Mexico’s Richest Man Wants a Three-Day Workweek
The following is a condensed and edited interview with Carlos Slim, chairman emeritus, América Móvil.
Can you tell us about your plan for shorter workweeks?
Shorter workweeks are a solution to civilization shifts. Historically, the more technology advances and the more progress there is, people work less. What’s happening now is that people live longer, in better health, and without the need for physical effort. This civilization demands more knowledge, more experience, less physical exertion. Productivity has increased exponentially—despite the denial of some economists. And we see that’s why unemployment is a big problem in a lot of countries, but more specifically Europe. It’s important that people don’t retire at 50, 60, or 65 years old. I think people should retire later, because they’ll have more knowledge and experience. And I think they should work three days a week, so that it creates space for others.
This way, there will be less need for transportation. Nations wouldn’t have to face early retirements that are financially destabilizing. The quality of life and having four days a week free would encourage a lot of economic activities—more tourism, entertainment, sports, culture, and education. People can take advantage of those extra days to keep learning.
Would people earn less this way?
No, I think the companies that can take this on are those in which productivity has led to excess personnel. It’s a great change to exchange fewer days of work for more years until retirement. In fact, we started this in Telmex [América Móvil’s fixed-line unit] a couple of years ago. We’re offering people that have a lot of knowledge to stay longer and work fewer days.
And what’s been the response?
About 40 percent of those offered take it.
Are there industries where a change like this would be more easily adapted?
In those industries where there is too much personnel, such as government agencies. Instead of cutting personnel, you can enter a scheme like this, where you can have more people, maybe pay more salaries, but you’re avoiding having to pay when workers retire early. If I had been a regular worker in Telmex, I would have been retired for 22 years.
The exchange there is the shorter retirement, then?
If you look at it, it’s been slow, but with time people have been working less. Before they worked 72 hours, six days a week. Then 60 hours. The big success was the 48-hour workweek. Then the English week, where you worked Saturday and only rested on Sundays. Then 40 hours. Instead of working five days, for 35 hours, let’s just work three days to make room for others to work.
How do you persuade people to take this on, when capitalist society tells us that the more you work the further you get?
If you want to work more, then work more. You can have two jobs: one from Monday to Wednesday and another from Thursday to Saturday. That’s an option. Another is to work three days and get trained on something the other days to get an even better job.
You meet with important people all the time. Have you lobbied for it?
Not lobbied. I’ve made it public, but it’s not a decision by decree. It has to happen gradually. Suppose that half of Telmex’s employees were in excess. It would be a great solution: You’d have half working from Monday to Wednesday, the rest from Wednesday to Saturday. You have a complete schedule, services 12 hours a day for 6 days. And people would retire at 75.
More and more, people will work less in their offices. We’re going to have driverless cars that will lower the number of cars and pollution. Parking lots will have new uses, because we won’t use them as much. It’s easier to generate wealth with less personnel and fewer costs. We have to lead a change in society so that those displaced people have activities. To create employment, you need new activities.
We’ve touched on the positive consequences. Are there any negative ones?
There’s resistance to all change. The most profound change is this new civilization. This new civilization changes from an industrial society to a service one. There’s still some politicians who praise the importance of industrial production. But they forget this is a service society. Have you seen Modern Times with Charlie Chaplin? He was part of the machine that has been displaced by robotics. Manufacturing is not only being done in other countries, but that production is done by machines. So the worker is no longer part of the machine, but he is a conductor and organizer of machines.
What about executives? Should they cut back?
You can’t have one CEO three days and another one the rest, but senior managers are changed with some frequency—not as frequently as a [soccer] coach, but you know what I mean. Executives advance, and CEOs and chairmen retire relatively early and give space to new people.
There’s three figures: the one who invests, the one who manages, and the entrepreneur. For example, Warren Buffett is a great investor. There are others who have been great executives, like Ed Whitacre, former CEO and chairman of AT&T and General Motors.
In that sense, the entrepreneur’s job doesn’t really have a beginning or an end?
No, because you’re always thinking. Like an artist. Just because you finish a painting doesn’t mean you’re supposed to retire.
(Corrects photographer credit on the title photo.)