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World's richest man calls for shorter workweek

August 12, 2014

Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, thinks we need to rethink work. Mr. Slim is suggesting that the workweek should be no more than three days and that individual workdays should be around 11 hours. He also thinks that instead of retiring in the early to mid-sixties, people should continue working until they are 70 or 75.

"With three workdays 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," Mr Slim told Paraquay.com, according to a Financial Times' translation.

Mr. Slim is putting some of his theories to the test at Telmex, a Mexican phone company, where workers who are eligible for retirement can choose to keep working at full pay except in a four-day workweek.

Mr. Slim is not alone in his belief that a shorter workweek would provide some benefits to both employees and employers. According to the Emory University WorkLife Resource Center, there are pros and cons associated with a four-day workweek.

Among the pros are that employees spend less time commuting to work. Plus, staff is more productive during working hours and they have more time to take care of responsibilities outside of the workplace. On the downside, longer workdays pose mental and physical challenges to employees; managers need to adjust schedules to supervise employees; and staff may face challenges arranging dependent care at home.

Discussion Questions:

Would shorter workweeks prove more positive or negative for U.S. businesses? Would the approach work best at retail headquarters, distribution centers or stores?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How much more or less productive would full-time retail store workers be if they worked fewer days with longer hours?


It is hard to keep employees productive for 8 hours, let alone 11 hours. Certain industries like IT or sales I may agree on a four day week, but laborers and retail, no, as it can be too taxing on the body. I used to work 65 hours a week for 25 years, and it was tough for me, but I was used to it, and wouldn't choose that as a lifestyle again if I had young children at home.

Balance in life is needed, and some extended weekends for employees are good for recharging, which we provide here, but some businesses are not in that position to do that.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

Back in the 1980s, flex time was a big concept. You had to work core hours, say 10 o'clock to 3 o'clock, at least Monday through Thursday. Then you put in the rest of your hours on either side of that time slot. Meetings could only be scheduled during core time, which proved easy to do once you got used to the idea. Didn't last long, because even then, we had a "get it done now" business approach that wouldn't wait. I don't think that attitude has changed. Doesn't mean this isn't a great idea, but I don't see it happening here.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

We live in an age where everything new and traditional is being challenged. Shorter workweeks fit into that concept of instant stalemating. Most productive people, however, are disposed to doing more constructive work than seeking or needing more "quality" time.

If such an approach as suggested by Carlos Slim were to take hold, it would seem more appropriate at distribution centers and stores. Still, the work there is more repetitive and tedious with any daily creative diversions.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

The rich guys always have the solutions that sound great until you dig deeper. It would be nice for workers if they have the stamina and if they don't have to be home to pick up kids, prepare meals, etc. For businesses, it might mean additional hires to cover open hours or adjustments to hours of business, union issues, etc.

Until there's a federal mandate (maybe decades from now), this too will pass into the dustbin.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

It would be a disaster. Think of the rotating shifts to give everyone time off on the weekends so that we would not work the same three days all the time. Would there be vacations and sick days or just the shorter week? It may work better at stores, as many stores rely on part-time workers now, but at HQ and distribution it would mean many more workers to cover all shifts, and that would actually increase costs of health care, and all the other benefits paid to employees.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

This is kind of humorous in terms of retail. Most full-time associates at store level work 10 hour days anyway so, basically, you'd just be giving out an extra day off. And overall, operationally, this is very tough. Think of all the extra staff you'd have to hire, train, review and motivate to compensate for that extra day, multiplied by the number of stores. Yikes.

Having said that, in an office environment, where mostly "brain" work is performed, I love the idea. There's nothing that induces more creative ideas than a little time for reflection and questioning. Notice how someone's creative energy is boosted when they come back from vacation.

So it's the classic consulting answer: will the extra day help? It depends.

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Lee Peterson, EVP Brand, Strategy & Design, WD Partners

I can see the benefits for hourly workers, but doubt that a shorter workweek would positively impact salaried workers. Hourly workers are on the clock. Salaried workers are on the task.

I agree that we work too much, particularly in the U.S. Having and using more leisure time would be better for our mental and physical health. But I don't see this happening any time soon.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

One of my sons is with more of a high-tech firm that has a mix of hourly and salaried employees. They have a strong focus on customer service and recently instituted a four-day workweek program. So far it is going great. My son likes the change and really cranks to get to that three-day weekend.

As the new work space launches and more younger workers enter the space and the oldies head for the hills, we will see more four-day workweeks. This shift will be positive for business in NA and especially for retailers—an extra day for people to shop!

This change will not occur in retail, except in the slow months and at the HQ level.

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Tom Redd, Global Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

This is nothing new for manufacturers running 24/7 factories. Our U.S. facility has utilized a schedule of 12-hour days with an alternating 3- or 4-day work week for over a decade. I would love that schedule!


We didn't think staffing stores on Sundays, every evening, 24-hours a day and nearly every holiday would be possible either. But, somehow retailers figured it out. So, before everyone throws this idea out for retailers, maybe a bit more time should be given to it. Three-day work week? Maybe not. Four days? More plausible.

As the workforce evolves into one that works for more than just a paycheck, creating a great work experience will become just as important as creating great shopping experiences.

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Kevin Graff, President, Graff Retail

This idea is laughable to me, and I don't think it would be efficient or effective for others, especially per Tony Orlando's and the others' comments. I worked out of my "home-office" years before it was fashionable to do so. I now work out of my home and am positively "virtual," setting my own hours, working when others don't, working more or fewer hours as needed to get the job done, but especially when I am most highly productive, which is the argument against trying to squeeze productivity into a schedule.

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

Well, the idea is not new, and it is not a one-size-fits-all answer as we found before. Remember the old Four Tens work schedule?

The most likely answer is that many companies ARE already doing it if it fits the culture, organization line and product/service category. Most companies, take that as retail stores, probably have more cons that pros with regard to adapting to it. Worth checking into again, though.


I don't know if it was the Emory studies I saw, but the results were fairly conclusive. Four 10-hour days were more productive than five eight-hour days. What was really surprising was that the most productive alternative was four eight-hour days. That suggests we waste a lot of time at the office.

For the U.S., some of the macro stats would back that up. An American worker is the most "productive" in the world. But when you divide that production by hours worked, the American worker drops behind several European countries.

As for the retirement age, why not keep working? I am past retirement age and I find myself busier, having more fun and being more stimulated than I ever was. Why would I retire?

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

Generally speaking, Mr. Slim is on the right path. He's not the first to have proposed a more compacted work schedule as the Japanese have advocated a four-day work week for years.

One example to share that provides an alternative approach to reach the same objective: I know of one large firm that allows senior people to take a six-month sabbatical following each 10 years of service. I've talked with people who have experienced this and received positive feedback.

Grinding away for decades of multi-tasking days is an outdated system that generates overrated and misplaced "badges of courage" for the worker. It's time to put real balance into the workplace.

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Bill Hanifin, CEO, Hanifin Loyalty LLC

The U.S. and some other countries have set the tone for over-worked labor forces. While Continental Europeans will riot if their 35-hour workweek and summer holiday vacations are threatened. I do believe a work/life balance is key. However, the challenge comes in retail online and offline stores. There will be more employees required to staff the stores if workweeks are shortened. I'm not saying this isn't possible to accomplish, however there will need to be some changes in corporate strategy.

Office workers could probably make this happen easier. many office workers already stay longer than eight hours per day, so 11 wouldn't be that much of a stretch.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

I think this proposed workweek already is the norm in France. But that is why they are France and not the USA, where we love to work.

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John Karolefski, Editor in Chief, CPGmatters.com

I'm not so sure that having extra leisure time is a good thing or that it makes people more productive. Where is the empirical evidence?

Productivity requires getting into and maintaining a rhythm which is why swing shifts are so hard on many workers. Most people work better with a set routine. It takes most of us more than three days to establish one. I don't think a three day work week would work for most people. It would also reek havoc with continuity of services and availability to customers and clients.


What a great open-ended topic for discussion ......

I agree that we should compress the work week. I also agree it will be a challenge to accomplish, kind of like tax reform. We can all agree something needs to be done but who is going to do it?

The background material focuses on the personal impacts, but it is pretty obvious that there are not enough jobs to employ everyone. Between improved productivity, automation, overseas imports, and the switch to a virtual economy (how much of your economic activity has become virtual via gaming, social networks, etc.) there is simply not demand for as many workers. If we drop the whole "weekend" paradigm and switch to a "Sunday Day of Rest" paradigm, then the three day work week makes all the sense in the world. The challenge of course is the effect on productivity and the increase in operating costs.

The real crime right now is the level of unemployment among recent high school and college graduates that is discouraging them from even looking for jobs. The three day work week could provide more slots for them to get started on a career and become productive members of society. It would also mean support functions will be fully supported six days a week. In some instances it may even save costs as weekend pay rates are eliminated.

Bill Bittner, Principal, BWH Consulting

I think when Mr. Slim decides to implement his thoughts in all the businesses he owns, then I will take his thoughts far more seriously! The key is all of his businesses.

David Lubert, Industry Principal, Bridge-x Technologies

Great! Some of us already work more than 11 hours a day, wouldn't it be great to have it on record?

I don't think you can get the same level of productivity out of people for 11 hours a day as you would eight.

Would be nice to see some research to back this up.

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Gajendra Ratnavel, CEO, L Squared Digital Signage

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