How much time should one devote to work? Do long working hours mean more productivity? How important is the work-life balance in fostering creativity? India Inc seemed to be divided on such questions after Infosys founder Narayana Murthy suggested a 70-hour work week for “youngsters” to make the country competitive globally.
While some corporate leaders endorsed Murthy’s “sane advice” at a time when “we are in a nation-building stage”, others said productivity was not linked to hours employees put in.
In an interview with T V Mohandas Pai on 3one4 Capital’s podcast The Record, Murthy said recently that India needed to improve productivity. “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 decisions — we will not be able to compete with countries that have made tremendous progress,” he said. “So, my request is that our youngsters must say ‘This is my country. I would like to work 70 hours a week’.”
Murthy cited the work conditions in Germany and Japan after World War II. “This is exactly what Germans and Japanese did after the Second World War…They made sure that every German worked extra hours for a certain number of years,” he said.
His comments received firm support from some quarters. “Totally agree with Mr Murthy’s views. It’s not our moment to work less and entertain ourselves. Rather it’s our moment to go all in and build in 1 generation what other countries have built over many generations!” Ola co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bhavish Aggarwal posted on X, formerly Twitter.
JSW Group Chairman Sajjan Jindal “wholeheartedly” endorsed Murthy’s remarks. He told Business Standard that India needed to work hard to become a developed nation by 2047. “Therefore, this generation and the next must sacrifice for the future ones. All the countries that have moved to four days a week are the ones whose earlier generations worked very hard to let them enjoy the four-day work week.”
“My father worked all seven days for 12-14 hours, I work 10 hours a day for six days at least, but I don’t expect my son to put in that much,” he added.
Mohandas Pai, former chief financial officer, human resources head and board member of Infosys, said Murthy’s was “a sane advice”. “It is mostly advised to young minds to work harder and make a mark. When productivity is more, their personal value goes up,” he said.
Rajagopal Menon, vice-president at WazirX, a cryptocurrency exchange platform, agreed with Murthy. “We are in a nation-building stage, and there are problems in India, such as low productivity and corruption. We need a better bureaucracy and good work ethic. On a micro level, it is a truism that we have to grind at the beginning of our careers if we are to succeed, because that is when the learning curve is the steepest,” he said.
Hari Mohan Bangur, chairman, Shree Cement, however, felt that it’s an individual choice and not to be enforced. “Roughly 10,000 hours of work is required to learn the trade and 20,000 hours to become a master of the trade. But how soon one wants to get there should be left to the individual…everybody should have a choice,” he said.
Ronnie Screwvala, co-founder and chairman of edtech platform upGrad, said the quality of work mattered more than longer hours. “Boosting productivity isn’t just about working longer hours. It’s about getting better at what you do – Upskilling, having a positive work environment, and fair pay for the work done. Quality of work done > clocking in more hours,” he posted on X.
Aditya Mishra, MD & CEO of CIEL HR, said the notion of working long hours to enhance output was valid for certain job roles, such as construction site workers and machine operators or and technicians in manufacturing. “Given the fact that nearly 90 per cent of our workforce is in informal work arrangements, the real challenge is to innovate the work itself to improve productivity,” he said.
In today’s evolving knowledge-driven and service-oriented economy where individuals have diverse interests and passions beyond work, this approach may not be as effective. “It’s essential to consider the changing dynamics of the modern workforce,” he added.
Sukhbir Singh Bhatia, CEO of internet service provider Hi-COM Network, pointed out that while a 70-hour work week could demonstrate dedication, it’s also important to understand that a well-rested driven team was capable of much more. “Adopting a work-life balanced culture encourages innovation, creativity, and employee satisfaction — all of which are important success factors.”
Akshay Mehrotra, co-founder and CEO, Fibe, said he believed in a work-life balance, and productivity was not linked to hours put in but efforts to deliver results. Fibe, formerly EarlySalary, is a digital lending start-up.
The work-life balance debate, however, transcends geographical boundaries. Billionaire Elon Musk, who is famously workaholic, had reportedly sent an e-mail at 2 am to Twitter employees after the takeover, telling them to be “extremely hardcore” and work “long hours at high intensity”. That led to resignations.
In 2019, Jack Ma’s comment that young people should work 12 hours a day, six days a week, sparked a controversy. Later that year, however, he said that people could work three days a week, four hours a day with the help of technology.
(With inputs from Ishita Ayan Dutt, Ayushman Baruah, Shine Jacob, Ajinkya Kawale)