Long working hours! The adjective ‘long’ suggests ‘a stretch beyond the normal’, and that cannot be good, can it? While some argue that long working hours are necessary to meet tight deadlines and achieve business goals, others believe that such excessive hours are detrimental to employees’ well-being and productivity.
NR Narayana Murthy, co-founder, Infosys, triggered a significant online discussion when he endorsed the idea of a 70-hour workweek. During a podcast appearance, Murthy pointed out that India’s work productivity ranks among the lowest, globally, and urged the youth to play a part in fostering a culture that would enhance the country’s competitive edge on the international stage.
He also drew comparisons with Japan and Germany, two nations that adopted extended working hours policies in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Pros and cons
Proponents of the 70+ hour workweek argue that it can lead to increased productivity and better outcomes. They contend that longer hours can provide employees with more opportunities to hone their skills and contribute to the success of their organisations. Moreover, in certain industries where rapid responses are essential, such as healthcare or emergency services, working long hours may be unavoidable.
“I dedicated long hours to my work, often working 16 to 18 hours per day. This strong work ethic was encouraged by senior colleagues who believed that diligent effort could lead to tangible rewards, both professionally and personally”
Praveen Purohit, deputy CHRO, Vedanta Resources
Regardless of the official policy, many individuals in various sectors are already dedicating a substantial amount of time to their work, often exceeding the 70-hour mark, opines Praveen Purohit, deputy CHRO, Vedanta Resources. This unspoken reality of extended working hours is already prevalent in our professional lives.
“While it may not be a written policy, the practice is widespread,” says Purohit. According to him, “When the need arises, people are willing to put in long hours, even if it’s not explicitly outlined in formal documents, for instance, when India hosted the G20 summit. ”
“Murthy’s perspective, shaped by his extensive experience, holds merit,” believes Purohit. Looking back two decades, at his own journey, he recalls the hard work he put in when he started his corporate career. “I dedicated long hours to my work, often working 16 to 18 hours per day. This strong work ethic was encouraged by senior colleagues who believed that diligent effort could lead to tangible rewards, both professionally and personally,” shares Purohit.
Therefore, Purohit believes that this approach can be beneficial when it aligns with one’s goals and ambitions, and it has certainly been a key factor in his own success. Ultimately, the choice should align with individual preferences and aspirations, recognising that work-life integration can be a dynamic and effective approach in today’s evolving work landscape.
On the other hand, critics argue that excessively long working hours can have severe consequences for employees’ health and work-life balance. Burnout, stress and a decline in mental and physical well-being can result from chronic overwork. This, in turn, can negatively impact both productivity and the overall quality of work.
Tanaya Mishra, VP-HR, Endo International, comments, “The primary issue here is that there appear to be no clear pros to this change, only cons. It’s hard to fathom how anyone can make such a decision without fully grasping the amount of work people put in during long hours. When employees are working for extended periods, such as 18 hours, it’s unrealistic to expect consistent productivity and engagement.” She further points out that there is no room for breaks or time to recharge, and this approach is demoralising.
“Many people believe that working 40 to 48 hours a week is more than enough. The traditional 9-to-5 workday, especially in a toxic work environment, can be mentally and emotionally draining”
Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, advanced materials business, Aditya Birla Group
Furthermore, Mishra says, “This debate implies a lack of understanding of the practical challenges faced by employees, particularly in densely-populated cities such as Mumbai. Commuting for hours each day is not only exhausting but also costly.”
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for the well-being of employees. It not only leads to a happier, more fulfilled workforce but also increases productivity and creativity. Employees who have time to recharge and pursue their interests outside of work often bring new perspectives and ideas to their roles.
Furthermore, overworking employees can result in high turnover rates, as individuals may seek more balanced employment opportunities. The cost of recruiting and training new staff can be significant, making it counterproductive for organisations to push their employees beyond their limits.
Flexible work arrangements
To address the issue of long working hours, many organisations are adopting more flexible work arrangements. Remote work, compressed workweeks and flexible hours allow employees to better balance their professional and personal lives. Employers who provide these options often find that they can retain and attract top talent while improving employee satisfaction and well-being.
Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, advanced materials business, Aditya Birla Group, feels, “Many people believe that working 40 to 48 hours a week is more than enough. The traditional 9-to-5 workday, especially in a toxic work environment, can be mentally and emotionally draining. It’s essential for a workplace to value its employees and foster a friendly and supportive atmosphere.”
According to R Mishra, if the boss is unsupportive or the company doesn’t recognise the contributions of the employees — choosing instead to focus on minute details such as the number of restroom breaks they take — the environment can get stifling and frustrating.
“The primary issue here is that there appear to be no clear pros to this change, only cons. It’s hard to fathom how anyone can make such a decision without fully grasping the amount of work people put in during long hours. When employees are working for extended periods, such as 18 hours, it’s unrealistic to expect consistent productivity and engagement”
Tanaya Mishra, VP-HR, Endo International
Mishra underscores the significance of “a work environment that allows employees to deliver their best without excessive stress.” He rightly observes, “When employees are constantly thinking about work outside of office hours, it can negatively impact their work-life balance. A 40-hour workweek should be sufficient if employees can focus on delivering quality work without the added pressure of unrealistic expectations.”
Of course, there are situations where employees may need to put in long hours, temporarily. However, the expectation of a 70+ hour workweek should be carefully considered and, in most cases, avoided. Striking a balance between work and personal life is essential for the well-being of employees and the overall success of organisations.
In the modern world, where technology enables work to be done from anywhere and where creativity and innovation are highly prized, it is time to shift our focus from the quantity of hours worked to the quality of the work produced. A satisfied, motivated and well-rested workforce is more likely to deliver exceptional results, making it clear that work-life balance is not only desirable but also a fundamental driver of success in the 21st century.