Infosys founder, Mr. Narayan Murthy recently advocated for India’s youth to take to a 70 hour work week. Mr. Murthy emphasised that India’s work productivity is amongst the lowest in the world and that the country’s workforce should comprise of ‘determined, disciplined and hard working‘ people, if India were to compete with other fast-growing economies.
Mr. Murthy’s remarks have drawn flak on social media, even as prominent business leaders like JSW Chairman, Sajjan Jindal and OLA CEO, Bhavish Aggarwal have endorsed his suggestion. This attempt to glorify “hustle culture” comes at the heels of India taking over China as the most populous country in the world, with its demographic dividend expected to peak around 2041. Mr. Murthy’s comments seem to have been motivated by an impulse to harness this demographic potential of India’s youth.
While social media has been quick to point out the toxicity of conflating longer working hours with “discipline,” “hard work” and national development, the biggest losers in a work culture that perceives “hustling” as desirable, are women.
Women in India, spend, on average 297 minutes per day on unpaid care work, and 160 minutes, per day on paid work, spending a total of 457 minutes working daily. Their male counterparts on the other hand, spend 31 minutes per day on unpaid care work, and 360 minutes on paid work, totalling an average of 391 minutes on work. A study by IIM-A Professor Namrata Chindarkar laments the status of women’s labour in India, equating the obligations of domestic labour of women to a “second shift.”
Women who enter the workforce, thus, experience “time poverty,” with little discretionary time and reduced control over how resources, including their own time are used. The clarion call for increased hours dedicated to paid work, impacts women disproportionately. It would invariably lead to an increase in the total time worked, worsen women’s time poverty and afford fewer opportunities to women for leisure and self-care. Mental health experts have time and again drawn attention to the negative impacts of overworking, ranging from irritability and lack of focus to anxiety, burnout and depression.
For women, domestic responsibilities are a matter of constraints and not choice. 69% women in India are unpaid carers. Gendered perceptions of labour within the household continue to persist across income groups and employment status. In a 2022 Pew Research Centre study, as many as 34% respondents stated that women should be the primary caregivers for children. Worldwide, 41% respondents in the IPSOS Global Trends Survey were in agreement with the statement ‘The main role of women in society is to be good mothers and wives.’
Gendered expectations in the domestic sphere impact women’s participation in the public sphere. In India, a staggering 78.2% women remain outside the labour force due to unpaid care work obligations. Women’s maternity status further exacerbates this issue. Women were and continue to be primary caregivers to children, with the consequence that 73.3% Indian women who live with children between 0-5 years, are outside the labour force, as compared to only 5.2% of their male counterparts.
All this collectively implies that an expectation for longer working hours at their jobs, may compel women to bow out of the workforce. A 2022 Linkedin consumer research survey confirmed this, with 70% women reporting that they quit or had considered quitting their jobs due to a lack of flexible policies.
Normalising long work hours, further contributes to women’s distress, in a work culture that already stigmatises and is insensitive to women’s double burden. Deloitte’s 2023 Women at Work Report revealed that 48% women reported not feeling supported in their efforts to balance work responsibilities with other commitments. An overwhelming 97% women felt that requesting or taking advantage of flexible working opportunities affects the likelihood of promotion in their organisation. 95% women reported discomfort at requesting flexible working options, since their workload would not be adjusted accordingly.
The popularisation of hustle culture also means that those who can afford to dedicate longer hours at work are rewarded more handsomely than those who cannot. Longer hours clocked in by men would manifest in better outcomes and superior performance, leading to enhanced bonuses and higher salaries for them. This would increase the already widening gender pay gap, which currently stands at a stark 34% in India. Men working longer would also be entrusted with bigger and more prestigious opportunities. Fewer opportunities for women who cannot commit longer hours to their jobs would result in men being promoted over them, further reducing the share of women in higher leadership positions. Currently, women in India hold only 36% senior management positions, a number which is likely to dip in a normalised 70 hour work week. A vicious cycle can then be expected to entail with gender insensitive company policies continuing to persist in the absence of female decision makers.
Longer work hours may also significantly hamper the cause of instating gender-conscious company policies, like menstrual leave. Employers would be more disinclined to view menstrual leaves favourably, in a work culture where the opportunity cost of menstrual leaves taken per woman may amount to as many as 14-30 hours every month. The bias may also creep into employers’ perceptions of maternity leaves.
All of this would work in conjunction with the fact that women who put in shorter work hours than their male counterparts would be subject to further scrutiny and microaggressions in the workplace. It would invariably reinforce gendered ideas of meritocracy, where women would be perceived as less capable, less competent, less ambitious and less committed to their jobs than men.
Mr. Murthy’s notion that Indian youth should refrain from borrowing the “not so desirable” Western habit of reduced work hours, does not hold much water when viewed through a gendered lens. A 70 hour work week is in direct contradiction with the trend of developed countries attempting to move to a 4 day work week. Incidentally, countries with lower work hours, are also those where women experience more equity and a higher quality of life. The average hours worked in Norway, for example, is amongst the lowest in the world, at 1425 hours per year, while Norway has a female labour force participation rate of 64.4% (as compared to 66.7% for males). The gender pay gap in Norway is 4.60%, as opposed to the global average of 20%.
Mr. Murthy’s words should therefore be taken with a pinch of salt. A 70 hour work week might have an effect quite contrary to the one Mr. Murthy anticipates. Not everyone, least of all a country with a 60 crore female population, can afford the luxury of a 70 hour work week.