Written By Sashi Kumar:
Infosys chairman N R Narayana Murthy recently initiated a discussion by encouraging young Indians to dedicate 70 hours per week to work, equivalent to around 14 hours a day in a typical 5-day workweek. His intention was to emphasise the need for greater efforts to foster the country’s development. Murthy drew parallels with Japan and Germany, highlighting how these nations prospered by having their citizens work diligently and extensively in the post-World War II era to rebuild their economies. He also pointed out that India’s worker productivity ranks among the lowest globally.
These comments have triggered massive debates on social media. Opinions ranging from dissent to support have been voiced. But amidst the deluge of perspectives, it’s important to look at whether this style of work is sustainable for the workforce at large. To understand this, we must take a step back and look at the factors that affect work today and thereby work styles.
Rewind: The pandemic effect
The pandemic catalysed a profound shift in work, altering the way we perceive and engage with our jobs. Organisations worldwide swiftly transitioned to remote work setups to ensure business continuity. As a result, many employees have experienced the benefits and challenges of working from home, and for some, it’s become a permanent arrangement. This newfound flexibility has led to a reevaluation of traditional work structures, as individuals increasingly value the ability to balance their personal and professional lives.
The boundary between work and home has blurred, prompting a need for more agile work hours and adaptable schedules that cater to the diverse demands of modern life. However, there was also the flip side, the increasing impact on mental health of employees as the line between work and personal lives were getting blurred
Several workplace movements like moonlighting, quiet quitting, tang ping, etc. gathered momentum since the start of the pandemic. Philosophy of many of these strangely unifies – A rising proportion of the young workforce believe going above and beyond at work isn’t in their best interest.
This mindset change has given rise to various trends at work that are centred around employees trying to regain their work-life balance, bring in more flexibility and move beyond the traditional 9-5 definition of work. Especially with a new generation such as GenZ entering the workforce, work – the way it was before the pandemic – ceased to exist.
Does the 70-hour workweek make sense?
Given the context, it is important to ascertain whether this lifestyle is desirable to the current workforce. An Indeed survey indicated that 71 per cent of Indian jobseekers choose flexibility over high salary when deciding to accept a job offer. This includes the ability to work from home, set your own hours, and take breaks as needed.
Employees clearly are choosing to take up job roles that do not demand they be on call always and are seeking the independence of choosing their own work hours. Several studies have indicated that flexible work hours lead to more productivity. This begs the question – do the hours we work matter or how much we can get done regardless of the number of hours we put in?
A long-regarded fact about corporate India has been the extra long hours of work required to put in, where 9 to 5 is only in name. In fact, globally, India is known to have longer working hours as compared to western counterparts.
According to the International Labour Organization, Indians worked an average of more than 2,000 hours every year before the pandemic, much higher than the US, Brazil and Germany. Some countries globally have even begun experimenting with 4-day work weeks. Given this scenario and the statistics backing it, putting in longer hours only to be demotivated, dejected and unproductive seems counter-productive to the goal we want to achieve.
While Murthy’s ambitions to help India’s development are noble, there are other things the industry can focus on improving to ensure we aid employee productivity. With technologies like generative AI and other advancements coming in, employees need to be upskilled in technologies. Specifically, those that can help reduce mundane and repetitive tasks thereby allowing employees to do higher-order thinking and boost their creativity and productivity will be integral.
At the crux of it, overwork, burnout, and exhaustion are unlikely to improve productivity. Hence it’s important for organizations and industries to identify best practices through which they can maintain employee satisfaction and increase productivity.
(The author is the head of sales for online job search platform Indeed India)