So much for the eight-hour day

So much for the eight-hour day

Many can't get by with an eight-hour workday © Sebastian Kahnert

Working only eight hours a day has long been pure wishful thinking. Even today, many people work more. An achievement a hundred years ago, the eight-hour day could soon be history.

Working four hours less a week seems to be a dream for many Germans – if surveys are to be believed. But while full-time employees would like to have four hours more free time, according to a study by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, they actually work about four hours overtime per week. Yet the eight-hour day has been the upper limit in Germany for exactly 100 years – a milestone in history.

Flexibility the magic word of politics

But that could be loosened up in the future. Flexibility is the magic word of politics. Unions, on the other hand, are calling for less work and a 35-hour work week for all industries. And start-ups in particular are breaking new ground in the age of digitization: If employees can complete their workload in less time, they can go home after five or six hours. Still others try to incentivize overtime with bonuses.

At the time of industrialization, such a short working day seemed pure wishful thinking. Working 12 to 14 hours a day was not unusual; free time was even a foreign word. With his demand for "eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure and eight hours of sleep," the British entrepreneur Robert Owen shortened the working day in the 18th century. and 19. The company is also looking at the working hours of its employees in the twenty-first century.

In Germany, the 1994 Working Hours Act stipulates that employees may work a maximum of eight hours per day, or ten hours in exceptional cases, in order to protect their health. But the law contains numerous exceptions and probably elicits only a weary smile from some shift workers. 24-hour services as a prospective doctor? Everyday life. Unpaid extra work for delivery truck drivers? Often reality. Overtime as a politician? Demanded.

No eight-hour day for clergy

Self-employed fall out of the pattern altogether. And even for clergy, there is no eight-hour day. Father Aloys Hulskamp from Trier says: "I am ready to work 168 hours a week. When I'm needed, I want to be available."In the morning a funeral, at noon a wedding, afterwards a baptism, evening mass and in between children's entertainment as Santa Claus – a normal Saturday.

In addition, there are many appointments where it is difficult to distinguish between work and free time, such as an invitation to a wedding or home visits to people who are going through a difficult time. It is almost impossible to draw a line, says Hulskamp, who works for the Salesians of Don Bosco. "This is simply my life."It is important, however, to use one's own strength and to hand over tasks.

In the current debate, the keyword is flexibility. However, employees and employers often have a fundamentally different understanding of the ie. So employers push to soften the eight-hour day and bring a workweek into the conversation. It would be possible to work more than 10 hours a day and make up for it later. For employees, on the other hand, flexibility means being able to work from home or at off-peak times.

Degenerate into constant availability

Munich psychologist Ingrid Knigge takes a rather critical view of such approaches: "Our ancestors fought hard for the eight-hour day."There are legitimate reasons behind this. Because flexibility could easily be exploited if the boundaries between work and private life disappeared. This often leads to dilemmas for employees, such as the question: Do I check my cell phone again in the evening??

This is a problem that can be proven empirically: Around one in four employees is confronted with the expectation of being available for work-related matters in their private lives, according to a survey by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt fur Arbeitsschutz). The positive aspect of free time management can then become a risk and degenerate into constant availability.

"Often you don't even know how long you're actually working," the psychologist points out. Especially when there is a lot of work and it is fun, time often "flies by". Knigge advises to write down exemplary working hours for one week to get an overview and to check what is necessary and what is too much.

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