The idea of a five-day work week has been fairly standardized in North American society (and indeed in much of the world) since Henry Ford introduced it in his auto factories in the mid nineteen-twenties.
“Leisure,” Ford wrote, “is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles.”
Ford’s justification was a clever one: he reasoned that leisure time was itself a motivator for economic and commercial activity. And if people enjoyed leisurely drives in a Ford automobile, all the better for his business model!
Nearly a century later, modern-day tycoon Carlos Slim Helu (whose phenomenal net worth of approximately $80bn regularly ranks him among the top three richest people in the world) has recently made waves by calling for even more radical reform to the structure of the working week. Under Slim’s revised schedule, employees would work only three days of the week, but the familiar eight-hour day would be stretched to eleven hours or more. Concurrently, retirement would be delayed from the typical average age of sixty-five years: employees would instead be expected to remain in the workforce well into their seventies.
Slim’s stance on the matter of the work week boasts impressively harmonious echoes of Ford’s:
“With three work days a week, we would have more time to relax; for quality of life. Having four days [off] would be very important to generate new entertainment activities and other ways of being occupied.”
Slim’s proposal was welcomed with enthusiasm by none other than Richard Branson (@richardbranson), founder of the megacorporation Virgin Group: Branson blogged about it in recent days. The notably affable entrepreneur shared his appreciation for some of Slim’s key observations: namely, that due to advances in medical science and technology, people today are living much longer and doing so in better health than those in the era of Henry Ford. Companies and their employees also have access new and efficient tools with which to manage their time, as well as to distribute large quantities of information via data-enabled mobile devices. Add in the increasing costs associated with commuting and urban home ownership, and the argument for a compacted work week seems all the more appealing for the modern worker.
Branson also contends that employee contentment plays a significant role in productivity: he theorizes that employees ought to be given the independence and flexibility needed to decide upon the arrangement of hours, methods and tools that will help them do the best possible work. This dovetails nicely with Slim’s own views: the use and enjoyment of leisure time, after all, ought to be a major factor in any measurement of a person’s sense of contentment.