Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, having been rushed of his feet trouncing the Franks, Sarmatians, and Goths in battle, was absolutely bushed. He’d recently created a flash gold coin to combat inflation, he’d also restructured his government. It should be noted, all tweets Constantine’s administration sent out regarding his government reshuffle were correct. He’d worked around the clock implementing financial, administrative, and social reforms to strengthen his empire. He’d thought better of paganism, and was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, but not a moments rest had the poor chap had. Longing for a day off, overworked and lamenting his lack of work-life balance, on a sunny day in 321 AD, possibly clutching an ancient remedy for stress related illnesses; Constantine the Great decreed, “On the venerable day of the Sun, let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed”. That is how Sunday became a day of rest, and the 7-day week became official.
How did the 7-day week become the 5-day week, and who should we thank for the weekend? The weekend really is a modern concept, the earliest recorded use of the word ‘weekend’ occurred in 1879, in an English magazine called ‘Notes and Queries’. The 5-day week and 2-day weekend began to take shape between 1760-1840, during the industrial revolution. Working men rebelled against factory owners, no longer willing to work endless hours in deplorable conditions 7 days a week. Workers wanted a better quality of life and more time with their families. Factory owners, only interested in their bottom line refused to implement the changes labourers were asking for, which led to long and often bloody organised labour strikes.
There’s a question as to whether it was Labour unions, or business mogul Henry Ford that created the 5-day work week. The truth is, Henry Ford was simply an early adopter of the contemporary 5-day work week. Labour unions across the US and Europe had been trying to organise the 5-day week, 8-hour work day since the 1860’s. In 1919, demand for a 5-day work week to become standard practise across industries was still going unheard, causing an unprecedented 20% of the American industrial labour force to down tools and strike. It would still be another 19 years before president Franklin Roosevelt signed the 1938 Fair Labour Standards Act. The 1938 Labour Act limited working hours to 44 per week, which eventually became the standard 40 hours in 1940, and that is how the 5-day week, 8-hour work day; 2-day weekend as we know it was born.
Is it time for a change? In the 80’s, status was attached to working an inordinate number of hours. Presently, getting into and leaving work at, ‘I’ve no friends or social life o’clock’ is the norm. Like Grange Hill and Biker Grove, leaving work for lunch is simply something remembered fondly. Research clearly shows, that a 4-day week would be beneficial to our health, family life, and the economy. Those that work fewer hours are far more productive than those that work themselves into the ground. In addition, research shows a 4-day work week would be helpful in tackling climate change. A shorter working week would mean a smaller carbon footprint, but for now the 5-day work week is still king. We shouldn’t grumble, not all countries adhere to the standard 5-day work week. In Hong Kong, the work week begins on Monday and ends at 13.00 pm on Saturday, and of course, weekends across the world differ according to religious tradition. For most Middle Eastern and Muslim populated countries, the weekend is Thursday to Friday.
Have a thought for those in Brunei Darussalam, they suffer the non-contiguous working week. Work days there are Monday to Thursday, plus Saturday, with Friday and Sunday being their days of rest. In Nepal, Saturday is the day of rest, and Sunday is the first day of the working week. Can you imagine that? Sunday as the first day of the working week, with no thought what so ever given to Sarah Smith and the Sunday Politics, shocking! So, there you have it, a summary of how the 5-day week came about, with not a jot of artistic license taken.