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3-day workweek? Sign us up

Mexican billionaire says we need to work until we're older, but offers a shorter workweek in exchange

By Todd Humber

Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican communications mogul who is one of the richest people on the planet, is advocating for a three-day workweek, as outlined in the standalone photo on the cover of the Aug. 11 issue of Canadian HR Reporter we're currently working on.

I think I speak for most of humanity when I say, “Where do I sign up?”

Now, there is of course a catch to this worker panacea that he pitched at an annual meeting of business leaders in Uruguay — Slim says that in exchange for this shortened week, workers would need to put in longer hours (up to 11 hour days) and retirement at age 50 or 60 would be swapped out for retirement at age 70 or 75.

At Telmax, Slim’s company, workers are already able to sign up for a four-day workweek if they agree to work past the traditional retirement age.

But is that really a catch? Unless you’ve got a government job or one of the increasingly hard to find defined benefit pensions, retirement at age 50 or 60 is a mere pipe dream anyway. Many Canadians won’t be retiring until close to age 70 to begin with. And let’s look at the hours worked: An employee who starts her career at age 25, working 40 hours a week, and retires at age 65 would put in 83,200 hours on the job.

Under Slim’s plan, the same employee — working 33 hours over a three-day span — would work 85,800 hours from age 25 to age 75. (And that’s assuming they did 11 hours day on every day they worked, something Slim said would only be required on occasion.)

So the amount of time spent on the job is pretty much a wash. But in exchange for working another decade (again, something you’re likely going to do anyway), you’d get a four-day weekend every single week of your career. Plus, how many of you already put in longer than an eight-hour day? The more you look at the math, the more appealing Slim’s plan becomes — at least from the employee perspective.

It’s kind of like cashing in some of your retirement chips while you’re still young and healthy enough to enjoy them — more time for family vacations, exploring the world or to devote to your favourite hobby.

As life expectancy continues to increase, pension plans — both private and government benefits like the Canada Pension Plan(CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) — won’t be able to afford to pay benefits to workers for decades upon decades. Picture a worker in a DB plan who starts his career at age 25 and retires at age 55 with a full pension. It’s not inconceivable this worker could actually collect a pension for longer than he actually worked. You don’t need to be an actuary to know that’s not sustainable.

Ottawa has already announced changes to the CPP and OAS to recognize the fact Canadians are living longer — starting in 2023, the age of eligibility will rise from age 65 to 67, phased in over a six-year span.

Employers may panic at the notion of only having their workforce available three days per week. From a management standpoint, it’s hard enough to get the job done with current resources — but perhaps work is akin to a goldfish in a bowl. It takes up the amount of space (or time) that we allow for it. Toss that same goldfish into a lake, and it will turn into a massive carp.

With productivity improvements and a little effort — plus the reward of a four-day weekend dangling over our heads — it may very well be possible to finish the job in just three days.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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