Narayana Murthy’s 70-hour workweek has NO takers

Narayana Murthy’s 70-hour workweek has NO takers

Background:

Nagavara Ramarao Narayana Murthy, or NRN as he called in the corporate circle, is among the top 1000 richest people on the planet. The 77-year-old started Infosys in 1981 with an initial capital of Rs Ten thousand. The company is valued at Rs 5.7 lakh crores and is the No. 2 company in the IT sector, behind TCS (M-cap Rs 12.6 lakh crores).

Murthy has recently been in news for saying that Indian youngsters should work for 70 hours a week! NRN made these comments in a podcast with Mohandas Pai who was his former team member at Infosys. Pai had worked as the HR Director in Infosys once. During the podcast session Murthy lamented that India’s work productivity was at the bottom in the world ranking. Murthy then went on to emphasise that it was the duty of India’s young brigade to improve the productivity ranking of India and put India into the journey of accelerated growth. His exact quote was:

“Therefore, my request is that our youngsters must say, this is my country; I’d like to work 70 hours a week,”

Reaction to NRN’s 70-hour workweek by netizens:

While there was some support for NRN’s views, most notably from JSW’s Sajan Jindal and Ola Cabs co-founder and CEO Bhavish Aggarwal, there was much uproar on the social media “X’ against Murthy’s endorsement of 70 hours work-week.

Abhijit Iyer- Mitra a well-known journalist and thinker who has over 2 lakh followers ridiculed NRN by tweeting, “Typical Indian sweatshop attitude. That’s why Infosys is a glorified IT coolie provider with low value add products.”https://x.com/Iyervval/status/1717769440400437669?s=20

Abhijit’s post had over four thousand like and 800 retweets.

Ashok Tirumal wrote on X “More power to you (referring to Iyer-Mitra’s tweet), most indian companies are just that seat shops that practices modern type of slavery, folks like Murty and Premzi make money. So much for India as a soft tech power, whatever that means.Murty must extol his coolies to become innovators, not slog extra hours so his kids can lead a lavish life.” https://x.com/AshokTirumal/status/1717776646718333028?s=20

NRN has a right to speak his mind. He is a father figure to millions of Indians, a hero to many. But just as he has a right to be preachy, the Gen X has the right to hit back at his obscurantist ideas.

Dr. Nilima Srivastava wrote, “They don’t know how to manage productivity so they put the blame on  employees. Creating a productive environment is management jobs.He compares to Germany and Japan. He should look at their labour policies as well.” https://x.com/gypsy_nilima/status/1717804676731801759?s=20

The ground reaction to Murthy’s exhortation for 70-hour workweek:

I interacted with many young generation IT and a few non-IT professionals and I sought their views on Murthy’s 70-hour workweek call. Not surprisingly, they were all very critical of Murthy’s idea of 70-hour workweek.

Animesh, a 32 year old IT professional whom I met at Sector 137 in Noida said that “these were old men” like Murthy who enjoyed being workaholics and now that they have no work, they want our generation to lead a slave life that they seemed to have enjoyed.”

Dipika, a young IT manager at the DLF CyberHub in Gurugram said that Murthy was an entrepreneur and he enjoyed working 70 hours a day. She said that Murthy was still free to do so and it is his choice but by being so vocal in support of longer working hours, he was in a way giving a licence to the management of Indian companies to saddle its workers with more work, something that was unethical.

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Sameer, a young man I spoke to at an IT hub near Sector 14 metro station in Noida said that he had to wait for six months to join the IT company, after receiving his initial offer letter. He said that he now works almost round-the-clock on his project. He lamented that his Boss just sent him a link wherein Murty is saying India’s work productivity is among the lowest in the world and youngsters must work 70 hours a day. He also shared a video link with me that I share with my readers. https://x.com/vibinbaburajan/status/1718094407231303827?s=20

Zafar works for a telecom infra company in Gurugram. He is responsible for the uptime of around 50 towers in his territory and he says that he is able to sleep barely for 6 hours a day. He informed me that for his backbreaking work he earns a meagre Rs 25,000 per month. Zafar was very bitter about the 70-hour workweek suggested by Murthy. He said that Murthy should have also spoken about the low wages that Indian workers earn as compared to their counterparts. He explained that his counterparts in Europe had better monitoring systems to maintain vigil over their towers and they were given a car or a MUV to travel to their sites. He complained bitterly that he had to travel to his sites on his personal bike, even during extreme winter months in Delhi. He also narrated to me what happened to him last year. I reproduce his word here:

Francis is a 32-year-old hardware engineer who maintains various equipment used by a government department. He is engaged by a maintenance company that works for an IT Big-4 of India. He narrated to me his harrowing tale.

“Last year in a late evening in the month of December. I was riding my bike to my company’s client office. Their server had gone down. I had my mobile phone stuck between my helmet and my left ear and my supervisor was shouting profanities at me as demanding why I was not reaching the client office fast enough! Can you imagine his insensitivity? It was 9 degrees outside and I was on a bike, trying to reach my destination on time. And yet I was being shouted at! What if I die of cold or if I meet with an accident, what would my wife get from my company? I am not even on their payroll.”

A young teacher, Malini, at one of the graduate colleges in North campus of Delhi university says, “Mr Murthy should understand that there are people who are bitten by insatiable hunger for achievement. Murthy is driven by his stated business goals. However, for him to expect the rest of us would share his mentality, is unreasonable. Are Murthy’s own children working 70 hours a week? If yes, then they are doing it out of their own choice. They are loaded as they earn crores by way of dividend income. They can even work for 100 hours or choose not to work at all. Why should someone who earns minimal wages work 70 hours a day?”

Nikhil is a middle-aged factory manager at a large shoe factory in Karnal. He explained to me, “As per the Factories Act, a worker should work just 48 hours in a week. Any workhour over-and-above the 48-hour week should be compensated by extra wages and the rate should be double the normal hourly wages. The reality is all factories have a 12-hour daily shift and thus 72-hour workweek. If a worker works beyond 72 hours, he doesn’t get extra wages at double the rate. He continues to earn normal wages even after 72-hour weekly labour. Murthy Saab doesn’t know that all MSME companies already have 72-hour work week. He is far removed from the ground reality of Indian businesses.”

Raghav, the HR head of an IT company in Chandigarh,said that while his company follows a 48-hour workweek, the fact is that most IT teams have to often work for 12 hours a day. Salary hikes were just inflation linked and the company was always on the lookout for an excuse to get rid of people who may not be able to cope with very long workhours. Requests for earned leaves are often rejected and companies look at ways to enforce a service break as soon as an employee is about to complete five years of continuous employment. This is because a five-year period of continuous service makes an employee eligible for the gratuity payment at the time of his/ her exit from the company.

Dhiraj is an Assistant Professor at a private university in Noida. He confided in me that even though his university working hours were 48 hours a week, he had been a temporary faculty for the past five years. He is often laid off during the two months when the university is closed. If he is lucky, he gets some checking assignments during that period (referring to evaluation of answer sheets submitted by the students who appear for examination). He said that it was good that Mr. Murty was asking the youngsters to work 70-hours a week, but it would have been nice had he spoken about the duties of the employers in the same breath.

In Conclusion:

There is no doubt that NRN is India’s foremost institutional builder. He has gained worldwide acclaim for his strategic vision that propelled Infosys into the giant IT company. NRN is also one of the most respected businessmen of India. The CEO of a power electronics company in Bengaluru once confided in me that no procurement head of any buying company can be charged of corruption in a deal that involves Infosys. These are the words that were once used for IBM. The reputation of Infosys is therefore spectacular. The company is known for its professionalism. It conducts its business ethically and delivers the project on time.

NRN deserves credit for leading Infosys for more than two decades and turning a startup into a world class company. Murthy has also been called the father of Indian IT sector by many, although I believe that tag firmly belongs to the late Mr. Faquir Chand Kohli, the co-founder and the first CEO of TCS.

In short NRN is a role model for many in India and even abroad. People latch on to every word that he speaks. His exhortation to youngsters for working 70 hour a week is impractical. The Indians are today a lot more aspirational than Murthy’s own generation.

The ‘silent generation’ to which Murthy belongs had low expectations from life. They wanted to sacrifice for their next generations. The Generations ‘X’ and ‘Millennials’ have a completely different perspective of life. These Gen X and the millennials live on Instagram, mobile transfers, multiple dating and quick divorces. Murthy’s generation routinely scoffs at these things.

Murthy’s generation looked forward to a sumptuous meal at home after a hard day’s work. Today’s generation is about hitting the pub after work.

The Generation ‘Z’ is even more mercurial. Loyalty and love for nation is not counted by the hours of work in a week. It is expressed in terms of investing in stocks and by being big spenders so that the wheels of the economy can remain in motion.

NRN has a right to speak his mind. He is a father figure to millions of Indians, a hero to many. But just as he has a right to be preachy, the Gen X has the right to hit back at his obscurantist ideas.

That’s the beauty of India. There is a balance all around us.

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Dr. Sudhir Bisht

Author and Columnist, Writes from New Delhi

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Author

Dr. Sudhir Bisht

Author and Columnist, Writes from New Delhi

February 2024

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