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Eight Hours’ Labor, Eight Hours’ Recreation, Eight Hours’ Rest


Security of tenure, along with other laws that protect employees, came a little bit late. In the past, employers have the power to maltreat their workers because there are no laws in place that would protect them and their interests. As a matter of fact, employees used to work for long periods of hours for a small amount of wage back then. Actually, one of the first companies to implement the eight-hour workday was Ford in 1914.

An employee’s working hours is stated in the contract. Although they might vary depending on your position and the company you are working for, there is a guarantee that you don’t have to work for more than the stated amount of time that was specified in your agreement with your employers. More than that, if you are requested to work beyond your normal working hours, the employer shall compensate you. That is not the case in the past. How did the eight-hour workday start? Read further to find out.


The Rise of Factories

Employees started to fight for the eight-hour work day during the Industrial Revolution in Britain. It was a time when manufacturing transitioned from manual labor to the utilization of machines. During that time, men were able to harness the power of water through water wheels and the use of steam power started to increase. This is a time when new chemicals were manufactured, more iron was produced, and factories started to rise.

The development of more factories changed everything; manufacturers of these establishments wanted their factories to be running all day and all night so that they can make more products. This means that workers have to render more hours. As a result, numerous employees were forced to work for up to 16 hours a day. Unfortunately, back then, not only did people had such long work days, but child labor was common too.


Start of the Fight

This labor practice wasn’t sustainable, so a man named Robert Owen – a Welsh social reformer who founded Utopian socialism with Charles Fourier and Henri de Saint-Simon – raised the idea of a ten-hour work day in 1810. He then implemented it in his socialist enterprise in New Lanark. Seven years later, he came up with the eight-hour work day. He coined the slogan “eight hours’ labor, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ rest.’

In England, the 10-hour workday wasn’t implemented until 1847, and it only applied to women and children. Meanwhile French workers were only granted the 12-hour workday after the French Revolution of 1848, when they demanded for shorter working hours and better working conditions.

According to a revolutionary socialist named Karl Marx, if working days were prolonged, the health of workers would deteriorate and companies would exhaust their workforce not only because of the long hours, but also because of the terrible working conditions they were subjected to.

In Geneva in 1866, a demand for the eight-hour work day was raised by the International Workingmen’s Association; they also proposed to set eight hours as the legal limit. The first countries to apply this were New Zealand and Australia in the 1840s and 1850s. Unfortunately, the rest of the world had to wait until the 1900s for this to be implemented.

The fight for the eight-hour work day is the reason for the celebration of Labor Day and May Day in many countries.


The Eight Hour Work Day Today

Now, however, studies have shown that eight hours a day might not be the best way to approach work. It was found that it doesn’t matter how long the workday is, what’s important is how people managed their time and energy for the day. People who took more short breaks during the day were more productive throughout their shifts. The ideal ratio was to work an hour, then have a fifteen to twenty minute break. The break refreshes the mind and gives a quick recharge of focus, preparing an individual for another hour of work.

It’s better to take a real break; try taking your mind off work by taking a walk. If you are on break, refrain from working. Also, as much as possible, don’t spend your break watching videos online or checking your social media accounts because these activities will not recharge or refresh your mind.

The eight-hour workday might work if broken into chunks. To make it easier for a person, the day must be divided into hourly intervals of work and between those, a fifteen to twenty-minute break to refresh your mind. The breaks must be a ‘real break’ where you can unwind so do activities such as taking walks so you can have some fresh air or a quick power nap. It’s good to listen to your body; if your productivity is dropping, then it’s time to take a break. You should also not wait until your body is exhausted before taking a break. This might make it more difficult to get your productivity back.

The fight for the eight-hour workday was difficult and long. Those who fought for it had to suffer and endure inhumane working hours in their workplace before it was even considered unethical. With a look back, we appreciate what they have done for us.