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How Narayana Murthy's 70-hour work week suggestion may affect mental & physical health of youngsters

Infosys founder Narayana Murthy’s statement on a desired 70-hour work week for youngsters to help India compete on the global stage has garnered much flak on social media.

“India’s work productivity is one of the lowest in the world. Unless we improve our work productivity, unless we reduce corruption in the government at some level, because we have been reading, I don’t know the truth of it, unless we reduce the delays in our bureaucracy in taking this decision, we will not be able to compete with those countries that have made tremendous progress,” Murthy said in the first episode of3one4 Capital’s podcast The Record.

“Therefore, my request is that our youngsters must say ‘this is my country. I’d like to work 70 hours a week’,” Murthy added.

While Murthy’s conversation with T V Mohandas Pai was appreciated by many, several comments on the video were of users strongly disagreeing with Murthy.

“Completely disagree about the 70 hours a week!!! According to the 70-hour work week we will be the best country, BUT AT WHAT COST? What will that individual achieve after working 70 hours a week? Good health? Good family? Good companion? Happiness? Fulfillment? What will the individual achieve? If the individual is aiming for success after working 70 hours a week, I would like that individual to define success. (sic)” wrote one user while another said, “Youngsters should work for 70 hours per week while the richest evade taxes and enjoy vacation in the Bahamas.”

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Screenshot of a comment.

Credit: YouTube/3one4 Capital

Some of the users also blamed “this mindset” for youngsters getting heart attacks in India and many attacked Infosys and Narayana Murthy for “making money by paying less” to their employees. However, the comments for the video have been disabled now.

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Screenshot of comments.

Credit: YouTube/3one4 Capital

While the debate of whether to work that many hours or not is a never ending one, we will lay out for you the impact a 70-hour work week could have on the mental and the physical health of youngsters.

In conversation with DH, Dr Rachel Jayaseelan, Founder of Wellness Within and a mental health trainer for corporates, said that a 70-hour work week is not healthy in the long run. Matters like relationship, health, and financial planning require a better work-life balance which may not be possible if one was to work for a longer time period.

“One of the spaces that are likely to be impacted the most is self-esteem. If an employee works for 12 hours a day, they spend those many hours feeling evaluated in the space by their bosses and colleagues. Post work also there may be work-related events like parties and CSR activities. But non-work related aspects to their self-esteem is also important. At the expense of longer work hours they will have to compromise on those,” said Dr Jayaseelan as she added that she often comes across individuals who don’t know who they are as an individual and are so enveloped by their work-identity that if something happens in that space, they are at a loss.

“Spending too much time at work could result in people defining themselves more in terms of their work and less in terms of other spaces that also need development like a spiritual or a relationship identity.”

As she pointed out that longer work hours may lead to an imbalance in the growth of an individual, she also noted that while longer hours may help an individual in terms of career growth and financial stability, happiness and fulfillment should also be a quotient to determine success and not just long working hours.

Dr Jayaseelan said a lot of her clients suffer from lifestyle induced mood issues like depression and anxiety caused due to irregularity in sleep, stress, poor eating habits, spending a lot of time in the exposure of blue light. “For the amount of stress coming up, we do not have enough time to de-stress. Most of the time spent off-work is also spent thinking of work.”

Not only did she point out the ill-effects such long working hours could have on an individual’s health, she also shed light on the impact it could have on the relations in the corporate space. “When you spend that many hours with a person, it may be positive but the relationships at work may become strained.”

Dr Padmini Narahari, General Physician at The Family Doctor and a practicing physician in industrial health told DH that working 70-hours a week in the long run will “definitely” affect the posture of an individual “especially in the IT sector when they are glued to the system for 3-6 hours straight and do not get to move around.”

Added to this, youngsters may also develop spondylitis and other problems such as pain in their back, neck and shoulder leading to the decline in the productivity of the company.

Shedding light on the time spent on commuting, Dr. Padmini noted that in metro cities it may even take up to four hours a day just on the road. This when added to their 12 hours in office leaves them with no time to work out and take care of themselves and their family. Cases of hypertension and stroke and other cardiovascular diseases may also start to rise owing to the long working hours and increased number of coffee and smoke breaks, she added.

If ever a time comes that one needs to work for 70-hours a week, to prevent the above mentioned health issues, Dr. Padmini says that “not only youth but everyone should concentrate on their health, eat healthy food, do any physical activity for at least 45 minutes a day, and do some meditation for mental health.”

While there has been much debate and discussion online and offline regarding working hours, it is important to note that as per the labour law in India, it is not permissible to employ a worker for more than 48 hours in a week or nine hours a day. Total work-hour in a day needs to be not more than 10.5 hours and this includes a rest interval of half an hour after every five hours of work. In case an employee works for over nine hours a day or 48 hours a week, they are entitled to an overtime pay. Despite the permission to work overtime, the law does not permit a work week of over 60 hours including the extra time.

(Published 28 October 2023, 10:08 IST)

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