Mint Explainer: Why Narayana Murthy's call for a 70-hour work week won't fly | Mint

Mint Explainer: Why Narayana Murthy's call for a 70-hour work week won't fly

Infosys founder Narayana Murthy (Photo: PTI)
Infosys founder Narayana Murthy (Photo: PTI)

Summary

  • The Infosys founder said on Thursday that India's youth need to work 70 hours a week out of a sense of patriotism, but the IT sector is hardly in a position to dictate terms

IT companies are struggling to bring back their workers, increase utilisation rates, and convince clients that their lean benches are capable of delivering on projects. They are also losing important talent to global capability centres and wage costs remain their Achilles Heel. Amid all this, are  these companies in a position to demand 14-hour work days from employees, or to tell them what constitutes appropriate attire?

The call for a 70-hour work week

Narayana Murthy, founder of India's second-largest IT firm Infosys, said on Thursday that India's youth need to work 70 hours a week, which works out to 14 hours a day, five days a week, or seven hours a day with no days off. 

"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… unless we reduce the delays in our bureaucracy in taking this decision, we will not be able to compete with countries that have made tremendous progress. 

"So my request is that our youngsters must say, ‘This is my country, I’d like to work 70 hours a week’," Murthy said on Thursday. His views are in stark contrast to the efforts of firms including Infosys to avoid knee-jerk reactions and reduce attrition.

Managers at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) have asked employees to return to office three days a week but Infosys, HCL Technologies and Wipro continue to allow employees to come in between one and three days a week. The companies are all nudging employees rather than imposing blanket rules, citing cohesive team work, better data safety, and lower chances of moonlighting.

But this stance is in direct contrast to their approach when the hiring frenzy was at its peak. Infosys even acknowledged gig work and was ready to allow employees to work on such projects while stopping short of permitting them to take on additional full-time jobs. Companies also talked about things like work-life balance and pursuing interests after work hours when it was an employee's market and attrition was at an all-time high.

Will the new generation accept this?

The pandemic has altered the DNA of new campus hires. Although the job market is sluggish, new jobseekers know the tide will turn and continue to demand flexible work hours and other benefits. Companies in the IT sector have a benefit basket, and are using upskilling programs to try and retain employees. 

But the newer lot is not satisfied with fancy gadgets or slick offices, and isn't afraid to question companies about their ESG efforts and how they treat their employees. Long working are unlikely to fly with this crowd, and companies may want to rethink strategies for this young, cheaper manpower whose exits will hit their margins.

Some IT companies are bringing back strict dress codes.

TCS recently sent out a memo reminding its employees to adhere to an appropriate dress code. According to the HR head of a rival firm, this diktat goes against every effort to portray the office as a relaxed space to work . IT firms have lost plenty of talent to startups, who have wooed many workers with fancy workspaces and designations. Former Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka had relaxed the company's dress code a casual attire in 2015 in a effort to blur generational and socio-economic gaps in its huge workforce.

Companies should remember their struggles with high wage costs.

Employee wage costs as a share of total expenses at two of India’s top three software services companies — TCS and HCL Technologies Ltd — hit a six-year high (at least) in the September quarter (Infosys reported a marginal dip in employee expenses in quarter). This shows these companies continue to lose good talent and are recruiting laterally from the market at higher costs. For an industry in which employee costs still comprise more than 60% of total expenses this doesn't seem sustainable.

How do companies in other sectors address the work-life balance?

"It's not about burnout, it’s about dedication. We have to make India an economic superpower that we can all be proud of in India 2047. A five-day week culture is not what a rapidly developing nation of our size needs," Sajjan Jindal, chairman of JSW Group, said in response to Murthy's call.

But not everyone is thinking on these lines.

Industries such as hospitality are rethinking long working hours. ITC Hotels, for instance, wants to adopt a nine-hour work day, which translates to 45 hours over a five-day week. “Earlier, [working hours] could go up to 12-15 hours, depending on the job. But [today] if I am a 25-year-old getting an 8-9 hour job that gives me more time with my family and hobbies then I would rather take that," Sanjay Bose, executive vice-president and head, HR & learning and development, ITC Hotels, told Mint.

Ironically, when it comes to work-life balance, IT companies are the ones that need a system update.

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