You know that mythical time in law practice, when billable hour goals were 1600 and you were expected to be part of the community? Turns out that such expectations reflected a much larger business norm, actually a deep belief, that working more than 40 hours a week led to decreased productivity over the long term. And this belief was borne out by data collected by businesses, not labor unions. Astounding, isn’t it?
I found all this and more out in a marvelous article on Salon, Bring Back the 40-hour Work Week, by Sara Robinson. I always thought that the 40-hour work week was forced on business by labor unions. Not entirely. Labor unions certainly agitated for it, but businesses actually supported a 40-hour week as well by the time the Fair Labor Standards Act passed.
In 1914, Henry Ford led the way, by doubling his workers’ wages and cutting them from a 47-hour week to a 40-hour week. It totally pissed off his competition that Ford’s productivity then leapfrogged over their car factories’ productivity. But they wised up and followed suit.
So what do the productivity limits of an 8-hour factory worker day have to do with lawyers? After all, it’s not like you’re on your feet all day or swinging a hammer, right? Continue reading