credit: Nearly a century ago, the Ford Motor Company became one of the first companies in the United States to adopt the 40-hour, five-day work week in its plants, a policy that would be extended to office employees in August.
The plan had been in the writings since the beginning of the decade. Edsel Ford, Henry’s son who was then head of the business, explained in an article published in the New York Times in March 1922 that “every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation… The Ford Company has always sought to promote an ideal family life for its employees. We believe that to live properly, each individual must have more time to spend with his loved ones.”
A forerunner in labour policies, the company, founded by Henry Ford in 1903, had drawn the ire of its competitors in 1914 after raising the daily wage for its male workers. Against a backdrop of high unemployment and growing labour unrest, the Detroit giant raised the daily wage from $2.34 for a nine-hour day to $5.00 for an eight-hour day, more than doubling the average income then prevailing in auto plants. However, women doing the same jobs had to wait two more years to achieve parity.
In addition to boosting productivity along the assembly lines, this stroke of genius helped create a sense of employee loyalty and pride in the company. Subsequently, other manufacturers in the country and around the world quickly followed suit and made the Monday-Friday work week standard practice.
Photo: Henry Ford and Edsel Ford circa 1927 with 15 millionth car. (Credit: Ford)