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Working hours and Employee Burnout problem in India

Amidst the West shifting towards work-life balance with a 4-day work week, Indian billionaire Narayan Murthy, co-founder of Infosys is creating headlines by urging Indian youth to work 70 hours a week. So where does India’s work landscape stand between these opposing ends of the spectrum?

Current working hours in India:

Indians are already amongst the hardest workers in the world as many Indians are already working for 50-60 hours a week. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Indians work an average of 47.7 hours a week as of 2023, which is amongst the highest in the world.

This is due to the common mindset that more working hours means higher productivity. In Indian culture, hard work is often associated with success. Promotions and increments are decided on the basis of hard work, which in turn is calculated on the basis of working hours. Moreover, the concept of hustle culture that promotes the concept of “work hard, play hard” is deeply embedded in Indian youth, which encourages working for long hours.

In addition to this, if we include commuting to and from work, a typical employee ends up spending more than 12 hours a day for work, sacrificing regular sleep, family time and social life. 

All this leads to employee burnout at the workplace. According to the McKinsey Health Institute’s 2023 survey, “India respondents reported the highest rates of burnout symptoms at 59%” whereas, the global average of burnout stands at 20%. 

The problem of productivity: 

Digging deeper, the real problem lies in productivity management. Employees need to be more efficient in terms of how much actual work is completed in a day. Any company would be happy if their employees were working for even 5 to 6 hours efficiently. Sadly, this is not the case, hence Indian employees are working for longer hours. However, these longer hours further reduce the productivity of the workforce of India. This creates the vicious cycle of the Indian workforce productivity problem.

Legal Dynamics:

India’s labour law caps the workweek at 48 hours, with 125 hours of overtime per quarter. However, these working hours differ from state to state, for example in February 2023, the Karnataka legislature passed a bill that allows for 12-hour workdays while keeping the maximum weekly work hours at 48-hour. 

Furthermore, these working hours are governed by different laws for different sectors such as the Factories Act,1948 for factory workers which strictly limits daily working hours to 8. However, for “white collar employees”, the timings are regulated by the Shops and Establishments Act which varies by state and is not as strictly followed. 

Additionally, according to the Indian Labour Law, employees who work more than 48 hours per week are eligible for overtime which is twice the rate of their normal wages. But companies that come under SEZ- Special Economic Zone, especially IT companies, rarely follow these rules and mostly Indian employees are not paid for the overtime. 

Again, these fixed working hours and laws are only for the formal workforce; India’s large informal workforce is not protected by these laws.

Impact:

Now that we know the reasons for long working hours in India, the question that arises is: “Does this work?” Do these long hours result in increased and improved outcomes? Are we actually getting more done by putting in those extra hours? 

For starters, the answer to these questions is no. Long working hours does not seem to result in more output. On the contrary, a research conducted by Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and her team, along with other studies, have indicated that excessive work and the consequent burnout can result in various health issues including sleep disturbances, depression, alcohol abuse, diabetes, memory impairment, and cardiovascular disease.

These long working hours are equally bad for the companies, burnt out and tired employees are less productive and more prone to making mistakes. In the 19th century, when labour unions first pressured factory owners to restrict workdays to 10 (and later eight) hours, management was surprised to find that productivity actually rose. This experiment was replicated over a century later by Harvard Business School researchers Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter with knowledge workers, and the same results still hold true. 

The Road Ahead:

As India faces the realities of its work culture and demands of a rapidly evolving economy, the path to a 4-Day work week remains uncertain. However, by fostering open dialogue, embracing flexibility, and prioritising employee well-being, India can begin to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable and fulfilling work environment. 

If India wants to increase the productivity of its workforce then “70 Hours Work Week” does not seem like a practical solution, rather India should move towards the idea of “8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest”.

Written by

Ganesh Choudhary

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