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Google CEO: Is the 40-Hour Workweek Really Necessary?
Google CEO: Is the 40-Hour Workweek Really Necessary?

By Dan Heilman
July 8, 2014 12:50PM

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"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."
 



Digital technology has already revolutionized the mobile work environment. Will it do the same to the traditional workweek? Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page believes it could. Page and Google co-founder Sergey Brin talked about the changing face of work culture last week with Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, at a CEO summit in Silicon Valley.

The hourlong 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.
 

Tell Us What You Think
Comment:

Name:

Ron:

Posted: 2014-07-11 @ 4:42am PT
Isn't it great when a multi-billionare tells us how he thinks we would like to live. How about telling the Corporations to cut our week in half and pay us double.

Eudaimon:

Posted: 2014-07-11 @ 2:57am PT
This is a worthy sounding goal, but it is not the end game of capitalism as it works now ...

Chris:

Posted: 2014-07-10 @ 4:54am PT
I am all for a four day work week!! I would love to work 4 10 hour day and have an extra day off during the week just to get shopping, cleaning and various appointments done :)

John Matras:

Posted: 2014-07-10 @ 4:26am PT
I am all for a 20 hour work week but need to work 40 hours to pay the bills and I only get company health insurance if I work over 30 hours. I would also recommend that retirement come in the beginning of a person's work lifecycle.

sree:

Posted: 2014-07-10 @ 12:40am PT
He needs a lesson in history and philosophy. Also I strongly think he is having 'depression'.

David Patterson:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 11:14pm PT
Historically people have worked less hours via technology from one generation to the next. My grandfather worked in an office for 55 hours per week. Today a typical office schedule is 35 hours per week.

Bethany:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 9:12pm PT
The last statement of the article says it all.

Fred:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 7:05pm PT
The whole system is rigged in such way that no one in his right mind can think that at some point this social behavior will change, definitely not supported by most media that are owned by non real working people, it would be suicidal for anyone that makes 500k a year to support it, but because everyone else is dreaming of working less for the same amount of money, it will happen! We used to start working at 10 years old and younger, everyday,12 hours a day, before and during the "industrial revolution" yet laws were passed and employers abided by and salary were raised, people were able to buy more therefore helping the economy to grow, it is possible to raise the living of all to a better "standard" less work same money, is wall Street and bankers doing real work? What about the ones that are living off their interests? Also some nations are already doing it, it is just matter of time, the past 200 years have been incredible and we have yet to see what a global economy can do but we are starting to see the big pictures. Tech, robots, medical advances, and world peace is not far behind, Let's just start by recycling and using the money spent in futile weaponry R&D and we will be able to create a whole new economy, a real one, this time as our forefather defined what economy is and should be.

Outsider:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 5:23pm PT
Morons! Both guys. Get a look around. The world is not the USA. Yes your sports championships aren't World Series! There's a lot of work to be done outside the USA and a lot of people wanting to work. They need the money that these morons spent with scrap shopping!

Andy Sumrok:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 12:57pm PT
In keeping with western culture. I would rather work 4 10 hour days and have 3 off with family and friends... That way, everyone is happy and synergy is rampantly flowing.

just me:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 10:33am PT
One full time position with two people, half time, half wages, no bene's... How about we fix poverty using the same example, share all the bank accounts with two people... Lol, lets see how that's received by the elite 1%... Moronic!

Bob:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 9:05am PT
Looks more like they want to justify moving everyone to part-time so they aren't forced to provide benefits, and thus reap more profits for themselves.

Is Google going to lead this charge by paying full-time salaries for those part-time jobs?

Didn't think so...

Unpleasant Reality:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 8:16am PT
Seems like we all see the flaw; companies will pay most employees as little as possible. Hourly pay is used for employees working less than 40 hours a week and if you get to the place where your hours should get overtime, you get 'promoted' to a salaried position where you end up working a lot for free. So if we get to the efficient point described, expect the hourly employees to get 15-20 hours a week, and still get paid by the hour. And of course, their benefits will get cut.

Thimble:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 8:01am PT
"People need to make a living."

That's the whole point. People don't work 40+ hours because they *want* to: it's because they have to. And they would accept more leisure time IF other needs were appropriately met.

This outcome, as described by Larry Page, is potentially feasible -- almost inevitably so -- but, so was globalization, which was really the first wave in that direction. Humans had no context for globalization when it began: it just seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, we grapple with the complexities: cheaper, more accessible goods, which, in turn, have hurt (or completely destroyed) many local businesses.

I say these sorts of concepts -- including advanced mechanization of labor -- must include discussions on how to minimize adjustment shock in the most vulnerable populations. That way, people don't go rioting because they feel threatened by some distant (and apparently disconnected) rich dude.

the realist:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 7:51am PT
I would be happy to work 10 hours a week for the same pay that Larry Page receives.

n.b.:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 7:09am PT
as an ex-google employee that didn't like playing high-school popularity games, i never got a promotion. not because i didn't warrant it, but because of internal politics. i frequently worked 80+ hours a week. my salary was 39k/year plus stocks and bonuses. without those stocks and bonuses i wouldn't have survived. when my health got so bad i started missing large chunks of work i was put on a probation system. similar to every other corporation. i was given 9 kinds of hell for pointing out that on paper many google employees qualified for food stamps. hearing this makes me insane. coming from an employer that treats programmers one way, and everybody else like a second-class citizen.

common man:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 6:24am PT
he is not a common man

Ed:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 6:22am PT
Just like when Keynes talked about it, this is a nice idea, but will never happen. Ask Google if they will let their employees work 20 hours a week without a reduction in pay. In capitalism there is no "free" time. We have seen more automation in the past 40 years and what do workers get? Layoffs, forced days off, fewer holidays and less vacation time. What do corporations get? Higher profits, higher executive pay and huge cash reserves. This is just another corporate marketing attempt to make workers believe there is a brighter future in their jobs being replaced by new technology.

Greg:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 6:20am PT
Well he is right to a degree... sure i could live on 1/2 my pay check.... I live in a house that is more then i need and have toys that i don't need but wanting more "stuff" is part of our culture.

Sarah Bellum:

Posted: 2014-07-09 @ 12:36am PT
Kevin?
Who would provide the "housing, education, health care and energy?"
Government?
Health care. How's that cheap and affordable healthcare thing doing?
"Free" Public Education. At what level are the government schools doing these days?
Housing. You mean the "projects?" Section 8? Communist style tenement buildings?
Energy. Over 70% of the cost of all energy sources are taxes used to "provide" the governments' failed attempts at other 'free' public services.

No thank YOU!

Sandwichman:

Posted: 2014-07-08 @ 8:41pm PT
That would be the same Rob Enderle?:

"The biggest long-term problem with moving to an Apple platform is that the company is in decline." — Rob Enderle, in October 2003.

Kevin:

Posted: 2014-07-08 @ 6:36pm PT
If housing, education, health care and energy are all provided then people could afford to work half the time.



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