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Aarti Aarti
06 Nov 2023

Expressing concern that India’s work productivity was the lowest in the world, Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, in a recent interview, had said, “unless we improve our work productivity….we will not be able to compete with those countries that have made tremendous progress. So, my request is that our youngsters must say, this is my country, I want to work 70 hours a week.”  His comments triggered mixed reactions over the social media which is another story.

Simply put, productivity is a measure of economic performance that compares the amount of goods and services produced (output) with the amount of inputs used to produce such goods and services. The productivity of employees in any organisation depends upon a number of facilitating factors like a conducive work atmosphere, supportive top management etc., including the extent of involvement by the individual employee.

Take the case of university topper Rohan (pseudonym) who joined a private company after his management studies. Rated as a poor performer by his immediate superior, when his six-month probation was extended, a shocked Rohan went into depression. He recollected how his manager would give him a job at 9 a.m. stating it was important and an hour later, assign another urgent job. A while later, it was yet another most urgent job. Besides, now and then his manager would forward emails and ask Rohan to quickly prepare draft replies. He would be called to join meetings, about 3 to 4 in day and take note and then prepare record notes. Daily, Rohan worked beyond duty hours, six days a week but still couldn’t complete that day’s assignments. After about 10 hours of stressful duty and two hours of   steering out of traffic jams, he would reach home only to be disturbed again, several times. 

A study undertaken by the University of California had found that it takes about 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain full focus after an interruption. If this is multiplied by the number of times Rohan’s work was getting interrupted daily, the reasons for his so called “poor productivity” can be found. So, who is responsible for an employee’s poor productivity? Workplace disruptions can deplete an employee’s energy. As creative thinking often requires uninterrupted time for deep concentration, disruptions can stifle innovation and problem-solving. Most importantly, frequent disruptions can lead to errors and decreased quality of work. Constant interruptions, as studies have shown, can contribute to higher stress levels and burnout, besides negatively impacting mental and physical health. Work overload can also hinder one’s relationships and job performance, 

Now coming to 70 hours of work per week would roughly translate into 14 hours of daily work for a five-day week and about 12 hours of daily work for a six-day week.  Such extended working hours, if continued for long periods, can have disastrous results in so far as a working individual is concerned. Not long ago, the security guard at our cousin’s housing society suddenly collapsed while on duty and was declared brought dead when he was rushed to the hospital. He was 32 years of age, married with 3 young daughters and dependent parents who lived at his village. It was found that he stood for over 12 hours screening visitors at the entry gate seven days a week without any break. Did not over-work cost his life? 

Various studies have concluded that the ideal amount of sleep varies from person to person, but most adults aged 18 to 60 should sleep at least seven hours a night. Sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity and depression. Staying awake for too long even causes your body to mimic the impairments of being drunk. 

According to latest estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation, long working hours led to 745000 deaths from stroke and heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000. WHO, after analysing data from 37 studies on ischemic heart disease covering more than 7,68,000 participants and 22 studies on stroke covering more than 8,39,000 participants across the globe, has cautioned that working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard which can even lead to premature death. Notably, there is an estimated 35 percent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 percent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.

Post Covid-19, several organisations in the US have been reporting workplace burnout that is also creating a host of health problems to employees.  A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that 79 percent of employees experienced work-related stress and nearly 60 percent reported negative impacts of that stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy, along with cognitive weariness, emotional exhaustion and physical fatigue. Based on research that found no evidence that short breaks decreased performance, employees are encouraged to take microbreaks which is a scheduled rest from work. Such microbreaks can last anywhere from two to ten minutes during which employees can involve themselves in any enjoyable activity including a quick walk, a nutritious snack, socializing with colleagues, or even a brief meditation session.

The Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter CEO, Elon Musk, known for working 16 hours a day, (seven days per week and taking two or three workless vacation days yearly),   pulling all-nighters and sleeping under his desk to get work done, has in a recent interview stated that he now makes an effort to sleep at least six hours per night and sacrificing sleep for productivity gave him 'brain pain'. 

As someone had said, the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. So, let’s be productive and at the same time ensure a good work-life balance, which is simply maintaining a harmonious relationship between one’s work and personal life.

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