Over the past few days, leaders from all corners of the nation have been sharing their takes on whether a 70-hour workweek warrants applause or critique.. But before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let me give you a quick recap of how this all kicked off and who chimed in.
It all started when NR Narayana Murthy, the brains behind Infosys, stirred the pot by suggesting that India needs to rev up its work productivity to compete with economic giants like China, proposing a whopping 70-hour workweek for the youth. In a country where many are already toiling for more than 70 hours a week, this idea set off a lively debate.
Anupam Mittal, the judge from Shark Tank India and the mastermind behind Shaadi.com, showed his support with a selfie alongside his fellow Shark Tank judges. Meanwhile, CP Gurnani, Tech Mahindra’s CEO, attempted to clarify that Mr Murthy's intent wasn't just about working 70 hours for a company but about dedicating those hours to personal growth and national development. Infosys's CFO, Mohandas Pai, also rode in to defend Mr Murthy with statistics on social media.
On the flip side, Radhika Gupta, the CEO and Managing Director of Edelweiss Mutual Fund, who's set to join Anupam Mittal as a judge on the new season of Shark Tank, pointed out the long-standing dedication of Indian women who've been clocking over 70 hours a week for years. Meanwhile, billionaire Harsh Mariwala expressed his dissent regarding the guidance offered by Infosys founder, a sentiment shared by others as well.
But amidst all the noise and chatter, we decided to roll up our sleeves and dig deeper. After all, there are some burning questions to answer, such as - Are there better options for our young workforce? Is working long hours really the way to go? And what's going wrong in organisations that they're perhaps considering putting so much pressure on their employees?
So, we did what we do best – we invited Prabir Jha, a luminary in the field of human resources with a distinguished history at Cipla, Dr Reddys, Tata Motors, and Reliance, to our latest Big Questions session to deliberate on the 70-hour workweek—is it primarily a matter of work ethos or a strategic tool for enhancing productivity?
Call out free riders
Free riders, as described by the former CHRO at Cipla, Dr Reddys, Tata Motors, and Reliance, are individuals who reap the benefits of a team's collective efforts without contributing their fair share. This issue, when left unaddressed, can severely diminish an organisation's overall productivity and morale. Regrettably, many organisations inadvertently promote a culture of free riders through their actions and poor role modelling. Instances where some employees carry heavier workloads, endure more pressure, and put in extra hours while others get away with minimal effort by merely appearing busy are common.
The root of the problem lies in the way organisations celebrate those who exceed the legally required minimum effort. This often results in some employees putting in extra effort solely to create the appearance of working harder, further perpetuating the issue of free riders. Not everyone contributes equally to the organisation's success, leading to a stark contrast where some individuals work long hours while others seem to have an easier time at work, focusing on the quantity of hours rather than the quality of results.
Another critical aspect to consider is discipline. “It's not just about the number of hours worked (X or Y), but how effectively those hours are utilised. Work practices, organisational ethics, and the overall work culture often prioritise quantity over quality, perpetuating the misconception that longer hours equate to increased productivity. Leaders must make a conscious choice between working smarter with fewer hours or working harder with grit and perseverance. By addressing free riders and emphasising efficiency, organisations can foster a more equitable and motivated workforce, ultimately driving higher levels of productivity and success,” emphasised Mr Jha.
Youths, work hard but sustainably!
The energy and enthusiasm of the youth are a remarkable force in driving progress and innovation. They possess an unparalleled zeal to work hard, chase their dreams, and make a mark in the world. However, it's essential to guide the young talents towards a path of sustainable hard work. The concept of working hard but sustainably, highlighted by Prabir Jha, underscores the importance of finding a balance between dedication and well-being. While it's admirable to pursue one's goals with vigour, it's equally crucial to maintain a sense of equilibrium, ensuring that their commitment doesn't lead to burnout or the sacrifice of personal health and happiness.
The HR pioneer, who believes that Mr Murthy’s suggestion got blown out of proportion, agree that there's no magical shortcut to success, however, he isn’t fine with the idea of pushing for a constant 70-hour workweek. “It's not sustainable, even if you're deeply passionate about your job. But can someone realistically maintain that level of commitment week in and week out, month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year? I'm confident that it's not feasible,” he said.
Mr Jha highlighted that “the world has evolved significantly over the past five years, and it's essential to adapt to this changing landscape. While there's wisdom in working hard, I wish there was also an emphasis on working smart. The focus on discipline is commendable, but I believe it falls short in implying that one should transition from being human to merely a work machine.”
Rethinking work expectations: A call for change
The traditional paradigm of demanding long hours and quick results with minimal appreciation or recognition no longer aligns with the values and aspirations of the younger generation. As our work environment undergoes significant transformations, there's a growing desire for a more balanced approach that prioritises well-being and work-life harmony. This call for change signifies a broader shift in mindset, embracing an equitable, even somewhat socialist perspective that emphasises fair compensation and personal growth. It places a profound challenge before leaders, pushing them to evolve beyond the perception of being know-it-alls and instead foster trust and inspiration among their teams.
"Senior leaders have often demanded long working hours and rapid results without showing much appreciation or recognition. The sense of inspiration seems to have declined, even among newer startups. The crux of the matter is that the younger generation has different expectations. They increasingly prioritise what they gain from their efforts, including fair compensation. So what's needed is a restoration of trust. Leadership must adapt and transcend the rigidity of a 70-hour workweek. Many individuals would readily embrace the idea of working fewer hours. So, why not explore alternative work arrangements that allow individuals to recharge, both mentally and emotionally?” stated Mr Jha.
Break free from hierarchy, embrace simplicity
In the contemporary corporate landscape, the long-established hierarchical structures that have traditionally governed organisations are encountering growing scrutiny and challenges. Many are starting to acknowledge the limitations and inefficiencies that are inherent in these intricate systems. To thrive and adapt in the rapidly changing global business environment, there is a compelling need to liberate organisations from the inflexible constraints of hierarchy and embrace a simpler, more nimble organisational framework. Prabir Jha emphasised that the primary impetus for this transformation arises from the demand for enhanced adaptability and responsiveness in light of the dynamic nature of today's business world.
He pointed out that numerous organisations have inadequately designed their structures, which fails to alleviate the problems of excessive workload or inspire innovation within the workplace hierarchy. Instead, “such structures often culminate in a bureaucracy where everyone feigns engagement in arduous work without yielding meaningful outcomes. Consequently, there is an urgent call to scrutinise the architecture of organisations and recognise the advantages of adopting a more straightforward, leaner approach. The prevailing complexity in these structures frequently results in inefficiency and a diminished relevance in the contemporary landscape. It is paramount to instil a culture that values fresh ideas and effective problem-solving while also dismantling rigid hierarchies and promoting behaviours that prioritise time and energy.”
Offer more compliments than complaints
When employees receive recognition for their hard work and contributions, it has a substantial impact on their motivation and engagement. Compliments not only boost their confidence but also validate their sense of value and worth. This positive reinforcement encourages individuals to persist in their positive behaviours, ultimately fostering a more supportive and encouraging atmosphere.
Mr Jha emphasised that trust plays a profound role in relationships and organisations. It is essential to lead by example and avoid expecting from others what you wouldn't do yourself, as this behaviour can undermine trust. He shared the idea of a "compliment-to-complaint ratio," suggesting that offering more compliments than complaints is an effective approach.
“In reality, people often lean towards complaints, ridicule, or negative behaviours, which can erode trust. By actively appreciating and giving more credit, individuals are more likely to respond positively. Celebrating small achievements, acknowledging what is going well, and appreciating the efforts of others, regardless of their position, are simple yet effective ways for individuals to contribute to a culture of trust and continuous improvement,” he said.
Building trust: 5 key strategies
Cultivating trust in an organisation is of utmost importance to create a positive workplace and enhance productivity. Therefore, Prabir Jha shared strategies to improve communication, accurately interpret situations, and enhance interactions, contributing to building trust within the organisation.
1. Effective communication: Prioritise communication with individuals rather than talking at events or special occasions. This means actively listening to what your team members have to say. Effective communication creates a better understanding and trust within the organisation.
2. Enhance people skills: Consider investing in training and coaching to improve soft skills such as reading body language and understanding the atmosphere in a room. While technical skills are important, these soft skills are vital for effective interaction.
3. Trust through delegation: Trust your team and delegate responsibilities. Micromanagement, which can extend beyond tasks to affect organisational culture, should be avoided. Delegating tasks and responsibilities can improve trust and accountability within the team.
4. Celebrate both success and failure: Celebrating achievements, both big and small, is essential. However, it's equally important to celebrate failures and the efforts made. Encouraging innovation and taking risks are more likely when both success and failure are acknowledged.
5. Foster open expression and storytelling: Encourage an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their thoughts without fear of repercussions. Additionally, focus on effective storytelling to convey the organisation's purpose and inspire individuals to see their role with a sense of purpose. This can help in building a more motivated and engaged workforce.