Daily Planet: All work and no play

Shorter workweeks can help the planet


Published:

Henry Ford reduced his employees’ workweek without cutting their pay

In 1926, U.S. automaker Henry Ford reduced his employees’ workweek from six eight-hour days to five, with no pay cuts. It’s something workers and labour unions had been calling for. Ford wasn’t responding to worker demands; he was being a businessman. He expected increased productivity and knew workers with more time and money would buy and use the products they were making. Ford, then one of America’s largest employers, was ahead of his time — most workers in North America and elsewhere didn’t get a 40-hour workweek until after the Second World War.

Since standardization of the 40-hour workweek in the mid-20th century, everything has changed but the hours. If anything, many people are working even longer hours, especially in North America. This has severe repercussions for human health and well-being, as well as the environment.

Until the Second World War, it was common for one person in a household, usually the oldest male, to do wage work full time. Now women make up 42 per cent of Canada’s full-time workforce. 

In 1930, renowned economist John Maynard Keynes predicted people would be working 15-hour weeks within 100 years. We’re clearly not on track to achieve that. As we reach the combined tipping points of overpopulation, resource overexploitation, environmental degradation and climate change, we may no longer have the luxury of taking our time to make necessary changes.

Rather than reducing work hours to spur consumerism, as Henry Ford did, we must reduce both. We have to get beyond outdated notions and habits like planned obsolescence, excessive packaging and production of too many unnecessary goods.

Economist David Rosnick, author of a 2013 Center for Economic and Policy Research study on work hours and climate change, argues that reducing average annual hours by just 0.5 per cent per year through shorter workweeks and increased vacation would “likely mitigate one-quarter to one-half, if not more, of any warming which is not yet locked-in.” A shorter workweek would also reduce rush-hour traffic and gridlock, which contribute to pollution and climate change. It could help reduce stress and the health problems that come from modern work practices, such as sitting for long hours at computers. And it would give people more options for family care. A transition won’t necessarily be easy, but it’s time we stopped applying 20th-century concepts and methods to 21st-century life.

Edit Module

Join the conversation and have your say by commenting below. Our comment system uses a Facebook plugin. Please note that you'll have to turn off some ad-blockers in order to see the comments.

Edit Module

Follow us on Twitter @PostCity for more on what to eat, where to shop and what to do in Toronto.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

You may also like...

An artistic chimney in Toronto that sounds like cormorants

An artistic chimney in Toronto that sounds like cormorants

The Living City Art Exhibition, at Toronto's Evergreen Brick Works runs until Dec. 31.
Posted 19 hours ago
How T.O. artist Samara Shuter met her match

How T.O. artist Samara Shuter met her match

Posted 22 hours ago
Frontier’s Jessica Matten on her five favourite books

Frontier’s Jessica Matten on her five favourite books

This fall, the second season of Canadian historical drama Frontier premiered on Discovery with Toronto’s Jessica Matten back in action as Sokanon alongside series star Jason (“Aquaman”) Momoa.
Posted 2 days ago
Racist posters appear in Midtown

Racist posters appear in Midtown

Posters believed to be linked to a white nationalist group surfaced in two Midtown neighbourhoods last month, worrying residents.
Posted 2 days ago
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit Module