Is a 4-day working week feasible in India?

If the number of working hours per week is going to remain the same, fewer working days would mean backbreaking, long working days

Aadim Aryavartta Meher and Tushar Rajvanshi | March 31, 2022


#Labour   #economy   #employment   #business   #labour code   #four-day working week  
Happy employees of the Madhya Pradesh government`s department of anand (happiness) (File photo: Sneh Singh/GN)
Happy employees of the Madhya Pradesh government`s department of anand (happiness) (File photo: Sneh Singh/GN)

In the early days of human civilization, man had to work all seven days a week as a hunter-gatherer in order to meet his basic needs. As time went on, man developed tools and machinery and with the rise in capitalism came the age of the industrial revolution. During this time, factory workers were required to work for about 16 hours a day, six days a week. A couple of centuries and a good deal of collective worker-union protests later, the modern-day corporate man works for about eight hours a day and five days a week on average.

Although it is not a new idea, currently there have been news and talk of shifting to a four-day working week regime without any compensation cuts. This idea was largely popularized due to the impetus created by the COVID-19 pandemic which led economically burdened companies to seek innovative ways to cut costs. Although it was mostly tried as an experiment during the global crisis, the idea of a four-day work week gained international attention when it was observed that despite reducing the number of working days, productivity remained more or less the same or even increased in a few cases. Not only that but it also improved employee well-being and paved the way for a better work-life balance. This was because employees faced less stress and were more energetic to get things done quickly so as to enjoy that one extra holiday per week. This, combined with the fact that they’ll be getting the same amount of salary despite working for a less number of days, helped them maintain a healthy state of mind and caused less burnout to their health which resulted in better well-being for the employee.

Recently, many countries have started warming up to the four-day working week regime. Iceland, for example, ran a trial for the same from 2015 to 2019 and came out with positive results. Noticing Iceland’s success countries like Spain, Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand also joined the four-day work week club. Other countries like Japan, UAE and Belgium have also started implementing this regime and have come to notice a measurable difference in terms of increase in employee productivity, happiness, well-being and work-life balance. A decrease in turnover and lower overhead costs were also observed after the implementation of this regime.

With the success of the four-day working week regime over the world, the Indian government is also tweaking the labour laws which are to be implemented in the next financial year, i.e., FY 2022-23. One of these proposals for the new labour codes is the option to shift to a four-day working week. But there is a big caveat in this proposal. In India, employees work for about 48 hours a week and as per this new proposal, the number of working hours in a week is set to remain the same. The change that has been proposed is that the employees will have the option of working for about 9.6 hours a day for five days or 12 hours a day for four days, with the total number of working hours in a week remaining constant.

This shift will not be the same for all industries. While it can be easily implemented in the corporate offices of industries such as technology, banking, insurance, and e-commerce, it would not be feasible to shift to a four-day work week for industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and healthcare. The manufacturing sector, for instance, where continuous operations are carried out in a cyclical manner, may face difficulties with 12-hour shifts and for factory workers to work in a repetitive motion for such long hours is not humanely possible. According to the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, workers are not allowed to work for more than eight hours a day. So a four-day work week will not be possible in this sector due to the regulations and the nature of the work. Industries such as agriculture and healthcare require regular attention and hence won’t be sustainable in a four-day workweek. On the other hand, this working regime can help the unorganized sector where employees are already working for 12 hours or longer per day by incorporating the regulations of the new labour codes and bringing some amount of transparency in these sectors.

But will a 12-hour working day be feasible for an Indian employee? Let’s take the example of Yash from Delhi who works in an MNC. If he were to follow the four-day working week regime, he would have to leave home at 6:30 am, take a metro to Gurgaon and just make it in time to reach his office at 8 am. He works for 12 hours till 8 pm and finally reaches home around 10 pm. He doesn’t have much time for anything apart from dinner and then he goes to bed. So, the four days he’ll be working will be just filled with work and close to zero work-life balance. Also, it would be very difficult for Yash to maintain his productivity levels for the entire 12 hours.

Another perspective can be of Aryan, who argues that according to Global Wage Report 2020-21, India ranks fifth in the world for long working hours. He further adds that as per the PLFS Annual Report, rural India works for about 48 to 52 hours a week and urban India works for about 53 to 55 hours a week on average. The point he is trying to make is that if people are already working for more than the government-mandated 48 hours a week, a shift to a four-day work week will mean that they’ll have to work for slightly more time for 4 days and get an extra day off. So, Aryan looks at it as a welcoming move as he’ll be getting a three-day holiday by working for virtually the same amount of time.

There has been an instance in the past when an Indian company implemented a four-day work week without increasing daily working hours and keeping compensation the same. Beroe Inc, a market intelligence firm, implemented this regime back in 2017 and observed a productivity rise of over 200% as compared to their previous five-day work week regime. So, if implemented correctly, this new regime does have scope in India.

Let’s see what the Indian employees have to say on the matter. When asked about which working regime he would follow, Prashant, senior consultant at Deloitte, said he would prefer working in the five-day work week regime as “9.5 hours a day allows for better work-life balance and it brings down the chances of burnout.” On the other hand, Ankur Saxena, senior technical associate at Tech Mahindra, said he would prefer working for about 12 hours a day for four days as it would provide “more time for self”. Asked about the viability of the four-day work week regime in India, Akshay Sethia, design engineer at Onsemi, said it wouldn’t be feasible in India as it will cause “low productivity due to long working hours, longer duration of children at daycare for working couples, and difficulty and lethargy in transition from weekend to weekdays if the number of weekends increases.”

There is still a lot of debate going on about which work week regime one should follow and it differs from person to person, with more people being inclined to the previous five-day work week regime due to better work-life balance.

A research paper [https://ftp.iza.org/dp8129.pdf] published by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) shows that there is an inverse relationship between the number of hours an employee works for and his/her productivity levels. So, if the employees decide to move from an already high 9.6 hours a day to 12 hours a day working format, it might be counter-productive for the employee as well as the organization.

The whole idea of a four-day work week was to reduce the number of weekly working hours. While the government is thinking in the right direction by giving the option of a four-day work week to the employees, it might be a futile move as it could lead to less productivity than before and reduce employee well-being as the number of working hours in a week remain the same. Companies might view it as a loss of productivity and will predominantly be inclined to stick with the current five-day working week regime.

Aadim Aryavartta Meher graduated with a BBA (Hons) from Bennett University and is working as a freelancer. Tushar Rajvanshi has completed his BBA (Hons) from Bennett University and currently is working as a Trainee at Uneecops Technologies Ltd.

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