A Worker Today Gets Done in 11 Hours What Took 40 Hours in 1950

An average worker today only needs to work 11 hours per week to produce as much as one person working 40 hours per week in 1950. 

That means, if you did what many people do today and started your work day with an hour of emails at home in the morning, went to the office from 9-6, then did another hour of work from your laptop in the evening, you'd have completed an entire 1950s workweek by Monday evening.

Let that marinate for a second. 

Back in 1950, it was also still common that families had just one breadwinner -- just 30% of the labor force was made up of women -- and on that single income, it was still possible for a man to buy a house, car, the gadgets and fashions of the day, and still put money into savings.

He'd also be done work by 5pm, and be able to come home to enjoy the evening with his family, without the interruptions of cell phones or laptops. He'd have several hours to indulge in quality family time over dinner, do homework with the kids, catch up on reading, and go for a long stroll with the family dog. And come Friday at 5pm, he'd have the next 64 hours to enjoy his free time. 

What an incredible difference between the standard workweek then and now. 

Here's another nugget for you. In 1950, the median household income in the US was $4,237. That doesn't sound like much until you factor in the fact that the average price of a new home was about $7,500. That's less than two years worth of salary! (Globe & Mail

In contrast, in 2014, the median household income in the US was $53,891 (CNN Money) while the average house cost was $338,100 (US Census Bureau for June 2014). That's 6.27 years worth of salary, between what's often two working people's income today. 

Now factor in today's crazy cost of living and this scary fact: 60% of Millennials are saving less than 10% of their incomes each year -- and 14% aren't saving at all (Money Under 30). So in Vancouver, to put a 20% downpayment on a 1-bedroom apartment could take a co-habiting couple 10+ years to afford.

Forget the naive dream of buying a house by 30, let alone a home with enough bedrooms to raise a family.

All this is to say that we accomplish the equivalent hours of work in a single day today that we did in the 1950s -- we're 5x more productive -- yet it will take us more than 3x the time to buy a home that it took our parents, and in some cases, twice the household man power. 

Because we're constantly plugged in -- via email, text, Slack -- we are working longer hours than ever before. For many people, the workday starts with checking emails within 5 minutes of waking up, and ends with late-nights emails or texts from colleagues and clients. 

Technology has significantly transformed the way we work, much of it for the better, yet it's time we re-examined the status quo for all things work-related.

This is not the same work world our grandparents contributed to in the 1950s. It's transformed significantly since our Boomer parents entered the workplace. It's even shifted dramatically since Millennials entered the workforce a decade ago.

To ensure we can continue to be productive and flourish as a society, we'll need to examine a vast range of workplace topics, including: 

  • Hours in the workweek
  • Vacation policies
  • Remote work
  • Flex time
  • Global talent / outsourcing 
  • Compensation
  • Salary vs. contract (full-time, part-time, and the gig economy)  
  • Perks
  • Health & wellness benefits
  • Company culture 
  • Environmental design in the workplace
  • Company coaches
  • Boomerang employees
  • Job hopping as the norm
  • Company equity plans
  • Hiring & firing practices
  • Paid maternity & paternity leave
  • Work/life boundaries & expectations
  • New workplace tools & technologies

This blog is a place for such exploration. Please join us in the conversation by sharing the work topics you think need to be re-thought. 

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