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70 Hour Work Week: HR Experts Lean Towards Work-life Balance Over Long Hours
While Murthy’s advocacy of longer hours seems to have stemmed from themes of inculcating an entrepreneurial mindset and taking more ownership of work for a younger age group of employees, the debate has reignited dinner table discussions on work-life balance and workforce productivity.
The debate surrounding the idea of a 70-hour workweek has ignited discussions across news outlets and social media platforms. The call for longer working hours for the younger working demographic, as advocated by Infosys founder Narayan Murthy has got the internet divided on aspects of work productivity, work culture and well-being of young employees. While Murthy’s advocacy of longer hours seems to have stemmed from themes of inculcating an entrepreneurial mindset and taking more ownership of work for a younger age group of employees, the debate has brought out some unique perspectives from HR experts and senior executives.
Is Young India Inc.'s Productivity Low?
The question of productivity is at the fore front of the debate. Are long working hours the solution to increasing productivity, or is there a nuanced approach?
It is also crucial to understand that productivity is not solely measured by the number of hours worked but the efficiency, innovation and effectiveness of these hours.
A report published by NASSCOM‐Deloitte estimated in 2021 that 1,430 multinational corporations had set up GCC centers in India. Additionally, many experts have suggested that global companies are looking to outsource 40% of jobs lost from layoffs to India.
Highlighting how India’s collective young workforce is seen as an asset on a global stage, Ganesh S, Global CHRO, Emeritus says, the jobs that are getting cut in Europe and US are moving to India. This is not the result of the extra hours Indians put at work, but also the fact that the world believes that India & the workforce here can offer solutions to problems that organizations face across the globe.
This becomes even more relevant at a time when most organisations today follow either an OKR or an MBR-based performance approach which has negated the number of hours a person needs to spend in achieving objectives.
“The current generation and maybe the previous ones starting from the millennials are the ones who love to pick roles that give them a sense of fulfilment- not all of these see hours of work equating to a sense of accomplishment, Ganesh adds.
While it becomes difficult to draw up a vivid picture of the current work landscape, the question remains: should one size fits all rule be implemented to address the call for longer working hours?
One may put forth the argument that putting in long hours can turn out to be necessary in certain industries or specific phases of one’s career, but many believe that smart work will take precedence over hard work, especially in the age of AI and tech where doing in more in less time is becoming more of a norm.
One must also remember that employees have become more vocal and conscious of their priorities and work-life balance in the new normal.
Sharing her views on hard work vs smart work for young India, Dr. Somdutta Singh, Founder & CEO, Assiduus Global Inc says,
"I believe in a blend of both. Hard work is essential, but so is working smart. It's about finding a balance that optimises productivity while maintaining work-life harmony. Efficiency, mental well-being, and skill development thrive in an environment that values output over mere presence."
"It's crucial to ensure that employees feel engaged, encouraged, and adequately compensated for their contributions, irrespective of strict hourly metrics," she adds.
Working long hours is sometimes out of necessity
Surveys reveal that employees in healthcare, logistics, transportation and media often find themselves slogging for more than 9- 10 hours a day due to the nature of their roles. It is not necessary that these long hours translate into productive ones. If numbers tell a story, a study by GoRemotely states that an average employee is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes per day.
The case for women employees is even more pronounced wherein women in both urban as well as rural areas find themselves juggling between multiple responsibilities, including outside of the home and additional hours dedicated to household chores. In an interview on BW Legal World, Parveen Mahtani, Chief Legal Officer, Mahindra Lifespace Developers recounts her experience of climbing up the ladder as a General Counsel in the corporate world.
"I was told that it is tough to be in a leadership position when you have children, and I had to prove them wrong. Women have the ability to multi-task and make great negotiators, she said.
By her own admission, the secret lies in not feeling guilty and becoming more reasonable with yourself.
"The art is creating a balance, being organised and compartmentalizing your day", Have your own definition of success and dare to dream, she adds.
The conundrum of Work-Life Balance
For some, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for the overall well-being of employees. The demand for extended working hours should be at the cost of personal time.
Not to forget, employees have often complained that extended working hours lead to burnout and mental health issues. A 2022 study by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that 77 per cent of employees consider work-life balance imperative for them.
As an HR professional who has been leading a team for several years, I personally believe that a 70-hour workweek evokes a pertinent discussion on the synergy between work-life equilibrium and productivity. While commitment and diligence are indisputably valuable, it's of utmost importance to cultivate a harmonious environment that nurtures both well-being and creativity.
"It is my staunch belief that our company culture should be a steadfast support system for our employees without overwhelming them. This emphasis on work quality over sheer quantity is pivotal for not only individual growth but also for the organization's overall success. Furthermore, it's about entrusting our team members to deliver results within set timeframes, a viewpoint I passionately endorse," says Kiran Ahuja, Talent Acquisition Director Asia Pacific, Smith & Nephew
"There is of course no substitute for hard work and commitment- in both our professional and personal lives. However, at Lenovo, we practice flexibility. We believe that choice is very important in today’s context, says Bhavvya Misra, Director & Head of HR - India, Lenovo.
While there are employees who have work as a single line of focus, there are others who prefer to map their priorities across various aspects of their lives. These choices also often vary with the life and career stages of individuals.
"We respect both ends of the spectrum and everything an employee needs to create their own balance. We engage employees in meaningful work and trust them to do their best to drive results, she adds."
Reskilling in the mix
Research suggests that AI and automation will require 16.2 million workers in India to reskill and upskill. In today’s day and age where technology adoption is changing how work is done, a large segment of the fraternity believes upskilling the workforce is the right approach to take instead of advocating for long hours at work. Promoting skills development is key to improving the overall productivity of the workforce.
"The benefits of the courses we give to our customers have been made available for our own employees and their family members to also utilize at discounted rates as part of our reskilling initiatives says Ganesh S.
We also have scheduled online training not only for individual contributors but also for people managers- these cover not only professional and leadership development but also compliance, culture, soft skills, and functional training apart from other topics, he added.
The debate surrounding the 70-hour work week is a complex one, with many variables to consider. Achieving economic prosperity is undoubtedly important, but experts say that it should not come at the cost of employee well-being, work culture, and overall job satisfaction.
Smart work, efficient processes, and a focus on skills development can help achieve both productivity and a balanced work-life relationship. As India's young workforce strives for success, it's crucial to remember that the path to prosperity must be sustainable, promoting the overall growth and well-being of the nation.
At the same time, many C-suite leaders have hailed Murthy's statement saying that the visionary founder's sentiment came from exhibiting relentless passion and zeal for his work and many believe that his views were only meant as an encouragement for an enthusiastic young India to come forward and add to the nation's growing prosperity.
As Aditi Mukherjee, Chief People Officer, NCDEX says, "the statement on 70 hours work week needs to be understood from the context it was stated. A nation that has one of the largest millennial populations, has an immense responsibility towards the progress of our economy. Hence clocking beyond standard work hours at early stages of the career provides the impetus to be more resilient during mid-career to later stages of the employment life cycle."
"Bring in stretch assignments that provide personal growth & learning, where employees end up committing to long hours on free will rather than forced rules", she adds.