Google CEO: Is the 40-Hour Workweek Really Necessary?
"I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance," said Google CEO Larry Page. "If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy -- housing, security, opportunities for your kids -- anthropologists have been identifying these things. It’s not that hard for us to provide those things."
The hour long conversation covered a range of topics, but as the discussion veered into machine learning and machines taking on more jobs held by humans, Page speculated that not everyone necessarily needs to work a 40-hour workweek.
"I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance," he said. "If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy -- housing, security, opportunities for your kids -- anthropologists have been identifying these things. It’s not that hard for us to provide those things."
A Disconnected Idea?
"The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that actually needs to go into that is pretty small," Page continued. "I’m guessing less than 1 percent at the moment. So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true."
When we asked tech industry analyst Rob Enderle if Page’s comments had any potential for real-world application, he said they struck him as disconnected and borderline delusional.
"Given that folks at Google routinely work 60- and 70-hour weeks, and given that Google is at the forefront of the type of robotics development that will inevitably cost people jobs, hearing Page hold forth on what the workweek should look like is peculiar," Enderle told us. "It actually makes me wonder if the guy can think strategically at all."
Page said the continued dominance of the 40-hour workweek, especially in Western culture, might have more to do with social customs than with financial needs.
"A lot of people aren't happy if they don't have something to do," he said. "They need to feel needed and wanted."
Enderle's reaction: "What people need is to make a living."
More People Working Less
Page stopped short of saying that Google itself might lead the way in greater segmentation of its employees’ hours. But he did say that a bigger-picture solution to unemployment could be creating ways for companies to fill one full-time-equivalent position with two people.
"That way, two people have a part-time job instead of one having a full-time job," Page said. "Most people, if I ask them would you like an extra week of vacation, 100 percent would raise their hands. Two weeks or a four-day work-week? They'd raise their hands. Most people like working but they also want more time with their families or their interests."
A nice thought, but not one with strong ties to reality, according to Enderle.
"Employees generally don’t want half a salary, even if it means having twice the free time," he said.