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."

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.