Indians, on an average, work over 60–70 hours a week, and also suffer the hassle of commuting. The International labour organisation had set a weekly limit of 48 hours, that too some 80 years ago.
Clocking 48 hours every week at work has been an internationally followed norm. However, a new study by the Australian National University (ANU) states that the work limit should be set at 39 hours a week for a healthy life. The study warns that beyond that, one’s mental and physical health may be at risk.
The 48-hour-week limit was set by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) about 80 years ago and considering the massive changes in lifestyles in the recent decades, a revision in the stipulated work-week limit is undoubtedly long due now. Workplaces and workforces have undergone huge transformation, with more women entering the workplace and men trying to shoulder domestic responsibilities. With so many technological advancements coming in, both economically and socially, the way people manage work and personal life has also changed.
Despite all these shifts, what hasn’t changed is the Indian mentality of an extended work-week limit. ‘Indians on an average work more than 60-70 hours a week, and add to it the hassled commuting time,” opines Ravi Mishra, regional HR head- South Asia & Middle East, Birla Carbon. While on one hand, the extended work hours make Indians appear as hardworking professionals, on the other hand, the truth is that it not only impacts their health and well-being, but also results in reduced productivity and creativity.
Mishra shares that “Even senior leaders are habitual of working or staying back in the office till late, although they might be beginning actual productive work only after 12 noon.” At the same time, Mishra admits that what may appear to be dedication and hard work in the Indian scenario is a work culture that’s not seen in a very positive light globally.
The suspicions that arise with extended work hours are— whether the work hours are being actually productively used; whether a task really demands one to work beyond the average 42–48 hour week; whether there has been inappropriate resource allocation to that task. That said, such excess hours of work can also, in turn, reduce the productivity and creativity of the people. Such a culture quickly gets one into a vicious loop of more work, more stress, less speed, less productivity, which results in more pending work, and so on.
After a point, people may lose their innovative bent of mind and get into an auto mode, working tirelessly just to achieve deadlines. Emmanuel David, director, Tata Management Training Centre TMTC, Tata Group “People need to be allowed enough leisure time to be able to remain innovative in managing their time at work well.”
Mishra also agrees with the importance of leisure time as he questions the level of productivity and the quality of the output against excess hours spent working. He says, “Organisations need to give people time to think, grasp, understand and innovate at work.”
Extended work hours also put a worker’s safety and well-being at risk, as there is a limit to the burden an individual can bear at work. Once the threshold is crossed, there is a risk of loss of mental and physical health. Too much work can also result in workplace fatalities, both at an industrial level and at the corporate level. Mishra shares there have been increasing incidences of people suffering heart attacks at work, due to increased work stress. “Even the social, economic and domestic conditions we Indians live in, add to the stress levels,” he opines.
In addition, although not directly linked to workplace fatalities, at least one person dies every four minutes due to a road accident in India. Out of these cases, those that occur due to lack of attention or sleep can be a result of forced extended work hours. This also reveals that commuting to and fro from work is also another factor that adds to work stress in India. Mishra shares that “In Mumbai itself, at least eight to nine people die every day, falling off from crowded local trains that most people use to commute to work.”
While the downsides of an overtime work culture are many, it still prevails strongly in our country. Getting to the root of the problem, David says, “Our upbringing, our education system, everything right from the beginning is focussed on ‘all work and no play’. From the very start we fail to train our people to utilise their leisure time well, or manage work and personal time in a balanced way.”
David believes that the change should begin at the foundational levels, with our education system becoming more multifaceted allowing people to understand and appreciate the importance of leisure time and how it needs to be managed. While both David and Mishra agree that 42–45 hours a week are enough to manage a healthy and productive work environment, the shift in mind-sets might still take years to bring about a significant change.