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Long work hours vs employee welfare

Long work hours vs employee welfare

Overwork causes a variety of mental problems, including decreased work satisfaction. The simple logic is that the more hours a person works, the less time there is for family and other leisure activities.

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Last Updated : 30 May 2024, 19:13 IST
Last Updated : 30 May 2024, 19:13 IST
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The debate surrounding the correlation between extended work hours and resultant health risks has long persisted. The advent of Covid-19 has only amplified this discourse, drawing attention from celebrities and business magnates. Last year, Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys, reignited this debate by advocating for a 70-hour work week. Murthy’s proposal sparked a range of reactions, with some notable figures in the business realm endorsing his stance while medical professionals and employees across various sectors criticised it. Advocates of prolonged work hours often overlook the long-term toll. If a 70-hour workweek were implemented, employees would spend a staggering 12–14 hours per day at their workplaces, erasing the hard-won labour regulations that capped work hours at 8 instead of the previous 12–16-hour shifts. More importantly, prioritising productivity over employee well-being is not only unethical but also inhumane. Employers are morally obligated to prioritise the health and well-being of their employees. Therefore, a science-informed or evidence-based approach is required while addressing societal welfare.

Proponents of the prolonged work hours argue that India’s productivity is lagging, often citing post-World War II advancements in Japan and Germany as benchmarks. However, it’s crucial to recognise that societal norms and expectations have evolved considerably since then. Present-day lifestyles and priorities differ significantly from those of a century ago. This shift is observable in European countries, where the typical workweek is limited to 40 hours, with France setting it even lower at 35 hours. Besides, numerous national and global studies have shed light on the detrimental effects of prolonged work hours, highlighting that the drawbacks far outweigh any benefits. 

An empirical study conducted in Japan in 2016 by Kuroda and Yamamoto underscores the strong correlation between extended work hours and declining mental health. Additionally, epidemiological research worldwide consistently demonstrates the adverse impacts of prolonged work hours, including heightened risks of cardiovascular diseases, chronic fatigue, stress, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and hypertension. Other risks include increased insomnia, strain on personal relationships, and a propensity for costly mistakes. A South Korean study by Chang-Gyo (2015) reveals a 30% increase in suicidal ideation among those who worked more than 60 hours per week. In another study titled All in the Mind: The State of Mental Health in Corporate India, 77% of respondents from companies in major Indian cities cited long, unpredictable, and continuous work hours as the primary reason for mental health problems. A 2018 survey conducted in Germany further corroborated these findings, revealing a significant association between extended work hours and psychosomatic health complaints. Interestingly, in a study by Grover S et al., 77% of Indian employers agreed that mental health had a severe (40–45%) or significant (25–30%) impact on organisational performance or growth. However, concrete measures to address the issue have been lacking.

These findings highlight four critical adverse consequences of long work hours: compromised health, strained family relationships, diminished productivity resulting in increased costs, and broader community-wide ramifications. Overwork causes a variety of mental problems, including decreased work satisfaction. The simple logic is that the more hours a person works, the less time there is for family and other leisure activities.

A fundamental challenge arises from society’s ingrained perception that quantity equals quality, a notion instilled from a young age, particularly in India. This belief fosters the misconception that more work hours translate to heightened productivity. However, the truth is that excessive hours can lead to fatigue and burnout, ultimately diminishing overall effectiveness. Businesses often perpetuate myths to justify extended work hours, suggesting that they guarantee career advancement, signify loyalty to the company, or are essential for financial success. However, these narratives are far from reality, as success hinges on multifaceted factors such as skills, opportunities, and networking. Dedication and commitment should be gauged by the calibre and efficiency of one’s work rather than the sheer quantity of hours spent.

Finally, given the prevailing decline in youth mental health and the rising incidence of psychosomatic disorders, imposing unrealistic work expectations is poised to exacerbate these pressing issues further. Besides, what government agencies and private establishments present as making long hours optional often masks a gradual normalisation of extended workdays. Society often places significant weight on the perspectives of celebrities and those in power. However, it is crucial to evaluate the implications of their recommendations for individual well-being and societal welfare.

(The writer is professor and Dean, Christ (deemed to be
university), Bengaluru)
 

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