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Should 70-hour work weeks be the norm?

Whilst productivity and profitability are no doubt crucial aspects of running a successful business, those that value their workforce are much likely to gain in the long run.

Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy recently made headlines around the world for his call to young people in India to embrace a 70-hour work week.

Claiming that India’s productivity is ‘around one of the lowest’, Murthy implores the Indian youth to work longer to compare with countries like China—urging them to avoid “not-so-desirable habits from the West.”

This isn’t the first-time support has been thrown behind a 70-hour work week, with the strategy deployed in post-World War II Germany and Japan to boost their economies.

And though many industrialists are in favour of 70-hour weeks becoming the ‘norm’, it’s incited debate from both sides, with much of the public questioning the impact it would have on mental health and burnout.

Thea Watson, Growth Director at BrightHR, shares her insight:

“Murthy, like many a business owner, will likely be focused with growing his productivity and profits. But it’s important to remember that working long hours can actually be counterproductive.

“Many people came out of the Covid-19 pandemic re-evaluating their priorities and what they want out of life. This led to lots of employees craving a greater work/life balance. In order to attract and retain employees, employers have had to adapt to this and consider whether they can offer more flexibility. Here in the UK, there have even been changes to the law around making flexible working more accessible. So, stating that young people should embrace a 70-hour week therefore seems at odds with this.

“Plus, the UK’s legal landscape just isn’t built to allow for such excessive working hours. Even if an employee signs the 48-hour opt-out, they cannot opt out of rest breaks. And there are so many other knock-on effects if an employee is expected to work to this extreme.

“There could be issues around pay should an employee’s average pay for their total hours worked fall below National Minimum Wage. And whilst not all employees have children, for those that do, if they are expected to work longer than they will likely have to pay more for childcare.

“Employees are much more likely to experience health issues and burnout when faced with such long working hours, which could result in increased absences from work. And on the other hand, presenteeism will likely rear its head, with staff members becoming anxious, depressed, and overly stressed, leading to decreased productivity which is obviously the opposite of what employers want from their employees—not to mention a lack of morale and a negative culture within the workplace.

“Utilising clock-in software can help managers understand the hours that their team are working. Whilst a useful tool to identify any trends where staff are not putting the hours in, it’s equally beneficial to have sight of anyone who’s over-working and enables managers to ensure appropriate rest breaks are being taken. Similarly, with absence management software, it’s simple to recognise those members of staff who haven’t taken time off for a while to prompt them to book annual leave to relax and reenergise to prevent burnout.”

“It’s important to recognise the human beyond the employee. Whilst productivity and profitability are no doubt crucial aspects of running a successful business, those that value their workforce are much likely to gain in the long run as they’ll experience staff loyalty and retention, high morale and satisfaction, and a positive company culture and reputation.”

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