A call for 70-hour work week in India by Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy has sparked intense debate across the nation, particularly among the younger generation. While some top-level corporate leaders endorse this proposition, those who bear the brunt of labour resent it.

The aversion to the idea of additional working hours is far from groundless, as many Indians are already overworked and underpaid. OECD statistics illustrate that India ranks 136th out of 187 countries in terms of high working hours. On average, an Indian worker clocks around 1,660 hours per year on the job, with a GDP per capita of $2,281. In contrast, countries with similar work hours, such as Indonesia and Australia, have higher GDP per capita. Indonesia, with 1,660 annual work hours, reports a GDP per capita of $4,292, while Australia, with 1,683 annual work hours, has an impressive GDP per capita of $63,455. Moreover, the proposed 70-hour work week may reverse the hard-fought battles for an 8-hour workday enshrined in Indian labour laws.

Dedication to a cause or profession is certainly commendable, but it should not come at the expense of work-life imbalance, burnout, physical and mental health issues. Unfortunately, in the World Happiness Index, 2023, India holds the 126th position with a score of 4.036. This figure is notably lower than the score of 4.772 and the 111th rank India held a decade ago in 2013. In a nation that already underperforms in happiness metrics and where awareness about mental health is still in its infancy, a sole focus on productivity can harm the country in the long run.

Support moonlighting

The call for extended working hours without any mention of additional compensation naturally raises scepticism about the true intentions behind such statements. Moreover, if business magnates are genuinely concerned about the nation’s progress, they should take the lead in supporting moonlighting, where employees can engage in work of their choosing and earn through it. This could create a win-win situation for both workers and the nation.

However, the report ‘Future of Work & Human Challenges Technology and Beyond’ reveals contradictory views among tech giants like IBM, Wipro, and Infosys regarding moonlighting. This contradiction raises questions about whether these corporates are prioritising their own interests over the nation’s. However, acknowledging that moonlighting is the future of work, prominent entities like Swiggy and Zomato support moonlighting. Moreover, Tech Mahindra’s CEO, CP Gurnani, openly endorses moonlighting, and even government officials such as Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar advocates employees adopting an entrepreneurial approach, recognising moonlighting as an integral part of the evolving work culture.

Corporates should understand that one-size-fits-all approaches are rarely a sustainable strategy in the long run. In an era where sustainable development is emphasised, the words of industrialist JRD Tata ring true: “I do not want India to be an economic superpower. I want India to be a happy country.”

Just as nations hold diverse ideologies and corporations have varying visions, individuals can likewise possess differing preferences and capabilities. Not every individual must join the relentless pursuit of wealth maximisation that corporations often engage in; the choice is theirs to make. While national development is undoubtedly crucial, the well-being of the people is equally paramount.

Valiachi is a Research Assistant in an ICSSR project at PSG College of Arts and Science, Coimbatore, and Abinaya is a Research Scholar at the Department of Banking Management, Alagappa University, Karaikudi