Should you work 50 hours a week or 70 or 90? What is the most productive and desirable number?
This is a debate that has sharply divided people but has been stirred again by Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy. Doubling down on his earlier comments, Mr. Murthy noted that he used to work nearly 90 hours a week while he was setting up his company. And he has no regrets.
“I used to be in the office at 6:20am and leave office at 8:30pm and worked six days a week,” Murthy said, adding, “During my entire 40-plus years of professional life, I worked 70 hours a week.”
Earlier too he suggested that young people just aren’t working hard enough and should be doing at least 70 hours a week. That works out to 14 hours a day if it’s a five day week or 12 hours a day for a six day week.
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Rethinking the approach
I respectfully disagree with Mr. Murthy and here is why.
When I first began my career in television in 1999, I worked on the Breakfast News slot. That meant coming to the office by 4:30am. The show would go on air live from 7 to 9am. On most days, I would go out to report on a news story after that, then come back and write and edit the story before leaving for the day. Most days ended up being beyond 12 hours.
And I loved it. I was starting out in the profession and wanted to prove myself. It was very hard work but very satisfying too. However, a couple of years later I burnt out and was asked to take some time off and recover. As journalists, we had crazy working hours. You never really switch off. You miss birthdays and holidays with family. And it’s fine, it comes with the territory.
It was only years later that I began to feel I was missing out on life. On small moments with family and friends. On moments even spent by myself. Much later, I shifted to a four day work week and it was the best decision I made. Finally, I had work life balance and it made me happier and more productive.
Of course I did this nearly 20 years into my career but it was the right time for me. I do wish I had done it sooner. Several countries are experimenting with the idea of a four day work week for the same reason. The pandemic, with its flexibility in the workspace, allowed many companies to rethink their approach.
Across Europe, trade unions have been pushing for a four day week. Essentially, you do the same work for the same money but spread over four days instead of five. Belgium became the first country in Europe to legislate for a four-day week in 2022.
A trial conducted in the UK last year in over 60 companies concluded that a shorter work week, at four days, improved the productivity of employees and their work-life balance. The employees were paid the same salaries as before but worked one day less.
More than 92 per cent of these companies decided to continue with this format seeing its success. In Japan, a similar experiment showed 40 per cent more productivity when employees worked four days a week instead of five. In other words, longer hours do not necessarily mean better productivity.
According to the International Labour Organisation, Indians currently work an average of 47.7 hours a week — higher than the US (36.4), the UK (35.9) and even China. (46.1). In Singapore it’s 42.6 hours a week and 36.6 hours in Japan. Yes India is not Japan or the US.
India is a developing economy. But slave driving the workforce is not the answer to becoming a great power. Good mental health and a work life balance are essential to better productivity and performance along with hard work. I’m happy to see younger generations more vocal about this.