70-hour work week is an awful idea

Ashraf Engineer

November 4, 2023


Hello and welcome to All Indians Matter. I am Ashraf Engineer.

A while ago Ali Baba founder Jack Ma called extra-long work hours a “a huge blessing” and rival firm JD.com’s chief Richard Liu implied that employees who don’t work long hours are “no brothers of mine.” Ma was a supporter of what is known as the ‘996’ culture. In other words, working from 9 am to 9 pm six days a week. It’s no wonder that Chinese technology industry employees eventually rebelled against the idea, naming and shaming their bosses and even withholding their output from their employers. Now the likes of Ma and Liu have been joined by Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy, who said India’s youth should work 70 hours a week. On a podcast, he criticised India’s work productivity as among the lowest in the world and that the youth should work more to ensure the country’s development. Just as Ma was supported by Liu, Murthy was immediately backed by Ola Cabs co-founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal. Aggarwal said: “It’s not our moment to work less and entertain ourselves. Rather, it’s our moment to go all in and build in one generation what other countries have built over many generations.” These are, of course, outdated ideas – silly and even harmful for employees. And counter-productive. Study after study has shown that extra-long working hours affect staff health, both physical and mental, and in fact erode productivity.


Murthy’s idea is primitive, to say the least, at a time when corporations and countries are moving towards ensuring greater work-life balance. In fact, some countries are even considering four-day work weeks that would actually enhance productivity. Murthy’s views are at odds with those of a generation for whom a wholesome life as well as issues like environmental, social and corporate governance – or ESG – are priorities.

Think about what Murthy is saying. A 70-hour work week, assuming it’s six days long, would mean almost 12 hours a day. This is in addition to the commuting time. Think of the toll it would take on your body and mind. Doctors have long warned against such a thing, pointing out that it’s not feasible over the long term. It could result in burnout, fatigue and even affect relationships. All this at a time when stress level are soaring.

Other impacts could include heart problems, sleep disorders, musculo-skeletal problems and more.

This is why the four-day work week is being considered very seriously. By the end of last year, several countries had kicked off pilot programmes to explore its feasibility and the data shows promise in the form of reduced stress and higher output.

There are various models employed. For instance, employees get 100% of their salary for working 80% of their regular hours while maintaining 100% productivity. The other model is the 32-hour work week – spread across four days. Employees can vary the number of hours from day to day so long as they log 32 over the four days. Another option is dividing 40 hours into four 10-hour days.

Among the countries experimenting with the four-day work week are the US, the UK, Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, Holland, the UAE, Iceland and many more.

Several businesses in other countries are also experimenting with it. Microsoft Japan, for instance, logged a 39.9% rise in productivity during a four-day work week experiment.

Meanwhile, a study of the ‘World’s Best Employers’ by Forbes this year showed that none of the top 15 IT companies mandated a 70-hour work week. Official hours were capped at 45 hours per week.

Murthy’s idea is primitive also because the world over people are redefining how a nation’s progress is measured. The days of economic growth being the sole barometer will be behind us soon. You can’t define life solely by an economic measure.

Take the World Happiness Index for 2023. Guess where India is – 126 on a list of 146. So, should the solution to this problem be greater work-life balance or even more work?

There is a serious emotional health crisis raging in this country that we simply refuse to acknowledge. Pharmarack data shows a significant rise in the sale of anti-depressants and mood stabilisers – 41% in August 2023 compared to the same month in 2019.

So, a 70-hour work week is the last thing we need.

Work-life balance is good for health, emotional stability, relationship and, as I’ve said before, productivity. It’s no surprise then that employers that offer work-life balance also become talent magnets.

Here are some great reasons for employers to offer greater work-life balance:

  • Better health: Stressed and overworked employees put their physical and mental health at risk. Symptoms can range from fevers to serious ones like heart attacks and respiratory problems. By encouraging team members to find balance, organisations get more efficient.
  • Greater engagement: Employees that find balance tend to be more engaged. A Tower Perrin global survey found that firms with highly-engaged employees improved operating income by 19.2% while that of companies with low employee engagement declined 32.7%.
  • Mindfulness: With balance, employees concentrate better and are, therefore, better at what they do. Isn’t that what organisations are aiming for?

The need of the hour is not more hours at work but, in fact, finding the right balance between work and everything else that comprises life. This is a critical need in this age. That’s why it’s best to not take Murthy seriously. Murthy is an outstanding technology entrepreneur, perhaps one of the best India has produced. That does not make him an expert on everything. Bear in mind this is the same guy who said we should legalise the giving and taking of bribes.

So, it’s best to ignore Murthy. He’s not relevant. Focus instead on what is – you and your well being.

Thank you all for listening. Please visit allindiansmatter.in for more columns and audio podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter at @AshrafEngineer and @AllIndiansCount. Search for the All Indians Matter page on Facebook. On Instagram, the handle is @AllIndiansMatter. Email me at editor@allindiansmatter.in. Catch you again soon.