pattern of working 9-5 Monday through Friday, but my curiosity is about the social norm of the “average” workweek in Western society.
Time to do a little research.
Religion is the influence that prevents Sunday from being part of the workweek. Christianity was, and still is, the dominate religion in the United States. It is also still in Canada too. Sunday is considered in some forms of Christianity as the Lord’s Day , which is a day for worship and rest.
So, why is Saturday part of the weekend and not Monday?
It’s rather surprising to hear that the owner of a large corporation would be the reason for a two day weekend, but it’s true! Henry Ford started it when he announced in 1926 that his plants would be closed all day Saturday and Sunday. Why? Because his plant had an extremely high turnover rate. Workers were being overworked and it was costing him more money to continually hire new employees. An article by Jackson discusses the results of his actions from his article:
The Ford Motor Company saw reduced turnover and was spending less money finding and hiring new employees. The company was also able to retain the best people for the jobs it had, thus making the operation more efficient.
As a business graduate myself I found this extremely fascinating to learn. It really shows business leaders need to look at the big picture when making decisions, and that you have to be innovative to succeed. Yes, Mr. Ford would be losing money by not producing vehicles on Saturday, but he’d be more than offsetting this sudden loss in profits by spending less on hiring new employees, by retaining his most knowledgeable employees, and morale would increase as employees would be more refreshed.
So, Mr. Ford got the ball rolling, but it didn’t catch on immediately across the United States.
The Great Depression
The arrival of the Great Depression in 1929 cut the average work hours. Before the depression hit on average workers would work 50+ hour work weeks. This article by Rybczynski explains what happened when the Great Depression came.
What finally consolidated the two-day weekend was not altruism or activism or, paradoxically, prosperity; it was the Great Depression of 1929. Shorter hours came to be regarded as a remedy for unemployment: each person would work less, but more people would have jobs.
Now employees were only working 35 hours a week or less, but at least more people could keep working.
It wasn’t until 1938 when the Monday-Friday, 40-hour workweek became official in the United States. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act , which established it officially.
So, we can thank religion, business and the Great Depression for the average 40-hour Monday through Friday workweek.