Infosys cofounder Narayana Murthy says youth in India should strive to work long hours for the sake of the country. Photo courtesy: 3ONE4 Capital
The comment made by Narayana Murthy, the co-founder of Infosys, regarding the necessity for young workers in India to put in 70-hour weeks, has sparked controversy and raised important questions about work-life balance, productivity, and the expectations placed on employees.
We reached out to some individuals in the Kerala technology sector to gain their insights into the debate.
We contacted a diverse group of individuals, most of whom graciously agreed to share their perspectives, for which we are thankful.
We posed questions about the ongoing debate, the intergenerational approach to issues like work-life balance and productivity, and below are their responses.
Their insights and observations reflect what we believe to be a fair reflection of the IT sector in Kerala. Some of the answers have been edited for readability and to align with our writing style.
I fully understand the point Narayana Murthy has made. Possibly it can be easily related to by our generation or the previous one.
The next generation thinks in a different way (millennials and GenZ) as for them work life balance is of importance. Covid-19 gave a reset to life, and for the current generation they have seen it in their younger days so they will set the priorities.
We need to put ourselves in their shoes to understand them too particularly when they are living in an era of digital overload (our generation only offered them that and hence has to deal with it that way).
So keeping work-life balance into account, I think 70 hours of work a week is a huge call.
A 70-hour workweek never existed, as it would be almost impossible to spend 14 hours a day immersed in work. While doing a project or a particular task, people may spend extended hours on it, but defining a work schedule that long is not practical.
Work-life balance is something that senior and middle-level management should learn to address. Younger workers don’t mind spending long hours or weekends at work as long as the task is challenging and they are learning something.
Remote work has transformed the approach to work for young employees. The absence of personal interaction and mentorship, in contrast to the usual casual workplace conversations, means that feedback is now exchanged through messages sent to colleagues, which can never fully replace the rich learning experience that comes from observing and interacting with their peers.
This shift impacts productivity, as young employees often acquire valuable knowledge and skills by being in close proximity to experienced colleagues. However, this is gradually changing, as more companies are now emphasizing a return to the office environment.
The lack of productivity among new employees is linked to the changes that have occurred in the induction training provided by companies. During the Covid-19 phase, this has been reduced to a couple of weeks aimed at familiarising them with their intended field of work.
Previously, it was a months-long, well-rounded exposure that covered all aspects of their work. This enabled them to respond better to the demands of their work.
I think the number of hours does not directly translate to more output. That is the factory-era mentality. Fixating about a number makes it difficult to have a nuanced argument.
One should always think about how to increase your productivity - which is gained through experience, use of tools, keeping yourself abreast of best practices and continuous learning. Someone who is starting their career vs someone who is 10 years in are at different skill levels.
The generational gap in attitudes like work-life balance is something that managements has to tackle. Many managers fail to understand the ways and aspirations of the GenZ workers who give priority to issues like global warming.
Some managers resemble people who are used to old cars trying to figure out new EVs with touch controls and automated systems. The companies that do not update their ways will not survive after a few years’ time.
The data from International Labour Organisation shows that India tops in terms of number of working hours (48 per week), even above China (46 hours per week). But bottoms in terms of per capita GDP ($8,379).
What we need to really do is to improve productivity, and increasing the number of hours is not the solution. In my personal experience, the single most important factor that pulls down productivity is workplace politics. Fix that in your organisation, and the productivity will shoot up.
Today's youth believe in themselves, unlike the previous generations. They multitask, but we mistake that for lack of focus. Problem with the elders in many organisations is that they have no clue about how to engage and communicate with today's youth.
A thriving economy needs people not just to earn, but also to spend. If one ends up in the office for 12-14 hours a day, there will hardly be any time for other activities and that will be disastrous for the economy.
Productivity is not linked to the number of work hours.
When we talk about 70-hour work week, the compensation should also be in such a way that the employee can arrange for this absence at home by hiring maids, arranging Uber/taxis for his family needs, etc. In the end, the employee also has a family whose needs have to be taken care of, life is not always about the job.
If it's a startup, the CEOs and the founders are forced to work 80 to 100 hours a week during the growth period. But we can't expect employees to show the same levels of productivity or enthusiasm.
In my opinion, if the employer is not willing to pay his employees for productive overtime but still insists on a 70-hour work week it's exploitation of the employee.
A 70-hour work week will only reduce productivity and increase burnout. This is an unfortunate debate, especially in an age when arrangements like four-day work week and flexible work schedule are being experimented with great success in other parts of the world. It may not be exactly replicable for India, but a 70-hour work week is not the answer. It just seems like a lack of proper research by such leadership.
There is a generational divide as today's youth wants to have a good work-life balance where work is just an aid for a better life and not what life itself revolves around.
It is even more important at a time when we are trying to progress towards gender equality at work and at home. Today's men and women want to be able to work as partners both at work and at home. They want to be involved in matters of the family, with enough time for leisure and health (both mental and physical).
Lower productivity by freshers can be attributed to burnout or a bad work environment where employees do not feel valued or appreciated, pay parity issues, blurring work-life boundaries, low investment in skill development, and lack of vision of the leadership.
There should be regulations in place to prevent/protect such obvious exploitation of labour. These corporate executives and shareholders are generally keen on socialising the losses and privatising the gains. The loss is felt by everyone, the gains only for the top tier. So a wholesale 'no' to this. The greed is obvious.
From what I've seen, across generations, they all unanimously seem to hate these top-tier executives creating bad policies to exploit people who don't have many alternatives.
More than inter-generational, the divide seems more like the ruling class and the working class.
The debate over Narayana Murthy’s comments is not merely about enhancing the productivity of Indian employees; it's about fostering a work culture that mirrors the success stories of countries like Japan and Singapore.
I acknowledge that a 70-hour workweek can potentially yield substantial outcomes, but it's imperative to recognise the toll it takes on physical and mental well-being of the workers.
I believe in a rigorous work culture that advocates "working hard and smart." This approach has the potential to transform India into an economic and technological powerhouse.
I firmly support Murthy's insights, and I believe they carry substantial weight. Drawing historical parallels, I find it essential to recognise that our nation's independence wasn't achieved by every individual fighting for it, as a significant majority remained oblivious to the events that transpired during our struggle for freedom.
In a similar vein, the pursuit of accelerated economic growth for our nation may entail incentivising those who willingly embrace and find fulfillment in hard work, even if it necessitates dedicating 60 or 70 hours weekly.
As someone from Generation Z, I believe that a 70-hour workweek can only prove effective if we foster a sense of community.
In corporate fields like IT, where there is a noticeable disconnect between the work and its societal impact, Indian companies need to instill an additional sense of purpose.
This can be achieved effectively by enabling a sense of community. This can be seen in the case of doctors who typically work 12 to 15-hour daily shifts. They not only continue to perform but also thrive in their respective fields as they have a strong sense of purpose.
There is certainly a generational divide between Indian adults (over the age of 55) and the youth when it comes to work-life balance. This difference can be attributed to a shift in priorities.
In today's saturated markets, the younger generation doesn't necessarily need to put in a set number of hours. Instead, they need to produce meaningful, individual breakthroughs that require subjective effort.
There is a decline in productivity in larger companies like Infosys, which can be attributed to a lack of belonging. Freshers no longer feel a sense of relatability and, consequently, a responsibility to go beyond their superiors' requirements.
The only viable solution is to move away from the industrial approach to employment by incentivising collaborative, hands-on projects and establishing open communication at all levels of the hierarchy.
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