Ever wondered why we work a typical eight-hour day? It’s because of a Victorian equivalent of a soundbite.
It’s all down to a Welsh social reformer called Robert Owen. Owen seemed to be one of those people who managed to cram a lot into his life – a true lifesaver if ever there was one.
He started off working in a drapers’ shop, then he got into the spinning business and was elected to the Manchester Board of Health which aimed to help workers’ conditions. Owen later moved to Scotland where he was part-owner of a mill which he ran in a way that offered its workers better rights than most, including childcare for infants. In later life, he lived in America where he formed a utopian community before heading to London to led a socialist association. Finally, in his eighties, Owen became a spiritualist where he chatted to, among others, the spirits of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson about his plans for world peace!
It was while Robert Owen was campaigning for workers’s rights in the mid 19th century that he demanded a ten-hour limit on the working day but, in a moment of poetic inspiration, he later reduced that to eight hours, with the snappy slogan “Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest”.
So there we have it. Over 150 years later, the working world is a quite different place yet we still play by Owen’s rules. Surely it’s time to move on.