Indians currently work an average of 47.7 hours per week, according to the International Labor Organization.
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Infosys Founder Narayana Murthy recently sparked controversy on social media when he said young people should work 70 hours a week to boost India’s economy.
While many took to social media to express their disgust at Murthy’s comments, industry executives who spoke to CNBC agreed that it might be necessary if India wants to compete on the global stage.
“If you want to be No. 1, if you want to be the best, young people have to work hard and put in the hours for this work,” said Ayushmaan Kapoor, founder of software development company Xeno.
“India is genuinely trying to compete with the US and China. If we want to achieve greatness, then yes, these are the number of hours and the kind of sacrifices we have to make,” Kapoor said.
Indians currently work an average of 47.7 hours per week, more than in the United States (36.4), the United Kingdom (35.9) and Germany (34.4), according to the International Labor Organization.
They also work more than other Asian countries such as China (46.1), Singapore (42.6) and Japan (36.6), according to ILO data.
Murthy, the father-in-law of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, criticized the younger generation for adopting “undesirable habits” from the West, inferring that they are not working hard enough.
“India’s labor productivity is one of the lowest in the world. Our young people need to say, ‘This is my country, I want to work 70 hours a week,'” he said during a podcast with Indian philanthropist TV Mohandas Pai in October. “They are the ones who can build the country with enthusiasm.”
This should come as no surprise, as many Indians already work between 55 and 60 hours a week, according to Vivek Mudaliar, who has over 20 years of human resources experience at world-renowned companies like Trusted Industries, DBS Bank And HSBC.
“This is the reality in India, especially for those who work with international clients and have calls and meetings at odd hours,” Mudaliar said, asserting that negative comments regarding Murthy’s opinion are just that. an “instinctive reaction”.
He told CNBC that “70 hours seems like a very high number. People wouldn’t have reacted as much if he had said 60 hours.”
Murthy’s remarks sparked a heated debate on social media, with some disagreeing with the tech billionaire.
“Successfully losing my mind is not a compromise I am willing to make,” said one. user on X, formerly Twitter.
Dripping with sarcasm, another social media user said: “Why wouldn’t you want to work 70 hours a week and kill yourself at the same time to help line the pockets of these despicable billionaires?”
The concept of work-life balance is “very Western”, Kapoor said, explaining that developed countries have good economic strength and assets they can “count on for the next 100 years” .
On the other hand, India has “already wasted a lot of time” and “every citizen has to put in a certain number of hours for the economy as a whole to grow,” he said.
Kapoor also encouraged employees to work side jobs as part of their 70-hour work week.
“Whether it’s working at the same organization for 70 hours, working two or three jobs, or a side hustle…you work hard.”
Indian union, Indian Information Technology and Services Employees Union ITeScondemned Murthy’s comments, saying a 70-hour work week is “illegal” and that employees should not be forced to work more than 48 hours a week, which amounts to 8 hours a day for a week work of 6 days.
“With increasing automation, there needs to be a constant reduction in working hours to have more creative and leisure time, which improves productivity,” the union said.
The ILO shares this position, explaining that the consequences of long working hours can affect safety and performance at work.
“Long-term effects may include increased incidence of illness, chronic infections and mental illness,” the organization told CNBC.
Although some industry executives support Murthy’s comments, they stressed that companies should offer more flexibility to employees to motivate them to work harder.
“Giving people the ability to choose their work schedules and spaces is an important requirement for being productive,” said Chandrasekhar Sripada, professor of organizational behavior at the Indian School of Business.
“We have moved away from the idea that strict regimentation is the only recipe for success.”
However, hard work “always remains a guarantee of success,” he stressed.
Offering employees flexible schedules will encourage more working mothers to enter the workforce.
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Mudaliar called for giving more flexibility to working mothers, which he said will increase the number of working women in India.
“Requiring long working hours can perpetuate gender inequality in the workplace, making it more difficult for women to advance in their careers and exacerbating gender pay gaps,” the ILO said. “It can also hinder diversity and inclusion efforts within companies by discouraging women from joining or remaining in the organization.”
Activity rate of women aged 15 and over amounted to 32.8% in 2021 to 2022a slight increase of 32.5% in 2020 to 2021.
“Working mothers receive a lot of support because people understand that they play a dual role. But is it 100%? No. We still need to take a step forward and give them more flexibility,” Mudaliar said .
“No one ever said that work would be affected if female workers were given flexibility… they are much more committed, in my opinion, than their male colleagues,” he added.
Despite India’s ambition to overtake China and become the world’s second largest economy by 2075, China’s ‘996’ culture should not be adopted as it would lead India to become an ‘exhausted’ nation. warned Sripada of the Indian School of Business.
The “996” work culture, practiced by some companies in China, requires employees to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.
“The best creations cannot be built by slave driving,” he said. Instead of discussing how long people work, conversations should also be about job creation.
“Our biggest concern should not be how people work, but how much work we are able to create…The Chinese model of overwork is not desirable and I don’t think we should follow that .”