How many hours should employees work per week?

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How many hours should a person work per week? The debate was sparked by NR Narayana Murthy, a software billionaire and the father-in-law of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week. Murthy suggested that young individuals should be prepared to commit to working 70 hours a week to contribute to the nation’s progress, stressing the need to enhance India’s work productivity.

The Arguments

Following Murthy’s remarks, there was a widespread reaction, with both support and criticism surfacing across social media and in the opinion sections of newspapers. Critics highlighted concerns about low starting salaries for engineers in Indian tech companies, as well as the potential health implications, both mental and physical, stemming from extensive work hours.

Murthy had faced criticism in 2020, when he suggested that Indians work for a minimum of 64 hours a week for two to three years to compensate for the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus lockdown.

Despite already long working hours in India, some experts stressed that productivity isn’t solely about extended work hours; it’s about improving skills, fostering a positive work environment, and ensuring fair compensation for the work performed. However, this debate is sensitive in India due to existing labour laws, which, though robust, require stricter enforcement, as observed in instances such as the recent opposition against the proposal to increase working hours in factories situated in Tamil Nadu. Earlier this year, protests from workers and opposition leaders forced the Tamil Nadu state government to withdraw a bill that would have allowed working time in factories to increase to 12 hours from eight.

While some business leaders agree with the advice to work longer hours, others emphasize a more holistic interpretation, urging a balance between personal development, professional growth, and national progress.

The Facts

The discussion coincides with a global re-evaluation of the work-life balance prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some individuals found they were more productive while working remotely, advocating for a healthier balance between work and personal life. The International Labour Organization (ILO) supports this perspective, stating that implementing work-life balance policies not only benefits employees but also aids in increased retention, better recruitment, reduced absenteeism, and heightened productivity for companies.

Interestingly, while India discusses longer work hours, some developed countries have experimented with shorter work weeks. France implemented a 35-hour working week into law in 2000. Belgium followed suit, changing its laws to allow a four-day work week without reducing salaries, citing the aim to create a more dynamic and productive economy. Similarly, the UK conducted a six-month trial encouraging a four-day work week, with a majority of companies opting to continue, citing extensive benefits, particularly for employees’ well-being. This trial suggests a potential shift in societal attitudes toward a shorter work week becoming the norm. Portugal is now conducting a similar experiment.

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