Why Has Narayana Murthy’s 70-Hour Work Week Pitch Stirred Controversy?

Explained: How Narayana Murthy’s 70-Hour Work Week Pitch Has Stirred Controversy?

Netizens lashed out at Murthy’s comments saying that 70-hour work week would be akin to modern slavery and would be detriment to employees’ work-life balance

Entrepreneurs such as Ola’s Bhavish Aggarwal and JSW Group’s Sajjan Jindal backed the 70-hour work week demand citing low productivity in the country

Narayana Murthy recently exhorted youngsters to be prepared to work 70 hours a week for the country to effectively compete with developed nations

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Over the week, Infosys cofounder and former boss Narayana Murthy kicked up a storm online after exhorting youngsters to be prepared to work 70 hours a week for India to effectively compete with developed nations. 

“India’s work productivity is one of the lowest in the world. Unless we improve our work productivity,,.. we will not be able to compete with those countries that have made tremendous progress… My request is that our youngsters must say – This is my country and I want to work 70 hours a week – exactly how Germans and Japanese did after the second world war,” said Murthy. 

The 77-year-old Murthy made the comments in a conversation with veteran investor and former chief financial officer (CFO) of the IT giant, Mohandas Pai, on the first episode of investment firm 3one4 Capital’s podcast ‘The Record.’

Drawing parallels with Germany and Japan, Murthy said that citizens of the two countries worked extra hours during the post-war rebuilding era. He also said that India’s work culture had to ‘change’ to highly determined, extremely disciplined and hardworking. He called on the youngsters to take the lead in this endeavour and lead this ‘transformation.’

Just as the podcast went live on YouTube, comments trickled which divided the online community in half. Lending support to Murthy, JSW Group chairman Sajjan Jindal endorsed the demand for a 70-hour work week, adding that a five-day week was not a fit for a developing nation of India’s size.

Echoing the sentiment was Ola cofounder Bhavish Aggarwal who tweeted, “Totally agree with Mr Murthy’s views. It’s not our moment to work less and entertain ourselves. Rather it’s our moment to go all in and build in 1 generation what other countries have built over many generations!”

In a separate post later on X, formerly Twitter, Aggarwal said, “Putting in the hours. Not just 70, more like140! Only fun, no weekends!”

Beleaguered former managing director and cofounder of BharatPe Ashneer Grover also chimed into the conversation, offering rather a nuanced take. Reacting to the row, he said Murthy’s comment offended people as work was still measured in ‘hours’ rather than ‘outcome’.

“I think junta got offended here because work is still being measured in ‘hours’ than ‘outcome’. The other thing is people feeling as if youngster’s laziness is only thing keeping India from becoming developed. Funny – getting offended unites us more than cricket, religion, caste or language,” said Grover. 

Internet Responds, Rather Tersely

As the video went viral on social media, netizens took to X to slam the comment and air their grievances against any such proposal. While political representatives compared Infosys to a sweatshop, others compared the proposal to modern slavery. 

In a tweet, a user said, “Let’s do the maths, 70 hrs a week is – 14 hrs a day (assuming 5 working days) + 7 hrs sleep + 2 hours commute (for non metro cities increase to 3 for metros) = 23 hrs. Leaves about 1 hr for eating, shopping, entertainment, and family. Isn’t this modern slavery?:

Others highlighted the argument of work-life balance and claimed that excessive work hours could hamper personal commitments and impact the mental wellbeing of employees. Some even added that long commutes in metro cities could pose challenges to such a proposal and that many employees were not paid well enough to work 70-hours a week. 

Users also claimed that Indians were amongst the most overworked workforce in the world. A 70-hour work week would imply a daily shift of 14-hours in a week with five working days. 

Giving heft to the argument, edtech startup upGrad’s cofounder and chairperson Ronnie Screwavala also differed with Murthy’s stance, saying that boosting productivity was not just about long work hours but rather a byproduct of upskilling, positive and fair pay. 

Speaking to Inc42, wealthtech startup Fynocrat’s cofounder and director Gaurav Goel said that increasing working hours to 70 hours could disrupt an employee’s personal life and would not be sufficient  to advance India’s development.

“… What happens when an employee’s personal life is disrupted by a gruelling 70-hour workweek?…. Increasing working hours to 70 per week won’t suffice in advancing India’s development,” said Goel. 

Chiming into the debate, menstruation-focussed D2C Ayurveda brand Menoveda’s cofounder Tamanna Singh, citing existing research, said that excessive working hours could lead to diminishing returns in productivity. 

“Startups, in particular, rely heavily on innovation, which flourishes in an atmosphere that encourages mental and physical wellness. Nurturing such an environment is not just a matter of corporate social responsibility; it is a strategic imperative that ensures the long-term success and resilience of businesses,” said Singh. 

Many users online also backed Murthy’s demands saying that the rise of ‘startup culture’ in the country had spawned the demand for more hours at work. Curiously though, many startups and founders have also landed in soup for similar statements regarding working hours and excessive employee requirements. 

Startups Under Spotlight

The pandemic rejigged the entire recruitment lifecycle as work from home and flexible working hours emerged as new avenues as Covid-19 locked people indoors. While the pandemic effect has waned, attrition has seen a sudden spurt even as employees tend to spend more time with families after Covid scare. 

But, a section of the startup ecosystem seems set in its ways and many funders have even attracted the public ire for their statements. 

Back in September last year, Bombay Shaving Company founder Shantanu Deshpande courted controversy after he pitched 18-hour work days for freshers. He later rebuffed the ‘18 hour’ figure as a mere exaggeration. 

Prior to that healthtech unicorn Pristyn Care’s cofounder Harsimarbir Singh also landed in choppy waters after sharing his interview hacks which involved scheduling interviews early morning and conducting them same late at night. He also claimed to conduct interviews on Sundays and pushed demands such as asking outstation candidates to show up to the startup’s office the next day. 

Not just this, there was also a raging debate on moonlighting last year which largely saw some sliver of support from Indian startups but sharp criticism from IT giants. While Wipro boss Azim Premji called moonlighting cheating, Murthy himself cautioned youngsters against falling into the ‘trap of moonlighting.’

Despite this, Indian startups have led the baton when it comes to progressive employee policies in the country. Startups such as Zomato have introduced wellness leaves and mental health policies, Swiggy, last year, announced that its employees were free to do moonlighting. 

However, the matter again boils down to the idea of what putting in long hours entails. Growing and scaling budding ventures take hours of hard work, beyond the 9-5 schema, and give a person the opportunity of building something big on a tight budget. On the other hand, a streamlined approach with set working hours may work for large enterprises that have plentiful resources. 

Caught in between seem to be Indian employees who appear to be straddling both worlds, vying for the work environment of a developed nation but in a developing economy. 

Note: We at Inc42 take our ethics very seriously. More information about it can be found here.

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