Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the "Diamond Owl" intellectual game "What? Where? When?"
Liberal Arts
7 minutes for reading

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: What is the duration of the working day?

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: What is the duration of the working day?
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Two employees of a law firm in Manhattan argued over whose working day would be longer. One of them worked around the clock, from 0:00 am until the beginning of the next day, and was confident of victory.

But the second was able to get around him. How did he manage to do this?

The answer is a little later.




There are 24 hours in a day – if the first lawyer has worked all day, it is not entirely clear how to overtake him. Is it possible to work so much? Probably yes – but only as a one-time promotion. And how much can you work in general – per day, per week, per year? What experience do you already have, and where to go with it?

It was different at different times. When people just thought of stone axes, everyone worked the same way – as gatherers and hunters, the pay was piecework: what you dig, pluck or catch is yours. It took them, as the scientists determined, about 3-5 hours a day.

There was already a civilization in Ancient Egypt, which means that everything has become more complicated. For example, the pharaohs and nobles worked as much as they wanted – mostly slaves were forced, and they obediently worked as ordered. And ordinary workers worked for 8 hours a day, with an hour-long lunch break, but only 131 days a year – on ten days with two days off, plus a lot of holidays.

The biblical Jews did not overwork either – they worked all day, but took breaks for meals, plus they went to prayers for 3 hours a day. There were about 8 hours a day, but with a seven-day week with one day off, Saturday. 296 days a year – more than in Egypt.

In Rome, the slaves were worse: they worked hard from dawn to dawn. And free artisans worked only 6 hours a day – usually from six in the morning until noon. And even in such a relaxed mode, they worked for about 185 days a year – the Romans had a lot of gods, which means that there were enough holidays.




You have probably already noticed that there is no direct connection between the level of civilization and the length of the working day. The ancient gatherers had an easier life than the civilized Egyptians. Didn’t it get even worse in the Middle Ages – after all, the appetites increased?

In the distant and almost fabulous for Europeans, the Aztec empire had its own complex system of measuring time, and in our opinion, they worked about 9 hours a day, working four days and resting the fifth. This is 274 days a year – even a little more than in biblical Judea.

Compared to the Aztecs, medieval English peasants were just Sybarites – they worked about 150 days a year, in the warm season, about 8 hours a day. In winter, it was still impossible to do field work, and they had a rest – if there was food …

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: What is the duration of the working day?
Medieval peasants in Europe/frank-history.limarevvn.ru

The workers were less ceremonious than the peasants – say, in France, they worked about 185 days a year with a 12-hour working day. True, these 12 hours included a two-hour break, during which you could eat and take a nap – such a siesta.




In England, where after the so-called “Fencing” the poor poured into the cities to look for food, the supply of labor clearly exceeded demand, and they did not stand on ceremony with the workers. Back in the 18th century, the working day reached 11 o’clock – however, the weekend was on Sunday and Monday.

And in the 19th century, employers, without meeting any restrictions, generally unraveled. The working day was brought to 16 o’clock – two-thirds of the day, if you don’t want to – get out, there are so many people outside the gates! No holidays, only Sunday off, plus Christmas and Good Friday – that’s all.

Karl Marx wrote about English workers: “A working day, the duration of which fluctuates between 12-14 and 15 hours, night work, irregular meals, mostly in the premises of the workshops themselves … Dante would find that all the most terrible pictures of hell painted his imagination, surpassed in this industry by manufactory. “

In English factories of that time, not only adults, but also children worked – the parents drove the child to work in the factory so that he would bring at least some money to the family, and not go to school for some unknown reason. They ate right at the benches – there was no more time or place.




Nevertheless, it was in England that the socialist manufacturer Robert Owen introduced the 10-hour working day at his factories back in 1810, and after 7 years reduced it to 8 hours. Owen even came up with a special slogan: “8 hours of work, 8 hours of entertainment and 8 hours of rest”.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: What is the duration of the working day?
William Henry Brooke. Portrait of Robert Owen.1834

However, back in the 17th century, the famous Czech educator Jan Komensky formulated the rule of “three eights” – eight hours for work, eight for sleeping and eight for cultural pastime. A hundred years later, the German doctor Hufeland also proved that in order to be healthy, a person should not work more than eight hours a day with eight hours of sleep.

Much later, in 1888, the owner of the Carl Zeiss company, Ernst Abbe, on his own initiative introduced an 8-hour working day, 12 vacation days, pension benefits and a 13th salary in the amount of an annual salary for his workers. He was not a socialist at all – he simply believed that it was more profitable that way. But in Europe, it was an isolated case.

Such decisions began to be made at the state level as well. The only country to introduce the eight-hour workday in the 19th century was New Zealand. In the twentieth century, it began in Asia – the first country to introduce and legalize the 8-hour working day was India.

Immediately after the First World War, the 8-hour working day was legalized in many large Western countries – in Germany in 1918, in France in 1919 and not only in them. In Mexico, in 1917, the 8-hour working day was immediately prescribed in the new constitution – so that no one could object.


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Conditions for workers in the United States at the beginning of the 19th century differed little from those in England. The average working day at that time was about 14 hours. But they ended up in the United States, crossing the ocean and overcoming numerous difficulties, mostly initiative people. And this factors played a role.

In 1840, President Martin Van Buren prohibited federal public works from setting a working day longer than 10 hours. These were by no means the most prestigious and highly paid jobs, and it also became unprofitable for others to exceed this limit.

Mass demonstrations in the USA and Canada on May 1, 1886, which ended in Chicago with a bloody dispersal with human casualties (it was in memory of these events that the May 1 holiday was later established) were just agitation for an 8-hour working day.

Back in 1868, Congress legalized the 8-hour workday for civil servants. Some states at about the same time (Pennsylvania – 1866, California – 1868) also switched to this regime. And at the beginning of the twentieth century, some trade unions (not all!) Achieved an 8-hour working day for their members.

Henry Ford surprised everyone. On January 5, 1914, he reduced his working day from 9 to 8 hours and immediately raised his salary from 3 to 5 dollars per shift. Competitors laughed hard, but not for long – the best workers went to him, and the productivity of his factories did not fall, but increased.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: What is the duration of the working day?
Ford next to Ford-T/fairfaxunderground.com

Ford’s example convinced many, and more and more industries were establishing an 8-hour workday. Only in 1937, the United States passed the Fair Labor Standards Act – an 8-hour work shift with overtime bonuses.




And what was happening closer to us? After the decision of Peter I to develop industry, attributing serfs to the factories – nothing good. With round-the-clock work at the Ural factories, two 12-hour shifts were usually appointed, and with one-shift work – 14-16 hours each.

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: What is the duration of the working day?
Workers are being driven to the Urals/photo-news.net

In the 18th century, the 15-hour day was so commonplace that it was even formalized in official documents. Moreover, no one made any difference in age and sex – minors and women worked the same, and they had nowhere to go.

Only in 1897 a law was passed, according to which the working day was limited to 11.5 hours, and at night or before a holiday – 10 hours. It also included the presence of 14 holidays a year and a six-day working week. Non-Orthodox Christians could not rest on Sunday …

Post-revolutionary Russia was the first in Europe to introduce an 8-hour work day and a 48-hour work week with Sunday off. Then they reduced the working day by an hour, and in 1929 they introduced a five-day period (four days in a row everyone works, and the fifth is a day off).

In the post-war period, a 7-hour work week came with weekends on Sundays, and in 1967 the whole country switched to a five-day work week with two days off – Saturday and Sunday. I remember how I was surprised – there were twice as many days off, just brilliance!

The most interesting thing is that the fact that the working day most often lasts 8 hours is, it turns out, laid down at the genetic level. The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that the eight-hour cycle coincides with the period of maximum gene activity.




It seems that progress leads people to only one thought about the duration of the working day – are we working too much? Some suggest cutting down on the number of hours in the working day, who demand one more day off per week in addition to the two already available to almost everyone.

According to the latest data, the British are the most employed in Europe, with an average working week of 43.7 hours. Residents of the Netherlands work least of all – 30.5 hours. By the way, they live there, and there is by no means poor – this is clearly not the point, there are things that are more important.

In Asia, you have to work harder. According to the USB Bank, Hong Kong workers average 50.1 hours per week, Mumbai residents 43.7, Mexico City 43.5, Delhi 42.6 and Bangkok 42.1. But most of all they work in South Korea – they recently reduced the working week from 68 to 52 hours.

In Sweden, they even set up an experiment: those transferred to a 6-hour working day reported that they were working no worse, they were doing no less, and their mood was better. But employers noticed that they had to hire more employees, and they got sick more often.

Back in 1965, the British firm Roundpay Metal Finishers switched to a four-day work week for the first time in the world. Many offices and even countries have shown interest in this experiment, and reckless Icelanders are already going to transfer their country to this regime.




Completing working hours does not yet mean working effectively, and in creative work it is simply impossible. So in many employment contracts it is written in black and white: “The employee has an irregular working day”. You have to work harder, but the same amount of money.

For owners of their own business, this is generally normal – how much you have to work, so much you work, not to complain to yourself. Responsible work is usually also dimensionless – an emergency has arisen, so react, and do not say that the working day is already over.

This is hardly very bad. I once came to visit a friend who had just taken a responsible position – he left for work at 8 am, arrived late in the evening, and we could only talk before going to bed. I was surprised at such a tough regime and asked him if it was not hard.

He answered me: “You come to work and leave it at a certain time. Soon you will leave such a job – and you will never return. ” I just smiled, and in vain. Soon I also changed jobs, I began to work not 8 hours a day, but as much as needed, and I do not complain at all.

Lawyers in the United States are paid hourly for their work (by the way, a lot of money). So the dispute between the two lawyers, about which I asked a question at the beginning of this text, had considerable practical meaning. The longer you work, you get more, and sometimes you really have to work a lot.

But the first lawyer, having worked from the midnight until the same time the next day, seemingly did not leave the second a chance to win. There are 24 hours in a day – if you work more, you finish the next day, and this is a violation of the terms of the bet. What can be done after all?




It is necessary, of course, to scrupulously fulfill the conditions of the bet – but creatively! It was said that it was necessary to finish at 0 o’clock the next day, and the second lawyer did just that. But where is it said that he should be in New York at the same time?

He worked until about noon, got on a plane to San Francisco (he also worked in the flight) and finished at exactly 0 o’clock – but already in California time, and it is 3 hours behind New York.

So he worked 27 hours without the slightest violation of the conditions of the bet, ending at the same 0 hours of the next day!

NON-RIVIAL SOLUTION: What is the duration of the working day?
So they fly from New York to San Francisco/distanza.1km.net




How to work is much more important than how much to work. If you work well and think right, there is always more benefit.

In ancient times, it turns out, they worked about the same as we do now. This is in human nature, and the ancients were people just like us, only they studied in other schools.

In the titanic struggle between laziness and greed, laziness wins. Working hours are decreasing and there doesn’t seem to be anything to be done about it.

To work correctly is not how much you should, but how much you want. If the work is such that you yourself want to work a lot – that’s great: work, don’t be afraid and don’t listen to anyone!

The agreements must be respected and the conditions of the bet made must not be violated. But to comply with the conditions, as well as to do everything in the world, you certainly need to be creative!

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