Have We Seen the End of the 8-Hour Day?
April 29, 2015 3:34 AM   Subscribe

 
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posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:15 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


As the article points out, we've gone from an oppressive industrial economy of long hours that kept workers from having fullfilling home lives to a service economy that gives too few hours but spaces them in an irregular blocks, again preventing people from having fulfilling lives outside of work. It doesn't take Karl Marx to see the worker is always secondary to the needs of business.

My wife and I are lucky enough to have found new careers, but for a couple of year we both worked retail. It meant constantly changing scheduling (closing one night and opening the next morning was my least favorite). We were lucky to ever have the same day off. I can't imagine trying to raise a family under those conditions - when is everyone together? Forget about meals together or a weekend to do things as a family. Those would be special occasions instead of the norm. It's just damaging to society, the family, and the individual. And it's it depressing to think that the economy has totally changed over the last century yet this fact remains constant.
posted by boubelium at 6:05 AM on April 29, 2015 [20 favorites]


There's no real reason I NEED to work a 40 hour week. I'm well capable of finishing my work in less time. I'm required to be here 8 hours a day. No telecommuting.

I surf the internet a lot. Hi, Metafilter!
posted by Fleebnork at 6:05 AM on April 29, 2015 [25 favorites]


Well, it all comes down to lack of empathy when you get down to the bolts of it.

I can see why it happens-- you as a larger business have your sales per man-hour target, you know your sales and so you schedule your cashiers/workers to overlap during the peak of your sales-day.

But then you think 'ahh, well, instead of overlapping these eight hour shifts, lets just add a cashier for those actual four hours'. Those hours just happen to be 10-11 am and 6-7 pm. Magically your sales per man-hour increase, targets are met and everyone in upper management is happy.

Next year the targets are tweaked to be a little tighter, you tweak the algos and work out that now you can schedule that cashier from 10:20-11:45 am and 6:15-7:25 pm. But, damn, targets aren't being met, so you move a full-time worker to part-time and give them this dance of fractured hours too.

But hey, you can get a $14 pair of jeans, so-- win/win right?
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:51 AM on April 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


My son works for a regional convenience/gas chain that also has in-store franchises of a well-known national sandwich chain. He's an assistant manager making barely $10/hour. Recently, he was offered the manager position at a store that is famous throughout the company as a problem. They've been pretty impressed with my son's ability to organize and get things running smoothly at the couple of stores he's already been asst. manager in, so they felt he'd be the perfect choice to get this problem store under control.

However, even though he would be promoted to full manager and be expected to turn-around the worst store in the company, his pay would remain roughly the same...a bump from $10/hr to $11/hr. He thought long and hard about it and, even though he has huge school loans to pay-off, the increased stress, headaches, and corporate oversight just didn't balance with the ridiculously low pay. So, even though he went through a couple of interviews for the job, in the end he declined the offer.

I'm still not sure how I feel about that move. On one hand, there was the insultingly low pay for what would have been an insanely stressful job. On the other hand, I'm very afraid he's now poisoned himself to corporate and will be stuck where he is, if not slowly marginalized and pushed-out, for not being a "team player."
posted by Thorzdad at 7:15 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


It meant constantly changing scheduling (closing one night and opening the next morning was my least favorite).

The sickest thing is that there are apparently lots of workers who at the very least pretend to be proud of working this type of schedule. There is a perverse pleasure to be taken in projecting the illusion of invulnerability; I see it in the martial arts, too: the pride taken in being able to absorb damage and injury without complaint. It's your fucking body, man; I know mine doesn't work right because of some of those injuries, and maybe it never will again. That's not something to be proud of, it's something to lament.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:43 AM on April 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


gives too few hours but spaces them in an irregular blocks, again preventing people from having fulfilling lives outside of work

Not just that, but it also helps prevent people from getting a sometimes desperately needed other part time job, keeping the employee dependent on the company both as a sole form of income and not finding that the other job treats them better and transitioning over to them for primary employment.

There's no real reason I NEED to work a 40 hour week.

That's a different topic, can we stay on the topic, which is people that do work that is hourly please?
posted by Candleman at 7:54 AM on April 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


My parents' careers were nothing fancy - bank teller and pipefitter - and yet they worked schedules (seven hours a day and not a minute more, unless they chose to, and in the event that they did they got overtime) and had (paid) vacation time that a lot of people I know these days who probably make double or triple what they did would kill for.

> On the other hand, I'm very afraid he's now poisoned himself to corporate and will be stuck where he is, if not slowly marginalized and pushed-out, for not being a "team player."

Yep. I've got friends who spend their vacations on laptops because this is what the culture expects.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:12 AM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


We've got to stop treating retail employees like puzzle pieces. It's bad for employees, which makes it bad for business. If they won't do it, we have to do it for them. LEGISLATE FIXED SCHEDULING!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:15 AM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


The NY AG started to make some noise about "on-call" scheduling, particularly the sort of online on-call systems used by retail employers.

NY is one of only a few states that legally requires employers to pay employees for four hours if they report for a shift but aren't needed. The AG's interpretation is that this applies to online / phone-based on-call systems as well; obviously this interpretation isn't shared by big retail employers.

Unfortunately, even if it comes down in favor of employees—that signing up for a shift and being ready to come in is equivalent to showing up and being told to go home, such that the online on-call systems die a hasty death—only about eight states have NY's "reporting time" rules.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:15 AM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


When Jedidiah Labinjo talks about what first disturbed him at Zara, it’s worth noting that he doesn’t begin with hours, or schedules, or even wages. He talks instead about respect. “They tried to make me be robotic,” he says. “I’m not going to be robotic. I’m an individual.” This is where it all began for him; that’s why he got involved in the fight over hours.

Thanks for posting this article; it was a great read.
posted by asperity at 8:17 AM on April 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've been reading Terry Eagleton's book WHY MARX WAS RIGHT. I highly recommend it.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:48 AM on April 29, 2015


I totally agree it needs changed, i just want to know more of the how.

Blood, mostly, the first time around.
posted by PMdixon at 9:04 AM on April 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Ha! I was going to post a specific entry in that series, but read the whole thing, it's great.

In this one, there's even video of people being killed for demanding an 8-hour work day.
posted by asperity at 9:10 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Easy solution to this problem: Anyone in upper management has to spend a week per year working as hard as the workers they employ with the longest hours. I mean, pass this as a law, and I'm seeing a lot of workers lives getting a lot better really quickly.
posted by Canageek at 10:20 AM on April 29, 2015


Easy solution to this problem: Anyone in upper management has to spend a week per year working as hard as the workers they employ with the longest hours.

Heh. I've always thought there should be a law requiring corporations, when they offshore jobs, to offshore a corresponding percentage of their executive positions. Ditto with pay-cuts and other benefit cuts.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:42 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Don't a lot of people in upper management work nearly non-stop anyway? That's a sort of culture that promotes with glee the idea of taking your work back home with you. Cell phones never off kind of thing. Maybe "working as hard" doesn't convey the right idea - working the position of the worker with the longest hours? Unless it's really specialized. I don't know, the easier solution would be to mandate sane working hours for everyone, with strict OT pay and healthcare removed entirely from employment.
posted by erratic meatsack at 10:48 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, in a lot of orgs, you don't reach the top by being born there, you reach it by being the one most willing to subordinate every other aspect of their life to the org. Now, being in a position to start running that rat race? Yes, often times born there (but it's probably not as exclusive as it is often made out to be).
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:15 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Don't a lot of people in upper management work nearly non-stop anyway?

For certain values of work that equal "golf," I guess.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:21 AM on April 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Easy solution to this problem: Anyone in upper management has to spend a week per year working as hard as the workers they employ with the longest hours. I mean, pass this as a law, and I'm seeing a lot of workers lives getting a lot better really quickly.

Unfortunately, I think this sidesteps the problem. On the surface it seems fair to expect the same amount of "work" out of the management-types. And I think there probably is a bravado culture amongst upper-management types that encourages 80+ hour work weeks with an "always on" mentality that seems to reduce the effect of such "see how you like it" punishment.

Nevertheless, there's an extraordinary difference between working 80 hours as an go-get-'em exec vs. even 40 hours doing menial labor.

An exec who worked 80 hours last week spent many of those hours reading up on his/her industry, attending meetings, fostering collaborations, chasing leads, networking, preparing presentations, running numbers, etc. That is, every hour spent was sharpening his/her sword (so to speak) and increasing his/her personal ROI. Sure, it takes a special type to be willing to make that kind of sacrifice, but let's not pretend that those 80 hours remotely resemble the same amount of time working as a cog in the same machine.

When a retail clerk spends 40 hours on his/her feet cataloguing products, cashiering purchases, sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms, folding clothes, etc., where is the symmetry? When his/her hours are up in the air, when he/she has no autonomy, and when a burst of exceptional work will only raise the bar for what is expected, how can we honestly compare the two? That individual hasn't improved him/herself. There's no motivation to work harder or longer. His/her wage is predetermined by the position and the work has been handed down from above.

The problem with suggesting like for like trade-offs is that there simply isn't enough in common between those making the decisions & those living by them.

Better, instead, that we regulate that anyone who gives a "work week" of their lives deserves to be compensated accordingly. Can those who give more earn more? Sure, that's fair. But have those who "only" give 40 hours in a worker-level position somehow given less of their lives? Do they deserve less than enough compensation to live comfortably?

And notions like part-time split shifts, sub-wage server pay, salary for positions where overtime is subsequently demanded, and the like should be deemed illegal or carry mandatory compensation bonuses. I've worked jobs where the company's internal practice was to pay night-shift positions a few dollars extra per hour due to the irregular nature of the schedule. Does a company wish to maximize profit by scheduling employees odd shifts for small amounts of time with multi-hour chunks of unpaid time between them? Go for it. But (for example) the worker who comes in from 11a-2p & returns from 4p-6p must be paid 1.5x time or a full 8 hours, whichever is greater.

As Jedidiah mentioned, it's really simply about respect. And until that respect for all laborers and positions is present on its own, it should be legislated and enforced.
posted by narwhal at 11:44 AM on April 29, 2015 [14 favorites]


Anyone in upper management has to spend a week per year working as hard as the workers they employ with the longest hours.

You say that like it's some sort of punishment, but I've learned that it's just best practice all around for productivity.

I sometimes do film special effects, and I caused an incident with spandex body suits and Balthazar Getty that has set my resolve to put myself in the worker's position every time from here on out. The actors were wearing specially colored whole-body coverings with just small mouth and eye openings, costumes that had been tailored and tested for maximum mobility and freedom from constraint. Our effects software would replace the suit imagery with a dynamic teeming swarm of particles loosely taking the shape of and following the actor's movements.

On set, we tried something for the first time, which had the actors in about 30 inches of water, a safe enough depth, right? Well, with all the thrashing around, water could enter the face openings and fill up the torso section, holding the actor down on his back underwater, and the arms flailing up on the surface just seemed like good acting.

When he finally got up, coughing and choking and red-faced, screaming that I had almost killed him, and that I was an evil idiot, I had to admit that he was right on both counts. And so I resolved from that point forward, in any management or supervisory role I would take on in the future, that I would first personally undertake and try out for a suitably informative time period any and every task before asking someone else to do it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:47 AM on April 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


I know no one who works an eight hour day, or a forty hour week, or only on weekdays. No. One.
posted by trackofalljades at 12:03 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Trackofalljades, that's not surprising.

People work the job where they can get paid the most.

Flexibility (whether long hours or uncertain hours) is extraordinarily valuable to employers, clients and customers -- and they pay for it.

Whether you're a retail clerk, or that retailer' Senior VP of Merchandising, you're getting paid more, or getting a job versus no job at all, because you'll work those hours.
posted by MattD at 12:13 PM on April 29, 2015


narwhal, excellent points about the lack of parity between the work done.

StickyCarpet, sounds like that problem could have been fixed with a tainthole.

you're getting paid more, or getting a job versus no job at all, because you'll work those hours

Yes, how surprising that when given the choice between being starving and homeless and working whatever bullshit schedule the employer chooses, most people will "choose" to not die in the street like a dog! The free market works, my friend.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:34 PM on April 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


most people will "choose" to not die in the street like a dog! The free market works, my friend.

Ha, yeah, I love the counter-argument that basically says "if you don't like this job, just find another one!" like that's a reasonable option for anyone and workers are empowered in this marketplace at all. Like jobs are plentiful. Like a competitor's working environment would be better by any margin. And/or like a poor person can just "get an education" like it's the easiest thing in the world, you know, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and then...what? Have an equally difficult time finding good work, now with a degree in hand and godknowshowmuch debt. Cool system, America, rewarding hard work.
posted by witchen at 12:41 PM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I note that I know a person, a certified welder, who makes $13 an hour. He's so mad about the $15 an hour movement because "those people" should make less than him.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:41 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


How much would it help if, instead of requiring employers to pay benefits at certain hour marks, they had to pay a pro-rated benefit amount up to 40 hours? It seems like it would be a good incentive for employers to go ahead and give workers a full schedule if they didn't have a financial reason to keep people under some number of hours, and if you have fewer people working more hours, it seems like there would be less of a point in breaking those hours up into weird schedules.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:29 PM on April 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Capitalism folks. Capitalism.
posted by notreally at 2:43 PM on April 29, 2015


Flexibility (whether long hours or uncertain hours) is extraordinarily valuable to employers, clients and customers -- and they pay for it.

Some of the most flexible workers in the country are the over two million at Walmart. From day to day, they never know whether they will be called in or not. They are paid minimum wage.
posted by JackFlash at 2:53 PM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I know no one who works an eight hour day, or a forty hour week, or only on weekdays. No. One.

I would be curious to know how representative Portland is of the nation at large in this regard.
posted by psoas at 3:36 PM on April 29, 2015


Wenger wonders, “how do you avoid a massive bifurcation of society into those who have wealth and those who don’t?”

Scheduling software, irregular shifts, and multiple part-time jobs are not in themselves bad things, since they can lead to a much-improved working situation for many—one in which workers can plan their lives to suit their interests and responsibilities.
I'm someone who can't work a regular job. I do happen to be homeless. I left a corporate job by choice because it was clear I would never be healthy as long as I worked there. I have benefited from being able to work part-time, flexible hours at my choosing, when I am well enough to work.

I can't help but wonder what can be done to try to turn this into a positive for workers and companies alike.
posted by Michele in California at 5:35 PM on April 29, 2015


I know no one who works an eight hour day, or a forty hour week, or only on weekdays. No. One.

Gallup: 40 hour workweek is on average 47 hours long.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:39 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


My employer (1000 employees, law firm) enforces a strict 35 hour work week.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:44 PM on April 29, 2015


My employer (1000 employees, law firm) enforces a strict 35 hour work week.

Wow, really? That's unheard of in my experience. I didn't work a 35 hour work week even as a public sector lawyer.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:58 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I note that I know a person, a certified welder, who makes $13 an hour. He's so mad about the $15 an hour movement because "those people" should make less than him.

An actual certified welder, who isn't a drunk fuckup and shows up to work on time, should be making a lot more than that.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:07 PM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Dip Flash: “An actual certified welder, who isn't a drunk fuckup and shows up to work on time, should be making a lot more than that.”
I'm aware of that. So is he. The bosses around here, not so much.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:46 PM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Easy solution to this problem: Anyone in upper management has to spend a week per year working as hard as the workers they employ with the longest hours.

Depends on the company perhaps, but at a large multinational I was at (>100,000 employees) the expectation of ordinary employees is that they work 8 hours a day, as a manager you do 9 hours, and each level beyond that (senior manager / director / CEO) you add additional time. I know C-level employees arrive in the office at 6am or earlier and they leave around 7pm. I don't think I know anyone else in the company who works as hard as the people in the C-suite. And they're certainly not playing golf.

I had one of them apologize saying they had absolutely no way to slot in a follow up meeting for this topic while in the office but schedule a phone conference at 8.00pm and he would take the meeting from his mobile phone in the car while he was driving home.
posted by xdvesper at 9:01 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I don't think I know anyone else in the company who works as hard long as the people in the C-suite."
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:08 AM on April 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


"I had one of them apologize saying they had absolutely no way to slot in a follow up meeting"

If they're too busy to do a good job by following up on their work, then perhaps it should be seen as a failure to delegate/trust their delegations.
posted by phlyingpenguin at 7:37 AM on April 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Dip Flash: “An actual certified welder, who isn't a drunk fuckup and shows up to work on time, should be making a lot more than that.”

I'm aware of that. So is he. The bosses around here, not so much.


And here's the crux of the problem: how to get people like your welder friend to be angry at the appropriate people--the bosses who are criminally underpaying him. I really don't know the answer.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:59 AM on April 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


There's a world of difference between someone working sixty or seventy hours a week in interesting work that is respected and someone working sixty hours a week in boring work where you're treated badly and looked down on. Boredom, being treated with disrespect and having no control over your work cause physical stress and erode the health - it's the same as minority stress.

You see this in academia all the time - the seventy year old who is still teaching and researching, hale and hearty, looking ten years younger than his age and macking on the grad students, and the sixty-year-old clerk who looks older than their years, maybe has a limp or a stoop* and wanders around beaten-down and defeated looking. And those aren't even the bad working class jobs.

*Living in a poor neighborhood and working in a much better-off area, I have noticed how you almost never see a young-ish person with no visible disability with a permanent limp, except in working class areas. Working class people hurt their backs and can't take time off to rest, working class people hurt their backs and can't afford surgery...and you see thirty-year-olds dragging a foot like they're seventy and had a stroke. It's just like with teeth - working class people lose or break teeth and can't get them cleaned properly or afford braces for their kids; middle class people have decent teeth and almost everyone came up getting their overbites corrected. (My teeth are one of the ways you can tell that I don't really come from a middle class background - until recently I had a badly chipped front tooth and I never had braces as a kid, so my other teeth are crooked.)
posted by Frowner at 12:31 PM on April 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


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