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What Is a Workweek?

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  • Written By: Matt Brady
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 07 April 2014
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A workweek is not only the amount of time an employee spends on the job, but the amount of hours an employer is legally permitted to demand of an employee in a calendar week. Most countries regard the workweek as lasting five days, typically falling between Monday and Friday. Generally, companies require an average of 40 hours a week. While most companies split the 40-hour week up into eight-hour increments over a five-day period, four-day workweeks consisting of ten hours per day have gained popularity. Some countries have also adopted workweeks that stray from the 40-hour norm. Workweeks can also be contingent upon an employee's religious beliefs as well as holidays.

In the US, the eight-hour, five-day workweek has been predominant since the 1920s, when American automaker Henry Ford implemented the schedule for his factory workers. Ford believed that not only would his employees be more productive under the schedule, but that given more leisure time on the weekends, they would have more time to enjoy his cars, thus galvanizing business. In the decades that followed, the 40-hour workweek became widely adopted throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Many countries enacted labor and employment laws protecting workers from having to work more than an average of 40 hours per week, unless they knowingly opted into a more demanding schedule.

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The 40-hour schedule became popular because it catered to both employer and employee, allowing businesses to thrive off of a generous amount of labor hours during the week and workers to benefit from two full days of leisure a week. People began to concentrate more on achieving a healthy work-life balance. The term weekend warrior was adopted to describe workers who used their weekends not for idle leisure, but to passionately pursue hobbies such as camping, home improvement and sports.

Most countries legally allow employees to enjoy shorter workweeks for holidays. Also, many employers are required to respect their employees' religious traditions. In countries or regions with a high population of employees who observe weekly Sabbath or prayer rituals, companies often allow workers to leave early on certain days. Under this scenario, a workweek might go from Monday through Friday until noon, as opposed to a full workday on Friday.

Different countries and companies have experimented with changing the 40-hour workweek. In 2000, the French government went so far as to legally change the workweek to 35 hours, only to amend it a few years later due to criticism. India's government, on the other hand, has traditionally followed a 48-hour workweek. Of course, factoring on overtime and vacation time can make the actual working week of a nation far different than its legal mandate.

Companies have also experimented with different working schedules. There is the ten-hour per day, four-day week, but companies have also toyed with the idea of packing an average of 40 hours into even fewer days, while allowing the employee a long weekend. Other companies demand more than the average 40 hours from their employees, but compensate the extra work in lucrative overtime pay.

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