The 40-Hour Workweek Is Dying—This Is the Workweek of the Future

UPDATED: May 19, 2024
PUBLISHED: October 14, 2021
The 40-Hour Workweek is Dying—This Is the Workweek of the Future

We often credit Henry Ford as the benevolent figure behind the five-day workweek. In 1926, Ford Motor Company became one of the first businesses in America to institute that standard for its workers. But the events leading up to that concession stretched back some 40 years.

On May 3, 1886, a large group of workers gathered at Chicago’s Haymarket Square to support a strike for the eight-hour workday. Nineteenth-century factory workers were poorly paid and conditions were oppressive. Historical documentation shows they had at least 10-hour days and worked a minimum of six days a week. Workers were at a breaking point.

On the following day, May 4, the protesters reorganized and police attacked them. Someone threw a bomb that killed eight officers and injured 60 more. The police killed and injured an unknown number of civilians. On May 5, martial law was declared—not just in Chicago, but nationwide.

Decades later, Ford’s move toward more reasonable conditions represented a monumental shift. With the goal of increasing productivity, Ford announced, “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.”

Today, we are experiencing another shift. An unplanned-for, worldwide experiment began in early 2020 when COVID-19 started its spread. Almost overnight, the entire world moved to virtual offices, and it provoked a societal realization: Could a different schedule and lifestyle be possible?

Even now, the 40-hour, Monday-to-Friday schedule is arbitrary and changeable, and so is how we run our businesses. It’s “the way it is” for almost no good reason. It is how it is, because it is how it has always been.  

The Industrialist Fingerprint

The Industrial Revolution and its legacy—productivity and production through optimizing every waking hour—was an important part of society’s development. Through the Industrialists’ efforts, almost every aspect of society has been automated, producing the maximum amount of goods and services at the lowest cost. But a mechanized view of the world gets us only so far. 

To ensure productivity, the Industrialists depended on conformity, self-denial and guilt. Until recently, we didn’t have a scientific understanding of the value of sleep for the brain, for example, or that multitasking is terrible, and that meditation can help you achieve more. People are not machines.

We can get things done without a 40-plus-hour workweek. When we are refreshed and rested, we get more done in a shorter period of time. Working for someone else is not the only way to make a living. In fact, the Industrialist approach is killing us in more ways than we know.

A study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that working long hours increases the risk of chronic diseases. Sleep, stress and anxiety issues can be tied to the way that we currently live. Maximum productivity, time away from meaningful social relationships, lack of exercise and poor eating are all part of the symptoms. 

The Industrialist mindset was a step forward, as we moved toward weekends and safer conditions, but it is no place to remain. 

Your Hustle Narrative

Although it’s dangerous and goes against what research shows us, the world continues to push the narrative that hustle is the key to success. The hustlers of the world work 100-hour weeks and brag about it. They sacrifice relationships for “the grind.” They are obsessive about their work, and their identity and personal value is wrapped in that work.

A healthier mindset is to fully value, love and interact with the work we’re called to do and to have clear boundaries as to when that work pauses. When we slow down, it allows our brains to get excited about work. We know it helps us level up.

A Solution for Solopreneurs

For solopreneurs and side-hustlers, the shortened workweek model can feel disruptive. Typical mindsets that block solopreneurs: I need to work to make money. Only I can do it best. Slowing down will make me lose my edge.

When I consult with solopreneurs, we almost always look at their lifestyle first. For example, I have a client who is a clinical psychologist who sees clients for 35 hours per week, which translates into about 50 hours a week of total work, since each clinical hour—the time spent with clients—also has about 45 minutes of paperwork, marketing and other items tied to it. Outsourcing, hiring or creating systems could ease some of the tension, but she has resisted those solutions.

So we compare her needs to her income. Like many people, she can’t take an economic cut. But she’s in the trap of only getting paid when she works—she has a job, not a business. Ideally, she would work 25 clinical hours per week.

First, we establish the goal of total hours and total income. Then we examine raising prices for new clients. This client raised her prices from $175 per session to $300 per session. She realized that with her waiting list and stress load, she couldn’t build anything new without making a huge jump.

Now she’s positioned to explore a few income strategies that aren’t tied to direct client work. So we examine her skill set and think about how she can use it to help the general public and also teach other professionals. From there, it’s just a matter of determining  the single best use of time. Is it a podcast, being interviewed on podcasts, creating a course, ebook or membership community?

She could simply do the math: In order to work 10 hours less, she needs to replace the income of seven clients. A simple option to do that might be through creating a parenting course that sells for $297—she would need to sell 16.5 per month. Expecting a 5% conversion rate, she needs to have 330 people on a webinar once per month. With a solid ad campaign, podcast or affiliate connections, she could do this in about half the time it takes to see clients. 

Big Business, Big Opportunity

Since the beginning of the pandemic, things have rapidly changed for leaders of larger-scale operations. Hours in the seat should not be the key performance indicators. Instead, projects completed and total value should be a measure.

In May 2020, Gallup did a poll of worker engagement. This was near the height of COVID precaution, when most people were working from home, juggling childcare and worrying about disease. Unemployment was on the rise and there was uncertainty about the elections in late 2020, an economic downturn and the future of work. There was a lot to be worried about.

But “Gallup found that in early May, the percentage of ‘engaged’ workers in the U.S.—those who are highly involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace—reached 38%. This is the highest since Gallup began tracking the metric in 2000.”

In the middle of all this, engagement was up? And it was still only 38%! Maybe those who were disengaged were more likely to be laid off. Maybe in social isolation from quarantine, people wanted the connections and distraction. Maybe, finally, staff could make their own schedules and get the same results.

Instead of having to be in an office, after commuting an hour each way, they were spending more time with their families, trying new hobbies, baking sourdough bread, and juggling work and life.

The year 2020 was one of turmoil, uncertainty and anxiety—no one disputes that. But I believe that as in 1886 when the Haymarket Square protests changed the trajectory of work, and 1926 when Henry Ford created the 40-hour workweek, 2020 will come to be recognized as the birth of Thursday as the new Friday.

It brought us the death of the Industrialist’s machine way of thinking and a shift into organism thinking: Businesses need to think of teams as organs in a body that are evolving. As each person becomes healthier, works less, is more creative, and aligns their work with their strengths, exploration and passion, the overall business will shift. 

Taken from Thursday is the New Friday by Joe Sanok Copyright © 2021 by Joe Sanok. Used by permission of HarperCollins Leadership.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 Issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by

SANOK is the founder of Practice of the Practice, a keynote and TEDx speaker, business consultant, and podcaster.