By John Lauritsen

This was first published on Sept. 5, 2016.

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As Labor Day winds down, many people are getting ready to return to an eight-hour work day Tuesday.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average American works about 8.8 hours every day. That got us wondering — how did eight hours become the magic number? Good Question.

Throughout the history of industry, the eight-hour work day has become such a norm that Dolly Parton even wrote a song about it.

Mick Sheppeck — an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas who specializes in human resources — says he works 10 to 12 hour days, usually.

“The majority of people are bugging out at the eight hour limit,” Sheppeck said.

But it wasn’t always that way. During the Industrial Revolution, companies were maximizing their factories. Around-the-clock business meant long hours for workers. It wasn’t uncommon to work up to 16 hours a day.

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(credit: CBS)

Sheppeck said companies could take advantage of immigrants who simply wanted a job and were willing to work all day or all night, and then child labor laws became an issue.

“‘Let’s not have these little kids working 14 hours a day.’ That sort of thing,” Sheppeck said.

Later, unions came into the picture.

“Mid-’30s, unions become available. In the very early ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, unions focused on working conditions,” Sheppeck said.

Ford Motor Company was actually one of the first companies to cut the standard work day down to eight hours. They did it in 1914, and their productivity went way up. After that, more and more companies followed suit — paving the way for an eight-hour work day.

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Sheppeck said eight-hour work days vary between companies, but the standard magic number at the end of the week is usually 40 hours. After the recession, many companies turned to four-day work weeks with employees working 10 hours a day.

John Lauritsen