Technology will kill the 9-to-5 work week, says Richard Branson

The billionaire entrepreneur predicts the rise of technology will soon force society to rethink the modern work week.

  • Branson made the argument in a recent blog post published on the Virgin website.
  • The 40-hour work week stems from labor laws created in the early 20th century, and many have said this model is becoming increasingly obsolete.
  • The average American currently works 47 hours per week, on average.

Have you ever had a 'case of the Mondays,' or remarked that you can't believe it's 'hump day' already, or said TGIF to a coworker at the end of a regular, 9-to-5 week? The chances are that, as A.I. continues to improve, you'll soon be able to retire these awful sayings because the work week is poised to undergo a major transformation.

That's the idea behind a recent blog post written by entrepreneur Richard Branson, who's established flexible work arrangements at his company Virgin Management.

"The idea of working five days a week with two day weekends and a few weeks of holiday each year has become ingrained in society. But it wasn't always the case, and it won't be in the future," Branson wrote.

"As Google's Larry Page and others have said, the amount of jobs available for people is going to decrease as technology progresses. New innovations will drive industries forward, but they will also reduce our reliance on people power," Branson wrote. "Ideas such as driverless cars and more advanced drones are becoming a reality, and machines will be used for more and more jobs in the future. Even pilot-less planes will be become the reality in the not too distant future."

Brief history of the modern work week

The 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday work week might sound tiring and overly regimented to us now. But establishing this relatively new labor model was considered a victory for workers in the 19th and 20th centuries who, in various movements worldwide, organized to demand better labor conditions and regulation. In the early 20th century, for instance, many Americans worked brutally long hours in terrible conditions before Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which essentially created the modern American work week that we know today.

But recently some have questioned the utility of the model, citing how technology enables people to work remotely, jobs are different than they once were, and studies that suggest a shorter workday, even one that's just three hours long, actually increases productivity. (Some research suggests, by the way, that most workers are only productive for a few hours a day.)

​Inevitable changes

For better or worse, technology might soon force us to reshape modern conceptions of the work week. That's primarily because A.I. is poised to threaten many human jobs, not necessarily just the menial ones, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk suggested to the National Governors Association in 2017.

There certainly will be job disruption. Because what's going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us. . . I mean all of us.

In November, for instance, Lexus released the first TV commercial scripted by an A.I., suggesting that a fraction of the marketing industry could someday be replaced by algorithms that use vast amounts of consumer data to build advertisements. That might take a while. But robots are already replacing other human jobs, such as floor cleaners, and potentially burger flippers, at Walmart.

Still, it's worth noting that, for Musk at least, working less hours isn't necessarily a good thing, assuming you want to leave behind a legacy.

"There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week," Musk said, referring to his four companies, Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, and Neuralink. Musk, who once said he was working 120 hours per week at Tesla, was asked on Twitter how many hours people should work if they want to change the world.

"Varies per person, but about 80 sustained, peaking above 100 at times," he said. "Pain level increases exponentially above 80."

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

For a long time, the West shaped the world. That time is over.

The 21st century is experiencing an Asianization of politics, business, and culture.

Videos
  • Our theories about the world, even about history or the geopolitics of the present, tend to be shaped by Anglo perspectives of the Western industrial democracies, particularly those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
  • The West, however, is not united. Canada, for instance, acts in many ways that are not in line with American or British policies, particularly in regard to populism. Even if it were united, though, it would not represent most of the world's population.
  • European ideas, such as parliamentary democracy and civil service, spread across the world in the 19th century. In the 20th century, American values such as entrepreneurialism went global. In the 21st century, however, what we're seeing now is an Asianization — an Asian confidence that they can determine their own political systems, their own models, and adapt to their own circumstances.
Keep reading Show less

Vikings unwittingly made their swords stronger by trying to imbue them with spirits

They didn't know it, but the rituals of Iron Age Scandinavians turned their iron into steel.

Shutterstock
Culture & Religion
  • Iron Age Scandinavians only had access to poor quality iron, which put them at a tactical disadvantage against their neighbors.
  • To strengthen their swords, smiths used the bones of their dead ancestors and animals, hoping to transfer the spirit into their blades.
  • They couldn't have known that in so doing, they actually were forging a rudimentary form of steel.
Keep reading Show less

Why the ocean you know and love won’t exist in 50 years

Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?

Videos
  • Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
  • The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
  • If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
Keep reading Show less