Why Carlos Slim’s Shorter Work Week Could Work

by Will Ashworth | July 21, 2014 1:59 pm

Carlos Slim, the second-richest person in the world[1] (with an estimated net worth of $79 billion) believes that people should work less[2] … but longer. The way he sees it, people could work three days per week, putting in 11 hours each shift while working well into their 70s.

carlos slim, work weekHis rationale is that a rested and relaxed work force is more productive. And why not? With more days off than on, you’re bound to be more prepared to handle the stress that inevitability comes your way during the average work week.

So, is Carlos Slim right? Should we shorten the work week while retiring later in life? I actually like the idea. But before we all start waltzing into the bosses’ office demanding a change, let’s consider the pros and cons of doing so.

Pros of Shorter Work Week

I have a neighbor who works in a large group home. He used to work 40 hours per week, taking five eight-hour shifts. But management went to all the shift workers several years back and suggested that scheduling would work better if employees undertook longer shifts over fewer days.

My neighbor’s daily shift increased by two hours to 10, but he got an extra day off as a result — reducing his work week from five days down to four. He could have chosen any day off during the week, but chose Wednesday because it was when his partner often had to go for medical visits.

By tacking on two hours at the beginning or end of each work day, my neighbor was able to gain an extra day off each work week which added dramatically to his quality of life. It’s hard to deny the appeal of having three days off each week — a 50% increase over what most of us get!

Carlos Slim’s proposal is even more progressive because his plan would likely require increased manpower to cover all the hours. For example, if three employees were required on site 24 hours a day, you’d need a total of nine staff to cover the entire day under a five-day, eight-hour-per-day system. However, under a three-day, 11-hour-per-day system, you’d need to hire two additional employees to provide the same coverage during a typical work week. That would mean a significant drop in unemployment.

And the benefits don’t stop there…

For instance, workers calling in sick costs the economy an estimated $84 billion[3] annually. By having employees take more time off, they’re going to be better rested and hopefully healthier when they do come to work.

In addition, only 25% of Americans[4] took all of their vacation days in 2014. Implementing a shorter work week would allow companies to reduce the number of vacation days offered without reducing the number of paid days off. Since we don’t seem to use all our vacation days, but do use our weekends (extended by quite a bit under a three-day system) it would likely lead to more relaxation than more vacation days would.

Carlos Slim definitely understands the phrase, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Cons of Shorter Work Week

Marriages would fail, alcoholism would rise and mass anarchy would prevail.

I’m being facetious, of course, but some people are better off having more of their time structured and organized. For some, the extra two days would be used to take up new hobbies and spend more time with the kids and family. But for others it could mean more time to get bored, leading to drug use or worse, violent criminal activity. After all, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”

However, the biggest question raised by the shorter work week is the question of expense. How will society as a whole pay for this extra leisure time advocated by Carlos Slim?

While it’s possible that employers could figure out how to cover off the gaps in coverage created by a three-day work week without increasing the number of employees, it’s unlikely to be anything that could be maintained on an ongoing basis. Any long-term plan to survive on the same number of employees would ultimately result in employees being overworked, exhausted and ultimately absent from that work — the exact opposite of what was intended. So companies would be forced to address the immediate increase in monetary cost.

A Shorter Work Week Makes Sense

I believe that Carlos Slim understands that a three-day work week is an added cost for most companies. However, I also believe he sees the long-term economic benefits outweighing the costs once society as a whole has adopted his radical plan for capitalism.

If you think his ideas are the thoughts of an old rich guy disconnected from the real world, I think you’ve missed the point — even a billionaire 72 times over can see the western world is overworked and under-rested.

If you think he’s crazy, go ahead and add me to that list because I couldn’t agree more. It’s time workers took back the asylum.

As of this writing, Will Ashworth did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. second-richest person in the world: http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list/#tab:overall
  2. people should work less: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101851828
  3. $84 billion: http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/05/09/workers-who-take-the-most-sick-days/
  4. 25% of Americans: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101549114

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