The Workweek reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Workweek

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The workweek, literally, refers to the period of time that an individual spends at paid occupational labor. For example, a person who works for nine hours per day, five days per week, would be said to have a 45-hour workweek.

However, phrases such as during the workweek often refer, instead, to the collection of days of which a person spends a considerable amount of time working. For example, 9 o'clock on a Thursday night would be considered a weeknight, or a night of the workweek, even though most people in the industrialized world are not working at that time.

Unpaid labors such as housework are not considered part of the workweek.

Table of contents
1 History of the workweek
2 Importance of workweek
3 Why the workweek is increasing

History of the workweek

Popular belief depicts pre-industrial life as grim and full of toil. While the standard of living then certainly does not match that of today, some say "full of toil" fails to describe pre-industrial life accurately. In those times, non-enslaved people generally worked fewer hours per year than they do today, though on a less regular cycle: their workweeks exceeded the modern standard during seasons when the extra work would be useful, but fell short of it during others. Slavery, which was legal and not uncommon in those times, may have been another factor contributing to the shorter working hours of free workers, as the slaves absorbed a large proportion of the demand for work. Slave labor was, effectively, marginally free and slaves were therefore worked for long hours, often for as much of the day as possible, and even into the night when the moon was full.

The industrial revolution made it easier to find work year-round, since this labor was not tied to the season, and artificial lighting made work possible for the greater part of the day. Slaves, serfs, and poor peasants, often manipulated into positions of debt and disadvantage by individuals of higher social class, moved from the farms to the factories to work at labor that was tedious and dangerous, for long periods of time. Technological advances during early capitalism made it possible to extract upwards of 70 hours per week of working time from a person. Before collective bargaining and worker protection laws, there was no incentive for a company not to do so, and some did just that. Records indicate that work schedules as arduous as 12 to 16 hours per day, times about six days per week, were sometimes enforced upon wage earners in that time.

As trade unions and collective bargaining developed, workers began to demand higher wages and shorter hours. The workweek, in most of the industrialized world, dropped steadily, to about 40 hours after World War II. In 2000, France adopted a 35-hour workweek.

Because of a work-oriented culture in many industrialized countries during the latter half of the 20th century, the workweek has not dropped further. In the United States, and possibly other countries, the workweek has instead increased.

Importance of workweek

"Workweek" is a quantity that can be measured for an individual or, in the aggregate, for a society. In the latter case, a 40-hour workweek would imply that employed individuals within the society, on average, worked 40 hours per week. Most often, the concern of sociologists and policy-makers focuses on the aggregate variables. If an individual works 60 hours per week, it could simply mean that he or she is enthusiastic about his or her job, not a cause for concern. However, if long workweeks become the norm in a society, these hours almost certainly are not voluntary, and it represents a drought of leisure and a threat to public health.

Each society's definition of the ideal workweek differs, but most industrialized nations place this value between 30 and 40 hours per week, during non-vacation time, with between 3 and 5 weeks of (usually paid) vacation. Societies differ in their ability to realize this: For example, in the United States, many workers are afforded little vacation time, or even none at all.

When the workweek is too short, this represents underemployment of labor and human capital. Individuals within such a society will tend, therefore, to do less work than they are capable of, and receive correspondingly low compensation. Widespread poverty is a likely result.

Alternately, a workweek that is too long will result in stress-related health problems, on the large scale, as well as a drought of leisure. Furthermore, children are likely to receive less attention from overworked parents, and childrearing is likely to be subjectively worse. The exact ways in which excessive workweeks affect culture, public health, and education are debated, but the existence of such a danger is undisputed.

Furthermore, if demand for labor remains constant, increasing the workweek for employed workers will correspondingly reduce the number of workers. Firms will lay off employees, and unemployment results. This is profitable for companies and for the upper classes, but a losing situation for all within the labor force: Employed individuals are worked more hours than they wish (if salaried, for constant pay) while individuals who would like work cannot find it.

Many nations have imposed limits on the workweek in order to combat unemployment, but it is debatable whether or not such policies have succeeded.

Why the workweek is increasing

In the late 1990s, the "official" workweek was 40 hours in the United States, although many workers in fact put in more hours than this. For example, in industries like investment banking, a 40-hour workweek is considered "slacker" behavior and may result in job loss. In France, the workweek was 39 hours until 2000.

Some nations enforce their workweek policies more stringently than others, the United States being an example of a country where workweek policies are not strictly enforced. The U.S. legally allows many types of compensation, and two of the most common are wage and salary labor. Wage earners are compensated on a per-hour basis, whereas salaried workers are compensated on a per-week basis.

The 40-hour workweek, in effect, applies only to wage laborers. Legally, they may be required to work more than 40 hours, but firms are required to pay time-and-a-half, or 1.5 times the worker's base wage, for each hour of work past 40. After 60 hours per week, firms are required to pay double-time, or twice the base rate. This has two major effects: First of all, it provides an incentive for companies to limit the workweek. Secondly, it makes these additional hours more desirable for the worker. In fact, it is not uncommon for overtime hours to be accepted voluntarily by wage-earning workers, due to the premium pay. Unions often treat overtime as a desirable commodity when negotiating how these opportunities shall be partitioned among union members.

Salaried workers are not covered by overtime protections. At the time the laws were written, salaried workers were predominantly of the upper-middle and upper classes, and these individuals were autonomous enough that there was no need for them to be legally protected.

Today, by contrast, even salaried and professional workers are sometimes marginalized by "dieting" firms, especially during economic downturns when skilled workers are in surplus. By increasing a salaried worker's workweek, his or her per-hour pay is effectively reduced, so labor becomes cheaper. Many American corporations have done just that, laying off as many workers as possible, making their labor forces understaffed by a factor as high as 2 or 3, and leaving their employees to make up for the lost workers with longer hours. While virtually all observers have decried this situation as immoral, it persists, driven by the corporate profit motive.

Consequently, a disturbing picture has emerged, recently, in the United States and other Western societies: The society consists of pockets of unemployment, amidst other pockets of overworked employed workers.