The great workweek debate: Is it okay to work for 70 hours per week?
Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys, recently spoke about how it was imperative for India’s youth to work for 70 hours per week, sparking an online debate.
Anushruti Singh November 9, 2023
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Should Indians work for 70 hours per week? N R Narayana Murthy, the Co-founder of Infosys, ignited a debate when he recommended that the younger generation of India should work 70 hours a week to enhance the country’s productivity. Is this practical? Or is there more to the story?
On the inaugural episode of 3one4 Capital’s podcast ‘The Record,’ Murthy urged the youth of India to put in extra hours at work to compete with leading global economies. He stressed the need for India to improve its work productivity to stay competitive with nations like China, Japan, and Germany.
However, his statement received mixed reactions. Some praised his call for increased dedication, while others criticised him for promoting ‘a culture of overwork.’
It’s okay to work for long hours!
Among the supporters of Murthy’s viewpoint is Sajjan Jindal, Chairman of JSW Group, who endorsed the idea of a 70-hour workweek, citing it as a vital component of India’s journey to become an economic superpower by 2047.
Bhavish Aggarwal, CEO of Ola Cabs, echoed similar sentiments.
Talking to SME Futures, Dr Vivek Bindra, a business coach and the CEO & Founder of Bada Business, shared his insights on the feasibility of a 70-hour workweek. He pointed out that many developed economies have been fuelled by people who worked beyond their potential, often exceeding 70 hours per week.
“When the USA went through the industrial revolution, people worked for 10-12 hours a day, i.e., 70-75 hours a week. Likewise Chinese companies have followed the ‘996 Working Hour System’ in which employees work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days per week, i.e., 72 hours per week, 12 hours per day. Even Japan’s meteoric rise has been pegged to Japanese work ethics. The Japanese on average didn’t use 10 of their paid vacation days, 63 per cent of them even felt guilty for taking paid leave,” he elaborates.
Not only that, but some of the world’s most powerful CEOs, such as Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Jack Ma, support long working hours. In fact, Ratan Tata and Indra Nooyi too used to work 80-100 hours per week.
Working hours through history
We can justify the support for the 70-hour workweek, if we go by the research done by Clockify, a US-based time tracking software company, which reveals that employees now work 20 to 30 hours less every week compared to the 19th century.
“Average work hours in developed countries fell from 3,000 hours per year in 1870 to between 1,500 and 2,000 hours per year by 1990,” it says.
Nonetheless, the steady drop in annual labour hours has slowed and, in some cases, reversed. The average annual working hours in 2022 grew over 2020 but remained lower than in 1980. Workers in Japan, for example, worked 1,598 hours per year in 2020, but worked 1,892 hours per year in 2022.
Even though employees today spend drastically less time working than they did during the Industrial revolution — their average annual working hours significantly differ, depending on the country that they live in.
Now let’s talk about India
Based on data from the International Labour Organization (ILO), it’s clear that Indians have a strong work ethic, dedicating an average of 47.7 hours per week per employed individual, underscoring their commitment to their jobs. Among the world’s ten largest economies, India boasts the longest average workweek.
Additionally, the ILO, in conversation with ET, has clarified that no national law in any country mandates a 70-hour workweek. In contrast, many developed nations are adopting the ILO’s latest convention, advocating for a 40-hour workweek, replacing the earlier 48-hour workweek convention. It’s noteworthy that India and several other countries had ratified the 48-hour workweek convention as early as 1921.
Anoop Satpathy, a Wage Specialist at the ILO, further explained to ET that nearly all Indian labour regulations (around 24 of them) include provisions to limit working hours to eight per day and 48 per week.
That implies that the 70-hour work week is a violation of labour laws
Vice President and Business Head for TeamLease Degree Apprenticeship, Dhriti Prasanna Mahanta says, “A 70-hour work week could raise compliance issues as it violates labour laws. If somebody is spending 70 hours (in office), they are going beyond 9 hours. That is a fundamental disconnect because the employee labour law allows you to work for only 9 hours.”
Work smarter not longer
Amidst the ongoing debate surrounding Indian work hours, numerous business leaders are not in favour of endorsing a 70-hour workweek.
Dr. Somdutta Singh, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor contends that productivity goes beyond working long hours. “It’s about a strategic combination of efficiency, innovation, and emphasising the value of actual output over the mere physical presence in an office,” she says.
Namita Thapar, a Shark Tank India judge and the Executive Director of Emcure Pharmaceuticals, joined the Twitter discussion on the topic and questioned the feasibility of fitting in family and mental health with such extended work hours. Thapar emphasised the importance of work-life harmony and expressed concerns about the potential adverse impact of prolonged work hours on the physical and mental well-being of employees.
Dr. Bindra also shares his personal perspective, saying, “Don’t work for hours. Work until the designated work is completed. When I sit with any work, I don’t focus on how long I will be working, but I complete the task at hand and then get up.”
Dr. Singh further underscores the significance of achieving a balance between hard work and smart work. This approach promotes productivity while maintaining a harmonious work-life relationship. Prioritising mental well-being, efficient time management, and skill development is seen as more conducive to a productive workforce compared to an exclusive focus on long working hours.
4-day work week gaining importance
The discussion around the 70-hour workweek coincides with the increasing significance of the 4-day workweek in organisational discourse. Randstad India, a prominent recruiting firm, recently introduced a highly personalised policy for the 4-day workweek, enabling employees to enjoy flexible working arrangements once they meet their annual goals ahead of schedule.
Dr. Bindra supports the concept, acknowledging the growing popularity of the 4-day workweek in recent years. “Yes, the idea has gained attention in recent years as a potential way to improve work-life balance and employee well-being. However, whether a 4-day workweek should become the norm or whether it’s justified depends on various factors, including the nature of the work, the industry, and individual and organisational preferences,” he asserts.
The suitability of a 4-day workweek depends on the nature of the work, industry standards, operational needs, employee preferences, productivity, and the potential for job sharing or redistributing tasks.
Be it a 4-day, 5-day or a 6-day workweek, all have their own benefits, productive outcomes and shortcomings. Organisations should conduct thorough assessments and consider the potential benefits and challenges before making changes to their work schedules, he adds.
As the 70-hour workweek debate rages on, it has become clear that the discussion is not only about the number of hours worked but also about productivity, well-being, and finding the right work-life balance.