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Long working hours and question of productivity…

ANM Bureau

Indian businessmen Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys, recently ignited a debate by suggesting that India’s youth should work for at least 70 hours a week to boost the nation’s work productivity. While his call for dedication is met with support from some quarters, it has also sparked discussions on the work-life balance, the impact on the younger generation, and comparisons to labour movements in history.

In this extended exploration, we delve into Narayana Murthy’s vision for India, the responses from industry leaders, concerns voiced by medical professionals, and a historical perspective on labour movements, particularly the Chicago labour movement and its legacy of the “8, 8, 8” formula.

Narayana Murthy’s Vision

The 77-year-old was speaking to former Infosys CEO Mohandas Pai on the first episode of 3one4 Capital’s podcast ‘The Record’. Narayana Murthy emphasized the need for India to improve its work productivity, reduce government bureaucracy, and aim to compete with nations that have made significant progress.

“India’s work productivity is one of the lowest in the world. Unless we improve our work productivity, unless we reduce corruption in the government at some level, because we have been reading, I don’t know the truth of it, unless we reduce the delays in our bureaucracy in taking this decision, we will not be able to compete with those countries that have made tremendous progress,” the Infosys founder said.

“Therefore, my request is that our youngsters must say ‘this is my country. I’d like to work 70 hours a week’,” he added.

He drew parallels to Japan and Germany, where extended working hours were practiced to aid in post-World War II reconstruction. The tech billionaire’s call for a 70-hour work week has garnered both support and criticism.

Argument for long working hours

Sajjan Jindal, the chairperson of the JSW Group, expressed his strong endorsement of Narayana Murthy’s statement that young people in India should work for a minimum of 70 hours a week. Jindal emphasized that a five-day workweek culture is not suitable for a rapidly developing country like India and highlighted the need to find passion in work and nation-building.

Jindal pointed out that India faces unique circumstances and challenges, different from those of developed nations. He emphasized that it’s crucial not to let shorter work weeks from other countries become the standard for India. He stressed that India’s youth, being its greatest strength, must prioritize work over leisure to lead the country to superpower status.

Furthermore, Jindal clarified that this perspective is not about burnout but about dedication, emphasizing the importance of making India an economic superpower that all can take pride in.

Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal expressed his support for Narayana Murthy’s call for longer working hours. In a post on X, Aggarwal concurred with Murthy’s perspective, emphasizing that it’s not the time to work less and focus on entertainment. Instead, he believes it’s a moment to wholeheartedly commit to building in one generation what other countries have achieved over many generations.

However, the debate around this issue elicited mixed reactions on social media. Some, like film producer Ronnie Screwvala, argued that boosting productivity isn’t solely about working longer hours.

Medical Concerns and Work-Life Balance

While the debate on longer working hours continues, doctors and medical professionals have raised concerns about the impact on the health of the younger generation. Extended work hours, especially in stressful environments, can lead to burnout, anxiety, and cardiovascular issues. Stress-related disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, are on the rise among young professionals. The spikes in blood pressure due to anxiety and stress are becoming increasingly common.

Many experts argued that while dedication in demanding fields is commendable, striking a balance between professional commitment and personal well-being is crucial. Many individuals in the busiest professions already work 12 to 14 hours a day, and working excessively long hours, such as a 70-hour work week, can lead to burnout, particularly in stressful environments.

They pointed out that the focus should be on optimising work hours, enhancing productivity, and providing support systems to prevent burnout. This approach ensures that both skilled and unskilled professionals can deliver their best without sacrificing their health. The key lies in making the most of one’s productive years, and it’s ultimately a matter of choice.

In recent times, healthcare professionals have observed a concerning trend among young people aged 25-48. They are increasingly being referred from various departments due to underlying stress, anxiety, and mental health problems. The issues of work-life imbalance, a lack of boundaries, and long working hours without breaks have significant implications for their well-being. This has resulted in common health concerns, including spikes in blood pressure, anxiety, and stress-related cardiovascular issues.

Doctors claimed that many of these individuals struggle with anxiety disorders like GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), illness anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias. Long working hours not only affect the quality of work but also lead to increased absenteeism in the workplace, causing challenges for both organizations and employees. The rising health concerns are a direct consequence of stress, exacerbated by extended work hours, inadequate support facilities, and a lack of work-life balance, which also negatively impacts family and social life. Balancing work commitments with personal well-being is vital for long-term success and a healthy life.

Chicago Labour Movement, a historical perspective

The discussion about working hours has deep historical roots. In the late 19th century, the labour movement in Chicago made the eight-hour workday a central demand. Exhausted by 12 to 14 hours of work, workers organised for shorter work hours. The movement for an eight-hour workday led to the Haymarket incident in 1886, where a bomb explosion diverted and defeated the larger labour movement. The eight-hour day finally became a reality in the U.S. in 1938 with the Fair Labour Standards Act.

The Chicago labour movement’s legacy left a significant impact by emphasising the importance of reasonable work hours. The formula of “8, 8, 8,” which denotes eight hours of work, eight hours for daily chores, and eight hours of sleep, has become a touchstone for the balance between work, life, and rest.

Achieving a balance between work and personal life remains a universal aspiration in the evolving world of work. Ensuring that professionals in all fields have the support they need to deliver their best work while maintaining their health is a critical component of this ongoing conversation. The lessons from history, as seen in the Chicago labour movement, remind us that the struggle for reasonable working hours is not a new one, and it continues to be relevant today.

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