How Henry Ford Invented The 40-Hour Work Week

By Tom Hasker, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International

Unless you work a specific shift pattern, the chances are you're expected to work a 40 hour work week, of 8 hours each day for 5 days.  This was written into law in the United States in 1939, but why specifically 40 hours?

Henry Ford had by 1939 introduced several measures to keep his workforce happy and productive. He recognised that if people were cared for and thereby respected, he could actually increase production. This meant that the company would then be able to sell the vehicles at the low price affordable by the majority of people in America, thus achieving his aim of 'mobility for the masses'.

The problem was that Ford Motor Company employed 53,000 people but 39,000 walked off the line due to the hard working conditions, leaving only 14,000 workers! Every time someone left, the production line stopped and cost of each car increased. People were simply tired of working 6 days a week, being paid the average $2.25 a day and working 9-hour shifts. This gives us in 2016 an idea of the working conditions at the time! As this quote from 'Truth or Fiction' describes, Mr Ford had some very advanced ideas;

"Then, in 1926, Henry Ford introduced an even more radical idea: the five-day workweek. Before that, Ford employees worked six eight-hour days a week. Ford explained his reasoning in October 1926, as Time reports:

Ford’s next act came in September 1926, when the company announced the five-day workweek. As he noted in his company’s Ford News in October, “Just as the eight hour day opened our way to prosperity in America, so the five-day workweek will open our way to still greater prosperity … It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either lost time or a class privilege.”

The five-day week, he figured, would encourage industrial workers to vacation and shop on Saturday. Before long, manufacturers all over the world followed his lead. “People who have more leisure must have more clothes,” he argued. “They eat a greater variety of food. They require more transportation in vehicles.” Taking advantage of his own wisdom, he discontinued the Model T and then, on a Saturday, launched the Model A. The 1927 unveiling would see 10,534,992 people visiting dealerships just to glimpse the latest product of the Sage of Dearborn."

Legends are empathic with people's needs, especially those they employ and serve. By introducing a minimum wage of $5 per day, 8 hour days and 5 working days a week, Henry Ford was able to give his workforce the opportunity to 'vacation' on a Saturday. This meant each person would need more clothes, try different foods, visit other places (by car??!!) and have the opportunity to live a more fulfilling life,

When we take the time to understand another person or group of people, we can then discover what will really make them happy. Understanding that 'win' for someone else and knowing clearly what a 'win' is for ourselves means that we can design our lives to benefit each other.

Put yourself in Henry Ford's position, can you see any ways you can benefit yourself and those who you work with today??!!

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