Article: 3 key takeaways from the 70-hour workweek debate


3 key takeaways from the 70-hour workweek debate

As leaders navigate the pandemic-altered work landscape, the recent remark by Infosys co-founder spotlights a pressing question: In the era of AI, what holds greater weight — the hours logged or the impact created? And can they truly be disentangled?
3 key takeaways from the 70-hour workweek debate

The boundaries between professional and personal spheres continue to blur in the aftermath of the pandemic. And the recent remark by the co-founder of Infosys, Narayana Murthy, and the ensuing conversation it spurred echo the evolving dynamics of work and the transformation of the workforce as they step into a new world of work. Teemed with diverse insights shaping the new contours of this narrative, industry leaders boldly champion holistic growth and flexibility provisions beyond work hours. Academics offer empirical insights on both sides of the motion. The workforce, on the other hand, raises long-standing challenges such as wage stagnation.  

However, beneath the social media frenzy advocating or discarding Murthy’s view lies a fundamental debate that businesses are struggling to define: how do we measure work? The clash between invested hours and the true essence of work is at the heart of this debate. After all, businesses thrived during the peak of the pandemic, with most workers working remotely. Moreover, the newfound freedom of employees carries vital lessons—from purposeful work to intentional in-person interactions. 

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While Murthy's comment is decoded differently across corporate leaders, academics, entrepreneurs, tech leaders, and the larger workforce, the reactions converge into three broad categories of insights on modern work:  

  1. Productivity beyond clocking hours
  2. Work ethos of the Indian workforce
  3. New norms of flexibility, well-being and growth

The philosophical divide

The “70-hour workweek” extends beyond corporate boundaries, according to CP Gurnani, CEO of Tech Mahindra. It emphasises not only professional dedication but also personal and national growth. This perspective aligns with India's renowned work ethic. A recent survey by Kronos Incorporated shows India as one of the hardest-working nations. This industriousness is evident across various professions, from plumbers and carpenters to professors and corporate leaders—all indeed put in extensive hours. A significant driving force behind this diligence is the profound care that Indians have for their families. 

Leadership coach and technology expert Rajeev Mahajan believes a 70-hour workweek is feasible across all sectors. He, however, flags the need for an ecosystem that encourages purpose and belonging, linking hard work with incentives and growth. This very much aligns with modern work norms that prioritise flexibility to meet employee needs. Harsh Goenka, Chairman of RPG Enterprises, agrees, shifting the focus from set hours to individual ambition, purpose, and productivity. He applauds the impact of remote work, which now constitutes nearly 33% of office hours. However, the challenge lies in addressing extended hours, especially commuting time, due to inadequate transportation infrastructure. This poses a significant hurdle to sustaining a 70-hour workweek.

Productivity goes beyond clocked hours, as another group of people highlights. Not everyone follows a strict 70-hour workweek; their focus is on achieving results efficiently. Saleem Sheikh, VP of Insurance Business at EXL, argues that the time invested does matter and outcomes should align with efforts. Radhika Gupta, CEO of Edelweiss Mutual Fund, highlights the often-unnoticed dedication of Indian women. For decades, they've worked tirelessly, contributing significantly to India's progress and nurturing the next generation, both at work and in their homes.

Balancing productivity and workers’ needs

The third perspective argues that the proposal for a 70-hour workweek thinly masks the endorsement of exploiting the Indian workforce. Sooraj Nidiyanga, General Secretary of the Karnataka State IT/ITeS Employees Union, asserts that imposing extended hours not only leads to physical and mental exhaustion but also encroaches upon fundamental rights. Many workers are concerned about wage stagnation. Kamal Karanth, an HR analyst and co-founder of Xpheno, a staffing company, emphasises that the viability of 70-hour workweeks hinges on whether these additional hours are compensated. In India, extended hours often go uncompensated, becoming a personal choice for a few outlier units in large organisations.

The new work order in the AI era

In the midst of evolving work norms and the growing push for return-to-office mandates, this ongoing debate takes on heightened significance. Coupled with a global shift towards shorter, more efficient workdays, the crux lies in striking a balance that caters to both productivity and employee well-being. Businesses are increasingly recognizing the need for customised solutions, moving away from a one-size-fits-all model to accommodate a diverse workforce. Lastly, the essence of productivity in the age of AI and digital innovation takes center stage. With myriad possibilities, businesses are experimenting to harness their full potential, placing emphasis on purpose, meaning, flexibility, and an outcome-driven work culture that surpasses mere hours clocked.

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Topics: Leadership, Life @ Work, Strategic HR

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