Captains of Industry Ruthlessly Profit By Reducing Hours

Ah, those long ago Captains of Industry. How they cruelly exploited the workers, making them work longer and longer shifts, until the glorious workers movement came along, unionizing, and forcing shorter hours.

Or, is that not how it went? Last November, LiveJournaler ea_spouse made the post that set the software/game development industry buzzing with discussion about the long hours expected of developers. Are these intense work weeks the most productive? A number of interesting articles have been written as a result, like Why Crunch Time Doesn't Work, which reveals that the Captains selfishly (and thus voluntarily) *shortened* hours:

In 1908 — almost a century ago — industrial efficiency pioneer Ernst Abbe published in Gessamelte Abhandlungen his conclusions that a reduction in daily work hours from nine to eight resulted in an increase in total daily output. (Nor was he the first to notice this. William Mather had adopted an eight-hour day at the Salford Iron Works in 1893.)

In 1909, Sidney J. Chapman published Hours of Labour, in which he described long-term variation in worker productivity as a function of hours worked per day. His conclusions will be discussed in some detail below.

When Henry Ford famously adopted a 40-hour workweek in 1926, he was bitterly criticized by members of the National Association of Manufacturers. But his experiments, which he'd been conducting for at least 12 years, showed him clearly that cutting the workday from ten hours to eight hours — and the workweek from six days to five days — increased total worker output and reduced production cost. Ford spoke glowingly of the social benefits of a shorter workweek, couched firmly in terms of how increased time for consumption was good for everyone. But the core of his argument was that reduced shift length meant more output.

Psychophysics in Cyberia concurs:

It was over a century ago that Dr. Ernst Abbe conducted his observations on working time and output at the Zeiss Optical Works in Jena, Germany. Dr. Abbe, director of the plant, reduced the daily hours of work from 9 to 8 and kept careful records of daily output per worker before and after the change. What he found confirmed observations from throughout the 19th century: a moderate reduction in working time increased total output. In The Economics of Fatigue and Unrest, Philip Sargant Florence summed up the accumulated evidence to the 1920's:

"Reduction from a 12-hour to a 10-hour basis results in increased daily output; further reduction to an 8-hour basis results in at least maintaining this increased daily output; but further reductions while increasing the hourly rate of output, seems to decrease the total daily output."

While the interests of employer and employee are not always aligned, they both lose when the worker is pushed beyond maximal productivity. Such win-win situations can be hard to recognize, as witness the decades of industrialization it took before such studies were well-known. But unlike strikes and congressional laws, such improvements are easy to implement and enforce.

[Hat tip to herooftheage for the pointer]

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I'm not sure what your point

I'm not sure what your point is here.

If you are trying to illustrate that the profit motive is simply that, the profit motive, then well done. If a company can profit by making workers work longer hours, they'll do it. If a company can profit my making workers work less hours they'll do it.

This post seems to do a good job of filling the tautological void.

A question for my

A question for my libertarian friends
how is Dadaland relevantly different than the U.S.? That is, why is it okay for Dadalanders to dictate that everyone must share, and look out for one another, etc., but not for the U.S. government to create programs like welfare, or Social Security, ...

Interesting. Have those

Have those results been followed up, replicated?
Has anyone conducted similar experiments more recently?
Wouldn't there be a lot of variation depending on the type of work?
40 hours/5 days does seem pretty arbitrary, doesn't it?

My point was that people

My point was that people often focus on the zero-sum aspects of employer/employee relations, when the positive-sum aspects are, imho, more important. The fact that both parties are in a joint venture to transform labor into other forms of value means they have some substantial common interests.

McClain - no one is claiming that 40 hours is an absolute. The article I linked to mentions that it will be different for different industries, and must be empirically measured in each. And its certainly possible that better medicine and nutrition, or technology that makes our jobs easier, have increased the # of hours we can now productively work.

Thanks for clarifying. That

Thanks for clarifying. That is certainly a point worth remembering, and oft forgotten.