By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
Even now when the new year is ’round the corner, I mark out all the holidays and highlight the long weekends that lie ahead. The four-day weeks are special. What if every week had a 4 day work week? In India that would mean having 12 hour work days. Would it work in India?
The work-week has no definition
When we dug deeper we found that there are varying norms around the definition of a work week. Here are some interesting data points to get us started.
- In France: The working week is 35 hours in all types of companies. The working day may not exceed 10 hours. Every 4.5 hours, a break is a must. (I am ready to move to France!)
- In USA: Any work over 40 hours in a 168 hour period is counted as overtime. The average work week is for eight hours per day for five days a week.
- In Singapore: The work week is for an 8 hour day, or 44 hours per week.
What are the norms around work weeks in other countries? Would be great if you add it in the comments.
Why we need a 12×4 week in India?
- It is environment friendly. Lesser commutes mean a lower carbon footprint. And less time spent in traffic jams (in some cities). Projects will take less calendar days.
- It allows mid-week break to recuperate. And maybe pursue a side-hustle. You can work on your “passion project” or hobbies. This may give people a day they can devote to building skills needed for the future. 4 days to do work that fills your stomach and three days for work that feeds your soul!
Why 12×4 week will be hard to implement in India
“We are already working 12-14 hours every day” The startups routinely work long hours. The Unicorns have no way of working lesser hours to keep pace with the growth curve. The global firms all talk about the early morning and late night calls and meetings to work across time zones. Making the 12 hour day for four days a week drew cynical laughter across many people in India.
- Socialisation is a part of the workday: The work culture in India and in many Eastern cultures tends to have very fuzzy boundaries between personal and work related time. It is common practice in many countries (eg Japan, Taiwan, Korea etc) to socialise with office colleagues for long hours regularly after work. The multiple smoke-breaks and coffee-time chatter is an integral part of the day and that extends the time spent at “work”.
- Work is an important part of the identity: People meet many needs through work. Work becomes an important source to find meaning, self-esteem, need for affiliation, power and achievement. That is why spending time at work is important for many people especially those who have no interests outside of work. Being at work scratches many itches.
- “If you work late, you are great”: In a hierarchical society, leaving before the boss does is frowned upon. When asked the boss says, “I stay because the rest of the team is working.” The team laughs and says, “The office time ends at 6:00pm, but my brownie points accumulate only if I continue working in the office till 8pm. It is a routine.” Not having to commute because of the pandemic has meant that the employer feels entitled to take away the “me time” that the commute provided, many complain in private. The commute is therapeutic. It enables us to signal to the brain the beginning and end of the work day. Read about Fake Commutes and why people are taking them.
Choices, choices, choices
- Productivity vs Innovation: Finding ways to measure productivity in qualitative terms is a precondition to being able to change the work day. If work culture, rewards and payments all incentivise quantity, it is hard to incentivise work which celebrates innovation and ideas. When the entire organisation is on a hamster wheel, it is hard to find time for employees to read, ideate, create a prototype and build in time to fail and build it all over again. Read more: Going beyond count and compare
- Expertise vs Effort: I had a friend who used to swear he never studied a word, but always got top grades. The Italians call this behavior ‘sprezzatura’ – the art of appearing to be casual and hiding all the effort. I tried to mimic his claims and barely escaped flunking. Freelancers will tell you that clients want to see that you have put in effort. Making something sound easy may mean getting paid less. I wonder if countries that are labor-surplus value effort and the countries that are sparsely populated, celebrate expertise. What do you think?
Sumit Singla set us all thinking about designing systems with empathy. When people have responsibilities of managing child-care, elderly-care or doing a second shift as a home-maker, a 12 hour work day may be the last straw that pushes them out of the workforce. Work-Worker-Workplace is an equation that each one has to define for themselves. Work has to follow the principles of individualisation.
Would you support a 12 hour work day if it leads to a four day work-week? If not, what would be your reason to not support it? Leave a comment.
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