Work less, do more

The labour ministry’s draft wage code seeks to increase the eight-hour workday to nine hours. This, when the developed world is mulling a four-day week

Representative image. (Photo/Pixabay)

What does your typical workday look alike? For most people in Bengaluru, it’s a couple of hours commuting to and fro, eight hours at the workplace and probably a couple of hours at home, completing work that can’t wait. Well, chances are this is about to get worse with the labour ministry’s draft wage code seeking to increase the eight-hour workday to nine hours. Ironically, around the same time this news was released, the chatter in corporate circles of the world was about the possibilities of a four-day week!
The four-day-week buzz was sparked off by Microsoft Japan’s Work-Life Choice challenge in August this year. Releasing results of the experiment, MS Japan said that during this time, employees worked only four days a week – without a pay cut – attended meetings that were no longer than 30 minutes and chatted online rather than resorting to face-to-face meetings. 
A three-day weekend was a revolutionary concept in a country known for its culture of overworking (in fact, they even have a word for working oneself to death – karōshi). But what was even more surprising was the spectacular results of the experiment: Productivity increased by 40 per cent, electricity costs decreased by 23 per cent and there was a 58 per cent decrease in printing paper.
This is not the first experiment of its kind. In New Zealand, Perpetual Guardian, a trust management company, moved to a four-day week in November 2018 and has since reported happier, more loyal workers, with stress levels dropping by 15 per cent and individual productivity going up by about 30 per cent. Other companies like the ICE Group in Ireland have followed suit. 
Okay, so maybe a four-day week in India would be a bit like running without learning to walk, but what we should understand is that more hours do not translate to more productivity. According to Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, the more time we have to complete a task, the more time we’ll spend on it – assuming, of course, that there are no impossible deadlines. Again, to apply the Pareto Principle, 80 per cent of your work output results from a mere 20 per cent of your efforts. 

Reducing hours of work would mean that employees would eliminate the non-essential stuff – standing around a water cooler, taking a coffee break, sauntering from one cubicle to the next for no real reason, surfing the net, organising the inbox, and so on – and focus their energies on the most essential tasks at hand. The idea should be to get the work done and be gone.

Instead, across industries and institutions, employees are forced to submit to the tyranny of the ticking clock and fill the time with frenzied activity. Bosses expect tired minds to come up with innovative ideas that will shake up the universe, ooze creativity at the drop of a hat and think up solutions when there’s really no time to think.

Not many employees have the luxury of sitting and just letting their minds wander. In today’s world, a Newton would not see an apple fall, an Archimedes would not have the luxury of ruminating in the bath. In fact, the reason why 3M is considered one of the most innovative companies is because of the air of freedom that employees breathe in. Its 15 per cent programme, for instance, allows employees – not just scientists – 15 per cent of their paid time to just think, chase rainbows and innovate. Some of its most creative products, including the Post-it and the first electronic stethoscope with bluetooth technology, have been born out of this time.

Work apart, longer work hours also eat into family time. Already, many working parents have little time for their children. As they race madly on the treadmill of their work-life, there’s little time to connect with the family. Children will likely forget that there was no butter on the bread if they are secure about their parents’ love. But deny them the love and attention they crave for, and they will remember it till their dying day because it shaped their lives so irrevocably. 

Recall Prime Minister Modi’s words in his 2014 Independence Day address. Against a backdrop of rising rape cases, he had said that every mother and father should keep a tab on their sons, not just their daughters, and hold them accountable. But to do that, mothers and fathers need to spend more time at home rather than in the workplace. Work less. We owe this to the people we’ve brought into this world. We owe this to the future. 
And finally, we need to push for shorter working hours because long hours of work affect our well-being. According to research published in the American Heart Association journal recently, working for more than 10 hours is associated with a 29 per cent greater risk stroke than those who work less. Over 10 years, the risk appeared to rise to 45 per cent more than for those who work less. Work less. You owe it to yourself.

It’s important that the government recognises that increasing working hours is out of sync with the way the progressive world functions today. The mantra should be to work smartly and effectively, not longer and harder.

(Juliana Lazarus teaches journalism at Mount Carmel College (Autonomous))
The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH. 

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