Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys, has recently stirred up global controversy with his call for young people in India to embrace a gruelling 70-hour work week.
Citing what he believes to be India’s low productivity, Murthy urged the country’s youth to work longer hours, drawing comparisons to countries like China while cautioning against adopting what he called “not-so-desirable habits from the West.”
This is not the first time the idea of a 70-hour work week has been proposed. In the aftermath of World War II, both Germany and Japan employed this strategy to jumpstart their economies, and it’s now resurfaced in contemporary discussions.
While many business leaders and industrialists have voiced support for making 70-hour work weeks the new norm, this proposition has ignited a heated debate, with concerns raised about its potential impact on mental health and the risk of burnout.
Thea Watson, Growth Director at BrightHR, shared her perspective on the matter, highlighting the potential downsides of such an extreme work schedule:
“Murthy, like many business owners, may be focused on growing productivity and profits, but it’s essential to remember that working long hours can actually be counterproductive. Many people emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic with a renewed focus on work-life balance. This shift in priorities prompted employees to seek greater flexibility. In the UK, even changes to the law have been made to make flexible working more accessible. Therefore, advocating for young people to embrace a 70-hour work week seems out of touch with this trend.”
The law does not support such long hours
Also, Watson emphasised that the UK’s legal framework is not designed to accommodate such excessive working hours. Even if employees sign a 48-hour opt-out agreement, they cannot opt out of mandatory rest breaks. Extended work hours could also lead to issues concerning employee pay if their average pay for the total hours worked falls below the National Minimum Wage. For parents, longer hours could result in increased childcare costs.
Watson also raised concerns about the potential health issues and burnout that employees may face when subjected to such demanding schedules, leading to increased absenteeism.
On the flip side, presenteeism may become a problem, with staff members experiencing anxiety, depression, and excessive stress, ultimately resulting in reduced productivity and a negative workplace culture.
She suggested the use of clock-in software to help managers monitor their teams’ working hours, allowing them to identify trends such as excessive working hours. Additionally, absence management software can help recognise employees who haven’t taken time off in a while, prompting them to take annual leave to prevent burnout and recharge.
What can HR do about it?
Watson concluded by emphasising the importance of recognising employees as individuals beyond their roles, stating, “While productivity and profitability are undoubtedly critical aspects of running a successful business, those who value their workforce are likely to reap long-term benefits, including staff loyalty and retention, high morale and satisfaction, and a positive company culture and reputation.”
The debate over whether a 70-hour work week should become the norm continues to gain traction, and as the world grapples with these contrasting perspectives, the impact on the workforce and society at large remains a matter of intense scrutiny.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.